Driving to New York City

Spring Break started on Monday, March 8th, 2004. I had already wasted time from Friday to Sunday not being able to decide where to go, or how to go. My plans to go to St. Lousi, MO were shattered by the sky-rocketing price of car rentals. Jitesh and Gandhi were flying to LA on Tuesday and I was stuck in Atlanta. The human inside me was rebelling against staying in Atlanta. The semester was half over, I was tired of classes and stress was showing up in my behavior. It was definitely the time to get away from Atlanta city.

On Monday, Gandhi's advisor told him that of an urgent situation and Gandhi had to cancel his ticket. Jitesh was in a fix and later the same day cancelled his ticket too. So much so for the best laid plans. Monday evening I came home and Jitesh asked if I would like to go to NYC. He told me we would be driving. I was all for it. The plan took less than an hour to formalize. We packed, slept by 12:00am, woke by 5:00am and took off by 6:30am.

The journey was rather uneventful except for the fact that when crossing North Carolina, we started looking for a Taco Bell to eat in. Miles after miles, exits after exits flew by, but no sign of it. I was feeling pretty tech-smart, I called up Himanshu and asked for the Toll-Free number of Taco Bell. After a few minutes of googling, he told us the number (1-800-TACO-BELL). I called up and a lady picked up the phone. "What can I do for you today sir?" "Er, eh, I am driving on I-95N near exit XYZ, can you please tell me the location of the nearest Taco Bell please?", "Huh! Sir, I would need a zipcode!". Of course, driving at 70Mph, I could not locate a Zipcode and even if I could, it would be invalidated within minutes. So the helpful lady told me the phone number of some branch in NC, chuckled and said "Thanks for being a Taco Bell customer". Somehow, I get a sneaky feeling that not many people are such fans of the Bell. A few minutes later, I was on phone again, after a few minutes of making myself understood, we were again in a stalemate. The lady at the other end was telling me of an address, but when I asked her which exit should I take, she wasn't sure. So much so for being hi-tech. By this time, the clock had struck 3:00pm and both our stomaches were gnawing with hunger. All of a sudden, I spotted a food-sign, with a weird bell on it. It however said, Taco Bell. If the name would not have been there, I would not have spotted it. Well, the good old lookout way succeeded and taco-bell retained their customers.

We had planned to park our car in the New Jersey city and then take the subway to NYC. Arriving at NJC at 11:00pm, we found all shops closed, all parking lots deserted and not a soul in sight. Hapless, we roamed around in Jersey City for over two hours and eventually gave up all hopes of ever being found out. In the end, we spotted a Gas station that was still open. Enter the station, and we found another Indian owner staring back at us. He was quite helpful and told us the way to NYC.

Crossing the Holland tunnel and entering NYC, we were lost again. We had not anticipated the fact that we might be parking in NYC and had no street level maps of the city. It was around 1:00am by now and we were getting desperate. We called a friend of ours who lives in NYC and told him that we might be getting to his place. He agreed and told his address. After a long and tiring driving around and asking directions, both over phone and from passerbys, eventually we managed to reach this friends' place. We streetparked the car and called him up, the answering machine picked up. 10 calls and no response later, we gave up on him and decided to go visit another friend, who we had primarily come to visit. Parking was constantly on our mind. Where to park? Will the car get towed if we park it on the street? The parking lots all were closed again and it was quite a fix. Eventually, we found our friend's apartment and streetparked. The sign said, we could park from 7:00pm till 8:00am without getting towed. Oh well, so far so good. Physically and more mentally weary, we got into Bhargava's (our friend) apartment and fell like cut logs.

Morning, we got up again and tried finding parking nearby. After almost two hours of driving, we found ourselves in downtown manhattan and found a sheltered parking lot that fit our purses. We parked the car there and got out free men. My friend, I cannot tell you how free we felt once the car was parked and out of our mind. We found the nearest MTA (NYC metro) station and bought a 1 week pass. Still to be baptized in the working of the NYC metro, we caught a train that took us further away from our home. Since we were not time constrained anymore, we just decided to go wherever the train took us. Getting down at the last station (South Ferry), we reached the harbor and looked at the Statue of Liberty from afar. Some people were loafing around, another street-vendor was setting up his cart and a few tourists like us were strolling, awestruck. By now the rush of adrenaline was wearing down and we knew we had to get some sleep. Erring and correcting, eventually we found our way back home and slept till 3:00pm.

By the time we woke, showered and got ready, it was 4:00pm and the sunrays were already sloping down. Jitesh wanted to see the wall street, so we took our fill of maps from the apartment lobby, found our destinations and headed towards Wall street.

