The sun set somewhere in Connecticut. The scenery whizzing by through the train windows faded from lush green landscapes along the countryside into darkness. Then, as we closed in on our destination, the New York City skyline rose up from the twilight. The bright lights illuminated the busy bustling city and my two-dimensional vantage point framed the iconic buildings as natural as an Ansel Adams photo.
I was momentarily overcome with the emotion Harry Potter must have felt as the Hogwarts Express chugged into sight of the castle. Madison Avenue, 42nd Street, Broadway, Times Square – for a Communication/Theatre nerd, the Polar Express had just pulled up to Santa’s Village.
We arrived at Penn Station just after 9 p.m. and disembarked into the vast underground world of the New York City subway system. Pej noted that he preferred trains to cabs. “Come on! We don’t want to miss this one,” he quickly mentioned as the PA began to announce the doors were closing on the ACE 123 in front of us. Once again, we sprinted to catch our train. I’ve got some impressive bruises on my legs from where I thwacked myself/tripped over my luggage.
Twenty minutes later we arrived at Canal Street. Navigating the rat maze of twists, turns and steel turnstiles, we climbed a rickety staircase. The tiny ascent seemed out of place, unobtrusive and deathly dark against the city living above. I put my suitcase down and surveyed my surroundings – the urban blight of graffiti scrawled against closed metal grates and steam spiraling from the manhole covers. The smell of exhaust, steel and interestingly enough, sugary confectionary filled the air.
Pej and I stood on the street corner – I simply took in our surroundings while Pej consulted the map. I had no big city delusions of grandeur. I had no idea where we were and was totally worthless from a geographic standpoint.
At our hotel, the concierge informed us that the rooms had been pre-paid on Pej’s credit card. Pej looked at me, “Oh, you are so buying me dinner.” Did I want to put my own credit card down for incidentals? “In for a penny, in for a pound,” sighed Pej.
Pej will also be paying for my room wireless fee, I informed the desk. “Now you’re buying me dessert, too,” retorted Pej. “Meet here in 10 minutes and we’re going out.”
Going out? I didn’t want to go out. I wanted to go to bed. “Really? When was the last time you were in New York?” Pej questioned. Touche. We were going out.
Twenty minutes later we were back on the subway. Because that’s a good idea. To take a directionally inept individual and place her under the streets of a busy city. What could go wrong there?
We walked down 42nd Street as I geeked out: Phantom! Memphis! Lion King! Wicked! SQUEEEEEEEEEE!!! I’M ON BROADWAY BABY! (Right about now Pej was busy thinking, “And I got stuck with the lunatic on this trip how?”)
“Just wait,” Pej cautioned. “In about another block it’s going to become Vegas.”
The lights, the people, the buzz, the energy. It was everything I’ve ever seen on TV. I’m not entirely sure how amused Pej (who travels there almost once a month) was by my frenzied photographic attempts. (And also, I really want to reread “A Cricket in Times Square.”)
We had a delightful Italian dinner and then set off to find Carmine’s for dessert. Pej insisted that they had an amazing Strawberry Shortcake. I won’t lie – a world famous dessert that’s not chocolate? Suspect… It was the size of me. And with one minor incident involving the structural integrity of the delectable, it was pretty damn amazing.
“Told you,” gloated Pej as we continued our walking tour of the city in search of a nightcap. And if to prove his point, a New York character chose that moment to lean out of a car window and serenade us with Pink’s “Raise Your Glass.” Well, that was certainly a first.
I met Pej in the lobby of our hotel far too early the next morning. “I feel pretty,” he said. So we took a cab to our meeting.
But first, we stopped at Shake Shack on Madison Avenue. (Yes, I ate my way through New York. And it was good.) As we inhaled our burgers and melted frozen
custard chocolate, I had my own personal Mad Men moment. Here, at the birthplace, heart and hub of advertising and PR I was living the high life of a big city PR chick. But seriously, where is my West Coast Shake Shack?
Our last meeting was at the precipice of Grand Central station. A big city cathedral, the marble archways seemed to transport us back half a century to a time when people in proper suits and hats caught the train to adventure.
There is a whispering wall there. So if you saw me standing with my nose to a corner, I assure you – I am not crazy, I was having a lovely low-decibel conversation with the gentleman kitty-corner.
And then we ran to catch some more trains.
It was less than 24 hours. And I can confirm – the city never sleeps.