Hard to imagine I’d never been. How, after 53 years and the majority as a working Artist could I have missed seeing the “Big Apple?” Honestly, it was almost embarrassing to admit. Maybe, I had to wait until I was ready. I heard so many stories over the years and seen so many movies and witnessed so much Art from what is arguably the center of American culture. When vacation time arrived, I said “no” to Hawaii, sunshine, surf, ahi poke, Mai-tais and slack-key guitar. Time for a different direction. This time we were going to the home of Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, The Ramones, The Velvet Underground, Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, the Stonewall riots and the birth of Gay Pride. We were going to the city that never sleeps. We were going to New York City!
Our flight from Santa Barbara to Newark was uneventful. I watched the landscape change from the dirty brown urban sprawl of Los Angeles to the arid canyons and deserts of the Southwest to flat golden plains and then the patchwork green farms of the East and finally the urban gray buildings ports, ships and waterways of the Eastern seaboard. After making our way off the plane and through the tangled maze of the Newark airport we finally rolled our bags out the front doors of the terminal to the hot streets of Jersey! Wow, I could feel the humidity embracing me and the uptick in the pace of movement all around us. People moved quicker here and I could tell we were going to have to get our “A” game on to even begin keeping up. Hailing a cab was first on the list. Without a great idea of how far it was to Manhattan from here we decided to splurge. After all I thought, “isn’t this the way people travel to the City?” Luckily Avalon is assertive in ways I will never be and she stepped out in the street with her heels and dress and grabbed us a cab like a pro. Things began to ramp up as we caught our first cab to the City. Our driver was a black man from Jamaica as far as I could tell. He had a strong accent and asked if he could help us with our bags. “Need ‘elp wit de bags ladeez?” We accepted his offer and plopped ourselves in the back seat of the classic yellow cab. This looked like the same cab I’d seen in endless movies of New York. This was it I thought, we had boarded the ride. Nothing to do now but hold on and see where it took us.
He closed our doors and we were off hurtling along on of the gray dingy roads that feed into New York City. None of it looked familiar until we had traveled for a few minutes changing lanes and taking different exits with different unfamiliar yet somehow familiar names. “Look!” Avalon said and the skyline of Manhattan came into view. I marveled at it as if I were looking at the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel tower. This skyline that had figured so prominently in so many movies and news stories was right there in front of us. We watched for a few minutes before the roadway rose up to obscure it from us as we approached the Lincoln tunnel. Names I knew from movies clicked by on signs, Hoboken, Weehawken, Secaucus, and many others. It seemed no time before we were traveling in the tunnel with the artificial light strobing by overhead. Somehow this only added to the thrill ride feeling of the experience. The tunnel under the Hudson river is much longer than tunnels we have out West. Avalon explained how the entire area is granite. These tunnels and the Subways all carved out of solid stone. “That’s why the street vibrates when the Subways roll by.” “The ground here is solid rock.” “Maybe that is the difference.” I thought. Out West we live on sandstone, constantly moving and eroding. Here they live on bedrock, a solid foundation to know where you stand. Out West the land is moving so we have to be ready to pull up stakes at anytime. No one likes to be anchored too deeply out there and living was light and easy. What I knew of New York was the opposite. You had to dig deep and hold on just to survive. Everyone in this town had to carve out a space to live in with a pick-axe or jackhammer. Nothing was handed to them. We came out of the tunnel and entered the storied streets of Manhattan. Signs, lights, people, horns, music were suddenly everywhere. Italian, Irish, Chinese, Thai, Indian, African, reggae, rock, salsa you name it. Restaurants and stores of every ethnicity, style and color. Neon signs and traffic lights. Pedestrians lined the streets like a human river. Yellow cabs ran so thick in the streets it seemed as if we were entering a beehive and the hum of it all made it sound like one too. The buildings surrounded us and towered over us, a canopy of concrete and glass, with no sky visible at all. Just block after block of lights and people zooming by as our Jamaican cabby weaved expertly through it. Clicking his tongue against his teeth in exasperation, cursing, honking and occasionally questioning another cabby’s qualifications. I realized my stomach was tightening slightly. The pace outside was so intense and I could feel it seeping through the door jam of the cab and through the gaps in the windows. All the stories of crime, dirt, weirdness and confrontation began to fill my mind. “Was this a good idea?” I wondered. One vacation this Summer and I had pushed for New York. Had I made a mistake? Maybe it wouldn’t be like a “vacation” but more of an “adventure” or an “experience.” Something to checked off the bucket list. I arrived at my