Over the 2016 Thanksgiving holiday and my birthday, I decided to spread my wings and make my way to the Big Apple to visit family and escape the disgusting heat of Southern California (why it remains eighty degrees during mid-November is beyond me). Flying Virgin America, my boyfriend, his youngest brother, and myself embarked from LAX at 8:30 am for our approximately five-hour flight across the country. Wedging in between the siblings, I enjoyed the movies that I pre-loaded on my new iPad, which obviously included Titanic and Beauty and the Beast. By the time we landed in Newark around 5:00 pm Eastern Time, I laughed, cried, and slept my way through most of my birthday. By the way, I should have mentioned that I spent the entirety of my birthday cramped on an airplane squished between my snoring boyfriend and his baby brother. Happy twenty-three years to me!
After landing, collecting our luggage, and hailing an Uber, we made our way to my boyfriend’s other brother’s apartment. Finally, after battling New York traffic (which I don’t care what anyone says, California is way worse) we arrived at Fort Greene, Brooklyn. After settling in, I was promised good food (it was still my birthday after all…), so we walked a block and had delicious Cuban food. From there, we proceeded to have birthday drinks, and the night ended with the boyfriend procuring me a slice of red velvet cake (my favorite). Finally, nearing midnight, we turned in for the night to ensure we had energy for our New York adventure.
We awoke Friday morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (not) to accompany his New York brother into the city. Taking the subway was…an experience. I definitely commend it for its accessibility and cheapness, but keep your purse close. If you think Disneyland is great for people watching, ride the NYC subway and get back to me.
By then, our group split up upon arrival at Grand Central Station, and the three Californians wandered into Manhattan. I would like to lie and say that we immediately began a cultural immersion amongst a diverse city and its people, but in reality, we stuffed our faces.*
Immediately leaving Grand Central to explore provided us with our first pizza stop (good flavor and crust, but probably the least delicious of the trip). We decided to wing it with no real sense of where we were going, but happily, we ended up in Central Park. The first thing I thought was, “HOLY CRAP THIS IS WHAT FALL LOOKS LIKE!!! GUYS LOOK THE LEAVES ACTUALLY CHANGE COLOR!!!” I digress… Central Park is stunning and not nearly as scary as they portray it in Stuart Little or Home Alone 2. The three of us walked around, briefly perused the Central Park Zoo, and took a ridiculous amount of photos because if it does not end up on Facebook or Instagram it did not happen. However, the best moment was when we emerged from the dense foliage and found ourselves on the amazing 5th Avenue. Shopping, venturing, and eating our way through 5th Avenue was a magical moment for us, until I happened to look next to the building we were next to that was surrounded by barricades and SWAT officers with loaded guns. Did you guess it? Trump Tower.
I, like many of my friends, was not thrilled with the election results. In fact, I was pretty shocked and upset. Having lived in a house where both of my parents despised Hillary Clinton with a rather oddly intense passion, they turned to the Republican nominee. Even after all the bullshit that ensued in the final months before November 8, 2016 (allegations of harassment, plain stupidity, and the ever-famous “Grab ‘em by the pussy!”) I was still subjected to FOX News blasting from my living room. When I found out that Trump had indeed won, I washed it down with about four glasses of sangria. As a woman, I was pissed. As a LGBTQ+ ally, I was pissed. As a human being, I was psychotic. These next four years are going to be unpredictable, and all I can hope for is that the positive changes this country made over the years will not be undone. That I will still have complete control over my body. That the hate that pours from (not all, but many of) his supporters, is vaporized forever.
After a few days and with only two left on our trip, we elected that Monday be our actual sightseeing day, with a specific itinerary of things that had to be completed before we just wandered. The first destination we happened upon was Trinity Church. I’m not going to lie, I mainly wanted to go there because of the highly underrated movie National Treasure. However, the church is beautiful and one can get lost roaming the elegant array of tombstones that date back to the early 1700s. After taking our time at the church we headed to the main destination of the day, the September 11th Memorial and Museum. Even though I was only in third grade, I still remember the terror attacks of 9/11 as if it was yesterday. I remember watching the north tower burn, I remember watching Flight 175 crash into the south tower, I remember my mother frantically calling my aunt to check on the whereabouts of my cousin who worked in the vicinity of the towers (she was forced to walk home from Manhattan to Brooklyn covered head to toe in debris). The day was not normal at all, and I remember my teacher, Miss Jones, trying to explain to us what had happened as best she could. Rather early in the day, my mother left work and came to sign me out as my dad had advised her the roads would be jammed and people would be scared. Those are my third grade memories, memories that will never leave my mind. Visiting the completed memorial was an unimaginable experience; when you approach the two Reflecting Ponds etched with the names of those who perished, you suddenly become attuned to the massive devastation that occurred at that site. Going to the memorial and comprehending the human loss is indeed a somber experience, one that I will not forget.
From the 9/11 Memorial, we proceeded to the Hudson River where we sought passage on a ferry that would take us to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This bit of the trip was especially important for me as I was observing the same maritime view that sets of my Great-Grandparents saw when they traveled to America from Sicily. The small ferry that shuttled us across the water proved to be an adventure itself, as it was freezing and windy, never a good combination. My boyfriend lured me to the bow of the boat promising me that I could be Rose and he be Jack, flying just as both did in my favorite movie on the planet. Although tempted, I told him I would probably end up like Jack (and not in the good way) since it was so bloody cold, so I elected to sit inside directly under the heater. Finally sailing past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the boat paused to allow for pictures (which I eagerly snapped), and I was greeted with the sight my relatives would have seen on their entry into New York. It was a surreal experience, seeing what they saw through my own eyes, and I was suddenly incredibly proud to be Sicilian.
The rest of the day was spent just walking and enjoying the sights New York had to offer us. As night approached, we met up with my boyfriend’s brother to enjoy one more cup of hot chocolate in Rockefeller Plaza, then turn in for the night, sad, but anxious to return to a much warmer California—our home.
*We made a pact before leaving California that we would inhale every piece of pizza put in front of our eyes. We agreed it would be a good bonding experience for the two of us after three years of dating, and that it would be an experience for him to understand my culture better as Italians make the best pizza. However you want to spin it, we probably sampled six or seven different pizzerias throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn.
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