Hello New York: some historical reconstruction

In the comments of my recent “Traveling Alone” post, I remembered that I took a weeklong solo trip to NYC in 2004. It’s strange because until Ré mentioned the city, I’d completely forgotten that this expedition ever happened. Why, when I’d dreamed so long of a road trip on my own, did this one slip my mind? It scandalizes me to lose a week of my life in the depths of memory, especially such an unusual week as that. So I attempted a little bit of historical reconstruction, digging into the many documentary troves I have, to locate that lost week. And given that New York is so strongly on our minds after yesterday’s anniversary, I thought I should share this reconstruction with you today.

Where do I go to find evidence of my past? I looked first in the journals and sketchbooks that I keep in boxes under our bed. Erik found me rummaging there, and I explained my quest. He marveled that my life is so well documented that I expect to find physical records of something that happened seven years ago. My life is a historian’s dream — so much material, so much of it meticulously dated and organized. But for this week in New York, my usual methods fail me. My under-bed search yielded no written record, nor pictorial; since I didn’t take my art seriously at the time, I didn’t carry a sketchbook. The virtual records are more helpful, as is probably true of most things nowadays. Though the email record is brief — I only went online for one day of that trip — those hotel and airline confirmations, the lists of addresses, have provided details that help contextualize my memories of the week. And I do have the single blog entry I posted toward the end of my stay. Bizarrely, though, I have no photos, though I definitely owned a digital camera at the time. I must not have brought it, a choice I can’t understand at all. As I scan the scanty revelations of blog, email, and memory, I mutter, “What the hell were you thinking, 22-year-old self!”

Here is what I can reconstruct:
I flew Jetblue from San Jose, nonstop, arriving early Sunday morning, then took transit to my friend‘s place on Wall St, where I had a nap on her sofa. I remember being fascinated with her tiny studio and the way she’d lofted her bed above her workspace. I remember trying out her Wacom tablet, which refused to obey me; “there’s a learning curve,” she said.

Belnord Hotel exterior

Belnord Hotel

I must have stayed at her apartment on the first and last nights of my stay, because my hotel was only booked for the nights in between. The Belnord Hotel was two blocks from Central Park West, and it cost me $66/night before taxes and fees. My room was miniscule but clean. It had a bunk bed, a TV, and a boothlike dressing area, but no bathroom; I had to share the one around the hall. I don’t remember ever running into anyone else in there.

I stayed on California time for the whole week, so I got up no earlier than 10 each morning and stayed up late every night. I remember retiring to my room before dark each evening — frightened, I think, of being out alone at night in a strange city. I remember lying down on the top bunk, which was so close to the ceiling I couldn’t sit up all the way, and feeling elated at staying up past the time when other people would have gone to bed. I read The Botany of Desire, wrote postcards, and channel-surfed (I caught part of Stepmom). Around 2 or 3 I would climb down and tuck myself into the lower bunk, and sleep.

Every weekday (or possibly it was only Mon-Thurs) I took dance class at the Graham school from 2:30-4:30 PM. On the first day of class I hadn’t yet checked into my hotel, so I had to wheel my little suitcase into the locker room. I remember the layout of the school — I think the studios were underground — and I remember hugging my Berkeley Graham teacher (Marni Thomas Wood) on the first day, but I don’t remember the classes or who taught them. I remember doing a series of leaps one day and feeling exhilarated, like everything was perfect. I remember the beautiful dark-haired student (with fabulous short haircut) who demonstrated the moves for us; I think her name was Bridget. I seem to remember the week of classes cost me about $200.

Ingres, Study for "Raphael and the Fornarin"

Postcard I mailed to Erik

The MTA website estimates that it would have taken me about 40 minutes to get from my hotel to the Graham school, so all together I was probably busy from about 1:30-5:30 each day. If I was getting up at 10 and returning to my room around dusk, that doesn’t leave me a ton of time for sightseeing. I know I visited the Guggenheim and the Museum of Art and Design, because of things I purchased there, and I also remember the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History museum. The other day Erik dug through his papers and brought me a postcard I mailed him, purchased at the Metropolitan. I also remember going to Veniero’s near the end of my visit, making an impulse lip-gloss purchase at a Sephora, riding a bus through Central Park, and taking the subway one evening with my friend and her then-boyfriend (though I have no recollection of where we went or what we did).

I seem to remember I visited Ground Zero. This memory is foggy, dim, unreliable, like a grasped-at event in a dream, hours after waking. I seem to remember going there alone one morning, before heat, before crowds, walking the few blocks from my friend’s apartment on Wall Street, standing in front of the — construction? wreckage? unidentifiable mass of stuff? I remembered 9/11 from three years before, but as a non-New Yorker, what I saw at Ground Zero didn’t convey anything to me. I recall now that my friend was also new to the city, though her apartment made her seem like a real New Yorker to me. I think I stood there for a few minutes, gave silent prayers, and then left.

Most strongly, my trip lingers in my mind as a pervasive sensation of being hot and tired and sweaty. I remember the weight of my trusty Nomadic Wise-Walker messenger bag slung across my chest. I remember feet sore from walking and the daily dance classes, and having to stop many times at drugstores (Zitomer, Duane Reade — we don’t have these in CA) for new blister pads. I remember blowing my nose and seeing the snot streaked black from pollutants, or was it the hours spent in subway stations? I remember emerging from the darkness of the underground stations into the brightness of the afternoon sun, and vice versa.  I revisited these memories when I wrote “Call of the City” a few weeks ago.

Perhaps my memories would be clearer if I’d eaten out more. I didn’t, to save money. When I checked into my hotel room I found it had a mini-fridge and a microwave. Armed with this knowledge, I located a Gristedes and scoured it for vegetarian food items I could eat without plates. As I recall I bought a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, which covered my breakfasts and lunches. For dinners I bought a plastic tub of macaroni salad, and Italian lentil and chickpea soups that came in fat glass jars. I was excited to find these, because unlike cans, the jars could be resealed and could go into the microwave. The soups weren’t bad at all. The macaroni salad, on the other hand,was disgusting, and three days of it put me off mac salad for a long time. I don’t remember whether I already owned To-Go Ware or whether I had to buy plastic utensils at Gristedes. I brought my Mobile Foodie spice kit but didn’t need to use it. On the last night of my hotel stay I splurged on some takeout — a couple of dim sum dishes, since I missed Chinese food — and regretted its soggy mediocrity.

I left the city on Saturday. The roundtrip plane fare cost me $290.70. I remember being tired and very grateful for JetBlue’s individual TV screens. The History Channel was, amazingly, showing some kind of program about Chinese immigrants and — can this be right? food? I remember it being shockingly perfect for my intended grad school focus — and it kept me entertained till I got home.

And that’s all I can piece together. None of it came to mind easily; I had to mine. When I traveled as a child, and when I’ve traveled more recently, I kept a daily diary of my observations and accompanied it with photos. Where was my state of mind during the summer of 2004, that I felt this week wasn’t worth documenting? Did the income from my summer job convince me that such trips would become commonplace now that I’d graduated from college? Or was I so busy from work that my usual planning fell through? Was my mind so occupied with the impending start of graduate school that I wanted to abandon the creativity of journal and sketchbook? I wish I knew. Maybe someday I’ll go through some overlooked drawer and find a forgotten notebook with the record of my trip, and with it, the record of who I was at that time. I want to know that girl, especially because “Traveling Alone” has revived for me the young teenager who dreamed of seeing the world by herself. I want to show her: look, you did it.