New York – Week One

In light of my recent arrival to New York City, I thought I would post a double entry this week. The first will be a summary of my time in the city for the first seven days, and the second will be a few lessons I have learned and observations I have made about the city so far.

Arrival and First Few Days

To be entirely honest, my arrival into New York City was not entirely smooth and easy (but it did get increasingly easier and more pleasant throughout my day of arrival). It began on the plane, where in accordance with my usual clumsiness, I spilled cranberry juice all over myself. Needless to say, I was less than pleased with my lack of coordination, in addition to how freezing it was on the plane.

I suppose I should have savored the air conditioning on the plane flight over, because the second I stepped out onto the streets of Manhattan, it was hot and humid. I unpacked my bags, briefly met my roommate, and then put on some shorts and sneakers and went out to find something to eat for dinner. I had some sort of a cheesy calzone sort-of-thing at a small Italian restaurant a few blocks away from my building. It was pretty good, but as soon as I finished dinner and resumed exploring my neighborhood, I found a hundred other healthier places to eat. Typical. However, I have all summer to discover the various food scenes in the city, and Italian is always good comfort food. I continued wandering and eventually discovered the Flatiron Building (it was a Friday evening, and there were of course a thousand tourists taking pictures), and an organic grocery stores (whose prices for produce were through the roof), and a few yummy looking yogurt shops which I am leaving to try until it gets really hot.

Saturday morning I got up early (the sun rises around 6 here) and went out for a stroll. I made a few pleasant discoveries, stumbling across Kleinfeld (a bridal boutique featured in a trashy reality tv show my friends and I like to watch/bash) and a farmer’s market in Union Square. I returned to my building around 10 and met up with my cousin Charlie, who showed my how the subways work. We did a trial run of how to get to the City Council Legislative Office downtown, but unfortunately, the trains were not running uptown that weekend, so I was left to figure out how to get to the District Office if I was placed there after my internship orientation on Monday. After riding the rails, Charlie and I met up with his wife Andrea at her new school in Midtown and had lunch. They dropped my off at my building and I took a nap for a few hours, before going out and buying groceries, hangers, and other things I needed for my room. I returned completely exhausted.

On Sunday, it was slightly overcast, and predicted to rain. In the morning, the weather looked decent enough to go out, so I decided to go uptown and see of the trains were running (they weren’t, not all the way up to the District Office in Hamilton Heights). Since I couldn’t take the train up to Hamilton Heights, I got off at West 96th Street and wandered over to a Riverside Park, which runs along the Hudson River between 72nd and 125th Streets. I walked along the water until I reached the end of the park, and then went and got lunch and  walked through a farmer’s market which was set up along Broadway. At the end of the farmer’s market was Lincoln Square! I have always wanted to visit it, but have never had the chance. It’s a really nice square with a pleasant fountain during the day, and I’m sure it’s gorgeous at night. I continued walking down Broadway until I reached Times Square, then veered off and walked along 8th Avenue until I passed the New York Times Building. I have to say, seeing where the New York Times is published was one of the more amazing moments I’ve had since I’ve been here. I can’t imagine what it must be like to work there and know the extent of your publication’s reach. By the time I got back to my building, I had walked about 70 blocks and I was completely exhausted. I relaxed in my room and soon after, it started pouring! I spent the rest of the night in my room. Unluckily, my roommate left to walk the High Line right before the rain began. She came back drenched!

Work

On Monday I had ‘intern orientation’ at the City Council Legislative Office downtown. I had little trouble getting there on the subway, and had enough time to stop for a coffee before finding the building and getting checked in. The orientation was very low key, one of the staffers just told us how New York City government works and how legislation is created and enacted. After that she explained what Mark is currently working on (events, projects, legislation, etc), she asked each of us what we would be interested in helping out with and from there assigned us an office and a supervisor to report to. I was assigned to the District Office in Harlem Heights, so I am working uptown. After we received our assignments, we had a brief lunch break (I found a casual restaurant which had a great salad with chicken, goat cheese and grapes), then returned to the office to get our City Council IDs issued.

