The early morning drizzle matures into a full shower before retreating back to a light rain. Abandoned umbrellas roll under subway seats as the endless flow of bodies shifts from train to platform and back again. The city is muffled by a grey sky and the slapping of wet, black boots on the pavement.
Halloween is over. Soon young couples will vanish, inclined to spend months together cocoon-ed in blankets of warmth and love; no world beyond the bedroom door. Parents are beginning to wonder where the past year has gone, how their children grew so fast, when they started getting old. The leaves have fallen and lie in small piles, turning brown.
In just two weeks, I will celebrate my one year anniversary in New York City. Here, in this city, I’ve received many opportunities while fighting internal confusion and constant doubt. I’ve watched friends struggle to find themselves, feeling overwhelmed and consumed by this cold concrete jungle. I’ve built friendships with those who want nothing more than to live and grow in this incredible and unique place. New York City seems to hold an incredible power over its people. The skyscrapers, the speakeasy bars, the cramped apartments. At any given moment, it seems a person could be on top of the world or crushed beneath the noise and the need.
“Well ambition’s not as bad as AIDS, I reckon. But it can be a whole lot worse than the measles.”
–Skinny Legs and All, Tom Robbins
I find myself caught up in my generation’s desperate unquenchable thirst to be or to have the BEST. We have a term: “Fear of Missing Out.” This frequent hashtag, #FOMO, appears across social media whenever an event happens without our presence. Fear of Missing Out…on what? On love. On a better job. On a nicer apartment or a higher sense of accomplishment. I’m ashamed that this idea even enters my brain but there it sits. New York City is so full of so much, an the endless supply of options, that we are constantly forced to decide when and if we feel fulfilled. How do we define our own success in this huge city, in the larger world?
November is here, signaling yet another month of beauty and change.
I don’t know the formula for creating a Home. I don’t know how long it takes for an apartment, a familiar street or a city to move beyond the physical to the comfortable and the safe. There are hooks near the door where I hang my keys. But those hooks could be anywhere, on any wall, waiting for any keys to give their existence purpose.
A man yelled profanities from his seat on the 6 train, heading downtown. He wore socks, no shoes, and had draped an American flag towel over his face and body. I couldn’t see his face but I imagined the world from his eyes, light and blurred movement from the other side of his cotton curtain. The repetition of his words-such angry words-scarred me and I hurried off the train, leaving my high heels behind. I was going home. Was he?
Nostalgia as a Home. At brunch on Sunday, I sat across from three people who I’ve known and loved since I was 16 years old. Each of them are living dramatically different lives from the nights of summer bonfires and drive-in theaters. We don’t speak often, me and these three people, but time melted with each cup of steaming coffee until I saw them again as the people who knew me best. Despite all those years. I left the restaurant and felt a sense of longing as if I’d forgotten something but couldn’t remember what it was. Shoes on a train.
As migrants and refugees continue to bleed over the borders of their own lands into a watercolor of checkpoints and fading hope, I wonder about Home. Leaving Home. I imagine these people saying goodbye to every familiar Home they have ever known. Will the immune system of foreign government accept or reject these transplants?
As long as they have each other…I traveled soundly knowing my parents were thinking about me, were wondering about me, were keeping my Home safe inside their love.
“It was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together… and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming Home… only to no home I’d ever known… I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like… magic.”
Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks), Sleepless in Seattle
On my daily commute, I see the same people sitting on the same sidewalk and standing near the same Starbucks entrance with their cardboard signs. I see them every morning having left my apartment for the day’s activities. I wonder about these people, wonder about their definition of Home. I do not pretend for a moment to imagine how it must feel to lack a roof over my head or a space to unwind from the world. A private place to call my own. Nor do I know the stories of these people as they kept their eyes focused on the ground in front of them.
Homesick (def): the sickness caused by the perceived lack of or longing for Home. We have a human understanding to help those who suffer from such an illness, never knowing when we might fall victim to such a disease.
