“…kaleidoscope of loud heartbeats under coats,” Taylor Swift sang.
“Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” as Alicia Keys put it.
Growing up in various small towns below the Mason-Dixon line, I primarily experienced New York City through pop culture. I imagined it as the shiny, forward-thinking apex of American civilization. I thought that everyone was wealthy, well-dressed, and on a mission. In some ways, I was right, but there is a nuance to NYC that can’t really be understood from afar. Last week, after a short, four-day trip to the city, I realized that its true beauty is in the small moments.
Having already indulged in all of the typical tourist attractions on previous visits, my mother and I specifically set out to have novel experiences this trip. On our first day in the city, we headed to the Flatiron District in search of the Instagram-famous vegan food depot by CHLOE. On the way there and back, I traveled through Herald Square and the gorgeous neighborhood Gramercy. The buildings here are undeniably quite tall; however, there is a feeling of openness that almost makes you forget that you are in a city with eight million people. Beneath the shadow of the Flatiron Building, locals and tourists alike sit at small tables topped by blue umbrellas. Flowerpots with tiny pink and purple blooms line the little park.
After much exploration, my mother and I grew tired. We ran into our dinner by happenstance. We stopped at a street corner: on one side was the trendy, fast-casual chain Shake Shack and the other was Fresh & Co. As my mother waited in line for the coveted burger and fires, I ventured across the street to grab chia pudding and some soup. The easy accessibility of anything that you could possibly want is one conception about NYC that holds abundantly true.
That night, we ventured to the Theatre District where we had the privilege of previewing the latest Broadway revival of CATS. The intricate dances characterization performed by the ensemble cast were entrancing, but the show’s true best moment came near the end when British pop superstar Leona Lewis took to the stage as Grizabella and sang the Broadway classic Memory. I have seen many Broadway shows, but this was a moment like no other.
The following day was a pretty typical shopping excursion through the Upper East Side. Walking past Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue calls up memories of Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, and the type of NYC luxe that has been canonized in the America media.
On our last full day in the city, my mother and I set out on an expedition to find the most interesting, free activities. First, we stopped in Bryant Park where groups from various Broadway shows were performing free of charge. As the casts of Kinky Boots, Fun Home, Waitress, and a few off-Broadway productions performed songs and scenes, the park filled young professionals on their lunch breaks, retirees relaxing in the sun, and T-shirt-clad children from a nearby summer camp. Were it not for the skyscrapers in front of me, I might have mistaken the scene for suburbia.
Later that afternoon, we made our way to the New York Public Library—an architectural wonder and a shrine to knowledge. The expansive marble halls seem like a museum and the building’s facade is reminiscent of Washington, DC. In the gift shop near the front door, you can purchase puzzles, leather-bound books, and various other trinkets. It’s the kind of place that you could visit a hundred times and still be amazed each time.
That night, our trip came to a quiet and delightful end when we saw the Royal Shakespeare Company perform Matilda the Musical. Afterward, on a whim, we walked to Koreatown in search of late night snacks. As we meandered back to our hotel, matcha ice cream in hand, I realized how much appreciation I had gained for New York City. Though I had only been there for four days, I knew I would miss it. Perhaps it is as Tom Wolfe said: “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”