Work sent me to the VS Live conference in Brooklyn. Since I had never before been to New York, I decided to take advantage of the paid-for airfare and take a week for myself. I stayed at Chelsea International Hostel (keeping it on the cheap) while I was paying my own way.
I didn't want to be a total tourist; I was more interested in experiencing life in Manhattan as a resident would experience it...find a cool coffee shop, find a good diner, explore the bar scene, don't take too many pictures.
It was also a social experiment: I don't know anyone in Manhattan, and I was traveling by myself. Would I be able to meet people? Could I have fun on my own?
- Saturday: ORD to LGA. Checked into the hostel and wandered around Chelsea. Went to Ground Zero (not a lot to see there, it's a construction site). Met a group of Brazilians on the subway (I just uttered a "hi" as I sat down next to a girl and she warmly said "hi" back; conversation ensued). I hung out with them as they went to Times Square and Hard Rock Café (lame, I know, but I didn't want to be a stick in the mud, so I went with it). Separated from them as they continued their overly-tourist pursuits with an agreement to meet up in Greenwich Village later. They were a few hours behind me, so I went on a one-man choose-your-own-adventure bar crawl. Met a bartender that was new to New York and she offered me her phone number to hang out (but then never returned my call...lame). Met up with the Brazilians for the last few hours.
- Sunday: Slept late. Found a coffee shop (Grounded). Went for a run in Central Park which was phenomenal. Saw Death at a Funeral and then went to bed (one of the down sides of hostel is that there's no privacy, no TV, no place to just lay low, so a movie theater was a good break).
- Monday: Found another coffee shop (Grumpy). Went to MoMA, saw Bourne Ultimatum, went to a pub near the theater and met business traveler named Sam and a drunken Scot who was passing through and had no place to stay.
- Tuesday: Found another café (Soy Luck Club). Went to the taping of Conan (and hugged him!). Met up with a friend from work who is staffed in Manhattan for dinner/drinks. While I was waiting for him to get off, I started searching for a bar. I asked a random stranger (Emily) for a recommendation and she walked me to a place near her apartment. I told her that her company would be welcome while I waited for my friend. She stopped home and then joined me with a few friends. We all hung out for the evening. Cool!
- Wednesday: Went for a run along the Hudson, read, met up with a former coworker's daughter in Brooklyn for a couple of drinks.
- Thursday: Metropolitan Museum of Art, went to a couple bars in East Village. Saw a stark naked fat white guy sitting on the steps of a building being subdued by police. Met a couple of nice girls at Leopard Lounge (Shanna and Rachel).
- Friday: Called Shanna to join me for The Cloisters (which she and Rachel had recommended) but she had just gotten home to Jersey after crashing at a friend's in Manhattan so declined. Went to Cloisters. Found a surprisingly good sushi restaurant (surprising because of how good the fish was compared to how poor the atmosphere was), saw 3:10 to Yuma, took a walk through the Meat Packing District (too posh for me), went to Burp Castle in East Village where I met Emily and her friend Matt, and a really cool bartender Rachel. Went to an all night coffee shop that serves beer to meet up with a few of their friends. Cool.
- Saturday: Checked out of the hostel, dropped off laundry, went to a coffee shop, picked up laundry, checked in at the Marriott at Brooklyn Bridge. Went for a run from Brooklyn to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge, and back via the Manhattan Bridge. Absolutely one of the most beautiful runs of my life. Took a shower, laid low in the hotel because for the first time in a week...I could!
- The rest of the week was mostly conference related. I went to an Indian restaurant in Brooklyn Heights, went back to East Village a couple nights. Nothing especially eventful.
On a people-related front, I learned quite a bit. First, just reinforcing the fact that there are good, cool people everywhere—all you have to do is talk to them. Second, live your life for you and people will follow. The girl I met on Tuesday is a great example: I only asked for advice, offered to let her join me, and she ended up spending a whole evening with me. The conversation on Thursday was similar: I introduced myself as I sat down and let them know I was in from out of town and open to conversation, but didn't push. I let them talk while I read a paper, and a few minutes later they started asking me questions and invited me to join them.
I have to say: Manhattan is a really, really cool place. As a Chicagoan, I felt right at home and could happily live there. You have to have a little bit of a tough a-hole attitude; you have to walk with purpose down the street. Manhattan is a little denser than Chicago, their public transportation is a little better, but Chicago is a little cleaner and a little nicer. But they are both great places full of great people.