I will remember New York by its scents. The airsickness bag someone filled as we landed, the stale urine smell of the humid subway, and the sweet, vinegary wine sun-cooking on the sidewalk on my way to Times Square. The fresh double-egg-and-cheese-on-a-roll from a street vendor near the exhaust of honking traffic, and a real-life pigeon lady’s fistful of seed with rock doves flocking as I walked past.
The Times Square Sephora I stopped at to mask my own unshowered ripeness from the redeye to JFK (thank you, John Varvatos tester bottle), and the GE Rockefeller 66th-floor handicapped stall where I finally changed out of my sweaty clothes. The air on the roof of that building, offensively pure and fresh in the midst of two hundred Eurasian tourists, and the grass below at Central Park that smelled like first rain and sewage. The oregano I shook out onto my first slice of New York pizza at John’s on Bleecker, and the Hudson River breeze saltily opening my lungs on a pier between the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.
For those looking to spend 15 hours in NYC, here’s a list of suggestions I can offer from experience:
- Talk to the woman next to you on the plane ride in. Her name is Kathryn, and she’s a British expat with a good sense of humor and an iPhone app for the NYC subway system. She’ll be the first friend you make on your trip, and after the plane lands you’ll spend an hour together navigating the trains before exchanging contact info and parting ways.
- Get off the E train at 42nd and ask a newspaper vendor for directions to the Rockefeller GE building, expecting to get yelled at, robbed and/or stabbed. He’ll blow you away by being helpful and friendly instead.
- Making your way to the GE building, notice that the sidewalks are busy, but not nearly as crowded as the TV told you they would be. Obsessively keep checking for your wallet and wonder why no one has robbed you yet.
- Have a majestic moment that mirrors that scene in American Beauty with the plastic bag dancing on the sidewalk. But instead of a plastic bag, watch a tangled clump of brown hair fly around above you.
- Get to the GE building for your “Top of the Rock” observation-deck tour and buy the combo ticket for $30 that includes entry to the Museum of Modern Art. The Museum of Modern Art will be closed, but you’ll have fun looking in through the locked doors before circling back for your refund. Take in the incredible view from the GE building’s roof, and take note of how rude the European tourists seem. Pledge to be polite when you get to Europe. Check for your wallet a few more times.
- Walk 10 blocks to Central Park and wonder what you can afford to lose from your heavy backpack. Explore the park and enjoy the shade from the 80-degree heat. Call your sister to brag about how nice New Yorkers actually seem. Talk for just a few minutes, then get off the phone and ask the two middle-aged natives on a nearby bench where you can find a good slice of pizza.
- Mike, the guy with short, military-style gray hair and a New-York swagger, will fish around in his bag for a Zagat’s to help you. Harry, the guy with dark hair and glasses who was laughing before, will convince Mike to go with you instead of getting Chinese food for lunch. The two of them will take you across town to Greenwich Village, to an 80-year-old pizzeria called John’s where the three of you will split the best cheese pizza you’ve ever had. They’ll pay for it. Leave your backpack at the booth with them when you go to the bathroom, but take your laptop bag with you. When you get back to the table, they’ll warn you against leaving anyone with your backpack when you get to Europe because people will steal from you there.
- Let Mike and Harry take you around the city for the next four hours. They’ll show you Washington Square and the NYU campus, the Hudson river pier where Mike spent a decade poaching trout for $3 per pound, and the old residential buildings where all the commercial printers were headquartered before the Midwest and Mexico started doing it for less money. Harry will make jokes and laugh loudly all day, while Mike will dispense historical facts and comments about passing women. The two of them will take you to the subway station when it’s time for you to go, and set you on the right path to the airport.
- On the 90-minute subway ride back to JFK, watch strangers give up their seats for two kids around the ages of 6 and 11. Miss your sister as you see the way the girl watches her younger brother read to himself out of the paperback she gives him, lips moving as he does. Miss your mom as you imagine their circumstances and consider whether these children should be on the train alone. Miss your pop as you think of the word alone.
- Catch your flight to Dublin, another redeye. Go a second night without sleeping. The morning you arrive, check in to the hotel your sister and brother-in-law generously booked for you and sleep for 16 hours. Get up at 3:30am Dublin time and blog about it.