A month ago I was trying to get everything ready and leave for New York. A month ago I was so excited I couldn’t sleep, thinking about exploring the city, making plans with my pocket Fodor’s guide, counting my money, making budget predictions.
A month later, and it feels like my trip to NY was a year ago. Everything seems so blurry, but I’ll try to write what I remember.
Everything seemed normal when I got there, no culture shock at all. I took the train from Howard Beach to Norstrand Ave and made my transfers so naturally it felt as though I never left home. Of course, the faces, they were different, but I didn’t feel like a stranger. It was when I left Lafayette Ave Station that I realized I was somewhere else entirely. Busy streets full of pedestrians on their iPhones, cabs, bikes, pedestrians and the hot sun with a slight and queer breeze.
Then I got lost getting to my friend Sofia’s house, walking about 10 blocks in the wrong directions. Thanks Google Maps.
It’s funny, Sofia has been insisting I go visit her since we graduated High School and I was finally there. To celebrate we hung out locally in Brooklyn, with my best friend Gamaliel, who had just gotten accepted at The New School of Drama to pursue graduate studies in Directing for Theater. I remembering calling Michelle that night, a little drunk I must add, and telling her how I already loved it all, and how I thought we were already at that stage in which we were moving away from home, like a bunch of us, who think that staying in PR would be counter-productive to our intellectual growth. And how I felt I didn’t have any real bonds back home; Gama left, Nelson was thinking about moving, Michelle was too and me, I already graduated and needed to make a decision. My mom has always been happy with whatever decision I make academically and professionally and my grandmother seems to be against everything I do anyway, so it wouldn’t matter much.
The week followed slowly and normally, since I tried not thinking about the countdown in my head. On the second day I got on the Q and one of its advantages is it goes over the East River instead of under it so after a couple of minutes underground I got blinded by sunlight and had my first glance at “The City”, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, far away, tiny and skinny. Words couldn’t describe how I felt. I walked around Union Sq (14th St), walked down Broadway, trying to keep up with the New York walking pace. It wasn’t as crazy as my NYC friends told me it would be, because apparently for them Puerto Ricans are the slowest pedestrians on the face of the earth. Trying to find Washington Sq Park I started seeing all the signs for the different NYU schools, and finally saw the Gallatin Bldg I was to take my information session at on Wednesday. I sat on bench at the park and just looked at people walking by, listened to the live jazz bands, saw the street performers, and my writer’s block I was suffering from for months, it completely disappeared.
The following days I basically woke up around noon, had brunch and coffee with Sofia, explored the city and in the evening met with Gama and we just walked around. Times Square was just overwhelmingly touristy, but I got to see all the theaters, I will one day see the best musicals at. Grand Central Terminal is beautiful and complicated, 5th Ave. is busy and under construction. Got to see the Chrysler Bldg (which I find more interesting than the Empire State), walked up to Rockefeller Center so I could use my discount at a very famous chocolate store (*wink*). Went down to Greenwich Village to review and visit my Gay Activist roots at Christopher St and Stonewall. Went to dinner with a friend on Thursday, which was basically “East Village Day. Had thai for the first time, visited the Highline Park, did a little Sex and The City spotting and had cupcakes at Magnolia’s Bakery. And then, of course, went to the famous Splash Club. Mood, Music and Decoraions: *****/*****. Prices: Same as Condado and Old San Juan. Local’s Dancing Skills: FAIL.
That same Thursday morning I spent at Central Park, where I got lost trying to find the Jackie O Reserve. Had lunch with a very good friend and political gay activist, Pedro Julio Serrano, who showed me around his office at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. At Wall St, while having some Mexican food, we talked about PR and its gay activists, its future, politics and I realized how I should really just get involved more with all my free time.
After exploring Little Italy and Chinatown under the rain, Friday evening I spent at the home of Puerto Rican writer Carmen Valle (Tu version de las cosas, Esta casa abierta y flotante, Haiku de Nueva York, ) her partner Hamlet, Gama and Malena, also a UPR graduate. We celebrated life, achievements, goals, and the exodus, bitterly. We celebrated being between two cultures at that time, art, music, literature, theater and our future as Not-quite-Puerto-Rican New Yorkers and Not-so-New-Yorker Puerto Ricans. The champagne flowed all night on the roof of her apartment complex, spying on neighboors and getting wet under a Tropical Storm Warning. The Empire State lay short under a blanket of fog.
The weekend I spent with some very good friends, One from Maine, another from Brooklyn and another from Japan. Junichi was kind enough to let us stay at his apartment on Alphabet City and songs from Rent filled my head all night. Sunday, my last day, rolled slowly while we had brunch, iced lattes and as I took my last train ride home on the Q. 14 th was full of people and a band paying tribute to Michael Jackson and I realized I was finally leaving and I was gonna miss the city like hell. On the way back, weird enough, the train stopped on its tracks over the East River (due to traffic) and I saw the Brooklyn Bridge for the last time.
The flight back home was short and non-stop but excruciatingly painful. I kept writing all the way back and reading Carmen’s book, Haiku de Nueva York, which she was so kind as to sign.
…and I really do think Gallatin is the school for me and what I was looking for, that NY is a place I see myself living at and starting a new life. I know I was just a tourist, just a visitor, and I wasn’t paying rent, bills, not working or studying and that make any place seem wonderful. But I’ve never felt so sure about anything until now.