When I began planning this trip, in April of 2018, I realized almost immediately that this wasn’t going to be like every other city we’d gone to for a race. The magnitude of NYC is well known, but until we were actually planning on going there, I hadn’t wrapped my head around just how overwhelming and quite frankly, scary it was going to be.
At every race I attend with Allen, there is always some amount of alone time while he’s being herded toward the start, while he’s running the race, and up until we find each other in the crowd. Normally, I’m ok with that and will retreat to my car to nap or read. The idea of killing time wandering the streets of a city that has about 1.6 million people living in Manhattan alone, was terrifying. Add to that the thousands of people in town for the race (over 50,000 running) and the unfamiliarity of the city, and I’m about six months out from the trip and already having a freak out.
“But, L,” you say, “Aren’t you a 37-year-old, grown-ass woman?”
Yes. Yes, I am. But I’m also a nervous wreck on any given day and I live in a one-stop-light, dinky village nestled amongst the corn, bean and wheat fields. My “big city” exposure is minimal and nearly always with another person. And even then, because I’m a grown-ass woman, I never feel safe. I’ll save that wonderful topic for another day though.
So, Allen agreed that we should ask a friend to go with us. I chose our friend, Ariana. She has no kids, plenty of vacation time, minimal obligations, and she’s awesome—just like me. But unlike me, she’s pretty chill. And balance is important.
By the time we left on the morning of November 2, I’d logged hours upon hours of research time and felt as prepared as I was ever going to be. Google Maps and YouTube proved to be indispensable resources in learning the ropes before actually setting foot in New York. I shudder to think what it would have been like to go blindly into this. Kudos to past generations who survived without the internet.
In all my efforts to make sure we were prepared, wouldn’t be douchey tourists, and maximized every day were in the city without feeling rushed, I made myself SICK. It happens anytime I have a stressful event to plan for, whether the event is fun or not. I have IBS for a reason. So, I had successfully riled up my gut and spent a good portion of the week or two before we left, in the bathroom. On the 2+ hour drive to the airport, I was in a great mood, but still feeling nauseated and hoping it wouldn’t last the entire trip.
To my chagrin, our first minor faux pas happened when we got to the airport. We boarded a shuttle bus, each of us lugging a 40+ pound suitcase and a carry-on, and me with the cross-body messenger bag “purse” I planned to carry as we moved throughout the city. We were the only ones on board and in a rush to get seated, we just grabbed seats, our giant suitcases between our knees. Instead of explaining how stupid I felt when the bus began to fill up and me and my bedroom on wheels took up at least 4 seats, blocking the seats on either side of me, I’ll say, we learned our first lessons.
- If there is a luggage rack on the bus, use it.
- Always move to the back to allow newly boarding passengers to fill in the space ahead of you. (which, I actually knew, but in the haste of the moment, completely forgot)
It sounds stupid to have to say that, NOW, but maybe that gives you an idea of just how out of our element we were. This was just the first of so, so many stressful incidents before we were safely behind the door of our hotel room that first day.
Before we could board the plane, we checked our bags, which was frustrating, confusing, and stressful on its own (and all my fault, I’m sure), and then we had to go through security.
Every effort was made to pack correctly for this situation, we had plenty of time before we got up to the TSA agent to watch everyone else going through the line, and I’d watched plenty of videos on the TSA website. But maybe, if you suffer from raging anxiety like I do, you get why I was tweaking out on the inside. Definitely not on the outside. I wasn’t looking to get tackled by security for looking threatening! A nice pat-down, sure. But not wrestled to the ground for looking crazy. I fumbled my way through pulling off my shoes and all but dumping the contents of my purse and carry-on into the plastic bins. I didn’t want to hold up the line! It wasn’t until I had my shoes back on and we were walking toward our gate that I relaxed.
We flew out of Indianapolis. It’s a nice airport. How nice wouldn’t register until we’d both landed and boarded at LaGuardia. I hadn’t been on a plane since I was a first grader, Allen since high school and Ariana since her early 20’s. Allen and I suffer from motion sickness and I was worried we would both be utilizing those back-of-the-seat paper bags. In an odd turn of events, once we were seated and buckled in on the plane, I felt euphoric. My stomach felt fine and I was turning cartwheels in my head! I made sure to point out the bag to Allen but he assured me he would be okay.
Take off was super exciting and I withheld (or maybe I whispered) an excited “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” as the plane lurched forward on the runway, pinning us to our seats. We’d made it. I’d gotten us this far! We settled in but there was terrible turbulence. As we began to descend, I noticed Allen looking rather pale. He started to sweat. I thrust my barf bag at him and was pretty sure he’d have to use it. He surprised me by successfully holding it in. However, once we deplaned, the first thing he did on New York soil was find a bathroom and throw-up. While terrible at the time, it’s going to provide us with a laugh for years to come. Right, Allen? Right?
As we walked through the airport, we saw who we thought was Nik Dodani from Netflix’s Atypical.
