Three Days in New York: Part I (Excerpt from Never Been to Vegas)
One Friday in late September 2011, my friend Whitney and I were laughing about how we wanted desperately to travel to New York the following weekend; both of us for varying reasons. She had friends who were going to be in the Big Apple, and I wanted to see my two “pretend boyfriends” – that being my long-suffering, on again-off again love, Mr. E (Mystery? Get it?) and NKOTB’s own Donnie Wahlberg, respectively. Mr. E was going to be in NYC on business and Donnie was hosting an event at a Philly nightclub, which was just a short hour and a half bus trip away from New York.
When I say we were “laughing” about how we wanted to go, it’s because the whole idea seemed so far-fetched at the time.
Six days later, Whitney and I found ourselves deposited into the heart of Manhattan on a commuter bus…two Tennessee girls gazing wide-eyed at each other that we had actually carried out our harebrained scheme to spend a Carpe Diem weekend in the city that never sleeps.
Somehow events had conspired in our favor to bring us to the city, each for our own reasons, both of us looking for different things, neither REALLY sure about how the next 72 hours would unfold.
This is what happened during our three days in New York.
We left for New York at 3 a.m. on a Thursday morning. Our complicated travel plan was the result of 1) My extreme distaste for flying and 2) The fact that we planned a trip to NYC in about three days time and spur-of-the-moment air travel was INSANELY expensive. Whitney and I drove to Washington, DC and then hopped a commuter bus into the city, making for about a 17-hour travel day. By parking our car at Union Station in DC and taking the bus into Manhattan, we spared ourselves the $100-a-day parking fee to leave our car in Whitney’s uncle’s parking garage in NYC. Our travel plan was a little convoluted and messy, perhaps, but it had been executed in the spirit of spontaneity with a touch of synchronicity, and that was good enough for us.
We arrived at Union Station late (after getting turned around in the confusing construction zones of DC’s freeways) and missed our 4 p.m. bus into Manhattan. Luckily the bus driver of the 4:30 bus saw two dejected girls loaded down with luggage standing somewhat forlornly on the curb and ushered us onto his bus without so much as glancing at our tickets. Once again, fate had worked in our favor, and we just KNEW it was going to be the best weekend of our lives.
We were right. It was. Just not in the way that I could have ever imagined.
We were a little past Baltimore when my phone rang. It was Mr. E. Butterflies had been swooping around in my stomach all day, so the sight of that familiar name calling lit up not just my phone screen, but my heart.
“Hey! Where are you?” that voice that never failed to make me weak in the knees asked.
“Probably about three hours away,” I answered. “What’s up?”
“Okay, so…I’ve made you a salon appointment for tomorrow at a really upscale salon,” he replied. “I thought you would want to look like a princess for tomorrow night.”
My heart started beating faster.
“Ok–aaay. Wow! I can’t believe I get to go to an NYC salon! And what happens tomorrow night?”
“I can’t tell you. It’s a surprise. But. Prepare. For. Your. Mind. To. Be. Blown.” He spaced out his words for emphasis, as though it was needed. My mind was already blown, and I hadn’t even seen him yet.
“Oh my gosh! Wow. Wow. Okay, I’m excited! Call you when I get there?”
“Sounds good! Can’t wait to see you!”
“Me, too!” I said, unable to keep the big, goofy grin from spreading across my face as I tossed my blackberry back into my purse.
Whitney’s smile matched mine as I conveyed the conversation to her.
“I’m so excited for you! He’s finally stepping up for you!” she said. “What do you think your surprise could be?”
“I have no idea,” I replied, nervously chewing on my lower lip. “He asked me for locations where Big and Carrie went on Sex & the City, and the only date of theirs that I could remember was the one where they rode in the carriage through Central Park. Maybe he’s planning to do that?”
Whitney and I giggled and chattered our way through the rest of the bus ride, wondering what was awaiting us in the city. And we didn’t have long before we would find out. In no time at all, we were crossing the giant bridge into New York, the city lights glittering all around us, our exhaustion from our full day of travel forgotten as we both bounced in our seats with excitement.
The next hour flew by in a flurry of arriving at Whitney’s uncle’s fabulous apartment, freshening up after our long day, and figuring out our plan of attack for the evening. Whitney was going one way and I was going the other. We didn’t realize it, but we wouldn’t see much of each other from this point forward in the trip. She was meeting her friends and I was meeting Big, and though we arrived in the city together, we would be like two ships passing throughout the rest of the trip.