FRIDAY FRIDAY FRIDAY. I cannot wait until the age of retirement when Friday becomes just another day; a world where Mondays and Saturdays are once again created equal. My father, who remains ageless, is thinner and creatively healthier than he’s been in a long time. I think everyone needs to retire every 2-5 years, just to re-align physical and mental health.
But I’m still in a world of the five day work week, meaning the precious hours of weekend time must be packed with fun, friends, productivity and relaxation all at once. This weekend for instance, I’m traveling up to Connecticut for a hiking and camping getaway, waving goodbye to the concrete monoliths in exchange for sweet country air.
“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
I stumbled across this quote while reading Travels with Charley on the morning commute. Steinback takes the reader into his world as Rocinante (his trusty automobile) nears the Pacific shore. Here in the forest of the redwoods, moss and densely packed pine needles muffle footsteps and bird calls. Sunlight filters through the canopy far overhead, branches scarping at the clouds. I remember this world of greenery and ancient growth from a long ago family vacation as a child. The trees cultivate a instant sense awe and wonderment; reverence for a cathedral build by bark and leaves.
Are humans born with an innate connection to trees, to rivers and beaches and mountain ranges in the distance? I can’t say. Perhaps it’s where a person grows up that determines where he or she feels most familiar and at home. Some may fit best in a city or surrounded by human activity.But given enough time, enough quiet and reflection, I believe each of us would find a kinship to the redwoods and any trees (albeit smaller) growing with dignity and vitality.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not the biggest fan of camping (the rain, the tent, the sleeping on the ground). But when my little group of friends picks our spot in the woods on Saturday evening, I will silently thank the pines and the oaks who act as watchful protectors for the sleeping couples under the stars.
Nick’s travel website is almost live. He’s patiently waited for me to finish editing the first round of pieces for the Katelyn “stamp of approval.” I believe all forms of the website and various social media outlets should be ready in the coming week. Stay tuned…
Over the previous month, I’d had many conversations about travel. Lorenzo, the Italian stud, is jetting off to Greece to sail a boat with his friends for two weeks. John & his fiancee are planning an 8 month backpacking voyage through Southeast Asia after their wedding in October. There are bachelor parties in NOLA and romantic adventures to California. It seems everyone is coming and going to exciting new places.
While playing in the waves on the Jersey Shore, Brian asked me if I had any trips planned. What was up next on the bucket list? Anything more immediate than quitting (again) for a trip through Asia? I was embarrassed to tell him…no. During my summer weekends I’ve escaped the oppressive city heat for Lake George or Connecticut but nothing big was planned on the horizon. No PTO scheduled, not since New Orleans. Brian and I both seemed lost in the schedule of our own little lives and it wasn’t until the ferry home that I heard my father’s voice entering my brain.
Always have your next trip in mind.
How had I forgotten this essential Tsukada rule? The next trip is as reliable as the horizon. And like the horizon, those distant mountains or island speck may be far away, but the goal is visible and the path is clear. The question is a matter of “when” not “if” thereby making the next great adventure all the more attainable. There is a defined reason to save up pennies and research new attractions. It is this knowledge of the Next Trip and accompanying opportunity to leave a routine that is the most enticing feeling I know.
And so Boyfriend Billy and I going to Nashville, Tennessee.
The reasons are fairly straight forward. It’s closer than the west coast in an area of the country we’ve never seen. There is a culture of Southern hospitality, authentic music and good food. In recent years, Nashville has exploded in a flurry of hipster coffee, restaurants and have yet to raise their prices to those of other major tourist destinations. With a round trip ticket for under $300, Nashville seemed like the perfect place for the Next Trip.
My Inbox is bulging with airline and hotel reservations, to-do lists and recommendations from friends. We’ll each be taking three (yes three!) days off of work to maximize time away from the grinding 9-6pm. All of a sudden, I looked up from the sidewalk and realized that the horizon was a whole lot closer than I’d originally thought. September 23rd will be here before I know it.