After we moved away we realized it PROBABLY WAS HIM, since we were, after all, in NEW YORK CITY.
Our first stop, after the bathroom, was at a MetroCard machine. We each got an unlimited, 7-day card for $33 ($32 + $1 for the card) just like the YouTubers advised.
Then we got really confused by the bus ticket situation (again, I had studied, but failed to remember how to accomplish this). Luckily some nice fellows helped us out.
We got on the bus and Allen’s motion sickness came back quickly. There’s something about riding sideways through rush hour traffic in Queens, on roads that feel like they’re made entirely out of pot holes that might have gotten to him.
Then came the Subway. I capitalize Subway because it definitely deserves it. It’s a beast that even New Yorkers on YouTube admitted had bested them at one time or another. I felt like I’d trained all my life for this moment. Okay, that’s being dramatic. Plus, even with all the research, I began second guessing myself (it’s my thing, it’s what I do) as soon as we had to figure out where to go. So much for my life’s work! I’d even come prepared with a couple different apps on my phone, MyTransit NYC Subway, Bus, Rail (MTA) and New York Subway – MTA map and routes. The second one proved to be a lifesaver once I got the hang of it.
One thing I did manage to retain from all my research was that anytime we needed to stop to regroup, we moved toward the buildings and out of the way of people bustling down the busy sidewalks. I know that alone saved us from a great many nasty glares and “HEY, I’M WALKIN’ HERE”s, and possibly being trampled. We saw it happen enough with other tourists who clearly didn’t have an anal retentive, OCD, perfectionist planning their trip.
Being confused about which train to get on wouldn’t have been so bad (and believe me, it happened more than the first day) but the Subway, in case you didn’t know, is underground. There are multiple flights of stairs sometimes. And we were all still lugging a good 50-60 pounds of luggage each. Down SO. MANY. STEPS. And up. And down. We finally got on the right train and were only certain of that after a kind woman, clearly on her way home from work, confirmed it.
We rode from the Jackson Heights/Roosevelt Ave station to the 50 St/8th Ave station a block from our hotel, with our suitcases between our legs, a couple of us hanging on the center poles because there were no seats at first, an trying not to make eye contact or idle conversation with the natives despite our Midwestern urges to do so.
There was more starting and stopping and starting again and Allen was still very woozy. When we finally climbed back to the surface, our arms aching, me sweating, Allen ready to vomit, he said he would NOT be riding the Subway again.
That attitude*, coupled with all the stress of getting to that intersection in Manhattan, had me fuming. I planned for six months to make this trip as fun, streamlined, and budget friendly as possible. I replied that I guess we’d have a great time sitting in our hotel room for most of the trip since taking a taxi everywhere would blow our trip funds in a day or two. I also suggested that he should get some rest before writing off Subway travel. Ariana, of course, was chill.
We checked into the Hampton Inn Manhattan Times Square North on 8th Ave between 51st and 52nd streets. A first for the day, the check-in was quick and easy (I can hear Allen saying, “Your mom is quick and easy.” Damn it, Allen). After throwing up again, Allen hit the bed. It wasn’t quite 5:30pm.
After we all rested for about an hour, Allen felt better and was ready to eat. He still refused to get on the Subway so we looked for a place within walking distance. Another tip from my research had us using Open Table to make reservations and feeling super fancy. I make all that sound easy, when in fact, it too was ridiculous. I made the mistake of leaving the choice for supper unplanned. We kept running into long wait times on the reservation app for every place that sounded appealing and were seemingly never going to make a decision. Allen finally picked Ceci Italian Restaurant, despite a long wait time, and I said fine, because I was tired of trying to figure out our best option.
We enjoyed the walk to the restaurant as it took us through Times Square and down Broadway. It’s easy to roll your eyes at the film industry’s depiction of the country bumpkin coming to “The Big City” but it rings true. It’s hard not to stare upward at the skyscrapers and the bright lights. It’s amazing, captivating, inspiring. The movies get that part right. Something else they get right is the traffic, which we noticed early on. I was glad every day that we were there that I had not decided to try to drive. NO. EFFING. WAY.
The restaurant was very dark and intimate, with many tables in a rather small space.
The food was amazing. I got the Lasagna Della Nonna…and Allen had his plate plus several bites of mine. He was clearly on the mend.
On the way back “home,” we stopped at the Rite Aid by the Subway station near our hotel and bought lots of snacks and a 2.5 gallon jug of water with a tap. We didn’t have a fridge or microwave, which kind of sucked, to be honest, but we were close to the ice machine and had plenty of paper cups.
When we got back to the hotel around 9pm, Allen wanted to do a light “3-mile shakeout” run on the treadmill. I filmed him for his Marathon Facebook page and because I was in awe of the fancy treadmills.
And day 1 ended with us all a little sore, a lot tired, and happy to pass out by 11.
*I should mention that Allen gets a stick up his butt before any big race where a personal goal is on the line. Afterward, he’s fine. But leading up to it…uuugh.