I know what you’re thinking.
This girl accepted her offer to New York University without having been to New York City before?
I’ve visited plenty of big cities, including Chicago, Detroit, and Washington D.C. But, technically, I’d never been to the Big Apple when I accepted NYU’s offer.
My first opportunity to visit the city came when NYU announced Weekend on the Square – a sort of welcome to the coming freshmen class.
Between our school and work schedules, my brother, mother, and father were able to come along for the weekend road trip. My sister had to stay home for a theatre engagement.
Our plan was to stay in a Jersey City hotel Friday night, spend Saturday in Manhattan, and drive through the night to make it home by Sunday morning.
Not dangerous at all.
Weekend on the Square was a misnomer. It was really a one day deal. You get there at nine o’clock in the morning, take a couple tours, sit through a couple orientations, and boom. You’re done.
So, naturally, we planned on touring as much of New York City as we could in the remainder of that single day, including Times Square, Chinatown, the 9/11 Memorial, and Union Square. This would all have to squeeze into six short hours.
It was the Thursday before we were set to leave when I told my best friend, Dawn, that she was coming along. Dawn, a broadway-lover, had never been to Manhattan before.
And that’s how she, my younger brother, my mother, my father, and I ended up in a minivan on our way to New York City, squished between stuffed animals, suitcases, tissues, and cough medicine.
Why the tissues and medicine?
Well, I’d woken up on the morning of perhaps the most exciting trip of my life feeling like death.
About seven days later, I’d go to the ER and get diagnosed with bronchitis. I was coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and by the time we stopped for lunch on Friday afternoon, I was attempting to communicate with my family via sign language that Dawn was teaching me as we drove along.
I was miserable. The worst part about having bronchitis is that, if you do manage to fall asleep, you’ll be even more miserable when you wake up. Your throat is dry, you can hardly breathe, and all you want to do is go back to sleep.
I took a lot of medicine, ate a lot of crackers, and played a lot of 2048 (I still can’t beat that stupid game).
Regardless, we kept pushing along.
I forced myself to perk up when we hit Jersey City.
We checked into our hotel (the Hyatt on the Hudson) and decided to slink around for some pizza. One of the valets at the hotel pointed us toward Carmine’s, an impressive pizzeria that was only half a mile away.
We must have wandered for an hour until we finally found the restaurant on a little corner in the middle of a sketchy Jersey City neighborhood. T
The food, I’ll admit, was completely worth it. And I was severely dehydrated.
We weren’t willing to walk back to the hotel, so the cashier called us a cab. What actually showed up was definitely not a taxicab. It was a minivan, driven by a guy on his cell phone.
We were pretty freaked out. We thought it was a mistake until the cashier went, “Hey, that’s your cab out there.”
After practically forcing my mother into the van, we sat awkwardly as the driver made his way through Jersey City, each of us half expecting the car to pull off into some dark side-street where we’d all get killed.
Fortunately, unmarked cabs are evidently a normal thing in the city. They’re known as Ubers or Lyfts. We were dropped off at our hotel without a problem.
The next day, we headed into Manhattan. I was still sick, and it was getting worse.
How do I describe my first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline? I’ll settle for awk-striking. I think that’s the way everyone feels.
But once you’re there, when you’re inside, it’s nowhere near as daunting as it seems. You’re part of it. That huge, huge thing that only seems small on a postcard. And you’re part of it.
About an hour later, we found ourselves in a gymnasium, looking at the other incoming freshmen and their parents.
I spent the morning learning more about my school, and the afternoon exploring Manhattan.
We visited the 9/11 Memorial, which may actually have more security than an airport. We walked through Chinatown. Finally, we started toward what Dawn and I considered the most exciting part of the trip.
It was so much smaller than I thought it would be. You see this grand thing on television but, in real life, you don’t feel so small in comparison.
It was crowded to the point where large groups had to set a gathering point. The shortest wait for a popular restaurant was close to three hours. And merchants were everywhere.
We escaped to the less crowded side-streets that made up Broadway. Dawn almost died when she heard Ramin Karimloo singing through the lobby of the theatre featuring Les Miserables.
That was pretty much where our night ended. We took the subway back to our car, and the drive home began.
And that was my first time.