So do it, friend. And I don’t mean buy an airplane ticket or quit your job. I mean, pick a place where you’d like to go and make sure it’s clearly embedded in your mind’s horizon. Because you may not know when you’ll get there, but someday has to come around eventually.
Summer, if anyone is wondering, has arrived in New York City. The humidity crouches outside every store, office building and Duane Reade waiting to accost each human being who leaves the comfort of air-conditioned heaven. Every afternoon, there is a Mister Softee truck selling ice cream cones on Wall St. for the hot and sweaty traders. Back at home, I spend countless evenings on top of my covers while the window fan blows thick, wet air around my room in vain. Yes, summer has definitely arrived.
This past weekend was July 4th and despite my excitement for fireworks and beaches, I learned the hard way that no self-respecting New Yorker stays in the city. No one. These forward-thinking individuals make plans for the Hamptons, New Jersey shores and literally anywhere else in traveling distance in order to avoid the swarming locusts affectionately known as TOURISTS. But despite the mass exodus, our little apartment on 41st St. gathered the last remaining souls of a Friday BBQ and a perfect start to the long weekend. We played games, drank beer and generally lounged. More than one neighbor slowed down while walking past and I’d like to think they approved of our kick-off weekend activities.
The summer I interned in Washington, D.C., I spent the entire afternoon lying on a blanket and staking my claim for a prime grassy spot near the Washington monument. As my friends arrived and the sun set, we listened to a big brass band and clapped for the best firework show I’d ever seen. And while there were crowds and noise, I felt like I was at the heart of America celebrating with the forefathers’ newest generations. This perfect memory of our nation’s capital was in no way related to another very American showing five years later (July 4, 2015) on Coney Island: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
The ride to Coney Island itself is an epic journey, almost 1.5 hours from Queens through Manhattan and out to the southern rim of Brooklyn. Thousands of families, couples, young kids and enthusiasts sporting live snakes and colorful outfits showed up for the event. The smell of hot dogs, cotton candy, small children and sweat mixed and floated through the crowd. Above the din, I could just make out the screaming voices coming from the various theme park attractions and roller coasters near the beach.
There is something simultaneously inspiring, revolting and ultimately patriotic about watching grown adults try to stuff as many Nathan’s hot dogs into their mouths as possible. In only 10 minutes with the aid of water and jumping (to assist gravity), Matt Stonie ate 62 hot dogs to beat out the reigning champion, Joey Chestnut. The crowd went wild in the remaining seconds and I couldn’t help but feel like all of America was cheering for something grander than the simple consumption of wieners.
As the event ended and our little party neared the beach, it began to rain. The drizzle was enough for us to roll up our damp towels and hop back on the N,Q bound for Brooklyn. While the original plan was to watch a movie in A/C (decidedly American), we stumbled upon Patsy’s Pizzeraand immediately fell in love. The pizza was glorious and we had the back patio all to ourselves. The service was only second to the personalized visits from the owner, naturally named Tony, who gave us sangria and shots of Grappa on the house. Full of delicious food and a slight buzz, we made our way to the grocery store to purchase necessary snacks for the evening firework stake out.
I want to tell you about the visit to my friend’s apartment in Park Slope and the angry taxi driver who navigated the streets of Brooklyn to bring us toward the East River but there just isn’t time. Sufficient to say, we found a beautiful location between the Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge where we laid our towels and waited for the rest of our party to arrive. By 9:30pm, our group of 11 looked south with eager anticipation as the first firework lit up the sky.
The confusion and disbelief last approximately 15 seconds before the majority of the crowd realized the fireworks were being shot off directly behind their line of sight. The very sturdy and thick foundation of the Manhattan Bridge completely blocked our view from all but the edges of the largest explosions. Immediately, the masses made their decision. The crowd split into those who began running south for a better view and those who simply laid back down and cracked open a beer. Our little group did a combination of the two and I was able to capture the finale from my prime location behind a small tree.
A small wish to you, dear readers:
“May your humidity be low, your spirits high, and your stomachs full in all the days following our country’s birthday until July 4th returns one year later bringing new Old Navy flag shirts and iffy promises of sunny skies.”
