By: Jon Tompkins
I am 23 years old and I have lived in New York my entire life. I live in Manhasset on Long island, about 25 minutes outside of the city. I am fortunate enough to have a train a block away from my house making it extremely convenient to make a quick trip in to the city. With this being said, I have never taken the opportunity to explore New York City and find out what makes it so exciting and interesting to visit. I have gone in with my family to get dinner, maybe do some shopping at the less expensive shops, but never taken a day to really dig in. That is why I have promised myself I will go on a mission to find out what makes this city so special and exciting. I figured to get the best experience, I would go in on the upcoming Saturday to capture what a busy New York City looks like.
Saturday, October 8th had arrived and it’s the day I get to take on the Big Apple. Its 9am and I am quite sleepy and cranky to say the least. The weather is gloomy, dry, and chilly and I am hoping it stays dry for the rest of the day. A shower is a must if I want to wake up and not be cranky for the rest of the day. My train is at 10:30, which means I will be skipping breakfast and will add it to my to-do list once I get into the city.
Finally, I have arrived at the train station at 10:25 and I am lucky to see there is no line at the ticket booth. As I get to the machine, I see a sign that says “Round trip tickets: $22.00,” which I immediately realize they have risen by 6 dollars. $22.00 for a 25-minute train ride seems a bit ridiculous, but I am not driving in because I can only assume traffic will be out of control.
After waiting for 5 minutes, the train slowly pulls into the station. I am ecstatic to see it is a newer train because more than often the trains that come through the station are older and not as enjoyable to ride in as a newer train. Sometimes, the older trains will make a loud screeching noise the entire ride into the city making it very unenjoyable and the seats are red, with very limited cushioning, which over time makes anyone’s butt just a bit numb. On the walls of the train, there are signs for upcoming New York Knicks games, safety ads, and advertisements for banks. As the train began to make stops at the stations, I realize most people that are boarding the train are wearing some sort of Knicks attire, ranging from Knicks hats, to Knicks shirts, to even a sports finger that says “Let’s go Knicks!” Even though I didn’t buy tickets for the game, I can still go to the entrance of Madison Square Garden to catch the emotions going through the fans’ bodies. As the train gets closer to Penn Station, the skyline of the city becomes more and more clear. You can see the Empire State Building fading to the right of Manhattan, with other buildings surrounding it, while the Freedom Tower, which sits in the Financial District, sits closer to the water. Usually, more of the skyline is noticeable, but the cloudy sky has partially taken away its visibility. The closer we get to the city, the more it feels like it is coming to life. The skyline is so beautiful and appealing that its really something to experience as we approach iconic New York.
BOOM! The train goes dark and my ears begin the pop, as I realize we have entered the tunnel to Penn Station. The first time I ever went into the tunnel I was about 12 years old, and it was my first time on a train. I didn’t know to expect a trip through a dark tunnel and two minutes of my ear’s being popped. My face looked like I was a nervous wreck, and I just stared at my mom as she laughed in my face. I didn’t think it was funny, but my mom knew I wasn’t dying, so she enjoyed the moment.
The train finally pulls into Penn Station, and I am waiting eagerly for the doors to open. As I am walking out of the train, I feel as if I am walking through a garbage disposal. There is garbage all over the tracks, the floors are extremely dirty and it feels like a hot summer day. But that’s what you can expect from the busiest and biggest train station in north America. Penn Station serves about 600,000 people a day, making it extremely hard to keep up with the maintenance.
I begin to make my way up the stairs to the main level of the station and I realize it’s another one of those busy days. If you can picture black Friday in Wal-Mart but minus the kicking and shoving, that’s what Penn Station is like. And who would have ever thought a train station could have so many options for food? There are so many quick stops that range from convenience stores to mini delis, to mini bakeries, to Chipotle, Moes, McDonald’s, Pizza, Taco Bell and more. It’s almost clear as day as to why Penn Station is constantly busy-you don’t have to leave because there is everything you need surrounding it.