Wall street is just like any other street in NYC, maybe just a little bit cleaner. We looked at the stock exchange, the church of St. XXX and headed towards the site for the twin towers. It was a really sad view. Iron fence bound the space where the Twin towers once stood. Inside, it was just a mess of bricks and the demolished structure. I could still locate an arch in the basement standing erect. A notice on the fence stated that "...by the ordinance of the NYC, one could not climb the fense, could not distribute propaganda material within 20feet of the fense..." There were a few other buildings, but I could not find them on the map, so we started towards the bridges, chinatown and Little Italy. Heading towards the bridges we reached the harbor. Whew, it stunk of fish smell. Holding my breath and trying not to breath too much, we headed towards the bridges, along the river. The bridges no doubt are grand and huge. The lighting on them also is pretty. I had not carried my tripod, so taking pictures of the bridge was useless. Walking along the river, I realized that if in summers it must be pretty. Couples sitting along the river and enjoying the breeze.

Crossing the street and a shady neighborhood, we entered chinatown. I think, it was getting somewhat late and shops were closing down, so there was not a lot to see. There were shops with huge neon signs proclaiming unknown goods in Chinese lettering. A few shops that spilled onto the pavement were selling fruits, meat and chinese good. I was getting a bit tired, but Jitesh wanted to see Little Italy. At one point in China Town he stopped and proclaimed, "This is Little Italy..." Well I could not locate any italians, but I was eager to agree. It was getting late, I was tired and hungry. We caught the metro back to home, ate and slept.

NYC is a beast, it sucks up the souls of people living in it. Early morning, one can see people still dozing, trying hard to keep their eyes open, walking zombie-like. In the hurry, trying to catch a doughnut and a coffee from the roadside cart and staring at the tunnel in the metro for an approaching train. The city imparts an impersonal nature to the people living there. If not in their niche, people are extremely impersonal. It does not seem that people living in NYC are aware that there are other people too. People walk in the streets as if they are the only person in the city and everyone is just an obstacle they have to avoid. There is much need and craving in this city for personal space. I recently read an article where a professor made the statement, "People use walkman to reclaim the personal space they have lost due to the overcrowded environment." Seen NYC, I could not agree more. So many people with headphones, iPods, walkmen, cellphones, all trying to find their personal space, fending off the growing attack on it by the increasing population. Ah well.

Coming from a small town, initially I could not understand the psyche of the big-city dweller. I observed this first time in Bombay, people in big cities like Bombay or NYC live all their lives in an overcrowded, overexpensive place with a much inferior quality of life than their small town counterparts. The funny and weird part is that they cannot and will not leave the city. The city draws them back. Reminds me of the novel by Ravindra Nath Tagore, "Hungry stones". The novel talks of a person who is staying in a guest house which was a harem in old times. He feels the hunger of the spirits of hundreds of ladies who lived in that building. He wants to run away from the building, but every night, the building calls him back towards itself. Same here.

Day Two: We woke up at 8:00 and got ready by 9:00. Jana had to run to office and we were eager to get out. We thought of having a look at the buildings and monuments that make NYC famous. So, we started; Jitesh had everything figured out on a map that we picked up from somewhere. We caught a subway train and reached somewhere near the empire state building. The day was fairly hot (I think), but I think the denizens of NYC never get enough sunlight. The monstrous buildings stand proud, the boon and bane of civilization; they proclaim the progress we have made and at the same time devoid us of the basic joys of life like sunlight, fresh air and a clear view of the sky. Empire state building stands very tall, but I had been inside and on top of it once earlier and I had no intentions of going to the top again. Jitesh proclaimed that he had been on top of the "tallest building" in the world and he too did not wish to go. So we continued walking and reached the Chrysler building. The Chrysler building is a beautiful building to look at from outside. It has a top that seems to be made of huge sheets of golden-silver metal. If you look from top of the Empire state building, it stands out clearly. Going inside we got a little bit more insight into the story of the building. Apparently, the people who built it, wanted to build it as a "second home" to business people i.e. they wanted to make it so grand and drape it so plush that business people feel right at home. Well, it certainly seems to live up to its name. We did not however go to the top of this building (it is mostly offices). We however went to the basement where there ar ea couple of shops. Most of them were closed when we were there and we took back to the road presently.

These two buildings had satisfied our apetite regarding tall buildings and we proceeded to look at the United Nations building. It is situated right at the side of the river and has a very beautiful garden, though the garden was closed when we visited. That is regarding the garden however. The UN building is well guarded. At the entry point itself, you need to be scanned, pass through a metal detector, blah blah...You get the idea. Anyways, at the entrance, there is a small monument (I forget the origins of it), but it reminded me of a gift from Russia to a UN organization somewhere (It shows a man hammering a sword into a plough head). It is formed in the shape of a gun with its barrel twisted in a knot. To one side of this monument is another artifact, it is a shiny, speherical object with a huge cut in it. Inside the sphere, you can see many gears intertwined. Also, there is a smaller broken sphere in it, again with a few gears. I thought the artist might have been trying to depict the state of the world; unless all gears operate properly, the machinery will stop.

Inside UN building, we roamed a bit and found few Black and white photographs, mostly from Africa. Let me tell you, they are some of the finest black and white photographs that I have ever seen, both in the quality of the print and the theme matter. There was a gallery of pictures from around the world, submitted by journalists. I found it somewhat interesting that most of the pictures depicted people in state of starvation, misery and pain... especially, from the developing nations. Seems like, the only picture of developing countries journalists want to show to the world are those of human suffering, making people believe that in these countries, there is nothing like human rights and everyone is suffering.