New Orleans. We’re back for the food and the drink. I’ll take your hand and lead you through the complex flavors of this gastronomic wonderland.
Let’s start on Decatur Street. The smells of freshly baked pralines float out the doorway of Southern Candymakersand spread into the humid air. A smell that cannot be contained. I promise you have never inhaled a better combination of butter and sugar in your entire life. Have a sample or buy a whole box.
We now follow the curve of the majestic Mississippi River along Decatur Street until the Cafe du Mondeappears like a beacon of green awning-ed glory. This establishment was started in 1862 and people still sit at one of the simple white tables complete with matching chairs squeezed wherever possible. Grab a table, the waitress will be over shortly. The menu is small and requires no additions. Order a café au lait and at least one order of beignets. These fried fritters are covered in powdered sugar and taste of luxury and exuberance.
Your sweet tooth temporarily filled, it’s time for true sustenance. Whether it’s late in the morning or early in the night, people are eating and drinking everywhere. Unable to choose where to eat next, let’s choose them all. Oceana, recommended by our cab driver, has a delicious assortment of creole dishes (despite its tourist appearance) and David the waiter gives us the signature bread pudding for free. After dinner #1, it’s time for seafood. The line outside Felix’sdoes not deter us and soon we are sampling a variety of delectable oysters. Take any and all recommendations. The waiter will not lead you astray and the gumbo is delicious.
Thirsty? As you move through Jackson Square, take a left at the cathedral. Sample the Pimm’s Cup at Tableau on the balcony before heading over to Napoleon House, the legendary home of this beverage. Ready for a change? Leave Chartres Street for the refined Roosevelt Hotel complete with chandeliers in the lobby and handsome men at (and behind) the bar. You absolutely must get a Sazarac. As night falls, join the hordes of happy drunken lovers on Bourbon Street and b-line it for Pat O’Brien’s, known for flaming fountains and infamous Hurricanes. Drink, dance and repeat before stumbling home to your hotel. —-
Good morning! Upon waking up and taking a cold shower, make your way over to Mothers.You’ll be glad you did. The portions are huge, the eatery is cafe style and the ham is divine. Prefer white tables cloths for brunch instead? Try Antoine’s or Galatoire’s for an elegant way to start the day. Beware the waiter at Antoine’s with the shaky hands. He may just spill….
One more district to explore before your eating/drinking tour is complete. Grab the streetcar out to the Garden District home to a number of celebrities including Sandra Bullock, John Goodman and the fictional man-turned-boy Benjamin Button. Walk the tree-lined streets and admire the Southern beauty curling around the pillars and peeking from behind the flowering magnolia trees. Don’t forget to grab a shrimp po’ boy at Parasol’s and a drink at The Columns before heading home.
In tasting your first oyster and drinking your first Pimm’s Cup, the city makes sure you will return home happy and full, lacking in nothing except more time here.
Today marks almost one week to the day since I returned from New Orleans. This city dazzles in necklaces of gaudy indescribable beauty as a lady who sips Pimm’s Cups and watches the sudden rains wash Bourbon Street clean of guilt and grime. NOLA is a woman who has seen the world–the best and the worst of human nature–and her veins run thick with Southern history. She was the one American city I was dying to go and having met her, I wouldn’t say she was American at all, but a country and a force onto herself.
And so, it seems only natural that our small band of college friends would reunite, for the first time in exactly a year, to celebrate the joys of living in a city that cerebrates life itself. I don’t know if I will ever again experience a trip with friends that was so complete in all aspects of the journey, a trip so full I suffered from almost no moments of regret. Each day since I’ve tried to put my finger on exactly what caused so much joy and the only thing I can see is New Orleans herself, the beautiful combination of people, music, food and culture all falling into place.
