I’ve always claimed to hate all big cities. They make me feel claustrophobic and whenever I’m surrounded by so many massive buildings, I can’t help but be reminded of all of the damage that we’re causing to our planet.
At some point, I managed to convince myself that LA was the worst of them all.
Aside from the fact that the public transportation is terrible, air pollution is even worse, and there are simply too many people crammed into too small of an area. I could never see myself living in a place like that.
But, for some reason, my last trip to Hollywood almost convinced me that it isn’t as bad as it seems.
Maybe it was because it was so busy, so overflowing with energy. In a place that I’d thought to be the root of all destruction to the natural world, I discovered that it was full of real, living people. The city was alive.
Maybe it was all the lights. I’ve only ever been used to endless black skies, so dark that the stars light up the world. You can’t see stars on Hollywood Boulevard, at least, not the ones in the sky. But the neon blues, pinks, and yellows gleaming throughout the streets somehow compliment the night sky. They’re sort of magical – similar to stars in that it feels like they are begging you to fall in love beneath them, but also very different.
Maybe it was the man sitting on a bench at 11:30 PM who yelled to my friend and me, “You are so beautiful! Have a beautiful night!” It wasn’t in a gross way, though, you could just tell he was looking to make other people happy. He might have been drunk, but hey, we don’t judge.
Or maybe it was just because I was tired and had been caught off guard or something.
I still hate Los Angeles. But, maybe now, just a little less than before.
Contrasting the small, quaint towns where I’ve grown up in California, New York City was a breath of fresh, exciting air with life awaiting at the end of every corner walked.
My first night in New York was magical. I arrived around 10 at night, and looking out the window I was in awe of all the city lights illuminated in the distance. I couldn’t see all of them yet, but I knew they’d be tall and magical.
The cab ride was no different. With the hood of the roof of the taxi cab rolled back, I felt small as I saw the bright city lights tower over me, skyscraper after skyscraper appeared for the whole hour of driving until we arrived at our Airbnb in Greenwich Village.
At 12:30 we finally headed outside for dinner, and every restaurant was open. At TWELVE THIRTY at night, every restaurant was open, while in Santa Barbara anywhere but a bar is usually closed by 10 pm at the latest. You’re lucky if anything is open in LA.
But New York City is just filled with amazing life and even more amazing food. Every single restaurant I went to had artichokes, and I love artichokes. It’d be a miracle if I found them at a restaurant excluding Sea Fresh and Cheesecake Factory in California.
But that’s just one food item. We ate at a different restaurant every single night. From small vintage American diners playing 2000’s throwbacks to luxurious, high-end Italian restaurants or steakhouses, every place was delicious.
But one place that sticks out in my mind is BlackTap. The small, bar-seated burger place only fit thirteen people. The place had an hour long line, but when we refused to wait and came back a calmer day, we finally understood why the place was so popular. The food was phenomenal, but the true wow factor of the place was their milkshakes.
The milkshakes were insane. From cookies supreme to the birthday shake, these shakes towered over the cups they were put in with overdoses of sugar and sweetness. I had a cookies & cream shake which left me in a sugar coma for the rest of the day.
Though most of my memories of NYC occurred in a restaurant, there are so many more that they’d be difficult to count on my fingers and toes, but I’ll name a few.
The Saturday after we arrived, I eagerly ran over to Washington Square Park from the place I was staying to participate in a massive pillow fight on National Pillow Fight Day. Hundreds of people piled into the park with pillows in their hands and grins on their faces in a fight to the “death” in a friendly, but intense, pillow fight. It was one of the purest experiences I ever had the privilege to take part in. Feathers exploded into the air, laughter silenced the playful screams, and pillows were thrown.
I did many more things in New York City. I walked around the city so much that my feet had blisters that hurt to the point that I’m still limping now (it was worth it), I visited three universities and absolutely fell in love with NYU, and I explored every inch of Times Square. However, by far my favorite were the three broadway shows I went to.
First I went to the Book of Mormon. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I didn’t listen to the soundtrack prior to going, but the performance exceeded my expectations. First, it was the most hilarious show I had ever been to. It was completely satirical about the Mormon faith, but it was executed perfectly with amazing acting, and catchy songs that are still stuck in my head. However, the musical is highly offensive so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone highly religious or offended easily by extreme stereotypes, but it’s definitely worth paying the money to go see.
The day after I went to go see Kinky Boots. The night before I had a midlife crisis because my NYU tour and Kinky Boots show were planned at the same time. I shouldn’t be melodramatic, but when my aunt told me that they’d just go see Kinky Boots without me, I almost died. I had been excited about that show for months, and I had been dying to go see it since Brendon Urie starred in it. Thankfully, we were able to exchange our tickets for the night performance and I was able to experience the magic of Kinky Boots. I had heard nothing but positive reviews, and when I went to the show I left happier than ever. It was original, unique, and just saying, those men walk better in six inch heels than I ever will.
