Yes, I know.
That is not a picture of New York. It’s actually a picture of Seoul, and I’m using it because even though this letter is about a visit to New York City, I don’t have any pictures of it because I didn’t have a camera. But I do have a picture of Seoul, and both cities have concrete and buildings, so there.
This is a story about New York City circa 2001. A long time ago, back in the ancient times when we rented movies from stores, computers had wires, and we used these things called road maps to figure out where to go. We had digital cameras. We had cell phones. We had Internet. What we didn’t have was any one thing that combined all three of those things, and as luck would have it, when I was visiting New York City I had a Walkman, which could neither take pictures, make phone calls or access the internet.
This is an important detail, because it makes the whole thing possible. Remember how I told you about super awesome special skills? In particular, the one about my ability to get lost? Well, yeah…I have a super awesome special skill, and I used to maximum effect in New York City.
Here’s how it went down. Me and a bunch of college buddies were traveling to New York to see Kentucky play basketball against Duke. The game was in New Jersey, and even though we were from Kentucky, we knew better than to spend more than a few hours in New Jersey, so we spent the day before the game in New York City. There were about a dozen of us. We were all young and dumb and excited, so we just loaded up on the train in the morning and headed into the city. We didn’t discuss any sort of meet up point in case anyone got separated because all but two of us had cell phones. That would be me and Pat.
Pat was a year younger and a few inches taller. He looked like the love child of Waldo and Harry Potter and while I know it’s not true, I can’t picture him not ever wearing a polo shirt and cargo shorts. Pat was a good guy, and he also didn’t have a cell phone, and he was on my end of the train, dutifully clinging to one of the swaying handrails as we pulled into Grand Central Terminal.
I remember the doors opening up. I remember the swelling current of commuters carrying us out of the train. I remember looking up at my buddies across the plaza, who had exited from the opposite door, and saying, “We’ll go up these stairs and see you up top.”
Nope. Wrong. Me and cargo shorts Pat went up the stairs, exited to the street, and never saw our friends again. It was like we had crossed over into another dimension while walking up the stairs, because they were nowhere, NOWHERE, to be found.
The normal reaction would be, “Well that sucks.”
You know what, though? It did, at first, and then, it didn’t.
After trying to track our friends down, me and Pat both realized that 5/6 of our group had cell phone and 1/6 didn’t and we were both equal parts of that 1/6 and we were stranded in New York City. We accepted it because there was no other choice besides going back to the hotel, and not seeing New York City.
So we started walking, and in 12 hours, we saw just about every street on Manhattan. We got lost while being lost and ended up in Harlem. We saw Yankee Stadium and Pat peed on a secluded wall. We saw Times Square. Twice. We walked through Central Park without getting mugged.
We also visited Ground Zero. Now, it’s a giant monument to the events of September 11th. Do you remember what year that happened, Blue? That’s right. 2001. We were visiting in December of 2001. When we walked the streets, an eerie silence filled the air. Flecks of feathery asphalt filled the cracks in the sidewalks, and some of it, I swear, was still floating through the air. I will never forget that.
By the end of the day, we made it back to our hotel in one piece. I wish I could show you pictures, but like I said, I don’t have any. Not a single one. New York is an absolutely fantastic city. The buildings are so big, so tall, that every street feels like you’re at the bottom of a canyon. It’s a vibrant, lively place. Neon seems like the appropriate lighting there.
I think about this trip, and I realize that every time I go anywhere now, I know exactly where I’m going at all times. I am never out of touch with my the people I’m supposed to be with, and I will be able to document every step of the way on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, etc. I will be able to document everything and anything on any trip.
But will I remember it?
I miss getting well and truly lost, Blue. I don’t know if you’ll ever know what that means, and that makes me a little sad. Also a little at ease because you won’t get lost in a strange city, but nevertheless, a little sad.
So, my suggestion? When you’re old enough, go on a trip and leave the house like a caveman. Go hunt and gather memories without taking any photos for people to like. Eat at a restaurant without eating a review on yelp. Make your own mystery in the world, Blue. Just for a day. Then, when you get back, call your mom and tell her you’re okay.