Tuesday, March 30, 2010

O is for One

It’s been said that one is the loneliest number. After spending a weekend alone in New York City, I tend to agree.

For work I travel to different destinations across the country and help run music festivals for high school choirs, bands, and orchestras. This past weekend I was assigned to go to New York. As it turned out, the other people from work I went with brought their daughters, so they had plans to shop and do other “mother-daughter things.” So, I spent a couple days sight-seeing in Manhattan, alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time, and I actually think New York is pretty cool (sleaze and Yankees aside). However, I recognized that I would have had much more fun had I been able to do the sight-seeing with somebody else. In addition, I learned of three pitfalls that come with sight-seeing alone. Here they are.

First, when you’re alone, there isn’t anyone to tell you you’re doing a stupid thing. On Saturday night, I had just finished a cruise that (mostly) circled Manhattan, when I needed to return to my hotel. I started to look for a taxi, already tired and weary of carrying my forty pound briefcase, when a mysterious black car pulled up next to me. The gentleman—who claims to be from Guinea—assured me that he was driving a legitimate taxi. So, I hopped in the car. Mistake #1.

I won’t bore you with every detail, but the man (who claims to be from Guinea) drove like a drunken 12 year old boy. It was the craziest ride I’ve ever taken, hands down. When we got to the hotel, which turned out to be a lot closer than I thought, he turned around and said “$25.” “For what?” was my response. I don’t know a ton about cab rates, but I knew that he was pulling the ol’ screw job. I thought quickly and said, “Do you accept credit cards?” He said no. (I learned earlier in the week that all “legitimate” cabs are required to accept credit cards. Hmmm . . .) I thought quickly and countered (dishonestly) with “I only have $12 cash.” He then, without hesitation or brain-function, proceeded to swerve across the street (narrowly avoiding about five accidents) to where some ATMs were. “Crap,” I mouthed to myself. I got out and pretended to withdraw money. When I came back I said, “Do you give receipts?” He pulled out a sticky note and said “Sure do” (in what sounded less and less like a Guinea accent). I then handed him two obviously not crisp-out-of-the-ATM-bills with the numbers of 5 and 20 printed on them. He had an all-too-knowing look on his face and said “Good doing business with you.”

I begrudgingly then stalked to my hotel. Mistake #2. As I walked into the lobby, it occurred to me that I felt light. I stood and started reaching for my briefcase when I realized it wasn’t on my shoulder. Not a big deal until you consider it had everything in it—including my wallet. Pure panic shot thru me like the cold of a lake swim in December. I immediately ran outside the hotel and, without hesitation or brain-function, started running. I literally got into the middle lane of 7th street and just ran in the direction the cab was going. Praying that he didn’t turn, I did my best imitation of a younger version of myself that ran track in high school. After a block, nothing. My panic was rising. But then I saw it, the mysterious black car about a block ahead. So I kept running, hearing faintly in the background honking and laughing. There I was running in Time Square amid taxis and busses, chasing down the crooked taxi driver supposedly from Guinea. Thanks to a fortunate red light, I caught up to him, and got my bag, but not without learning that you always go with the yellow cabs, and you always make sure not to leave anything in a taxi. It helps to have someone with you to remind you of this.

Second, the world can be tough when you’re all alone. On Thursday afternoon, not too far from the Empire State Building, I was walking along the sidewalk eating a lamb gyro (which I very highly recommend). In front of me a few feet, I noticed a pigeon starting to takeoff. As it started to ascend, I noticed something: It wasn’t ascending. The pigeon ran headfirst into my shoulder. Seriously, a pigeon flew into me! I’m telling you, if I was with somebody, there is no way that happens.

Third, if you’re all alone, you are the designated cameraman (and that can lead to weird situations). Everywhere I went, people saw me all alone, and asked me to take group photos for them. I honestly didn’t mind. So when I was leaving the Manhattan LDS Temple on Friday and walking down Broadway, I didn’t even blink when the casually dressed man asked me to take a picture of him and his friends in front of the Lincoln Center. It is a renowned venue of the arts, after all. However, I did blink when, after giving me a professional camera, the man and his friends proceeded to take their clothes off.

That wasn’t a typo. They took their clothes off, and then put on diapers. Again, not a typo. They got in grownup diapers and started posing in various positions. Positions that inexplicably brought images in my mind of some perverse wall hanging with babies dressed like flowers. What was I to do? What would you do? Don’t answer that. Anyway, I had told him I would take the photo. And I do change diapers at home every day. So, I took their pictures (one after another, after another). They, of course, drew somewhat of a crowd. A crowd that, no doubt, assumed I was part of the Depends Gang. My point? If you ever find yourself alone in a place where lots of pictures are taken, be prepared to be the cameraman. And maybe ask what the picture is going to be of before you agree to take it.

Remember, one is the loneliest number, and it can lead to problems. Just a few words to the wise from me.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Today’s recommendation: Well, I already recommended lamb gyros. But if you’re looking for more, I have a book I would recommend. But only if you can handle a book that is, well, depressing. While in NY, I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Like I said, it is a very depressing book. But it is also beautiful; a truly amazing piece of literature as far as I’m concerned. And if you’re looking for something less depressing (and lighter), try another book about the world after the “end of the world”: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Whereas The Road may just change the way you think about things, Hunger Games will keep you entertained for hours to come.


  1. I don't know NY but the way you described that "taxi" driver's driving. I think its a miracle you got your briefcase back.
    Great Recommendations by the way.

  2. Yikes. Scary situation with the briefcase...glad you got it back. That sucks about $25 for that!!!

  3. i'm not a fan of traveling by myself either. i'd much rather have a friend to share those small "did that really just happen?!"/"you had to be there moments" moments with. plus, i'm too much of a chicken to find myself in the same situations you lived through! bravo for surviving nyc all by yourself.

  4. Easily your best post. I read multiple articles today from USA Today, NPR, New York Times, & random blogs, and I must say that this was the most enjoyable read I had.

  5. Just think- if you hadn't had all those experiences, you wouldn't have been able to write such an entertaining post. I am just now listening to Malcom Gladwell tell about all the crime in NY and the dangers of the subway-tell me you didn't take the subway alone. I'm grateful for your safe return. Hopefully Orlando and Boston will be full of adventures, albeit, safe ones.

  6. Crazy stories. And I agree with Marcus that this was a good post.