Completely last minute, my Aunt and I headed into Times Square and snatched last minute seats to The Lion King. Somehow ending up in the seventh row of the center orchestra, I was ready for three hours to experience one of the most iconic shows on Broadway. I was shocked how much effort was put into the show. The costume design was crazy. I didn’t know where to look during the opening number when people dressed head to toe in animal costumes walked down the aisles singing the Circle of Life while walking onto the stage. Everything about all these shows was amazing.
I could go on about my trip in New York for hours, but this is just a glimpse of it, and I am dying to be back there soon.
Frank abruptly walked headlong into a grimy wall. His mind wishing for the beautiful side of the city had tried to take a right turn, but he was on a rounded road. He tapped his pocket again, for comfort, to remind himself of his dreams, to remind himself what the city had promised him, what the city had baited him with. He pulled the postcard out of his pocket. It was lined and greasy, the creases were chipped, he could barely make out the beauty he had once found so heart achingly perfect. He was too late. His toes had hit the steps of a factory.
Amelia slowly stepped out of the elevator. The sounds of the crowds reached her first, then the bright flashes of cameras. Her new world was set to be bright. She was designed for the city. The city was designed for her. She stepped out the doors, the cameras followed her, she turned to the monoliths, she understood: Harborside knew the world and the world knew Harborside, within Harborside was the world. She turned to the sea, there laid the cradle of life, status, money; it flooded into her the meaning of value, the true meaning: money.
As she walked the city doors opened to her. She was Amelia, the city was hers. She would never be lost to the crowd, the city would never bowl over her, time would not forget her, Frank was already fading.
She wandered the city all day, the crowd only grew around her, but as she strayed closer and closer to the borders of her postcard the crowds grew restless. Space seemed to shift. Where she walked she owned, the postcard was empty space with blank people, but where she walked new hope, new futures sprang up like daisies in her wake. But as she neared the last corner, the last wide boulevard, her daisies seemed to fight for sunlight. Her unique ownership was being pushed back by the ownership of the many, the workers no longer singular but one full moving entity, lost to the mindless grind of the crowd, the fingers became a hand.
She had reached the end of the immunization ring, the end of the filigree border on the postcard of Harborside and standing on the other side of the glass was Frank.
Before Amelia, who was the crux of the city, eyes of the future, was Frank, whose hands bled from his first shifts in the factories, who was beginning to smudge around the edges.
Before Frank, the disenchanted dreamer, a man of ideals and cities past, was Amelia, a small mechanical girl with holographic eyes and the entire modern world and future in her circuit board chest.
Amelia was city-made and city-grown. From where she lived the city was just a writhing mass, gridded like a chessboard, and full of monotony. Her circuits were overstimulated. She was surrounded by wires, cords, and progress. She was living modernity and on clear days she could almost feel like a part of the masses, she could almost feel like she interacted with them. Almost.
Frank wandered the city, cataloguing every face and type like a child seeing the world for the first time, walking a new language, but the people seemed to pass by him – no, look through him, like he didn’t matter. In truth, he began to think, do they really matter to me? But as he took another sharp corner, his mind clipped the edge of the building and then lodging was on his mind. He was in the right district given the signs hanging above doors and out from awnings, but he soon found he barely had enough money to stay the week out. How strange that what had had so much value previously in his life was so empty and useless in exchange here in Harborside.
Amelia was coming down from the clouds about to face the world for the first time, naive and one of the richest and rarest people in the city, but equally mysterious. Her mind had yet to grasp value; everything to her was bought and categorized away into an advanced filing system of uses.
The sky filtered into her windows, if she reached out, the clouds almost reached back, but who cared about clouds when she was going down to the ground.
From Amelia’s window far above Harborside its postcard appearance was breathtaking, heart-stopping from the aerial view, perfectly aligned like an OCD wet dream – but beyond the picture perfect Harborside was its dark truth, its fingers, its slums. Where the roads wended their way around makeshift homes, bodies being consumed by the cobbles of the city. The roads staggered like a drunk artist’s footsteps. The slums belied truth, the reality of the city for the majority. The true artists, the ultimate image of life, a slow burn out. The truth was, the city moved too quickly for anyone – even the top Moguls and Traders – to live contentedly, too fast for them to not eventually blend into the tapestry of time, of the city.
But while Amelia’s elevator sunk level by level, Frank’s feet were dragging him from job to job, ebbing closer and closer to that blight, the narrow streets, the moss, the dark sky, the forgotten, the true heart of the city. The cost of living had drained Frank, his week was up. Once a private person, he now broadcasted all he could, he needed all the help he could get. He dreamed of the past. When he was well off in the country, people tipped their hat to him, they knew his name, they cared. He dreamed of a city long past, just emerging from the harbor, crawling onto land like a new life form, full of opportunity and riches. His feet were carrying him further from the monoliths of global life. From the masses that thrived on standing out from the crowd, from the masses who had found what they sought, or at least the veneer of what they dreamed.