Street performers attracted crowds for daring juggling acts and magic shows. Restaurants with white table clothes and strict dress codes shared the same street as strip clubs with flashing neon lights and smiling girls. Live music shook and tickled the air: marching bands paraded on the street, lonely guitarists asked for tips, full jazz bands played late into the evening. Beer was cheap and people of all ages, shapes and sizes carried their filled plastic cups throughout the city looking for the next adventure. The locals talked to the bachelorette parties and the tourists found the local cafes. Anything seemed possible.
I couldn’t stop marveling at the attention to detail. The musicians took such time in their riffs and their harmonies. Each house with a balcony had ironwork that deserved a photograph and a sigh. And the Mardi Gras floats. On our first morning we took a tour ofMardi Gras Worldand saw the floats that are designed, created, and decorated each year for the special celebration. We learned the history behind the crews, who gets to ride on the floats and how they get to stay up there so long (hidden bathrooms on board). The artists worked full time, all year round to get their creations ready for the debut. In a world of tradition, being the best seemed like destiny.
The weather was beautiful. Most days were hot and sticky but the temperature and humidity didn’t seem to bother anyone. Every day was a party no matter if the sun was shining or your face was slick with sweat. Just a couple minutes south, the Mississippi River wended slow, a muddy body of water that threatened the city like a sleeping snake. Our hotel on Royal St. was just a block east of Canal St. where the streetcar ran and one block south of Bourbon St. where the nightly debauchery would take place. It felt like we were at the center of a churning, boiling fabulous world.
I’ve only just sent the scene. And I haven’t even mentioned the food or the drink or the night I played a small tuba in a crowded bar. All to come. Just know that if you have not yet had the chance to visit New Orleans in the last week, it’s about time you go.
In March, the three roommates (myself included) headed to their first cafe.
Cat Cafe, that is.
Animal cafes are places where people pay money to eat small cookies, drink coffee and play with animals. These cafes are conveniently organized by species: dog, cat, rabbit, goat etc. They’ve become wildly popular in Japan and the growing fad has brought this phenomenon across the ocean and straight to the Big Apple.
Roommate Megan found out about the Meow Parlor opening on the Lower East Side and immediately signed us up. There was a one month waiting list. ONE MONTH. So with baited (and not so baited breath) we awaited our chance to get our paws on this exciting trend.
For a mere $4, cat lovers can play for a half hour with the cuddly felines. In the entryway, guests are instructed to remove their coats and shoes before entering the kitty space. Coffee, teas and an assortment of cookies are for sale past the main desk. The air inside was surprisingly warm and dense. Not in a bad or unpleasant way, more like the air in a warm slightly dusty living room housing many…well, cats.
All the cats in the Meow Parlor are up for adoption. There is a book on the table with a name, picture and de-tail-ed description of each potential adoptee. On the floor and along the back bookshelf, boxes and small cat beds are displayed for the cats to roam around and sleep freely. Megan found an adorable little tabby and gently stroked its head.
We stayed, we played and watched the cats. They slept, mostly, unless agitated into playing with the feather on a string or darting past newcomers legs as they walked past. For people who cannot have cats or any animals in their small New York apartments, I saw the appeal of this cat haven. Hopefully each of the fuzzy kitties would be taken to kind and safe homes before the end of their nine lives. Toward the end of the evening, Roommate Daina realized that in fact she was slightly allergic to cats and the three of us had to vacate the premise.
“I’d love to stay,” Daina said. “But we have to go. Right meow.”
[Blogging while watching the Rangers vs. Caps in an attempt to bond with my male co-workers tomorrow morning. Overtime.]
Sometimes the world just feels so big. Last week, I left my office building at lunchtime and walked to the East River to watch the helicopters take off the pier. Traffic whizzed behind me. Couples and tourists alike walked along the boardwalk in the beautiful afternoon sun. But suddenly, my entire life felt so small.
What was I doing in New York? Did I like my job? Was I with the right guy? Should I leave everything and book a one-way ticket anywhere but here? Did any of it matter?
While on my European adventure, I distinctly remember moments when I felt the strong desire to stop moving. Stay in one place. Breathe. I didn’t want to see anything, talk to anyone or navigate one more new city. At those moments, I would pick a town with a single bedroom and a washer machine where I could clean my clothes and sleep in peace.
