Here is Part One if you missed it.
It was a Friday. 7 something a.m. It was incredible; unexpected; unheard of. I was taking my first real Solo Trip and it was to New York City.
3-4 years. That’s how long I’d been saying I wanted to go back. Now I was in the airport fidgeting with rising excitement and mounting terror.
I’m on the plane and I’m thinking, I can’t wait to smell the subway. I hope it smells the same as I remember. It’s an unrelenting question. I need it to smell the same. I have powerful memories attached to that smell and I’m afraid they’ll crumble if the smell isn’t what I remember it to be. Those subways first saw me as a teenager going into 10th grade. I recall running for the train to catch Les Miserables– my first Broadway play. We were running late, my cousins and me. I remember my grandma springing down the stairs trying to keep up with us. We dashed into the car seconds before it was too late. The subway has always held a certain magic for me.
But that was then. I was a kid and I followed where my New York family led me. Now I was going to be completely alone. I’m going to be an ant. A speck. This is terrifying, but it’s partly why I want to do it. I want to do what terrifies me and what excites me. The plane starts moving and there’s no turning back. It’s me and my backpack. No more chronic over-packing for me. I’m seeking freedom.
I arrive at the hostel (my first one) the Q4. It’s cute and clean; graffiti on the walls; industrial cool- you know the look. The desk clerks are friendly and send me downstairs to the lounge. There I find a huge cluster of people between what seems to be the ages of 17 and 21. I feel like the oldest human on Earth. But there are games, pool, tv, a full kitchen; it’s a thriving community. Later on, when they all leave simultaneously to presumably their next destination, I meet some older travelers (filmmakers, backpackers and hiatus takers) and listen with awe to their stories of far off places.
I spend hours at the Metropolitan Museum with no one pushing me on into the next room or the next activity. I stare at statues until I’m satisfied. The next day is Times Square. I soak up the energy, embrace the frenzy. And when I’ve had enough, I roam the side streets staring at the architecture. How long do I stand on the sidewalk, my head tilted back, studying the details of a building as people pass me by? I have no idea. Because it doesn’t matter. I am alone and every minute belongs to me to do as I please.
I meet people. Interesting people. We exchange contacts. Would I have spoken to them at all had I not been alone? Probably not. I would’ve been too engaged in my own conversation to reach out to join theirs.
I stumble on beautiful places. There is one that I want to keep a secret. I want it to be mine forever. It makes me feel like a jealous lover. It’s beauty makes me want to cry. But this post, these posts, are for those of you who are wondering when your time will come. I’m here to encourage you to not give up and so I will give you what you need. The name. Lillie’s Victorian Establishment. Just go. Don’t look up any photos of the place on Google. Just go…. Okay fine, I’ll give you a teaser.
I am beginning to feel like the person I see myself as. The gap between the woman I want to be and the woman I am is closing. I feel proud, strong and capable. I’m not twenty anymore, but I belong to this too.
I stop in a coffee shop to write in my journal while my feelings are fresh. Besides the one time I stood on the wrong platform for 20 minutes waiting on a train that seemed to keep getting delayed– I felt like a f@#&ing idiot– I learned to manuever the subway system. In New York City, what else is there to know?
Oh yes, the subway smelled exactly as I had remembered it. I walked down the stairs and memories lifted me to my destination.