First Impressions of The City That Never Shuts Up

How can I even begin to describe my first impression of New York City? Technically, the first part I saw, coming down I-95 from Westchester County, was The Bronx, with all its monolithic, Cabrini Green-ish housing projects, Big K-Marts, and Popeye’s Fried Chickens. Then, as dusk fell, we approached Harlem and probably the least fashionable stretch of 5th Avenue. Not until our Peter Pan bus reached Central Park and Lincoln Center did I begin to get a buzz on.

My roommate and I stayed at a cute, tiny boutique hotel on 41st Street and 7th Avenue, right next to the Nederlander Theatre (home of Rent) and not far from an enormous, giddily garish Red Lobster. We walked through Times Square past insane seas of neon thirty feet tall and throngs of fellow tourists. For once, I didn’t feel foolish having a camera hanging from my neck. We ate a good, greasy meal at a Popeye’s (natch), and then headed over to a lounge in Hell’s Kitchen called Therapy, actually brushing past one of the Queer Eye for The Straight Guy guys on our way in. We ended up at another lounge called Hell (which wasn’t hellish at all) by 3 AM, and sobered up over eggs, coffee, and Belgian waffles two hours later.

I guess what kept racing through my head my entire time in Manhattan was “My god, so frickin’ huge.” Block after block of tall buildings, like a downtown that extends unto infinity. I never had so much fun people watching: the portly black woman on the subway who looked like she stepped out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon; the wispy androgynous boy-nymph waiting in line for a latte at the Big Cup in Chelsea; the ruddy-faced middle eastern man selling a pamphlet in Times Square called “452 Sexual Positions For $1”; the aloof young blonde socialite prancing through Central Park as if she were Holly Golightly. And many, many more, I wish I had the mental capacity to remember them all.

In Saturday afternoon’s glistening sunshine and comfortable temperatures, we walked south from 41st Street all the way down to SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown and across the Brooklyn Bridge. We made separate trips across the East river over to Williamsburg for Thai food and Greenpoint for Polish food, feasting at the latter on a combination platter of pierogi, stuffed cabbage, keilbasa and a bowl of sour soup. Went back out to Chelsea on Saturday night and got briefly cruised by an attractive blond who had the misfortune of living in The Bronx. Dined at Cafeteria where we viewed tourists and locals of all stripes over a bellini, a blueberry margarita, mac and cheese and a turkey burger. Brought home two dozen Krispy Kremes with us on the bus, more than enough to induce a terminal fat-and-sugar koma.

I still don’t think I could ever live in New York--unless I was making a shitload of money. The city seems too intense, relentless, in-your-face. It has catapulted to the top of my Favorite Places to Vacation list, however. I can’t wait to go back in the winter to see a show, visit MOMA or the Met, catch a movie at the Angelika, maybe ice skate at Rockefeller Center.

It was a little strange to return to a smaller city for a change, but I’m still glad to call Boston home.