The first time I gave over to my weary feet and found a respite from the road was in Lake Garda, a large beautiful lake in northern Italy. I washed my clothes and hung them in the sunshine before walking to the beach. I proceeded to rent a beach chair and lay on the beach for the vast majority of the day. No churches to see. No strangers to meet. Just me and the sand.
I find myself in the same position again, aching and sore from my personal journey to find a new “normal” in New York City. I came home from work yesterday and slept 11 hours, as if I’ve never slept before. My body still feels fatigued, possibly fighting a cold, but I can’t help wondering if it’s just a sign my body has been through too much. On the road, it was so easy to take a day off and relax in the Italian sun. I’m still learning how to take a Lake Garda day while the daily chores of life threaten to pull me back into the grind.
I suppose, my life is small. Maybe none of what I do matters very much in the grand scheme of things. But if this is true–if we are all just little people running around in our own little lives– then there is all the more reason to find the best, kindest people and most beautiful views. Our lives should include many Lake Garda days where we stretch our legs and bask in the light of our small successes and closest loved ones. This life is all we have after all. Shouldn’t we be enjoying it?
P.S. My birthday was a HUGE success. Terrified I wouldn’t be able to fill a room, almost 50 people came to celebrate with me on my golden birthday. People from Massachusetts, Vermont and my hometown in New York. People I first met in Denmark and a coworker who I’d just met three months before. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I wish I could bottle up and send each of you the joy you gave me by just showing up and saying hi. It meant the world. You keep my little life feeling BIG every day.
A college friend contacted me a couple of months ago. Nick was interested in starting a travel website and wanted some guidance. He had a full-time job, friends and a social life in Washington, D.C. This was just something he felt passionately about and he wanted some support.
Naturally, there are tons of travel websites and blogs on the Internet. Every day, it seems another person is backpacking around the world and telling a story about it. Nick had some good ideas about building readership, generating new blogs and keeping topics relevant to a subset of the 18-30 year population. But there was this nagging fear in both his mind and mine. How would his travel website be different from all the other content out there? What made his idea unique?
I often worry about being unique or “maintaining authenticity” in my day to day activities. I want to write my own words, dance my own movement, and form a new career that only I could have achieved. It scares me to think that I’m being influenced by others–peers, parents, those who have come before, and those whose voices seem to be the loudest–to choose differently than my “authentic” self would do.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Think outside the box. Make a statement. Take a stand.
As a sophomore in college, I choreographed my first dance piece. I promised myself that I would create all the movement on my own without any outside influence. I didn’t want to copy others or steal another’s creative work. This would be all mine.
The piece sucked. It was disjointed and lacked continuity between movement and transitions. The dancers didn’t seem to fully understand the message I was trying to get across and I can’t blame them for their confusion. Instead of learning from the dance masters and borrowing from the greats, I tried to build a masterpiece from nothing. That was when I learned the value of imitation. The Martha Grahams and Alvin Aileys of the world knew what they were doing as did my college professionals I took class from every day. I needed to practice and mimic and study those who came before. You cannot break the rules until you know them.
Currently at work, I’ve been struggling again. There are successful salesmen (all men for the time being) who have learned the company and have mastered their art of finding clients and closing deals. I was adamant about doing it my own way without bowing down or admitting to needing their help. Pride perhaps? Fear? Maybe a little of both. But these are the people who will give me options and present me with techniques. I must try on their methods in order to decide which one fits best before designing one of my own.
In starting his own website, Nick must read other websites, understand the market, and learn what boosts online traffic. In the beginning, he should imitate the professionals and learn from their knowledge before forging out on his own. Nick’s travel website is going to be unique because it comes from Nick* and no one else.
* If you’ve ever taken a road trip, travel for work, or studied abroad (and considered writing about it), contact me! Nick is very excited and driven but it can’t happen without support from others who are willing to share their own view of the world. xoxo