State 4: New York (New York)

I’ve struggled with how to cross off New York off the list. I’ve lived in my new adoptive state for almost 3 years and still don’t feel like I’ve seen it all. I also think people carry this weird expectation that you simply MUST live this wild and fabulous life in New York City, a life involving unexpected celebrity run-ins and insane parties until the wee hours of the morning. Living in New York can make you feel like you’re missing out on everything and never doing enough- especially when friends back home ask if you’ve gone to see whatever the latest trend to hit Instagram was. As I’ve carried about my daily life in New York, it has hit me though, that my daily life is not at all what I thought it would be when I stepped off that plane at JFK. Friday night, this Labor Day Weekend, was probably one of my more “wild and fabulous nights” here. I figured I finally had a story to tell- but do I really want to feed into the stereotypes of New York? Over the course of the last week or two, I’ve tried to take time to appreciate the very little, uniquely New York moments, as well. I can fully say I am closing out this summer with a very new appreciation for my adoptive home town. Even just flipping through my notes from this summer, I can just tell how spoiled I am now to live in the Big Apple. So, now let me tell you about the last week of August in New York City.

I’ve been using my weekends, recently, to discover new neighborhoods in New York City and check off the items off my NYC bucket list. Sunday, was a trip to the Upper West Side/Central Park West. I had a vague plan to go check out Strawberry Fields in Central Park and take some pictures, and maybe walk down to Columbus Circle on the south side of the Park. For those of you unfamiliar, Strawberry Fields is the memorial to John Lennon. The Dakota, the hotel where he was shot, is just across Central Park West at 72nd Street. I had been to The Dakota before, but not Strawberry Fields. When I bought my apartment last year, my lawyer picked me up in his Lincoln Town Car there before driving out to Long Island to sign all the paperwork. Strawberry Fields has been on my list ever since.

Returning to The Dakota, this time on a gorgeous summer afternoon instead of an early morning in February, it was almost eerie to see tourists taking pictures of the exact spot where a man lost his life. I definitely didn’t notice the tourists in February. I crossed the street into the park and immediately found signs reading “QUIET ZONE”. I almost laughed – such a thing is not really possible in this city. Strawberry Fields is designated a quiet zone within the park, and, to be fair, it is considerably quieter than the street. I got my one good picture for Instagram. This was trickier than expected as all the tourists there decided to start sitting on the IMAGINE mosaic for their pictures. I decided to take off and head south towards Columbus Circle.

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I walked the 20 or so blocks and marveled at the architecture of buildings and older churches. Growing up in San Diego on the West Coast, old buildings always impress me in a uniquely childish way. It’s also amazing how the architecture changes so suddenly. All of a sudden, I was in Columbus Circle and standing across the street from the massive black skyscraper that is Trump Tower. I went in to check out The Shops at Columbus Circle. New York City lacks real shopping malls, so I figured I would it was worth a jaunt through the shops to see what was on offer. This was actually a rather posh shopping experience and a bit out of my budget, unfortunately. I stopped by the Amazon store and picked up a few books for continued travel and exploration inspiration.

While I feel like nothing exceptional happens during the work week, that would be a lie. Monday nights, I’ve been spending on the 63rd floor of the Empire State Building for my Russian class through Fluent City. Part of why I decided to finally go for it with my Russian studies, after years of hemming and hawing, is the fact that there is a very large Russian community in New York. I figured it would be easier to find Russian speakers here – and I’m not wrong. I live in Prospect Park South in Brooklyn, on the Q line that finishes in Coney Island/Brighton Beach. Everyone in Moscow knows Brighton Beach. My train rides to work are usually filled with Russian families from Brighton Beach, working moms dropping their kids off at school, hipsters from Flatbush, and Chinese families shuffling back to Canal Street. I love being able to hear snippets of conversations in Russian and seeing if I can pick up any of it.

Each morning, as I commute into work, the train slowly makes it’s way across the Manhattan Bridge with a magnificent view of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty in the background. It hit me this week, that I quite literally get to see the Statue of Liberty everyday – a view so many people eagerly awaited for months at sea. Her torch even stands out on a cloudy day, given that it’s so new in comparison to the rest of her. Every time I see this view, I think to myself, “I’m exactly where I need to be right now”. There really is something truly comforting about that view.

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However, weekends in New York are certainly where the magic happens and this Friday night was certainly primed for magic. We had a coworker returning to London on Saturday, a three-day weekend for Labor Day, and one of those days at work where you’re talking about how you could use a drink by 10:30 AM. The night was primed for magic. My team at work is fairly small, new and close-knit. But most importantly, our team is all okay with drinking heavily around each other (a rarity in corporate America). Our British colleague suggested The Scratcher, an old Irish pub, down by the Bowery. As we crowd around the table, we see this couple getting followed around by a man with a large camera. I still have no idea why they were being filmed; it seemed like they were doing a travel-type show. It’s always strange to see one man with a very bright light walking around in the back of a dark bar. After getting a few drinks in us, we decided we were hungry but wanted to continue drinking. So, we head to Taqueria on St. Marks- a Mexican restaurant with strong Los Angeles/Southern California vibes. I naturally felt at home. On our walk over, we found a life-sized stuffed panda bear out on the streets. One of the girls in our group has a nickname involving “panda”, so we obviously had to stop and take pictures with it.

The food at Taqueria is very good, however, the margaritas are very acidic. As we finished up dinner, my boss (who had split up with us temporarily), texted us asking if we wanted to go to a “Bulgarian pole dance club.” Naturally, you don’t turn down your boss when she comes to you with this invitation at 11 PM on a Friday night. We begin the 15 minute walk down to Mehenata on Ludlow Street, with a stop at another hole-in-the-wall type dive bar along the way.

Mehenata has to be one of the stranger night clubs I’ve been too. Walking in, as you move through a hallway to a door in the back, you greeted by the thick smell of hookah and a technicolor painted picture of a young Vladimir Putin. Mysteriously, I didn’t see a single person actually smoking hookah. There were not many poles for dancing, but a lot of swings set up near the bar. It was like the bar stools were replaced by wooden swings big enough for 2 people each. There were more men in leather and chains than I would have expected for a “pole dance club”. My very prim and proper British coworker leaned over at one point and shouted, “Where are all the strippers?!” in my ear and I couldn’t help but laugh and wonder the same thing. The music ranged from Russian pop songs to salsa music to techno and hip hop. They served drinks with 4-5 shots of tequila and light up ice cubes, so everywhere you looked was just flashing lights in your face.

We stayed for a couple hours drinking drinks that were too strong and dancing to song we had never heard before. There’s something beautiful in an almost seedy way about Mehenata. As you dance through the crowd, you’re subtly aware you’ll never find another bar like this. Something about knowing this in the back of your mind, always allows you to relax and lean a bit more into the night.

As I made my way back to Brooklyn, I couldn’t help but think that this was the kind of night so many friends imagine I have every weekend in New York. These types of nights certainly do happen in New York, but not every weekend. They wouldn’t be as fun if they did. It’s nights like this which remind you why just so many people come here to try and “make it”. It’s nights like these that make you feel like you’re doing New York right.

Take this as my vow to you to include my New York City bucket list in these adventures. I’m working on neighborhood and cultural guides at the moment and have discovered some fun hidden gems that I’m excited to share. Feel free to send me ideas and suggestions! I’d love to hear them!