Friday morning, April 1st, Nan drove me from Sayreville to the train station in South Amboy. Along the way she advised me to keep my money in my front pocket, and to not stare up at all the tall buildings like an out of town, gawking tourist. When we got to the train station parking lot I asked if I should wait on the parking lot side of the station when she came to pick me up later, she told me to wait on the other side of the station on North Broadway because it was safer. An ominous start to my trip.
I climbed the stairs to the bridge that crossed over the tracks and then down another staircase to the platform. I bought two tickets at the vending machine and waited for the train to arrive. More people showed up on the platform and I consciously kept to myself and avoided any contact. I was a little apprehensive and just wanted to stay focused on the journey ahead on this partially cloudy cool day.
Soon the train arrived, I boarded, and mostly looked at my phone to stay occupied. I normally like to look out the window but I though that might make me look like an easy mark. One by one we stopped at all the stations and more people boarded. Finally the train entered one of the North River Tunnels and rode underneath the Hudson River. It was pitch dark outside the train and anticipation built up as I entered into New York.
The train finally slowed to a stop and the doors slid open. I joined the throng of people exiting onto the thin platform and up a narrow escalator until I was on the vast floor of Pennsylvania Station. I wandered around not sure where to go, so many storefronts I thought I was in a mall. I found an escalator going up and I rode it up. Just in front of me were two servicemen in full uniform and carrying sidearms. They looked ready for anything.
Once I was out of the station I found myself at the busy corner of 8th Ave and 33rd St. Wasting no time I immediately started walking north up 8th Ave. I moved briskly with the other pedestrians and stayed in the crowd without getting too close or bumping into anyone, an acquired skill. I was amazed by the dexterity with which New Yorkers moved through and around each other by foot, car, bicycle, taxi, bus, and skateboard while barely avoiding collisions. Sometimes people stopped at the narrow east to west streets if the light was red, but mostly pedestrians kept walking as long as there was no heavy cross traffic.
Gradually I felt myself acclimating to the vibe of Manhattan. I glanced at the occasional storefront or down one of the streets but mostly I was focused on moving dead ahead. Some sections of sidewalk were covered because of construction. I had no plan but I didn’t feel I needed one, I just wanted to take in these new and kinetic surroundings. Some family members told me that New York pizza tasted different than California pizza, and not just because we put things on a pizza that don’t belong on it but also because of the water. I passed a few pizza places on my walk up 8th Ave but I was so caught up in walking with the crowd that I didn’t want to break away from the stampede.
When I got to 53rd St I spotted a bagel place named Pick A Bagel that looked inviting. I entered and wasn’t sure of the protocol so I had a good look at the menu board and made my choice before I went to the front counter so I didn’t waste too much time and irritate the man behind the counter. There was an older woman who seemed to be walking up to counter but was also deciding. The man behind the counter got impatient with her then looked at me and asked if I knew what I wanted. Whole wheat with lox spread I replied quickly, and then he pointed me to the cashier. After I paid and received my bagel, I sat down to eat it, and it was the best bagel I ever tasted. Maybe the water is better over there.
As I sat and ate I began to relax as I looked out the front window and watched all the city activity. As I became more familiar with my new surroundings whatever apprehension I still had went away. When I was done I used their restroom and saw an interesting sign just above the toilet.
Satisfied, I left Pick A Bagel and decided to keep walking north until I reached Central Park, but not until I saw a street named after one of New York’s most beloved and iconic actors.
I kept walking north passing one street after another until I saw a large span of open space in the middle of all the tall buildings. After traversing around Columbus Circle I was in the urban oasis known as Central Park. I exited out of the traffic noise and onto the curved pathways of the park. As I was walking I overheard someone say that the park was designed with curved pathways and no right angles so people could enjoy the park more and get some relief from the grid pattern over the rest of the island. I wandered around the park and took in the sights, even saw a newlywed couple by the lake being photographed.
After some wandering I ended up at 5th Ave and headed back south. I remember hearing how 5th Ave was where the elite used to live but I wanted to see the theater district so I went down one of the streets to 6th Ave, walked down that thoroughfare for a block or two then crossed over to 7th Ave. I felt the excitement of the theater district, looking at all the marquees with the star’s names, feeling the buzz of approaching showtimes at the forty or so venues in the Broadway box. Theater really keeps the star actors on their toes, because unlike the movies and the great majority of television, there is no second take.
Before long I found myself in Times Square, not only the vibrant center of New York but for all of America, our public square for all major events. In the very center a crowd of people all holding up camera phones were gathered in a big circle around several dancers giving a free performance. This felt like the essence of entertainment, performers and audience in the same close space with no barriers.
As evening approached I decided it was time to head back to Sayreville. I walked back down to Penn Station, saw the Empire State Building from a couple of blocks away,
had one last look around the island, and took the escalator down to the lower level of Penn Station. I went to the NJ Transit corner of the station and stared up at one of the screens that show the train arrivals and departures. The next North Coast Jersey train was scheduled to leave at 5:05 but the track number wasn’t listed. A bunch of us were gathered around the entrances for tracks 1-2 and 3-4 waiting for the track number to be posted. At 5:00 the PA system announced that the next train to South Amboy was boarding at track 12, and all of waiting for that train moved in a large, single mass toward the entrance to track 12. Steadily we filed onto the escalator down to the platform without incident, as if everyone were operating from a single mind. Just another day here for the commuters but I’ve never been in such a self coordinated crowd.
I made it back to South Amboy in due time, Nan picked me up and drove back to Sayreville, and I told her about my day in the city. The best April 1st I’ve ever experienced, no fooling. 😀 And tomorrow would be the New York debut of a play that I wrote. I was rapt with anticipation!
Next: Trip To New York, Part III
©2022 Robert Kirkendall