As I stepped off the plane at LaGuardia, I had a sense of the familiar. Passing the Auntie Anne’s pretzel shop, I recalled the days of snacking on their buttery pretzels as I waited for a flight back home after a fun-filled weekend in the Big Apple. I hadn’t been to New York in five years, but it seemed like just yesterday. At the same time, as I entered the subway station at Bowling Green the next morning to head up to Midtown, confusion ruled. I couldn’t remember the lines or the transfers or which Metro card I should buy. All I knew was that I would eventually take the 7 to get out to Flushing for the US Open – the purpose of this and so many other visits.
I have been to New York more than any other city – at least a dozen times, if not more. The city has an energy, a buzz about it that brings out a different side of me almost every time I’m here. I’m more open, more free than when I’m at home. I’m open to the possibilities that New York has to offer.
I first visited New York in 1999, when I was just starting my second year of law school. Five classmates and I participated in a job fair and stayed for the weekend. The six of us shared a room in a Best Western near Times Square; two on each bed, one on the floor in between the beds and one on the floor at the end. We had dinner in Chinatown and rode the Staten Island Ferry. We posed for pictures on the bull on Wall Street and wandered into the Doubletree Hotel in our slightly intoxicated states desperately seeking a bathroom.
Then, as everyone headed back to the hotel, one classmate and I stumbled into the China Club, where we danced the rest of the night away. Swing dancing – because that was all the rage then. Only two of us remained the next night and we ended up at a bar in Alphabet City – not the best area of town then – and took a shady, unmarked “taxi” to get home at the end of the night. In retrospect, I look back at the whole weekend and laugh at how naïve we were and how we were lucky to get out of New York unscathed.
Eventually, visiting New York became a Labor Day weekend tradition for my friend Krista and me. We shopped during the day, took in Broadway plays or live music at night and did our best to spot celebrities, trying to get into the hottest new restaurants or bars, even though I never quite felt like we really belonged there. And we never did spot any celebrities. But we did meet a lot of guys, something that was so much easier in New York than back home in Chicago.
Another summer I visited with my friend Krina for a quick girls’ weekend. We stocked up on knock-off purses in Chinatown and then shopped for real brand names on Fifth Avenue. We were denied from some hot spot one night before talking our way into another. The next night, we found an eighties themed club and danced until we literally could not dance anymore – I could barely walk the next morning, my feet hurt so bad!
A couple times I came to New York for work and had time to explore on my own. I checked out the Guggenheim and the Met and wandered around Central Park. I saw Billy Joel in concert at Madison Square Garden – an experience that forever ruined seeing Billy anywhere else because he was just so much more amazing playing in front of a home town crowd.
And then I started coming for the US Open.
Every year was a little different. I made friends with a couple girls from DC in 2005 and met up with them again in 2006. They had connections for great seats, which is how I came to be courtside for Andre Agassi’s last match ever. We had a blast watching matches, drinking too many signature cocktails, flirting with some cute Dutch guys and even ending up on the court in Arthur Ashe Stadium taking pictures with flamboyant senior doubles player Mansour Bahrami. Another year I met up with a friend from work and another year I went with an old friend from Chicago. I didn’t see much of New York City on any of those trips, but I saw a lot of tennis. Every time I boarded the flight back to Chicago, I felt a twinge of sadness that my time in the Big Apple was ending so quickly.
This most recent trip was no different. I arrived late on a Friday night, reaching my hotel in the Financial District at nearly 10 p.m. A sense of déjà vu overcame me as I stood in the lobby and it wasn’t long before I realized it was the same Doubletree Hotel that my law school classmates and I snuck into 14 years earlier in search of a bathroom. After ordering a massive plate of sweet potato fries to my room, I hit the sack, wanting to rest up for what would be an incredibly long Saturday.
Breakfast with my friends Michaela and Sherry near Times Square. Men’s semi-finals at the US Open, including a thrilling five-setter between Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka. Back to the city for dinner with Sylvia, a friend who I met while volunteering in Armenia last year. Then drinks with Sylvia and Scott, a friend I met in Kyrgyzstan almost exactly a year ago. It was shortly after 1 a.m. when I returned to my hotel, my head pounding and my skin burning – the delayed effects of too much time in the sun!
Sunday allowed me the luxury of sleeping in before meeting up with Ekaterina – a Russian girl who ran the hostel where I stayed in Yekaterinburg nearly two years ago! By a crazy fluke, she has been in New York studying graphic design for the last few months. We met for lunch near Grand Central Station and then I hopped back on the train to Flushing to catch the women’s final at the US Open. While I was expecting a short match, I instead got the longest final in US Open history! So rather than checking out another of New York’s fabulous restaurants after the match, I headed back to my hotel, grabbing Chipotle on the way to eat in my room. With a 6:30 a.m. flight out of LaGuardia, I needed to get to bed early!
As always, Monday morning came way too fast and before I knew it, I was on a plane back to Chicago, wishing that I could have stayed in New York just a little longer. And as always, it was a trip to remember, with a couple scintillating tennis matches and the opportunity to meet up with a whopping five friends in two days, including three who I met during my career break travels! Really quite amazing.
I’m already looking forward to the next trip.