Reza's Travel Blog

Travels to Bombay and beyond...

April 25, 2005

NYC March 2005

New York City: Travel is a pause button for life

NYC The Street

NYC Street Art

Last month I accompanied my aunt Faizeh and cousin Parinaz to New York City. Parinaz is going to be a high school senior and she wanted to visit the fashion design colleges in NYC (and RISD in Providence, RI). It was a great excuse for me to be back in the city which I had not visited since '99.

This was my ninth visit to New York. Six were bunched up over a four year period between ‘90 and ‘93 when I was in college. I made the first in this series of visits driving across the midwest from Lawrence, KS in Victor, my trusty Honda Civic. I had quit the swim team at KU a few months before and at the end of the semester I had a few weeks free before I began a summer job. I was at loose ends. I was homesick. I no longer had the focus of swimming to keep my mind occupied.

As I drove over the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan, I felt the unmistakable buzz of a big city. The Bombay I missed in tiny Lawrence, the noise, the crowds, the smell, the traffic, all this was ahead of me as I crossed over the Hudson into the city.

Each trip back was less about replacing a missing spot of urban-ness in my life, and more to discover a city that had its own story. I have grown to love the multiple personalities of this city. I live as a vicarious New Yorker through the New York Times I read religiously every day and the weekly New Yorker's that pile up on my dining table.

New York has cleaned up its act since I was there last. It is neatly packaged and digestible for visitors from near and far. Soho is blanketed in chain stores. Walking in Times Square was like being in a massive advertisement: all the neon and billboards are deafening to the eyes. Add to that a Starbucks nearly on every corner: there were three Starbucks cafes within a one block radius of our hotel in midtown. So what is true in the rest of the US is also now true in NYC – style, design and culture have become commodities that can be experienced and purchased at your nearby chain store. The local, the unique and distinctive is harder and harder to find.

But New York still has an unparalleled street life that is diverse and invigorating. I walked for many hours and through many neighborhoods while my aunt and cousin were in college information sessions. It reaffirmed why I love this city – there is a constant drama played out on the streets that no other city in the US can match. (I have two photo galleries of my trip – the links are at the end of the travelogue.)

In between the college tours, we visited many of the usual tourist attractions: the Met, the newly renovated MOMA, Grand Central, Ground Zero and the Staten Island Ferry with its great view of the Statue of Liberty. Does anyone know why the Staten Island Ferry is free? It is an anachronism in this city of money and commerce.

While in the city I also saw some friends from grad school and one from Bombay. I had not seen them in years. It always surprises me how easy it is to relate and converse with friends I have not seen in a long time. I wonder how much we change once we become adults. It seems like we settle into a theme, with a few riffs to bridge the major verses of our life. Talking to an old friend, the tone and the topics of conversation are very similar to what they were in the past. You are sharing new news of your life, but the way you talk about it and what you focus on remains the same.

As a traveler though, you come to these conversations with fresh ears and get to hear the nuances that have not been heard before. You have left your well-worn self behind at home, with the busy routine, unpaid bills and ever full email in-box. Travel lets me pause the din of daily life to listen closer and experience deeper what is around me. And when I return home, I have added a few new notes to my repertoire.

Here is a poem I wrote after the first in my series of six road trips to NYC.

Lawrence to NYC 1990

The day before I leave
the clouds huddle over the fevered earth.
The air is dense with expectancy -
hope of rain.

As I pull out,
clouds roll in like a wet blanket
and begin dripping.
More clouds squeeze in
and down pours the rain.

The road stretches ahead,
offering an escape route from the deluge,
but the storm hounds at my heels.

St. Louis, MO:
The stale breath of the morning rush hour
rolls down the freeway;
cars cough out exhaust fumes;
lights blink in the gray damp.

I grow numb
as I drive through the flat Midwest;
the wipers are engaged
in a futile battle with the rain.

I pop in tape after tape
and memories rise to the surface.

Columbus, OH:
Pot-holed and dreary;
the skyline: a jagged scar
in the tedious dimness of the evening.

The sun sneaks out
from under the clouds as it sets.
The horizon blushes:
embarrassed to see the naked sun
for the first time today.

As I pull into the rest area,
the storm decides to take the night off too,
and the rain stops

The rest-room smells of tired travelers
and squeaky lysol.
I make myself uncomfortable in the back of my car.
Dinner lies dead in my stomach.
A soupy fog blankets my rest.

Sleep is fleeting
and my alarm serves to wake the clouds;
they rumble and moan,
complaining of the early hour.

More rain,
more music,
more exits,
more frowning trucks.

Pittsburgh, PA:
Grouchy and grumbling
like an overworked housewife.
Roads’ mirror slick,
reflections marred by tire tracks.

Into the hills:
Black giants lording
over the valleys.
Cars climb their thick torsos,
filing up and down like ants.

New Jersey:
Cars march down I-80
like teeming armies.

The George Washington bridge:
shrouded in a bank of clouds;
the traffic sweeps me across.

New York City:
I am greeted by the rushing crowds,
blaring sounds and grime;
the unmistakable throb of a city.
I feel at home,
at last.