I thought my years of living in Chicago would have prepared me for New York City and yet I was still surprised. It wasn’t that New York is that much different from Chicago on an individual street level, it’s just that it’s so much bigger. Chicago city ends, it has boundaries; if you walk for a good hour in any direction from the center of the city, you’ll be out of the jungle of buildings. The concrete and metal of New York, on the other hand, seem infinite. Even when we reached Central Park, a beautiful grass oasis in a sea of metal, I knew that we were still surrounded by the city. The only time the city faded a little into the background was when we headed down to the southern tip of Manhattan to see Governors Island and the statue of Liberty. There I felt more of a balance between man-made structures and nature.
Although I had been a little overwhelmed by the city in the daylight, that was nothing compared to the city at night. Following my younger brother’s desire, we decided to visit Times Square after the sun went down. When we got there, the lights from the advertisements were so bright that it didn’t feel like nighttime anymore. My ears were bombarded with sounds ranging from car horns and blaring music to laughter and shouts. There were so many different and interesting people that I could have people watched for a century and never have gotten bored. Every twenty feet there was a new street performer or artist showcasing themselves and their work to the world. Crossing the street was like a game. A crowd would gather at the edge of the pavement and when we got big enough, one person would brave the street. As soon as their feet touched the tarmac, everyone else scrambled to follow. It was like a small human dam breaking. No one wanted to be left alone when the cars came, blaring their horns.
The noise, the smells, the people, the bustle, the pulsing lights, were all utterly overwhelming. My brain kept switching between wistfully thinking of a quiet, dark room and jumping in delight when I saw something really cool or unique. It was hard to keep following my family. My brain kept focusing on street performers and vendors and somehow my body would take me there of its own accord. I often found myself watching a performance or asking the price of food with my family nowhere in sight (thank goodness for cell phones).
After staying for no more than two hours, we left for Penn Station. Even after leaving the lights of Times Square, I could still feel their pulsing glow, like it had been imprinted on the insides of my eyelids. The entire train ride back to Long Island (where we were staying with relatives) I desired nothing more than darkness, silence and contact solution.
Overall, my experience of New York City was wonderful. In my limited time interacting with it, the city felt like it was the crazy, fun uncle to Chicago. It was bigger and more intense, great for a short visit but I would think rather maddening after a long while. New York City is a loud, screeching, bustling, diverse, beautiful jungle of madness that I hope to return to someday.