I've been to New York City four times. The first time was with my immediate family - the trip was my Christmas gift. A dance enthusiast in my youth, I had been begging since I was only a little girl to see "The Nutcracker" at Lincoln Center, and when I was 19 years-old, we went. It was perhaps the most magical trip of my young life. It was cold, but not frigid. The store windows were all decorated for the holidays. There were Christmas trees everywhere...some real...others made of tinsel and other, more creative materials. A dear friend was also scheduled to be in Manhattan at the same time, and his family was staying at The Waldorf Astoria. We were not scheduled to stay there, but upon hearing this, my mother made it her mission to relocate us. Not only did she find a deal which allowed us to change locations, but we spent our first night in NYC in a Waldorf suite. We sipped hot chocolate, rode in a carriage and ice skated in Central Park. We bought knock-off designer wallets from a man with a folding table on a street corner. I was in heaven.
My second visit was a quick one. My cousins and I were interning in Washington D.C. the summer I turned 21, and my mom flew in to take us on a whirwind, 5 states in 3 days, driving trip. It was August. It was HOT. We visited Times Square and whined about the heat. I think we went to Planet Hollywood.
My third visit was with my husband, once again at Christmas time. It was the coldest winter on record in NYC, and my husband stood in line at the TKTS booth in Times Square to purchase tickets to "Fela" for almost 2 hours. It was 20 degrees at high noon. Myself an enormous Food Network fan, we made a point to visit Chelsea Market (still one of my favorite food destinations to date) and to spend time shopping in SoHo. We successfully navigated the subway system. We stayed in a boutique hotel with a shared bathroom on the Upper West Side. We waited in line at Serendipity III for an hour and a half. I slept a total of seven hours over three nights, nursing a mean case of walking pneumonia with more Aleve Cold and Sinus than my body could reasonably handle. We spent about two and a half minutes at Filene's Basement.
My most recent trip to NYC was the shortest, but perhaps the most interesting because I was alone. I consider myself a brave individual, but seeing as how this was my first overnight trip ANYWHERE completely by myself, I was more than a little intimidated. The purpose of my visit was business related. I was scheduled to interview Anne Hathaway regarding her new film "One Day" on Monday and to attend a screening of that film Sunday evening. The movie studio had set up the interviews at The Waldorf Astoria, which meant the press would be staying there as well - familiar surroundings put me much more at ease than I might have been at a strange hotel in an area I'd not experienced.
I arrived in Newark at 11 a.m. Sunday and was transported to the Waldorf by a gentleman in a Mercedes named "Rafi". He was very proud of his children - a doctor, a future lawyer a math whiz and the youngest who he claimed "had a superior intellect but simply no ambition". By the way, City College in London costs 8,000 pounds per quarter...that is, I'm told, more expensive than Harvard. Rafi was greatly displeased by this, but luckily, his daughter had received scholarships. My 45 minute ride passed quickly.
I checked into my lovely and overly extravagant room at The Waldorf, made my way to press check-in (I cannot even effectively decribe to you the suite where that was located...let's just say, you could fit three of my house in it...) then proceeded down the elevator from the 29th floor to ground level and an afternoon of adventure.
I began walking north on Park Avenue with no plan in my head. I simply went. I wore a floral print jumper with leather sandals and my hair pulled back in a mess of curls. I felt very stylish indeed. The spring in my step likely gave me away as a non-native, but I was in no mood to worry about the perceptions of others. I was doing New York with no restrictions and no agenda. At each intersection, I looked left and right to see if there was anything I might be missing on my aimless trek northward. About 3 blocks into my excursion, I noted a street fair happening one street East of Park, and I redirected to see what it was about.
