They ride the subway trains, crammed in shoulder to shoulder, face to face, invading the parameters of normal personal space without complaint. In fact, I'm not even sure they notice. Each one is so insular, completely closed off from the rest of the world with ear buds, a smartphone, and a backpack. They've each built for themselves (within themselves) a wall of self-containment and self-sustainability. One could literally be surrounded by people on the train, hemmed in from all sides by other warm bodies, and still feel completely alone. But I think that's how they like it.
Maybe that's the only way to survive in such a compact environment. You have your routine, your destination, and your intense focus. You go, go, go. Always alone. You are enough. Your environment is what you create by the music or podcast that you pipe directly into your brain.
I marveled at how I hadn't really heard much cursing or cussing (Who knew New Yorkers had such clean language?) -- and then it dawned on me that I hadn't really heard much talking at all.
When we were planning our navigation of the city, one important thing to us was seeing how people live. Their daily life is so different from our suburban existence, and our curiosity was piqued as to how they make it all happen. We wanted to go off the beaten path a bit -- visit some of the local spots and walk the side streets and see some actual neighborhoods.
For that reason, I think Monday will live in my memory as (very possibly) my favorite day of the trip.
MONDAY, MAR. 26 -- DAY TWO
North of Downtown, but not quite Midtown, lie the villages, as we will call them -- The East Village, Greenwich Village, and the West Village. (We were working our way up the island, see?)
We had heard amazing things about a famous NY bookstore called Strand on Broadway, so we made that our first stop of the day.
It was similar to what the Tattered Cover is to Denverites -- a hip, happening piece of paradise for book lovers. I could have spent much more time there than we did. Doing what, I really don't know. I mean, now that I think about it, I didn't really see any chairs for lounging with a book, and I didn't have my eye on any book in particular anyway.
I just think that, in general, bookstores make me want to be the best version of myself. A good bookstore makes me just want to be.
But we couldn't stay, so we purchased a couple small items and headed across the street to a local coffee shop, which was rather psychedelic and delicious.
I believe it was at this point that Ryan realized how close we were to Madison Square Park and the iconic Flatiron Building, and not knowing if we'd make it back to the area, we went off-script and walked a few blocks north to see it.
We passed a farmers' market on the way. Really, there aren't too many accessible grocery stores (that we saw, anyway). I think a lot of locals depend on these markets for fresh produce. I'm always a sucker for a good farmers' market, but we had places to go!
Look what was right up the street! The Empire State Building! But we were saving that for another day.
And Madison Square Park, where we rested for a bit ...
And the Flatiron Building yet again!
And ... another angle of the Flatiron Building!
Wait. Hold up. Is that -- ? Yes, I think it is a closeup of the Flatiron Building!
Remember what I said about 2,500 photographs? Don't judge. 😉
Lunchtime! We took the subway to the famous Katz's Delicatessen, a real Jewish deli known for its appearances in "When Harry Met Sally" and (our favorite) "The Jim Gaffigan Show."
This place had a line out the door and down the block, but we were willing to wait.
Katz's Deli is unique in that they hand you a ticket when you enter the door. At each counter where you order food, the deli employee will add the amount you owe to your ticket. You pay when you exit the building. So if you don't have your ticket with you when it's time to pay and leave, they'll just assume you ordered two sandwiches and two drinks, and they'll automatically charge you $50. So, of course, we guarded our tickets with our lives! And yes, if you're doing the math, that does equal out to two $20 sandwiches.
I took one for the team and ordered a $4 hotdog. I've gotta say, it was delicious!
Ryan ordered brisket, and Ryley ordered turkey. The sandwiches came with lots of pickles.
That was a very good lunch, all-around. We'd definitely go back there if we ever get the chance to return to New York. I think it was Ryan's favorite part of the trip!
On our way back to the subway, we passed this playground, and Ryan made the comment that it reminded him of Sesame Street! He said he grew up believing that this was how all playgrounds were supposed to look. 😙
Aaaaand, apparently they have a rat problem.
So, here we were in the East Village on Houston Street, we'd just finished the lunch of Ryan's dreams, and we were trying to figure out where the entrance to the west-headed subway train was. (If I had a nickel for all the times we headed down the stairs into the subway, only to find out the train was headed the wrong way, I'd have three nickels. And this would have been one of them).
We had just crossed the street when, all of a sudden, Ryley sucked in her breath and grabbed me, a look of horror passing across her face. I thought maybe she'd seen a rat.
"What? What is it?" I asked.
"You didn't see it? The woman peeing?"
I turned around, and there, less than 10 feet from us on the sidewalk, a woman had pulled her pants down around her ankles and was completely bent over as if she were touching the ground, her naked lady parts and bottom high in the air for all to see. And that's not all -- No, there was actual urine spewing from her like a fountain onto the sidewalk, forming a puddle, and trickling into the street gutter a couple feet away.
(Side note: There were other people there. Not one person even blinked an eye. We don't know if they were so into their focused, insular lifestyle that they just didn't see her? Or possibly they see this kind of stuff every day, and so they chose to ignore her. Bizarre!)
I wonder someday if my biggest life regret will be that I did not snap a photo in that instant -- not to publish, of course, but for my own personal use -- to prove to myself that it actually did happen. But I didn't (largely because Ryan grabbed my arm and ushered me away with the words "Don't you dare take a picture"). And then, we were suddenly surrounded by people as we waited for the crosswalk, and I couldn't see her, but Ryley reported that she finished and pulled her pants up. After we crossed the street, I looked back and saw her walk down the street, her purse slung over her shoulder like nothing had happened.
That was, hands down, the craziest thing we saw on our trip!
With that odd situation behind us, we were on to Greenwich Village and Washington Square Park, known for being the home to celebrities!
