Internationally, I’ve never travelled alone.
So far, as much as much as its felt like I’m Larry David, I’ve surprised myself at how I well I’ve been able to manage whatever has thrown itself at me.
The thing is, it wasn’t so long ago that I would’ve exhaled sharply, rolled my eyes and said to The Mister, ‘Can I get you to handle this?’
That’s if he wasn’t already handling it. Which he usually was.
I had gotten so used to not doing stuff that was once really satisfying to me. Solving problems without involving a parent, a boyfriend, whatever.
In New York, I knew no one. I was alone. I had to sort it out.
Last time I was there, he took control. He knew the way. We rode the subway as he worked out the hot mess of numbers, letters and colours.
This time, I took cabs and walked.
I have to admit, I really didn’t believe I was going to see as much as I did. I didn’t have a plan, I had no direction. But that was part of the appeal.
I started the day at a cafe, usually Starbucks, that had WiFi. I had my folded, refolded, coffee-stained and folded again map of Manhattan and would work out what I was going to do for the day. Which, in reality, meant getting familiar and fluent with my order (Grande Latte and a Grande Green Tea Lemonade), scoping out somewhere to sit where I could use a charging hot spot, check Facebook and Instagram then consult the map. That meant kind of throwing a dart and saying ‘fuck it, let’s go there’.
My favourite afternoon was finding the Chelsea Market on my map, I hadn’t even noticed it before. It was a fair few blocks away and so I just did what I would usually do, walk until I felt like catching a cab.
I walked, nay, strolled along West 34th Street, from 7th Avenue over to 9th Avenue, and headed to West 16th Street, mainly keeping an eye out for a cab, because, you know, 33 blocks.
As I walked, I started to notice more apartment buildings and small snatches of greenery. These were real walkable neighbourhoods, they were neatly fenced, but not fenced off.
Small deli’s, dry cleaners, news stands and basketball courts dovetailed into this community where people were talking and cycling. To me, this was something Perth constantly tries to recreate, and you know what? I doubt it could ever get this right. Not without a good length of time and appropriate infrastructure. Oh, and a community that actually sees itself as exactly that.
If I hadn’t been by myself, I would’ve missed it.
Had I been with someone else, we would’ve found a subway line, we’d be chatting or arguing about which way to go, one would want to stop and rest while the other would want to keep going.
Had I been in a cab, I never would’ve noticed this neighbourhood whizzing by.
It was beautiful.
I was, for the first time in along time, and without the distraction of my pinging phone, I was actually soaking things up, imagining if this is where I would live if I moved here. Would my children play soccer or basketball after class at that inner-city school? Would my partner skateboard, walk or ride a bike to work? Would I be happy here?
Then, out of nowhere, I was suddenly at the Chelsea Market. I had just, without really thinking too much about it, walked 33 blocks. I was practically a local.
I seemed a whole lot more relaxed and open to anything this trip. The last time I was here I felt rushed and bewildered.
This time, it’s different.
I’m not feeling guilty about spending two hours people-watching from a coffee shop (while I work out what to do with this side plate of half a pickle, a tiny pot of coleslaw and another tiny pot of what looks like thousand island dressing, idk) or feeling like I was wasting my time by waiting for someone else or by wasting someone else’s time by them waiting for me.
No keys on the key ring.
Is it selfish? Yes, but that’s the entire point.