The next day I reported to the District Office. The interns sat down with one of the primary staffers here and discussed what projects we would be interested in helping with. I told the staffer that I would like to be involved in the organization of a health fair our office is holding for the West Harlem community this Sunday at Riverbank State Park along the Hudson. Since the event is coming up soon, that’s what I’ve been working on for the last week. I also said I would be interested in helping form community groups to advocate for the maintenance of city parks, which is something I will probably be starting with after this week. Our city council member also is very involved in providing affordable housing and rent rates for low-income communities and passing legislation that protects various human rights in the city, including religious rights and access to public services, such as transportation, education, health care, and open green space.

So far I am enjoying work and feel like I am learning a lot! What I do each day varies, but it almost always involves answering emails and phone calls. Sometimes I walk around the local area and hand out information packets/flyers to community members and speak to local businesses about donating money, food, supplies, or services. I also take phone calls from constituents regarding issues other than the projects I am working on, and often give them direction about how to address and resolve their issues. Our office aims to make New York City a more livable city, with equal access to opportunity for all of its residents.

This week I am attending something called “Participatory Budget Training”. Participatory Budgeting is something the New York City Council has enacted, in which one million dollars from the budget of each individual district is set aside for the residents of that community to decide how to use. The only rules are that the money has to be spent on something tangible (it has to be a physical object) and it should last five years, if treated well. Some examples of this would be new computers in a school or planting trees at a park. The training is where interns, staffers, and community members of our district get oriented on how to learn a participatory budget discussion and how to help the local community members decide where to allocate their money. I have never been so involved in real politics in action, and also have never witnessed such a large amount of money being given to a community in need of it, so I am very proud to be a part of this. New York City is trying to simultaneously provide services for its citizens and create a more permanent democratic process.

Adjusting to City Life

So far, this hasn’t been as hard as I might have expected. There is a ton of food in New York (although it can get very expensive if you are not careful about where you buy it), and it is extraordinarily simple to get around on public transportation. I have only gotten turned around on the subway a few times, and when I have, it was fairly simple to find my way back to where I needed to be. I bought an unlimited subway pass, which allows me to swipe and ride as many times as I like for a flat monthly fee.

The weather here has been unreliable at best. It has rained almost every day, but the temperature reaches at least 80 degrees sometime during the day as well. I have gotten used to wearing a short sleeve shirt and taking a blazer with me to work for when it is overcast or raining. It’s either warm or cold in the morning or afternoon, and it flips every day. Sometimes sun in the afternoon, sometimes early in the day. Entirely unpredictable, but provides a good topic for office complaining when everything else is functioning fine. Otherwise, when the weather is holding, everyone makes noise about the latest in subway traffic or police shootings (the shootings not necessarily in our area, we mostly discuss national news).

Food is pretty easy to find. There are tons of markets, delis, grocery stores, and drug stores. Some are more expensive, others are fairly affordable. I find that if you want good produce, you should splurge at one of the medium-expensive grocery stores to get quality fruit and vegetables, but bread, snacks, and frozen foods can be purchased anywhere and the product will be the same. I am enjoying discovering all the various bakeries and sweet shops around town. I am letting myself try one or two a week. Everyone here seems pretty fond of the chains, both national and local, such as Dunkin’ Doughnuts (for coffee and breakfast pastries), Pret A Manger, which stocks generic health foods and lunch items. I haven’t yet gotten around to trying many chains, as I prefer to spend my money on local specialties. I still haven’t caved and

I haven’t really made any friends here yet (yes, I am admitting to this publicly). Our building at the Fashion Institute isn’t designed with any common areas, and I haven’t met anyone just hanging around in the building. So far, most of the girls I have met (through my roommate and her friends, they are fairly social), are fashion majors and are equally as vapid and melodramatic as my roommate. It’s hard to find interests in common with someone who reads Cosmopolitan magazine more often than the New York Times.

I don’t really have an issue with not making many friends immediately. I work long hours (9:30 to 5:30 at the office- 8:30 to 6:30 if you count the commute time), and I basically shower, eat dinner and go to bed when I get back. I attempted to go to an event for summer interns sponsored by the Fashion Institute on Saturday, but no one showed up. Oh well, I’ll meet people eventually. For now, I’m enjoying wandering by myself and spending time with visiting family. I’ve also starting bonding with the staffers and interns at my office. They are all so thoughtful, worldly, and each have fascinating life stories to tell. Everyday I am thrilled to be able to work and socialize with such unique and amazing human beings, and the fact that I am valued as an integral part of an outstanding team.