I begin to make my way up the escalators, and as I get closer to the top, everything begins to come to life. There are all these loud noises such as people yelling, cars driving by, taxi cabs laying on their horns and the echoes of everything hitting off the towering buildings. As I get to the top, I look around at everything that is going on in Time Square. There is a massive advertisement for Kevin Hart’s new movie that spanned for two straight blocks, advertisement after advertisement, billboards, lights flashing all over the place and street vendors, and obviously tremendous buildings that make us humans feel like ants. It really takes a second to take it all in and for someone who has never been to New York City, the experience can be overwhelming
I begin to talk to one of the street vendors while I wait for the doors to open for the pre-season Knicks game. This vendor sold steak and chicken kababs that look better than most. I begin to talk to the vendor and I ask him, “Why did you chose to sell this spot to sell your food?” I honestly expected a rude answer from him telling me to get away, but this vendor is extremely friendly towards me.
“I chose this area because there are always people walking through Time Square and there are always people coming up from Penn Station, which benefits what I am trying to do. I also chose it because being in Time Square gives me something to do. When I am not cooking or selling, I am looking at the billboards or just the scenery around Time square. It’s really something else what they are capable of doing here, it’s really something to see,” the street vendor says.
As the vendor and I finish our conversation, I begin to notice the staggering amount of people who are walking around with cameras and that were staring up. It feels like there are more tourists than there were normal Manhattan people. I can understand where these people are coming from though, trying to capture every second of this experience. The more I look around, the more smiles there are and people are jolly. I come across a man and his girlfriend who are standing on the corner of West 31st street and 7th Avenue. I am hoping they are from out of the country so I dont look like a complete weirdo.
As I approach them I ask, “Are you guys from out of the country?” They tell me that yes, they were from out of the country. They are from Germany and they are visiting New York City for a week. I proceed to ask them what they think about New York City and if they enjoyed it or not.
“It’s amazing. It’s one thing to see pictures of New York City, but being here …. there are just no words to describe it. The buildings are so tall, and I have never seen anything like Time Square. It’s something any foreigner would look forward to because there is no other city that offers what New York City has to offer,” they reply.
They seem to enjoy it because it does not seem like they were leaving that corner anytime soon with the amount of pictures they are taking. As my conversation comes to an end, I realize more and more people are making their way towards the entrance doors of Madison square Garden. As I draw closer to the entrance, big blow up pictures of the team are on the walls, with side stands selling New York Knicks attire. Most of the time, pre-season games don’t get much of a crowd around the NBA and if there is, they definitely are not rowdy because the games don’t mean much. But that is the total opposite from what is going on. In order to get into Madison Square Garden, there is a line for security purposes and then another line to get tickets scanned. So, a decent amount of people are packed around the entrance way of the stadium. While I stand there checking out the emotions of these people, they begin to chant, “Let’s go Knicks! Let’s go Knicks! Let’s go Knicks!” which got to be very loud because of the echo it was producing, but the fans just loved it more and more. The fan’s spirit shows the respect, passion and excitement the fans have for their city and sports teams. People just keep showing up at the entrance way of the stadium as if it is a normal season game.
The fans begin making their way into the stadium, and it is time to get that breakfast that I held off on for too long. After trying for about five minutes, I am finally able to flag down a cab to take me to the famous deli, Katz’s delicatessen. I enter the cab, take a seat in the back and notice the driver’s information taped onto the seat, almost like a permit to drive a cab. His name was Abdul, and he was 33 years old with 4 years of experience under his belt. We begin to talk about life, and he tells me, “I work during the day and my father works at night. My dad believes he can control the people that have been drinking better than I can.” If I were him, I would be happy about not working at night. I could hang out with my friends and go to sleep when I want. I proceed to ask him how long he has lived here and what it is that he likes about the city.
“I lived here my entire life. About four years ago I moved out of my parent’s place in Astoria, and moved into my own place on West 105th street. I love New York City. One reason being there is always something to do. Whether it be at six in the morning or eight at night, you can find something to do. This city also has so much to offer. You can be anything you want in this city. It’s just a matter of figuring out how. Lastly, our skyline is like nothing I have ever seen before. It’s beautiful and on a night with a sunset, it’s one of the most beautiful things to see,” Abdul responds with such passion.
I think Abdul just inspires me to try harder in life, and who would have ever thought it was going to be my taxi driver with the most inspirational quote of the day? Abdul is a very pleasant Taxi driver, but it is time I got to Katz’s deli to stuff my mouth.