conclusion just as the cabby stopped in front of a brown 20 story building that looked to be under construction. “Dis is eet ladeez” he said looking back. “OK.” Avalon said looking at me. “The front looks different.” She added with a little concern in her voice. She had been here before with her 20 year old daughter just a year or two earlier. They had been on a scouting mission for Somersby’s future job. Her daughter wanted to be a chef at the time and they were dining at Michelin rated restaurants searching for potential internships. They had spent big on food but looking at the building, I began to wonder if they had skimped on the lodging. After sorting out the cab credit card payment method and thanking our driver, we opened the door and warm, humid air wafted in. Exhaust mixed with the smell of green things, warm pavement and bodies. I swung off the seat and I took my first steps into the real thing. We were here! Touch down, Gorgeous and Lovely have landed!
A small crowd of people stood near the doorway. A well groomed young man in a black oxford with sleeves rolled at the forearms stepped forward. “Staying at the Hudson?” he asked. “Yes.” Avalon answered. “Right this way.” he said pointing under the scaffolding towards a sidewalk and a glass door. “Thank You.” she answered as we began walking towards the door wheeling our bags behind us. We entered the door and a lime green glow filled the room as I looked around. On one side was an 18 foot wall of plywood. The other direction was a hall leading around a giant off-white glossy ceramic egg-shaped sculpture. A river of people moved purposefully on either side of us going both ways. Avalon shrugged and began moving down the hall past the egg thing. We turned the corner and arrived in a crowded elevator lobby. A few dozen people stood eagerly eyeing the six doors. “Welcome to New York” I thought. The tension in the room was palpable with everyone trying to guess which elevator would arrive first and position themselves so they could be on it. I noticed one that was a bit less popular and positioned myself in front of it with Avalon following closely behind. Miraculously our horse arrived first, the floor numbers suddenly shooting all the way down from floor seven to “G” which was apparently where we were. People pushed forward to get in position behind and around us. The door of the elevator opened and a jam-packed group poured out as we stepped around them trying to make our way in before the elevator filled again. Beginner’s luck was with us and we managed to get space against the wall. Just as I thought it was completely full and no one else could fit two more men stepped across the threshold forcing the rest of us to compress together even more. The door closed just barely clearing the two men who stood facing the rest of us but somehow not making eye contact. We went up one floor and the elevator stopped. I looked up and the floor indicator read, “L.” I reasoned this meant “Lobby.” As the door opened we began pushing our way out saying “excuse us.” At 6’1″ in flats I get noticed by all and generally people move if out of my way. The two late arrivals stepped back to let a half dozen or so of us out.
We arrived in a low-lit room that opened into a larger lobby space with a long organic looking wooden desk on one side with a large plywood wall that bisected it almost in the middle. A line of people beginning near the elevator doors wound away from us towards the desk about 30 feet away. Travelers at the desk were talking with 3 employees on the other side spread out at different computer stations. After our 8 hour day of traveling, this was not a welcome sight. “This is really different.” Avalon said as we got in the back of the line. She pointed to the plywood wall and said there used to be a huge chandelier right there. “That wall behind the desk opens into a courtyard.” “It’s an outdoor lounge surrounded by the building on all sides.” she elaborated. “Stay here,” she said, “I’ll be right back.” She walked off towards the plywood wall her bag in tow. As she got beyond the line of people she followed it towards the desk and peeked around it. After a few seconds she turned around and came back towards me. The line hadn’t moved at all. “Yeah, the chandelier is on the other side,” she said. “It’s really cool. It has LED pictures of light bulbs instead of real ones. It looks like they’re doing a remodel.” After waiting another 10 minutes the line had moved about 5 feet. Avalon leaned towards me.”I’m going to go ask if we can check in without waiting in line.” Once again she left the line but this time walked to the desk on the opposite side of the line. There was a young thin man in black shirt and pants with short cropped hair leaning over a computer there. Once she had his attention they spoke briefly and she waved me over. I left the line and walked over to her. “Let me take you over here” he said pointing behind the desk and walking back in the direction of the plywood wall. We began to follow him. “Oh, just her.” he said looking up at Avalon and gesturing towards her. “You can leave your bag with your friend.” he said pointing in my direction. “I got it.” I said as she walked away with him. After about 15 minutes of awkwardly alternating between looking around at all the unhappy travelers wondering if anyone knew I was Trans and examining my phone she returned. “He said come back in 30 minutes and they’ll have our room ready.”
