Updating my blog has fallen to the wayside but I just began a travel writing class for beginners taught by a friend. Below is my first assignment, which was to describe our hometown in 500 words. Describing New York, or any other city for that matter, in that length is impossible so I focused on one hour of a day in one area.
While many things in New York have changed, the area around the Port Authority Bus Terminal has clung to Manhattan’s last vestiges of grime. The Port Authority is a point of entry for the surrounding states, bridging the Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen areas and serving hundreds of thousands each day. Despite this heavy traffic, little has been invested in the facility for decades and plans to renovate the facility have been stymied by blame shifting between New York’s highly dysfunctional state and local government agencies. The infrastructure’s deterioration is laid bare under harsh lighting and stands at a stark contrast to the adjoining flashy 24-hour neon circus of Times Square, a hell of a different kind for city dwellers.
Like many New Yorkers, I venture out of my neighborhood for groceries and Hell’s Kitchen’s meat and fish markets are a gold mine for my gainfully underemployed budget. As I arrive at the Port Authority stop, I step onto the hot, unventilated train platform, the odors of garbage and bodily fluids wafting over me. I walk towards the 40th street and 8th avenue exit while reminded that I’m not in the more sterile, neatly manicured version of Midtown Manhattan where I live only a mile east.
Exiting the station requires passing an adult video shop one level above the subway station and one level below the sidewalk. The shop is papered over with ads to hide what lies within, a holdover requirement from the Mayor Giuliani era. I wonder what people who arrive in New York for the first time think of this as the place of business to greet them. I pass languid homeless men cradled by concrete and humidity and, then, tourists with behemoth suitcases in tow. What are closets like where people can bring back suitcases like that?
On the corner is one of New York’s many 99-cent pizza shops, packed with standing tourists and natives alike. Often open until the early morning hours, these shops peddle the cheapest though not worst version of what a New York pizza can be and eke out a profit through sheer volume of slices sold. Over the last decade, these shops have sprung up all over the city, capitalizing on New York’s combination of high living costs and the desire of New Yorkers to eat (as well as do everything else) quickly. Somewhere I imagine an Italian nonna shivering at the thought of pre-grated cheese and canned sauce over once frozen dough.
I quickly spend $60 on meat, seafood and a variety of accoutrements and feel happy about my finds. After shopping, I return to the subway station and pass the adult video shop once again. In front of the shop, a homeless man tells me that “I must be keeping cool in that dress. A dress like that has to be cool.” I don’t tell him that I feel hot. I shrug, nod, and keep walking. New Yorkers are always in a rush.