Family

So far two of my family members have visited New York/me, and I’ve only been here a little over a week! Imagine my surprise when I found out on Wednesday, through Facebook, that my cousin Lena would be in the city for two days! I immediately got in contact with her, and we were able to have dinner together and walk around the city on Thursday evening. We spent a few hours chatting at a nice Asian fusion restaurant near Times Square. After we had dinner, we wandered through Times Square and I had the privilege of showing her the bright city lights. We walked until we could see the Empire State Building in all its glory, and then I took Lena on her first subway trip on the return trip back to her hotel. It was such a joy to be able to catch up with her! I miss the parts of our family that we don’t get to see every year!

My dad and his girlfriend Julie also came out to New York City this past week. Julie flew out earlier than Dad, to visit her mother upstate, and Dad arrived on Saturday. We had dinner and watched one of Julie’s family members perform in a jazz trio at a Mediterranean restaurant and then went out to ice cream at a parlor which offered half regular flavors and half Asian flavors (like corn and siracha, wow!). On Sunday, we met up near Times Square and took the train down to One World Trade Center to go up to the observatory deck of the Freedom Tower. It opened the day I arrived in New York City, and already it has had almost 100,000 visitors (in less than two weeks!). This was a truly amazing experience. It begins with a journey under the building, giving visitors the opportunity to view the bedrock foundation. Then, you get in a elevator and take a 60 second journey to the top of the tower (the 102nd floor). During the quick ride, a lightening fast video plays on the elevator walls, displaying the rapid growth of the city from uninhabited swamp land to growing settlement to bustling metropolis. It is one of the most innovative experiences I have ever experienced. You then are sheparded into a room in which you watch a short, but dramatic promotional video of the main highlights of life in New York City, and as the music builds and climaxes, the walls open and the incredible view of the city is revealed. After that you head to the observatory deck and are free to wander around, as it is indoors with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and is quite large. I, of course, took many photographs of the Freedom Tower, the 9/11 Memorial, and the view from the observatory deck. I also purchased the most expensive postcards in the world. But they are gorgeous and I can’t wait to send them.

After we left the World Trade Center, we took the train over to the Meatpacking District to take my computer to the Apple Store and get brunch. We ate at the Standard Grill, and I had a fabulous egg white vegetable frittata. When we finished lunch we walked over to the Gansevoort Market and got dessert (I got mint chocolate chip ice cream for the second day in row- I still am meaning to try the pastries at the stall next door). We ate our sweets and walked along the High Line, which was slightly less busy than the day before. After they dropped me off at my building, Dad and Julie went off to the Tony’s and I took a nap and then walked out to the waterfront along the Hudson River to take pictures of the sunset.

Rewinding to Weekend Two

I had a really long and exhausting first week of work, so I didn’t do anything Friday night. I just went back to my building and took a nap (it’s becoming a habit). I got up early on Saturday, planning to go to the gym, only to discover that it doesn’t open until 11 on Saturdays. Deciding I would just go out later, I went back to my room, showered, ate breakfast, and then went down to the lobby to see if anyone had showed up for the planned Central Park event for summer interns. When no one showed up (it seems like everyone staying in my building is too cool for university sponsored events, as well as too cool to bother talking to each other), I just went out exploring on my own. I walked across town over to 2nd Avenue, and then down 2nd, through the East Village and down a park in the Bowery, eventually finding my way to Nolita and the north end of Chinatown. During my stroll I popped into a bakery and a music store, but didn’t buy anything at either establishment.

On my way to lunch, I stumbled across the cutest chocolate shop I have ever seen. They sell the most gorgeous bon-bons and other chocolate products I have ever seen. Because of how expensive the bon-bons were ($3.50 each), I limited myself to buying just two. I wished I could save them for my dad and Julie, but they began melting in the sun, so I ate them after my lunch. I found a small Middle Eastern lunch restaurant, and got a falafel pita to go, sitting in DeSalvio Park across the street. When I was done with lunch, I wandered through SoHo, and perused a few books in a bookstore. As much as I wanted to buy something, the likelihood that I would actually finish another book here is minimal, and I don’t want to have to lug another heavy item home. I also own two Nooks.