We decided to go wait in the outdoor lounge while they prepared our room. We were both very hungry and I thought a cold drink would be wonderful after the long day. It was quite muggy here too. As Californians, the 90 degree heat at 7pm and 80% humidity was really stifling. We walked out into the lounge area which was bordered on 3 sides with brick walls. The 4th side was a tall gas wall. That was the one behind the front desk we had just seen. People were seated in small groups in an odd random mixture of chairs, stools and benches of every variety and era. Most were young people in their 20’s and 30’s. There were a few travelers who looked to be forty-something, but we stood out as slightly more mature than everyone else there. Most of the young men had full beards and wore slacks and fitted shirt sleeves. The women were dressed in slim fitted jeans, patterned or flannel shirts, converse low-tops and everyone had glasses. From what I could see, it looked like most of the men were drinking Pabst in cans and the women wine or coffee. Lots of people were smoking or “vaping.” It began to dawn on me then, we had booked into a “hipster” hotel! We noticed there were 2 old folding wooden seats available and these were located precariously close to a doorway going between the outdoor and indoor lounge areas. We attempted to perch ourselves on these with our bags and not be stepped on. Avalon noticed a “taco bar” nearby. “Do you want something to eat?” she asked. I looked over at the little food bar with 3 surly Latino looking gentlemen standing behind it. They seemed like they weren’t interested in making anything for anyone. For some reason traveling 3000 miles across the US to have an anger filled taco in New York as my first meal just sounded wrong. “I’ll wait.” I said. “OK, I’m going to see if I can get some water.” Avalon said as she left and went to the indoor lounge. Once again I sat awkwardly in the small chair my knees practically in my chin trying to act like I actually fit in it while attempting to keep my bag out of the human traffic flow. Avalon returned after another 10 minutes with 2 plastic bottles of water. She handed me one as she sat down. “Kind of a Hipster spot huh?” I said taking a sip of the cool water. “Yeah, it is sort of a younger crowd.” Avalon replied taking a few big gulps. “I really liked it last time we were here. It’s an interesting building and the furniture is really eclectic. Plus it’s in a great location and the price is reasonable.” I wasn’t sure what “reasonable” meant in Manhattan. Avalon had taken on the responsibility of the hotel booking. I trusted her judgement but was beginning to wonder if this thing wasn’t going slightly sideways on us.
20 minutes later I was sure. We stood looking into our “room.” The entire thing was 12 feet deep and 8 feet wide including the bathroom and bedroom. They were effectively the same room separated by a glass wall that kept the water from the shower getting on the bed. The worst part was that the whole room smelled like urine. “I can’t sleep in here.” Avalon was explaining to the maid who had been called in to re-clean it. “You need to use Chlorox bleach.” she said. “I’ll do it myself.” “We don’t have bleach.” the maid explained.” We just have this.” she said holding up a generic spray bottle. Avalon smelled it. “This isn’t a disinfectant.” she said handing the bottle back to the maid.” You need something that will kill the microbes in here!” There something growing in the tile in the bathroom and it needs to be killed.” she continued. The maid just looked at her with her mouth half open. I picked up the hotel phone and dialed “0.” “Hello, front desk.” the man on the line said. “We have a problem with our room.” I said. “Can you please send someone up?”