As we pull up to the famous Katz’s Deli, the first thing I notice is that its definitely been around for a while. It looks big from outside, with a big, shiny inviting sign that says “KATZ’S DELICATSSEN” on one side of the deli and on the other was an outdated sign that looked like it was from 100 years ago. As I approach the door, I begin to get whiffs of their glorious food and as I take my first step in the door I am smacked right in the face with heaven. The smell is a combination of the meats, sauces and whatever else they are cooking, but it instantly makes my mouth water. As you look around the Deli, it is rather large with brown walls. You can tell it’s been there for a while, but it’s been maintained to perfection. There are pictures and plaques suffocating the walls for their outstanding sandwiches, and about 30 tables and what feels like a mine long counter. I almost am getting more of a restaurant vibe rather than a deli. At the moment, it’s packed like a restaurant with people sitting at tables, and I get the feeling this place gets crowded packed constantly. As I walk up to order my food, I ask the man behind the counter what it is that makes this place so special and famous.
“Well we have been here since 1888 and began making the corned beef and pastrami sandwiches around 1905. We have been making the sandwiches for more than 100 years now and with all that time to practice, you have to come up with one of the best sandwiches or else all this time was a failure. As far as the sandwich itself, we stack up layers of pastrami and we create an overwhelming sandwich. You can eat half the sandwich now and save the other half for dinner,” the man behind the counter says.
“You don’t have to say much more. I am sold,” I respond with my eyes almost bulging out of my head.
After waiting a few minutes for my food, I am presented a sandwich that looks like a mountain. There are so many layers of pastrami piling up, and it is stacked so high that the bread keeps falling off. I quickly but enjoyably, dig right into it and don’t save the other half for later. The sandwich is easily one of the best sandwiches I have eaten and the most amazing part about it is the history that was put into it. There are recipes in the sandwich that are from 80 years ago and it’s awesome to think about. This is the first time I’ve had been to Katz’s Deli and it definitely won’t be my last.
Now that I have an enormous meal stuck inside of me, a walk through Central Park to digest isn’t the worst idea. I hail a taxi, and this time I am able to grab one quickly, and I ask for it to take me to Central Park. Finally, we arrive at Central Park and I may regret wanting to take a walk through one of the biggest public parks in the world. As I begin my nature walk, I notice nothing but trees, big rocks, large grass fields, birds chirping and people having a good time. I come up to a sign that states all the activities there are in Central Park. They range from the central Park Zoo, to boating in the reservoir, to watching tennis, watching shows, bands, hikes, bike rides, picnics, and many more. I continue to get deeper into the park and tons of people are laying on their blankets on the grass fields eating or just enjoying the peacefulness. As I look around, it looks like the people are extremely content with the vibe central park is giving off, which is a calm relaxing vibe. The deeper I get into Central Park the more I understand what makes this place so special. If you think about New York City, it is covered with buildings and roads but no big patches of grass or anything that may resemble nature. Central Park allows the people to escape reality and to spend time in a place that is peaceful and entertaining. There are constant crowds of people walking all through New York City, but Central Park allows you to get away and to take in nature instead of being in the concrete jungle. The further in to Central Park I go, the more beautiful things I find. The reservoir that sits in the middle of Central Park is stunning and may be one of the more stunning thing in the park. It’s amazing to think there is a massive reservoir in the middle of New York City. The view looking up from the reservoir is just as beautiful as the view of the skyline. As you look up, you can only see the top of the buildings because of the tall trees, and it’s an amazing view. Central Park has some of the tallest American Elm trees that tower over everything in the park. They are so tall they block the buildings out, and for a second it feels like you’re not in the city at all.
A stroll through Central Park is a perfect way to cap off an inspiring, and exciting day. Being from New York, it’s hard to look deep into what makes this area so great because of the amount of times I have visited the city in my past. It begins to get old and boring and I don’t appreciate what really is in front of me. This trip has taught me that New York City has so much to offer and that it provides a place for people to be happy. People get inspired when they come to the city because of what it entails, and it makes people want to work harder. It’s a city where you can pursue your dreams no matter if you are 65 or 20. New York City has so much to teach people because of the different cultures that live there. There are tons of different places to eat that represent all different types of cultures, and it provides the people with a way to visit a new culture without actually leaving the city. These people are super passionate about their city, and they love their sports teams, which makes the city a very loving city.