He waited until the bus turned the corner before he stepped out into the road. I had seen him watching the bus, waiting for his chance from my position at the front of the upper deck of the two-level bus. In the crowded New York City streets, he had stood out because he wasn’t moving, because the whites of his eyes were a little too big. Like he’d had his eyes opened in a way that the rest of the population wouldn’t understand.
As the bus picked up speed he stepped from the curb. A little bit of a hop and he was in the middle of 7th Avenue. One hand raised. The bus came to an immediate stop as bags tumbled to the floor and passengers reached out to brace themselves. No one was wearing a seat belt.
He had stopped the bus and was bouncing back and forth from one foot to the other, waving his hands like he was giving directions, or perhaps making sure that it was safe to continue crossing the street. The whole time trying not to smile.
Welcome to New York City I thought.
Inside the burger joint a couple of blocks away the music is so loud I have to shout my order. People are everywhere. Crowded on the sidewalks, overflowing into the street, and I’m not sure that all of them are even people. Closer inspection reveals a percentage to be anything but human. Sometimes it’s the way they wear their skin, sometimes it’s just the way they walk or interact with those around them.
Immediately I regret only being able to stay in the city for a single night. But Pigeon was flying into JFK, coming back to the States from Germany, and for whatever reason wanted to hike New England. Originally the plan had been to hike the John Muir Trail on the west coast, only the timing for that was off. Ice melt and flooded river crossings. Mosquitoes. Then it was the New England Trail, but there was no guidebook. Then the plan turned into, “Let’s just get drunk.”
I finish the much too large burger and my third 34 oz soda refill and work my way up 7th Ave in the hot summer sun. I’m quickly sweating and my jeans are sticking to my legs. I cut over to 5th Ave and stop for a look at the Empire State Building. I’ve already been to the top twice before, dropped a penny off once. (Just in case you were wondering it is impossible to kill someone this way despite what the urban legends may tell you.)
Because it is hotter than I expected I continue towards the New York Public Library where I’ll be sure to find a public bathroom large enough to change into my shorts.
In no hurry, I wander around the library before heading into Central Park for a break. Despite the cool shade and comfortable benches, I find that I only want to keep going. To keep moving. It’s not an anxious tension, it is simply the desire to be in motion.
A bicycle would have been perfect.
I hike over the Queensborough Bridge and can’t help but wonder at how fat I’ve gotten. I had stopped to take a picture to send to my girlfriend and looking at it I hit delete instead. I stood there admiring the view and someone on a bike slowed as they approached.
“Hey, everything all right?” They asked.
I laugh, “Yeah, everything’s good,” I smile and wonder if he thought I was a jumper.
The Q4 Hostel is right on the other side of the bridge and the short cute girl checking me, not out, unfortunately, asks if I have ever been here before. “The Q4? No,” I say, thinking she’d already asked if I’d stayed here before. Maybe she just didn’t hear me.
“No, I mean here,” she says as if that makes everything clear.
“A hostel? Sure I’ve stayed at lots of hostels,” I say, hoping to avoid the dorm room isn’t a hotel room speech most give to first-time residents.
“No, New York,” she says.
“Oh. Well, um, yeah. Sort of. A few times, a long time ago,” I fumble for the truth.
“We ran out of subway maps if you’ll need one to get around,” she says.
“I should be fine,” I tell her. After all, how hard could it be to get around? Central Park is in the middle, duh, and Avenues run north and south while the streets run east and west, starting somewhere near the tip of Manhattan.
I let myself into the eight-bed dorm room on the third floor. As usual for any hostel anywhere there is someone sleeping on a bunk despite it being the middle of the day. Still, it’s not like I have to put on my own sheets or anything. This place is actually pretty clean.
I stash the sweatshirt and water bottle, and the sleepers name is Nick. He’s Australian, which is obvious from his accent. “Any idea of the local time mate?”
“A little after 6pm,” I tell him.
“Ah hell. Broke my iPhone 5 down in Fiji and Apple won’t replace it because it hasn’t been released in the States yet. Kinda stupid to buy a new phone when I only have 5 or 6 more weeks.”
From the looks of it he has spent more than a new phone would cost on Abercrombie and Fitch clothing.
“Abercrombie is one of the only places I knew I had to hit here in New York,” he says. “You can’t get this stuff in Australia and I just love the way their clothes fit.”
Just one of the three hoodies he bought is worth more than I am spending on travel and food my two days in New York City. Nevermind the shirts and extra pair of jeans. (A&F Skinny Jeans, Selvedge Destroyed Dark Wash, Flagship Exclusive, $120. I know because I Googled it.)
“I like to go light,” he says, pushing the bags out of the way to get to his 80-liter backpack. “But I think the skateboard is going to push me over the airline weight restrictions.”
He had twisted an ankle earlier and was thinking about selling the board. “Maybe get $50 for it here,” he speculates. “But in London, I’d get at least $200.”
After a brief rant about Americans, after reassuring me that I wasn’t like the others he’d met, he tells me he is off to meet some German girls for drinks.
“We stayed at the same hostel in Miami a couple of weeks ago and bumped into each other on the street here in New York this morning. Crazy, huh?” Two of the biggest cities in the States and we still manage to find each other.”