Saturday, July 12, 2014

New York, I Love You

Chicago is definitely my kind of town, but as someone who wants to pursue writing and comedy, it seems a foregone conclusion that at some point I'll be relocating to New York or L.A. With that in mind, I decided to go spend three days scoping out everything New York has to offer and decide if I could see myself living there.
This picture pretty much epitomizes my 15 year old self exploring New York for the first time
I've been to New York before–– twice, to be exact. Once when I was fifteen, I went with my high school choir to perform. That trip was a blur of guided tours and terrible barbecue restaurants, all of which left me with the distinct impression that New York was maybe not my thing (in spite of the fact that the only part of the city we really saw was Times Square. Not the most accurate representation of what life there is really like).

I went again in college, for a day trip with my then-boyfriend's family to see the Rockettes and the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. This time was a lot more fun, but even still, it was mainly the touristy parts of the city where chicken fingers will cost you $22 (I shit you not–– thanks, TGI Fridays on Fifth Ave.)
I did walk past Times Square this time. Also, walked past the Cabaret, aka the site of Shia LaBeouf's downfall #SelfGuidedTourz
That's why this time around I was determined to experience other parts of the city–– after all, New York City is enormous, and there's a lot more to it than Central Park (although Central Park does not disappoint).

So here's how I got my slightly more authentic New York experience on a broke college kid budget.

Rather than stay in an exorbitantly expensive hotel, I went the route of airbnb thanks to my sister's recommendation. I'll admit I was a little wary of the concept of staying in a total stranger's apartment, but beggars can't be choosers, so I booked a little room in Astoria. It turned out to be a great choice–– rather than staying in a tourist trap where everything around you is crazy expensive, I was staying in a cute little neighborhood in Queens full of bodegas with great bagels and some of the best smelling Greek food you'll ever encounter. My host was awesome and the room was huge–– I'd definitely recommend airbnb, especially if, like me, you're just looking for a nice place to sleep and shower before moving on to sightseeing.

I spent my first day traipsing around various boroughs, hitting up Chelsea Market (great bacon macaroni & cheese, great gelato), shopping at some great little stores in Brooklyn, watching the Germany vs. Brazil World Cup game in a German bar (I sincerely doubt I will ever experience that much secondhand excitement ever again), and ending up watching the start of a beautiful sunset at the Williamsburg Waterfront Piers. I didn't go into the day with a plan, rather some neighborhoods I thought I might want to check out and some assistance from Google Maps.

Yet again as a symptom of being broke, I took the subway everywhere, which was great in that it allowed me to see even more of what the daily life of the city is like. Besides, I'm a city girl through and through and I've been on the CTA a million times, so I have no reservations when it comes to taking public transportation (life advice: do not waste your money on cabs because public transit makes you nervous. This is me kindly and gently telling you to suck it up).

After Williamsburg I decided to head to the Lower East Side for some budget dinner–– you can get a giant slice of pizza and a drink from almost any little mom and pop pizzeria you pass for all of 4 dollars. I know I'm betraying all of my midwestern roots in saying this, but I actually really love New York Pizza.

From there I headed across the street to the Slipper Room–– usually it's a burlesque club, but one night a week comedian Seth Herzog takes it over for his comedy show Sweet, where comedians from all walks of life and fame come do 10-15 minute experimental sets. It's a free space where they can try out new jokes, and at 7 dollars it's a great show for the audience as well–– it keeps you on your toes. I went because I saw Matt Goldich (a comedian I really like who writes for Late Night with Seth Meyers) tweet that he would be there, along with Vanessa Bayer of SNL fame. I got to see her do her Miley Cyrus impression and Jacob the Bar Mitzvah boy, so it was a great show. Also, Michelle Wolf was there (Also a LNSM writer), and if you haven't heard her stuff before, get to it–– she is hilarious.
Cue me practically fainting. For me, meeting Aziz is like a normal person meeting Beyonce.
But, be still my little comedy loving heart, it got better. There was a surprise guest, and it couldn't have been anyone more perfect for me. It was Aziz Ansari. I had just missed him when he came through Chicago a month or so ago, and I was still bummed about it, but apparently the universe is looking out for me. For all of seven dollars (his show in Chicago was 80, so this was a freaking steal) I got to see Aziz Ansari, one of my all time favorite comedians, test out a whole forty minute set. And let me tell you, next time he goes on tour, go see him–– the jokes were phenomenal. There's a Ja Rule impression involved. I won't say anything else.
That was definitely the highlight of the trip, but it's not like things exactly dragged after that. One of my favorite things I did was explore Greenwich Village. I started off at Beacon's Closet, an amazingly hip little secondhand store where you can get Manolo Blahniks for 50 bucks, so basically heaven. From there I headed to Washington Square Park, aka possibly my new favorite place in New York. It's beautiful and full of life and people. From kids playing in the fountain to street performers to Comedy Central tapings, there was a ton happening here.
Mamoun's falafel is so good, it's on the list of 1000 Places to See Before You Die. 999 to go, I guess?
I had my palm read by a great little old woman from Tokyo who told me I'm going to go far in creative efforts, and that when I have a kid it'll be a boy. I met some NYU students who were from Chicago and gave me my dinner recommendation (Mamoun's Falafel. If you are ever in Greenwich Village, go here and get the schwarma. It is life changing). I also ended up getting roped into sitting down on an inflatable couch and meeting some strangers from all around the country/world thanks to Free Conversation, a group of people facilitating conversation between strangers in an attempt to widen world views.
Makin friends and sittin on inflatable couches
In the end, this trip to New York was eye opening for a number of reasons. First of all, I found that when I strayed from Times Square, I found a wonderfully global and welcoming city full of interesting people and places (and really great food) that I could definitely see myself living in one day, hopefully soon. Second, it was an incredible feeling to truly travel alone–– even if it was only for three days. I'd encourage anyone to try it. There's something really strengthening to know that you can drop yourself somewhere you're totally unfamiliar with, find your way around, and have a blast doing it.


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