So we were moseying along, en route to Washington Square and the famous arch, and we were again crossing a street when Ryan leaned in close to me.
"Do you see this guy on the bike?" he asked quietly. "Watch him."
This dark-haired good-looking guy rode right past us on a gold, shiny bike.
"It's gold," I said aloud -- loud enough for the guy to hear. And then immediately I felt kind of stupid.
"That was Justin Theroux," Ryan said, as soon as the bicyclist had passed. I whirled around and looked after him, but it was hard to tell from behind.
After we sat down in Washington Square Park, Ryan looked him up on his phone, and sure enough, Jennifer Aniston's ex lives in Greenwich Village, somewhere around Washington Square, and he is often spotted riding his shiny gold bike -- his preferred mode of transportation.
See Exhibit A, via the internet:
That was totally him! Ryan said he even got a bit of a nod out of him, as Justin probably noticed the hint of recognition on Ryan's face. Ryan didn't want to make a big deal out of it, but I'm so glad that he nudged me and made sure I saw him, even though I didn't recognize him offhand.
So we saw a woman peeing on the street and a famous actor -- all within about 30 minutes! 👍
Washington Square Park was one of those places you wish you could stay forever ...
Such a happy, sunny place, with people playing chess, performing street art, playing the piano ...
Dogs posing perfectly for a picture ...
Because chess is popular at the park, and because it is popular with Ryan and Ryley, we found ourselves in a chess forum/shop down the street. That's where "the locals" go to play chess matches in a back room.
You can see them playing just beyond Ryan's arm. It was a cute shop (totally authentic hole in the wall with creaky floors), but the whole place reeked of old B.O.
Like, not just B.O. -- but B.O. that you know has been stanking it up for awhile. KWIM?
Next on the agenda was to just walk through the nearby neighborhoods and work our way up Bleecker Street through the West Village.
We stopped for cookie dough, and the people who worked there were just the nicest!!!
But just look at this neighborhood, though ...
I mean, I practically expected to see Meg Ryan skip past us a la "You've Got Mail."
Guys, I couldn't help but glance casually into the windows as we passed each home! I mean, everything's adorable, and I'm insatiably curious about the lifestyles of people who manage to live in The Village! And we could not believe how peaceful and quiet it was. I seriously did not expect any Manhattan neighborhood to be this sweet, with birds chirping ... We didn't even hear any traffic while we were off the main streets. If I were going to live in New York, it would have to be in Greenwich Village or the West Village.
Ryan looked up where the exterior shot of the "Friends" apartment was taken, and it just happened to be a block off of our path! So we had to stop there ...
And right across the street was this amazing set of brownstones. So I guess technically Ross would have lived there? 😂
Finally, we wound our way to The High Line Park, on the west side. It's an old elevated railroad track that they have re-purposed into an artistic walking path.
There were beautiful views of the Hudson River and New Jersey.
This was an odd, ominous-looking building, near the Meatpacking District.
It was a really lovely walk, with lots of tourists coming and going.
So, we realized it was dinner time, and beginning to understand what a problem dinner in New York is when you don't have money to burn -- and most fast-casual places don't have any actual seating (because Manhattan business owners apparently want our feet to wither and die) -- we decided to hop on the subway back to Times Square and Midtown (our side of town).
We saw Times Square for the first time in daylight ... It's so colorful!
We ended up grabbing Shake Shack to-go (again, no seating), and walked with it six blocks to our hotel to collapse and eat (and watch our office neighbors across Madison Ave.) in peace.
This is Grand Central Station at night, by the way (passed it on our way back from Shake Shack).
Have you ever seen "Rear Window"? The old Hitchcock movie starring Jimmy Stewart? He solves a murder simply because he's holed up with a broken leg and has nothing better to do than watch the comings and goings of his neighbors for six weeks! In case you can't tell, I'm a huge fan.
Anyway, watching these tax accountants burn the midnight oil was fascinating. I watched a lady walk a piece of paper over to the shredder in another office. I watched co-workers chatting. I watched people just sitting there working at their computers. I watched the custodian go from office to office, emptying trash. I totally felt like Jimmy Stewart! I was just missing binoculars, haha!
Stacks and stacks of papers ...
I watched them order Chinese take-out and have dinner together in the corner conference room. Some nights they worked until 11 p.m.
Ah, what it takes to survive in New York.
I wonder where each of them lives ... Do they take the subway home to Queens or Brooklyn? Maybe they make enough money for a place on the Upper East Side? I don't know. Where do accountants live?
People and their stories just fascinate me! And to know that God made each one of them -- that He cares intimately about each person and knows all their worries, their joys, everything -- whether they acknowledge Him or not. I feel really small in comparison to how big the world is, how many people there are. And a city like New York is just the tip of the iceberg. Just think about the billion people in China and the billions of others scattered across the earth. We're just scratching the surface at beginning to understand how big our God must be to be able to know all of it in his omniscience -- know all of them, love all of them. It's overwhelming and beautiful. Perfect love.
That would be a great place to end this blog post, but I have a surprise for you!
One thing that struck us over and over again, especially when we were out late at night, was the amount of garbage piled up on the sidewalks. Every restaurant has tons of trash, and no matter what place it's from, it all tends to smell the same (which is weird, right?)! They produce so much waste that they actually have garbage service every night, I'm pretty sure.
And I took pictures to prove it:
So, yeah. Think on that for a bit. That's how much trash New York produces every single day.
Sorry to leave you with that, but it's something I've wanted to mention, and I just wasn't sure when I'd find the right time. You're welcome! 😀
Total miles walked on Monday: 10
Stay tuned for Day Three, featuring the Empire State Building and more!