The street fair was block after block of food trucks, clothing and accessories vendors and craftspeople. There were purveyors of organic goods like honey and jam, and of course, the usual designer knock-off sellers whose kiosks I avoided. Fifteen minutes and $40 later, I had a new dress and two time-piece amulets shaped like owls...one for me, and one for my friend Liz who had risen at 6:30 on a Sunday to take me to the airport. I was jubilant. The one thing I couldn't seem to locate was a Starbucks. (there was one in my hotel, but I was way to excited to even notice it)
I continued through the street fair until it ended, and upon turning back toward Park Avenue, I found myself across the street from Central Park. I wandered through the outer, free portion of the Central Park Zoo and noted all of the different languages and accents I heard along the way. I waited in line at a food kiosk to purchase some water behind a family I believe to have been Dutch. I walked a few paces behind a group of young women speaking French for a while, and encountered a family speaking Portuguese alongside a used book seller set up on the outskirts of the park. For a moment, I wished I could speak every language in the world. Then, I decided it was much more fun and mysterious to interpret their conversations blindly. You can discern quite a lot from body language and facial expressions.
I strolled past The Plaza and Tiffany's ( I may have been on 5th at this point...I am not really sure...) through Henri Bendel and H&M and eventually, back toward my hotel. Three and a half hours had passed, and I had amassed quite a treasure trove. I emptied my prizes on to my bed, looked them over, returned a call to my dad, then dozed off surrounded by my day's conquests. I awoke just in time to shower, dress and catch a shuttle to my screening, which was a short 3 blocks away.
After seeing the film (which was lovely!), I ordered room service. This is not a common occurrence for me, but since I had been issued a credit to the hotel restaurants, I decided to indulge. I found a movie on television, then ordered angel hair pasta with stewed tomatoes and basil, a salad and a Coors Light. Half an hour later, I had a neatly appointed table set before me, complete with three kinds of bread, a full wine chiller for my one beer, and a pat of butter the size of a bar of soap. I dined, ironed my dress for the following day's events and settled in for an evening's repose in a bed that could have easily fit four of me.
The following morning I rose earlier than I needed to, dressed, and located the Starbucks that had elluded me the day prior. I composed questions for my interviewees, sipped a soy vanilla latte and tried to sedate the butterflies that had taken flight in my stomach.
I consulted the concierge on the best/quickest/cheapest way to return to Newark (cab...that's pretty much the only option) then checked in for my appointed interview time half an hour early. I had my new, special edition copy of "Jane Eyre" in my purse, so I commenced reading to help distract myself from what I was about to do. Around me, reporters who frequently make celebrity interview trips conversed in animated tones, as if they hadn't seen each other in years. A few other people sat reading the film's production notes. An elderly gentleman on a couch opposite me had fallen asleep and was snoring. I made one friend when I consulted the fellow next to me as to whether it was common for interviewers to fall asleep while waiting their turn. He said it was the first time he had seen it happen.
I waited for an hour. I almost leapt out of my skin when the press wrangler announced that it was my turn to "head down to Anne". If you've ever seen the film "Notting Hill", then you know basically what the set up looks like. You are ushered down a hallway to a room where television cameras, lights and microphones have been strategically placed to accommodate reporters quickly and easily. There are people monitoring tape decks and audio equipment. There are other very fashionable people sitting about...chatting...looking fabulous and not really doing anything.
I was Anne Hathaway's last interview before lunch. She was warm and cordial....very professional. It was clear she had been doing this for years. She shook my hand (yes, I touched Anne Hathaway...) before and after the interview, and blushed when I told her she looked quite a lot like Audrey Hepburn when her hair was cut short in her film. I proceeded to interview an equally charming Jim Sturgess who is best known for his role in the strange but visually stunning movie-musical "Across the Universe" featuring the songs of The Beatles.
Having finished my interviews, I had a lovely lunch in the monster press suite, spent an hour or so traversing 5th Avenue looking for Bryant Park in a Suzy Chin tunic dress and flip-flops, then cabbed it back to Newark, nauseous with exhaustion. I spent the next three hours before my flight with my friend, Jane Eyre, boarded a plane and found myself deposited back in Tampa just before 10. The next morning...business as usual.
I'm not sure how often I'll be making whirlwind trips like this one...I don't know for sure when the next opportunity will present itself, but I can honestly say, I feel much more self-assured and confident in my ability to "go it alone" having now navigated the biggest and most densely populated city in the United States, all on my own. It is, perhaps, much more fun with a companion, but there is much to be said for the uninhibited experience of making one's own rules and adhering no one else's schedule.
Now, where to next?....Paris, maybe?