Where I Have Been Map

Friday, July 6, 2012

A, B, C – easy as … wait which train do we get on?

Learning the subway system has proven to be quite a feat. With all the transitions and the constant changes in the subway stop schedule, it no wonder how newbies can get so lost in the city. But lucky for me I had just recently purchased the one “cheat sheet” item that has made my transition to the city a breeze… the iPhone.  This particular day, my sister and I were going to test out how long it takes to get from my apartment in Brooklyn to my internship in West Village, Manhattan.  After typing in the address of my internship in a subway app on my iPhone, it gave us step by step walking directions to the nearest subway and exactly which transitions to make, and which stops to get off at. 
I felt a completely different vibe of my neighborhood as we walked to the subway stop early that morning. The trash man greeted us with a tip of his hat and a friendly “good morning”, strangers would ask us if we needed help if we had a confused look on our face, and the sounds of Creole being spoken from one neighbor to the next was intriguing and made me feel as enthusiastic to learn about these people as I do when visiting another country. Only instead of a 15 hour plane ride I just had to walk a block out of my apartment. 
After fiddling a bit with the metro card machine and receiving very agitated answers to our questions from the woman working behind the glass at the station, Cindy and I hopped onto our train and headed Uptown.  The 45 minute train ride was a long one, but far from boring. At one point I looked up at the artwork placed above the seats and saw a picture representing everyday New Yorkers riding a subway. Sitting side by side in the picture were tourists, punk rock kids with short spiky hair, Europeans, Asians, Latin Americans, street performers, business men and women, and hipsters drowning out the ride with their iPods.  When my eyes fell down from the picture and onto the seats in front of me, I amusingly found the group of people not to be very far off from that portrait portrayal. Cindy and I played a game of how many languages being spoken on the train we could name. 
Artwork in the subway

Cindy and subway riders dozing off

When we got off the train and stepped into West Village, I instantly fell in love. Instead of daunting skyscrapers and fast-paced crowds, my eyes gazed upon a village of cute restaurants and tree lined roads leading us straight to the antique railing on the steps of my internship. I was quite alright with the realization that most of my time would be spent in this part of the city. I asked myself why I didn’t try to find a place to live around here, and was quickly answered by the “For Rent” sign on an apartment nearby with one too many zeros after 2’s and 3’s for monthly rent. 
After getting to know the area quite well, Cindy and I met up with a friend for lunch in Time Square. We had seen time square from one angle the day before, and were surprisingly unimpressed. It was just a building with ads. However, after being directed to the CORRECT side, I found myself wanting to spin in circles to take in the whole site. 
Time Square
In a large area made just for pedestrians, I spotted various people dressed in Disney costumes, Statues of Liberty characters, and street performers dotting the huge group of tourists snapping pictures like their life depended on it. We walked farther and a door of a building opened slightly revealing a glimpse of a giant Ferris wheel. I looked up to see the sign “Toys R Us” and Cindy and I raced through the revolving doors to witness the mini amusement park inside, complete with a giant Ferris wheel.


 From door to door, we “revolved” into the most interested places including a giant lego store, candy bar, and the infamous Rockefeller building.  After a tour through NBC studios and a much needed iced-coffee energy boost, Cindy and I groggily took the subway back home.
Picking our feet up one after another up the outside stairs to my apartment proved to be torturous on our sore calves.  I fumbled tiredly with the keys, and was briefly distracted by a group of girls coming around the corner yelling loudly and playing. Or so I thought, until I felt a nudge from Cindy to hurry up. As the group got closer I began realizing what I thought was playful banter was actually obscene threats. A fight was about to break out right on the corner. Cindy and I hustled inside and bolted the door behind us. Once safely away, instead of turning on the TV we sat in the living room with the perfect view to our very own “Real World: Brooklyn”.  Sitting with our knees pulled up to our chests and occasionally pulling back the blinds to get a better view, I mentioned to Cindy that those girls had to be no more than 14 years old. She looked at me and replied, “Yea, but Annie - they could probably beat up our dad.”

The Amazon to the Big Apple

From living in the Brazilian Amazon to moving to New York City, I was told I would experience a true jungle-to-jungle lifestyle.   In the 3 short days since I moved in, hiking through the Amazon seems like a walk in the park in comparison to the hustle and bustle of this city. The journey from Tampa to New York may have only been a 19 hour car ride, but I feel as if I am in a foreign country halfway across the world.  With wide eyes, a racing heart, and aching feet, I have tried not to blink for fear of missing out on seeing so many new things.  
Three days ago, my hands were tightly gripped on the wheel as we were approaching the city. My eyes wanted to wander to take in everything as we turned on the first road in Brooklyn, but I had something more vital to focus on. I was getting my first taste of New York driving and was quickly learning how to weave in and out of cars double parks, pedestrians running across the road, and impatient honkers behind me. At every stop light I took advantage of the break from road concentration and was surprised to see such an eclectic amalgam of cultures represented amongst the pedestrians.
The most prominent group in that particular area was a Jewish community. Women walked across the streets in long black skirts and men proudly marched in their black suits and top hats, with short haircuts, except for the two curly strands of hair falling from either side of their hats. Cindy tried to point out the hair style to me, but for lack of better word – referred to the men’s curls as “doodly-doos”. I loved seeing the little boys walking around in their miniature suits, and miniature “doodle-doo” hairstyle. 

A honk startled me out of my cultural fascination and it was back to the real world of driving in the city. I felt as if I was in a Mario kart game, if only I could have just power boost my way through the traffic. It took almost 20 minutes to get 4 miles from the interstate to my new apartment.  As we drove closer to my street, the buildings began gradually jading.  The supermarkets transformed into small corner grocery stores with handwritten signs in the windows stating “We accept Food Stamps”.   A woman on the sidewalk distracted us with her flailing arms in some sort of confrontation with presumably her husband. Her eyes were bugged out as she shouted loud profanities which we could hear clearly despite our closed windows. When my GPS finally announced “I had arrived at my destination”, I looked to the left and met the gaze of a group of hoodlums in wife beaters and flat bill caps, chilling on my apartment steps.  I suddenly regretted not bringing along my Bon Qui Qui Halloween outfit so I wouldn’t stick out so much. 

As I pulled my luggage up the steps with the help of my parents, I was greeted by silent stares from my new neighbors. I felt overwhelmingly unwelcome, until I spotted my new roommate leaning out of the window waving down with a warm smile on her face. Once behind the bolted door, I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful apartment with a room bigger than I had imagined. My roommates were incredibly friendly and I liked them immediately. One from Brooklyn and the other from Trinidad, they informed me that the majority of people in this part of town are from Trinidad and Haiti. They told me it was a safe place to live as long as I don’t get stuck in the wrong part of town at the wrong hour of the night. They also warned me to be aware that my 16-year-old face and Southern mannerisms (meaning smiling) definitely make me stick out, not only in this part of town – but in every part of the city. I was going to have a lot to learn.