Which brings me to an interesting point.
When it comes to traveling, I tend to be a bit on the cautious side. I hail from a small town in the south, as the baby in a family with extremely overprotective parents, and though I have a free spirit, I haven’t had nearly as much of an opportunity to explore that side of myself as I would like. In other words, until this trip, the idea of wandering around NYC alone would have seemed like a foreign concept to me…even a little scary. But I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, and step out of my comfort zone I did…more during those three days in New York than ever before in my life.
Starting with meeting up with Mr. E. He was rushing around to complete a day of production on the news project he was working on so he could devote the next 24 hours to me, so I asked him for an address of a diner near his apartment so I could wait for him there. (Obviously I didn’t really want to have a cab deposit me in front of a dark apartment building at 11:00 at night in New York City. Taking risks, I was ready to do. Taking stupid risks, I was not.)
He directed me to go somewhere called “Neptune Diner,” so I innocently told the driver the address, expecting a short cab ride, since Mr. E had told me the apartment where Whitney and I were staying on Lexington Avenue was just “a couple of train stops down” from his place.
Twenty minutes, $30.00, and a jaunt across the Queensboro Bridge later, (did I mention my phobia of bridges?) the cabbie attempted to drop me off on a dark street corner in Queens, no Neptune Diner in sight.
I tapped out a frantic text message to E.
“Do you live in Queens and neglected to tell me, or is my cab driver attempting to kidnap me?!”
He wrote back: “I live in Queens.”
(Information that would have been nice to know before I spent my life savings on a cab to a different borough.)
“Umm…” I cleared my throat, trying to figure out how to convey to my cab driver that I would NOT be exiting his cab until the words “Neptune Diner” were blazing down on me in fluorescent lighting. “I’m sorry, sir…but I’m from Tennessee. I don’t get out of cars on dark street corners even there…let alone in New York City. Is there any way we can find Neptune Diner?” I repeated the address again, and the frustrated cabbie gestured that we were, in fact, at 3105 Astoria Blvd.
I stared harder into the dark…seeing nothing but a couple of bags of garbage and two alley cats looking like they were either about to fight or mate passionately. Either way…this was clearly NOT the Neptune Diner.
The next 15 minutes were spent with me GPS’ing the irritated NYC cab driver around Astoria, him probably ruing the day I ever got into the back of his cab and me wondering when Ashton Kutcher was going to jump out from behind a bush, yelling that I had been “Punk’d!” (Remember, this WAS 2011.)
Then, suddenly, there it was…looming above me, as beautiful as the North Star must have been to the Three Wise Men (okay, maybe that’s a LITTLE overdramatic)…the Neptune Diner! I was ready to kiss my cabbie in relief, but he peeled off the moment my boots hit the pavement…probably heading back to headquarters to turn in his keys and go into early retirement.
Nevertheless, I was HERE! Somehow, someway, I was sitting in a diner in Queens, packed with New Yorkers even at 11:30 at night, surrounded by strangers, waiting on the boy who I hadn’t seen in a year and a half but had loved for as long as I could remember. My heart beats faster just typing these words as I recall how anxious and nervous and excited I was, waiting for my Prince to swoop in and sweep me off my feet. After all, it WAS almost midnight…and though I was wearing black boots instead of glass slippers…never had I felt more like Cinderella.
Every time the diner door would open, I would glance up from my menu…eyeing the door in search of that familiar face. A few minutes went by…a few more…then a text:
“Don’t order food! I have a surprise for you..”
A couple of minutes later, the diner door swung open…and there he was.
He came galloping through the door in his usual cloud of excitement and vitality and energy…golden hair and skin lighting up the room and causing several waitresses to stop in mid-order and stare. He had a grin on his face like the Cheshire Cat when his eyes met mine…and as cheesy as it might sound, for a moment, everything else fell away.
Then he was by my side, swooping me up into his arms…and everything else was forgotten. The seventeen hours of travel…the crazy cab ride…the numerous bridges and tunnels and miles I had journeyed to be here, with him, in this moment.
None of it mattered. None of it mattered a bit.
I was in a city of over 8 million people where I knew exactly two, in a strange diner in a funny little borough I had actually never been to before, but somehow…
I was home.
To be continued…
***If you want to read more, grab your copy of I’ve Never Been to Vegas But My Luggage Has!***