Below Amelia and beyond the borders of her glass and marble version of the city, the eyes of the workers were cast in coal and ash. Those of the slums were fading out of being, becoming just blurs, wisps of subconscious, hollow. They were being emptied of dreams, emptied of light, emptied of value. They looked – with light-burned, cataracted eyes, weary and broken from too many hours in front of a forge – toward the city they had dreamed of, the one they believed in, the one they were now part of, the one now using them as a whetstone to hone itself upon. They looked upon a city alien and yet familiar; one that shared the same name, shared a people, but was separated by a wall of prosperity, an insurmountable barrier of capital value.
Rising above Frank was the very tangible feeling of success and dreams realized. Above him – wrapped in their own private worlds, curtained off from each other – lay the world of Traders and Merchants and Moguls. There was no lost space, everything was worked to perfection, commodified and able to be owned. People had become slaves to their Ikea nesting instinct, they simply filled the space given, even the ultimate consumers did not own their space. The streets were wide and clear, everything at a crisp ironed angle, a city of well pressed pants. Those who walked them did not know each other beyond image: a Trader by the scale lapel pin, an Artist by the garish socks, an Economist by the gloves, a Mogul by the hat. On the great rising monoliths movies and media played, any new information came from those gargantuan marble monoliths. The world beyond Harborside was found in those rising towers of media.
But in the slums – from the roofs of their squat and makeshift shanties – the workers could just glimpse the edges of media. Their world was full of cracked screens and secondhand news. People were cramped, the heartbeat of one encroached on the next. The global world had all but disappeared to them, where they had come from was being wrung from them as they became just another road stone in the city. The cultural identities they had brought with them, had created neighborhoods around, had found their first jobs with were bleeding away. They were becoming the masses of the city, overwhelmed by the need for money, the vast cost of living had ensnared them, had separated them and pinned them by the wings.
But the global world existed only in the harbor with the monoliths of media, with the bustle of trade, it was rich and thriving in the harbor. Money was not lacking, it seemed as if the less work one did the more money filled their coffers.
Frank was well off for a country boy, so when he docked in the sand of the fish market – the only place his little decrepit rented dinghy could -he was sure he could do anything he could possibly hope for. As he jumped from the boat he sunk to the knee into rotting, bloated, sun-blistered fish waste. His nose crinkled, What a welcome. He trudged upward into the city, tapping his breast pocket with a light rhythm. As he reached the paving stones his tapping ceased, he could not crane his head far enough, the city just kept going. The longer he stared the more his past months at sea ebbed away with the tide; his past was being drowned out by the sounds, the smells, and the people. The city was made of individuals from the ground, Frank was just another one of them, just another in a sea of people striving to flourish as themselves, he was just dressed a little more shabbily, a little more wide eyed, a little more idealistic, he was just a little bit poorer, he was just woefully unprepared. So he set out to wander the city, to find himself, or lose himself.
It was dingy as hell, not recognizable as the city everyone saw in the postcards: moss and algae crept down the walls; the side streets were lined with open sewers; the factories ran all hours of the day, belching out waste and haze. Soot streaked down the faces of the workers whose hands were cracked and brown with exposure. What little they had they called home, whether roof or coat, they took what they could. They struggled through narrow congested streets, seemingly stuck in the past — a bygone era, that had long since been passed by the rest of the city — an open sore without medicine.
On these congested streets lived all manner of discard: tech no longer current, factory waste, dreams of fame and fortune, the relics of the country people once left, heirlooms of cultures long swallowed. But as the streets turned oceanside they widened and lightened, the haze of smog dropping away the closer one moved to the harbor, the mecca of trade, the jewel of the city, the picture perfect postcard. Harborside was a world of glass and gold that rose high enough that those with bloodshot eyes and wasted dreams believed that maybe it reached heaven.
The city of Harborside was rich, modern, urban, cultured, and only surface deep. Every man, woman, and child that lived in the skyward reaching world was a dreamer, a planner, a story. Their streets were lined with rare plants and their roads paved with exotic shell. Every home was its own, sitting pretty at the height of progress. They would want for nothing and everything.
Such severance was there in the city of Harborside that it was as if a blight, a disease, had been stretching out from the landward outskirts of the city but had abruptly hit a vaccine three quarters of the way toward the harbor. It was as if an immunization had been injected into the sea and had spread to the seafront but had been content to protect the few.
Life was bobbing at a sea-sickening rate as Frank finally found the city. He had taken every form of transport available to him: car, bus, train, plane, his own two aching feet, bicycle, and finally boat. As the city rose over the bow of the leaky, decades-old fishing boat, the tug behind his gut seemed to loosen. The folded postcard in his breast pocket was a molten brand of hope and childlike optimism on his heart.
Life had ground to an overly warm stagnate existence for Amelia. Trapped above the cloud level – in a glass box – Amelia had the entire world at her fingertips. She was at the height of modern technology, she was as mapped out as the best planned city. There was no one like her, there never had been another like her, nor would there ever be one like her. She was a road map. She was not her own. She was caught, ensnared. Made and unmade.