The Accidental Tourist

I flew back to New York yesterday after a quick trip to England and decided I’d see if I could snag a good hotel deal in NYC because I’m going to be on WFMU this afternoon and that’s just across the Hudson River from the city. In one way I was dying to drive home just to get home, but after a transatlantic flight, that nearly three hour drive is tough, and then to have to turn around and drive back down not even a day later? Yes, let me treat myself to a Friday night hotel deal, get some sleep, take my daughter for a birthday lunch in Manhattan and then cruise through the Holland Tunnel to be on the radio at 4:30 pm Saturday afternoon with my old pal Todd Abramson.

A hotel near the World Trade Center should be interesting, I thought. Maybe I’ll even be able to park down there, I thought, remembering how it used to be before everything changed. That’s the problem with my New York memories a lot of the time – they are SO in the past. In my mind, it’s still 1993 down here. Okay – everywhere. But New York especially.

It kept me perky, getting my car from the parking place at JFK and heading in the other direction from the one I usually take to drive upstate. The GPS took me on the Belt Parkway – ooh, I thought. The novelty of the Belt Parkway! At nine PM on a Friday night, it should go smooth.

It did. It was sweet, feeling the contours of the immense land mass that is Brooklyn. The contours felt the same, reminding me of driving to Coney Island in the last century, when my daughter and I would find a parking space way down where the tumbleweeds rolled, in the shadow of the parachute jump, to save a few dollars on parking. The contours were the only thing I recognized – high rises everywhere. A polish to it all. The majority of cars peeled off for the Verrazano Bridge (they haven’t changed the name! They haven’t changed the name!) and then I was Hugh Carey tunnel bound…and Gowanus was gleaming. The lower Manhattan skyline was unrecognizable, Hugh Carey kinda sounded familiar but it would always be the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to me – there was geography in a name back then, that actually told you where you’d get to if you went in one end.

I came up out of the ground in Manhattan and located my hotel, a serviceable looking Holiday Inn. Okay, now to find some parking. I hadn’t even considered: the World Trade Center. I’m an idiot. This is a place people travel to from all over. It is a memorial, a museum, a shopping mall, an office complex. Even in the old days, lower Manhattan was not quite a grid, all the geometry gets squeezed down into a pencil point at the bottom. I worked my way around the WTC and cruised up and down a few streets where parking was restricted to tour buses and government official vehicles. Eventually I went down Murray Street – good old Murray, even the name is like a favorite old character on a beloved sitcom. In front of Flash Dancers strip club, right near where there was once a recording/rehearsal studio – maybe there still is; around the corner from where I briefly lived with a dark and desperate character (hey read my book, it comes out on Tuesday!) I found what looked like an actual spot with no restrictions if it was after 5 PM Friday and before 7 AM Monday morning. Wow.

I made my way around the memorial back to the Holiday Inn and swayed up to my room on the 31st Floor with a load of – guess what, tourists! I felt like the silent ambassador of New York City, willing all the people sharing the rickety elevator car, who were speaking in languages I could only guess at, to have the time of their life here. To never forget. To know what we have here, if we could only get along.

I grabbed a sandwich from the type of bar I would usually not bother setting foot in, completely generic, sports on several TVs behind the bar, but I enjoyed it immensely. The bros drinking beer next to me, the guys behind the bar from Mexico and Brazil. It all felt right.

When I woke up (too early! jet lag!) this morning I bundled up for some brisk air outside and walked around the WTC museum, partly looking for coffee, partly needing to check on my car to make sure the parking situation hadn’t been a mirage. I felt so lucky to be here, lucky to be alone with the city as it was still too early for tour buses and throngs of people. Eric was back in England and though I would’ve enjoyed seeing it with him, this was my little moment with the city I had loved like I’ll never love anywhere again, because – I became myself here. That’s all there is to it. I know as we get older we start to sound boring saying “you should have seen it back then,” but we’re really saying in part “you should’ve seen ME back then.” It/I was magnificent.


Hear me talking about my memoir Girl To City on Todd Abramson’s show on WFMU sandwiched between Ken Burns & Debbie Harry.


8 thoughts on “The Accidental Tourist

  1. burnedouthacks

    So interesting how this works! I grew up in Mew York, moved out west, and when I go back to California and Arizona, I think: this is where I became myself.

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