0087 And finally… New York City (USA 051—revisit)

New York Travel Blog

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Once again I wake up with a start, look over to my side and see a shoulder bag on the bus seat next to my guitar.  Once again I check my pocket and find a round trip plane ticket.  Once again, for the second time in 4 months my Adventure Tour has taken a sudden, surreal shift:  instead of driving to some nearby Pennsylvania village, I’m travelling across the ocean to what could be another extended stay inside the Dream World.

 And just like last time, it looks like the adventures aren’t going to wait until I arrive at my destination.  As the bus speeds across New Jersey suddenly the gleaming New York City skyline pops up on the horizon.  I look at my watch.

 Yep.  I’m going to have time to discover New York City. 

 But as we ride the skyway over the New Jersey marshes and dreary industrial ruins, and dive down into the tunnel drilled under the Hudson River, I realize this will not be my first adventure in this city, or even the second or the third.  New York has been my transit point for the last 9 years, and many times I’ve paused here to explore the place and “warm up” for some overseas adventure.

 My Many Adventures in New York City

 I first experienced this city in February of 1999, I landed at the airport, caught a shuttle into the city and took a bus to Pennsylvania at 2 AM.  I was still pretty green back then and barely ventured outside of the bus terminal, scared of what this big scary city might be like at night.

 In February of 2001 it was a completely different matter.  I was a man, I had faced my fears and self-doubts and was ready to discover the world.  So when I had 22 hour bus to plane layover here I was determined that this city was mine for the taking.  I arrived at the bus station at 9 PM and headed straight out into the city, down through Chinatown where I was intrigued by all the people out on bicycles and how each neighbourhood has its own personality.  I continued all the way down to the financial district where I gazed up in awe at the World Trade Center towers, never imagining that next time I’d come back to that spot I’d be staring at a hole in the ground! 

 I continued down to the very tip of Manhattan, watching people popping out of the subway station, running to catch the ferry to Staten Island.  Then I headed on back up Broadway where, even though it was nearly 2 in the morning, I didn’t feel in danger or threatened in any way.  I started to realize that all those fears I’d always had about “big cities” simply didn’t have much basis to them.   Then I opted to crash for a few hours in the waiting area at the Greyhound station before heading out to explore the city some more.

 Before dawn, I was out again, this time up through Times Square where a calm serenity hung in the air… on up all the way to Central Park where suddenly nature rules.  I saw a white glow in a valley up ahead and went to see… it was a frozen lake with ice skaters floating about it like magical fairies hidden away in their own little corner of this amazing city. 

 I realized I just wanted to continue on and on exploring this city and figured, why not save 2 dollars in the process and just walk to JFK airport?  So I did.  I headed across Queens bridge where I get my first full, up close view of the breathtaking skyline, and then down into Queens which seems to stretch on and on forever.  Sometimes it would be a stretch along an endless cemetery or a drab row of apartment buildings—and then suddenly the city would jolt back to life again with a vividly colourful and cramped Main Street jammed with ethnic foodstores and shops blaring out music in any of a dozen languages.  In fact, it struck me suddenly that I’d hardly ever heard English throughout this city!  It’s almost like New York really isn’t the United States, it’s more like a Mini-world all of its own where folks from all over the planet converge.

 I stopped to look for a snack in a Pakistani run shop and the older fellow eagerly started up a conversation, telling me all about his family and his efforts to get his son through college.  It’s clear that this city can be very personable when it wants to.

 And so my day hike across the city continued.  Finally I reached my goal:  JFK airport and felt exhilarated at having really experienced the breadth of this city.

But that was just one of my hikes across NYC… 

January 3, 2004 I was on my way to India and needed to stay the night here.  This time I "upgraded" from the bus station to spending the night at Terminal 4 at JFK airport.  The next day I hiked up to Jamaica... it was cool to see a church, a mosque and a hindu temple all in the same block... as I hiked the full length of Liberty Street, it struck me how here in New York the mom and pop store concept is still alive.  No Walmarts here. Here the little man can still have his own little restaurant, phone card store or fruit stand... I got as far as the border of Brooklyn where I started to see a a bit of urban decay--then I headed back to the airport...

April 10, 2004 I finally took my wife to experience the Big Apple.  We started off in Queens (I had to drop a fellow off at the airport) checking out a few of the ethnic shops.  Then we took the subway down to Little Italy and Chinatown... Grabbed a Turkish Doner Kebab, then headed down to Wall St, the Wharf, the WTC site and then a subway up to Times Square... In the process we saw 3 movies/TV serials being filmed... It was definitely a full evening...