I continued walking, taking in the sights and sounds of lower Manhattan. I finally found Washington Square Park, and got to see the fountain and arch in person! This was really exciting, because I have seen it in so many tv shows, movies, and pictures from my friends who go to school in New York. It is absolutely quintessential New York, with jazz quartets playing to sunbathers by the fountain and hipsters in page-boy hats drinking coffee while facing off in chess matches. My journey, seemingly never ending now (and stretching into its four hour), again resumed as I walked past NYU and into Greenwich Village. I quickly bypassed upscale stores with fashionable clothing designed for women built like sticky, pre-pubescent girls in favor of snapping pictures of the beautiful brownstones and browsing collections of stationary at upscale bookstores. I also stumbled across Magnolia Bakery, once featured in an episode of ‘Sex and the City’, one of my favorite tv shows set in New York City. I got a red velvet cupcake, my absolute favorite, but was disappointed when it was less than spectacular. When I got back, I read on Yelp that most people agree that their cupcakes aren’t overly spectacular. I guess I will have to move on to other bakeries.

Now headed home, I walked north to the Meatpacking District and discovered Gansevoort Market (and subsequently brought my dad and Julie back the next day- I still haven’t been to Chelsea Market, it’s on my list). It’s a rustic, old warehouse converted into an open air market with various food stalls. The fair varies, from Thai food to green juice to gelato. Much of the food is organic and all of it seems to be freshly made in front of your eyes. Despite still being full from lunch, all of the alluring smells made my mouth water. I proceeded to walk home along the High Line after leaving the market. Even though it was packed with tourists, I persisted for the sake of the gorgeous pictures. I made a grocery stop on the way back to my building, and then Skyped with my mom and sister and soon after, met up with my dad and Julie, who had just arrived in the city.

Ok, I’m sure that was very overwhelming for anyone who actually made it to the end. I am including pictures as well, because it’s so hard to describe the buildings and what the city actually feels like without them. My next post will be the lessons I have learned in the city during my first week, and then I won’t bother you again with all my word vomit until the end of next weekend when I have a bunch more interesting things to tell you.

The view from my room at Fashion Institute of Technology, Kaufman Hall. I live on the 14th Floor.

The view from my room at Fashion Institute of Technology, Kaufman Hall. I live on the 14th Floor.

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My first adult grocery shopping trip, in which I had to buy food for an entire week.

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Riverside Park, along the Hudson.

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Sweets at the Gansevoort Market.

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Meatpacking District.

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Lena below the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan.

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The inside of the post office down the street from my building.

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Stumbled across a movie being filmed in Chelsea.

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An adorable cake at Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village.

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Mouthwatering wood-fired pizza at the Gansevoort Market.

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A jazz trio performing in Washington Square Park on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

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Elegant brownstones in Greenwich Village.

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Lena at Times Square.

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Heaven exists.

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The north end of the High Line with a view of the Hudson River.

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A marina along the Upper West Side on the Hudson River.

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The magic when you find a bookstore like this- Civic Center, Manhattan.

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One World Trade Center, Freedom Tower.

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A quintessential New York City building.

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Charlie and Michael at Andrea’s new school in midtown Manhattan.

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This was either my first or second night in New York. The light coming from between the buildings was simply gorgeous.

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View of the Hudson from along the High Line.

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Flatiron Building, midtown Manhattan.

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First day of work selfie!

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Classic Bowery building. On practically every Instagram account of a typical New York tourist, but still a cool sight to photograph.

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Lincoln Square!

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Michael wandering on the floor at Andrea’s school.

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Found a health market with a make-your-own quinoa bowl bar!

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Times Square- between the oversized advertisements and the cliched tourists, it might be the seventh circle of hell.

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One of the newest building in Manhattan. It is almost as tall as the Empire State Building, and the top apartment sold for 100 million dollars.

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The streets of Nolita.

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Chess players in Washington Square Park.

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Empire State Building!

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Dad and Julie along the High Line on a beautiful, breezy afternoon.

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City College of New York in in West Harlem.

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A new building along the High Line.

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Me in front of the main theater at Lincoln Square.

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Strolling along the High Line.

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The view from the top of the Freedom Tower.

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Hipsters hanging along the High Line.

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This. This is amazing. I sadly resisted buying any books.

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Sunset over the Hudson River.

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Beautiful buildings in Hamilton Heights, a few blocks from my office.

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The fountain and arch at Washington Square Park.

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Chocolate bon-bons at Stick With Me, a gourmet chocolate shop in the Bowery.

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9/11 Memorial at the new World Trade Center.

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View from the top of the Freedom Tower.

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View from the top of the Freedom Tower.

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