“So tell me, Psyche, how on earth did you manage to get yourself to this hotel from JFK?” my boss asked me over a glass of wine and cubes of cheese at the small courtyard at The Park Lane Hotel in Central Park. Hmmm.. “After immigration, I walked past the door that said ‘Exit,’ followed the sign to where the Airtrain was, and rode the train,” I replied. “You are an independent woman!” my boss exclaimed. I just followed what the guide book said. My boss and his wife had fits laughing.
My dear New York,
I arrived in your city at 10 minutes past seven in the evening, spring time in May. There was a brief sunset and it has been a long, long day for me. My day started with 6AM sunrise in Dubai. I was kinda tired and customs took a while because it was change of shifts and there was only one woman serving more than a hundred passengers from the Emirates flight. Customs check went smoothly though. No one even bothered to ask if I’m bringing dried fish even though I did declare in my customs form that I was bringing food.
Thankfully, the Airtrain was easy to spot and easy to board. Just one floor up from the arrival gate. And there was Wi-Fi so I was able to send messages to everyone who was worried I was traveling alone that I have arrived in New York, safely, and the pasalubong still intact. Your subway was stinky and dirty, but, truthfully, full of character. There was blood splattered in the subway near Queens where a friend from back home took me for dinner.
On our way to Manhattan, it was quiet and I thought this is not the city that never sleeps. I could see half of the Empire State building from afar. When we neared Central Park, the Uber driver has opened the car windows and I thought, this city smells familiar. This smells like home. I smelled horse shit. I smelled flowers. I smelled the scent of rain. After I got inside the hotel room, I ran to the window and looked out. What’s out there? I was expecting glittering lights from the buildings crowding you, hands reaching to God. But facing me was an office building and a man, whose shoulders were hunched, typing on his laptop. Working hard or hardly working, my boss would ask. I fell asleep immediately because the hotel’s sheets were soft. I remembered Willa Cather’s Paul’s Case. Willa Cather is my most favorite American author. And her stories never end well.
The larger than life lights at Times Square, the entertainment at Broadway, the shops all over Fifth Ave. — these didn’t attract me to you. But I would miss your breeze when I open the hotel doors to get breakfast and the early morning walks to Central Park where your people gather to run, walk, play with their dogs. I would miss eating breakfast at your parks and riding the subway pretending to read a book while actually intently listening to a young boy selling candies. The early morning (before 10AM) would be my favorite time in your city. It is when your people are up. Not tourists walking aimlessly, looking up, bumping other tourists. Not tourists but your people. Walking up and down your avenues, exploring little alleys, and eating at your parks — I would say, this is New York to me. Feels like home.