In the basement of the UN building, there are various shops selling memorebilia, books and other stuff from around the world. The mugs etc, however do have the "Made in China" tags.

Done with the UN, we walked across Manhattan to the USS Intrepid Air and Sea Museum. This is a museum located inside (and on top of) a Naval Ship called USS Intrepid. Jitesh was enthusiastic about the Museum, but I had already seen the Air and Space museum at Washington D.C. and I doubted about how this museum would compare with the other one. The museum was quite extensive however and had many artifacts. You would be surprised to know that the original artificat for the famous picture/monument that you might have seen (5 soldiers raising the American flag, I think at the end of World War - II). is preserved here. There is a note by the artist which says that many people think that it was a staged event and how he is saddened by the fact. The said event did take place and was captured on a b&w picture. The artist, inspired by the picture, made a wax replica and showed it to the President. Later he made 3 other bronze replicas of it and distributed it to some important people. When the president saw it, he wanted a life size reproduction to be placed in some important place; which was done. Over time however, another bigger replica was made and the original big replica was lost. Some historian figured out where it was and restored it in the museum.

There are some good samples of the Aeroplanes (including the blackbird, thunderbird and the stealth fighter planes in here).

By the time we were done, we were both hungry and tired. We found a Papa Johns Pizza shop and ordered pizza. I wanted some water and I asked the girl at the counter for a glass for water. She obliged. However, when I went to the coke fountain, I could not locate the water outlet and confused I asked the girl where do I get the water from. Prompt came the reply, "Sir, you have to buy the water..." Aaargh, this is the first place where this has happened.

After the late lunch, Jitesh wanted to go sleep at home, while I wanted to visit a Barnes and Nobles, so we did accordingly.

Jana came late at night. By that time I was at home too. Jana really wanted to go to a ***** bar and, I was forced to tag along with Jitesh and Jana. Jana went really wild there. Ahem, for further details, you will have to mail me.

The third day: By the third day, both our enthusiasm for NYC had gone down pretty much, but we had to do something to justify driving 15+ hours to NYC. The good weather was gone and chilly wind was blowing. After breakfast, we first went to the Madison Square Gardens thinking it was probably some sort of garden, but it turned out to be some sort of arena (stadium). Anyway, we entered, looked around and since we did not want to attend any shows, came back. Continuing, we had to go to the Times Square, the world famous place. I am not easily dazzled by big billboards etc and so Time Square seemed like a big glorified Advertisement ground to me. There are really huge Billboards, some covering all of exterior of a building. Advertisements keep popping on them. There are digital strips with stock quotes passing on them and so on. We took some obligatory pictures and finished with Time Square. It was time to get to "Staten Island". Staten Island is a small island below Manhattan and consists of mostly residential areas. We however, did not know this and took the Ferry across the ocean seperating Manhattan and Staten Island. On the way, we went really close to the Statue of Liberty and shot a few snaps.

Getting down at Staten Island, we looked at the places to visit and went roaming for a few monuments. Dude, the place is really small and the monuments are the size and importance of the average monument placed in your average city. We had however come so far and wanted to get to a "Natural Flora/Fauna Convervatory". So, we took a bus that would take us there. I thought it would probably take like 10 minutes or so from the size of the Island on the map. The bus however went into loopy roads crossing all of the Island, and specially the residential area and by the time we reached the conservatory, 1 hour had been spent in the bus. There was no time to look at the conservatory since we had to get back :( Thus we just sat in the bus and started back for NYC.

Jana was back from the office early and we had to start for Washington D.C early next morning so we all went to sleep early. In the morning we had another passanger with us from NYC to Atlanta, a guy called TRP. He was a student at Georgia Tech and is currently studying (as of 2004) at NYU. The journey to Washington DC was rather uneventful except for Jana figuring out that not all of US is like NY (congested and bustling with people). In Washington D.C., we parked our car at the Jefferson Memorial and walked from the Jefferson Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial and then continued to the White House and then to The Mall. Jitesh and Jana went on to have a look at the Aerospace Museum and Museum of Natural History whereas I looked at the smaller once that I had neglected in my previous trip to the place. There is not much to say except that I visited a "Museum of contemporary art", Museum of Asian Arts, Museum of African Arts and the Smithsonian Institution.

By the time we were done, it was evening and Jitesh wanted to drive back to Atlanta. So we searched for the Greyhound bus station. After a somewhat not so easy finding out phase, we located it. Once Jana had bought the ticket, we bought some food from the "Hardees" and chomped through it in Jitesh's car. By this time it was 8:30pm and saying good-bye to Jana, we started on our way. The return journey was somewhat monotonic, except for the few discussions we had with TRP. After many stops, cokes, coffees and face-washings later, we were back to Atlanta and I crashed on my bed and so ended my trip to NYC.