March 1-2 2006 This time I had a flight to Ghana the next day... This time I headed north the full length of Central Park.  I was getting late and there were just a couple of rich folks out walking their dogs in the park.  I pulled my hood over my eyes and did my hobo shuffle... sure enough! they looked at me very, very nervously! Wow! I can scare New York people!  That's awesome!...  Up in East Harlem, for some reason no one seemed scared of me... I grabbed some fried chicken and the took a subway down to my "suite" at Terminal 4 in JFK...

Then next day I hiked from JFK all the way to downtown Brooklyn and on across the Brooklyn Bridge...

April 1, 2006 On my way back from Ghana, I was determined to find the fabled Arab neighborhood in Astoria... so I hiked straight north from JFK to the classy Jewish-Russian neighborhood then cut over to Jackson Heights and on th Astoria Blvd.  I didn't realize that I had to go NORTH of Astoria Blvd to see the real Astoria--so I missed the Arab neighborhood... I really needed to take a piss so I figured I'd grab something to eat and use the restroom in the restaurant... Turns out, for some ridiculous reason, a lot of New York eateries don't HAVE restrooms! I insisted that I needed to wash my hands... the lady brought me a wet napkin... So I took a piss off of Queens Bridge (fortunately it was late and no boats passed under at that time...) I'll forgive New York for this one...

July 16, 2006 As a side trip from Atlantic City, I headed up again with my wife to Staten Island where we grabbed lunch at a Turkish Restaurant.  I enjoyed Staten Island's narrow, winding streets and unique downtown.  Then we grabbed the ferry across to Manhattan...

Back to the Present

And so here I am again… not quite sure what I’ll explore this time.  I head up through Times Square where a Peruvian band is busking right on the square.  That’s all right, I can find another spot.  I find a peaceful little area at the corner of Central Park across from the Trump Tower to play my songs.

On up the road, I have the urge to do something different:  I want to do a museum.   So I head into the Natural History Museum where browse the exhibits, pondering on the origin of the universe and the meaning of existence…

I’m confident there will be other opportunities to explore more facets of this great city. 

End of the First Tour

Here’s where I decide to bring my first Adventure Mode Tour to an end.  Why now?  Well, I could’ve ended my tour right at the end of the year, but the who concept was faltering a bit at that time, and I was afraid that I might lose my grip on this world and never get it back.  So I decide to make my “stopping point” at a time when I was absolutely sure that more Alternate Life adventures awaited me.

Well, right now I’m on a plane heading across the ocean.  So I think I can safely say that more adventure await me at dawn.  Thus I will now close this chapter and tomorrow I will quickly open a new one.

So as I fade off to sleep I smile as I reminisce on all the amazing moment of this last 2007B tour… my first day waking up in the Dream back in July… my back up dancers in York… the gritty but cheerful city of Wilmington… the welcoming I received in Vietnam… Angkor Wat… singing for the lady monks of Hue… the stilt city of Surat Thani… unearthing hidden memories around southern Pennsylvania… Waking up in the same beautiful dream over and over again…

And now I have the hope that this Dream just might continue on into the new year.

Here are the lyrics to a song entitled “Escape the Machine” inspired by my these experiences scattered throughout the last seven months of my life.

Would you mind if I asked what you did with the last seven months of your life

How many memories could you list how much is a haze in your mind?

It ain't up to me to say if your time was well spent or not

But personally I am afraid of living a life that is quickly forgotten

I'm not trying to suggest you got to take the same path as me

Pushing myself beyond the limits just to create new memories

Doing something never done before soaking in every inch of this earth

You decide how far you have to go to break the monotony curse

    What could life be like if we conquered reluctance and fear?

    If we would just reach out how many dreams might become real?

There's a time for habit and routine for submitting to the daily grind

But we're humans, we're not beasts we can't live like that for all our lives

We got to break out of these chains head out there, try something new

Maybe no one else will appreciate but it's just something we've got to do

    Or you could choose to believe your excuses

    Convince yourself you're doomed to be a slave

So imagine a year from today looking back, what do you see?

A few halfheated attempts to escape never cutting ties to the machine

Then every year that you live will it look just like the one before?

Until you look back at the end and all you see is a blur.

End of Episode 09 with 10 towns explored

End of Tour 2007B with 87 towns explored


* To read more of my USA travels, go to Blog 2008A, entry 0123

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photo by: herman_munster