Although it was seven o’clock in the evening it hardly seemed dark at all, and as I weaved in and out of the crowds, fingers numb and nose stinging, it was all I could do to keep from giggling out loud in pure excitement. All along Times Square, gigantic screens flashing fake men and women three times my size lit up the surrounding street corners. Glancing briefly around to take in once more the teeming masses of people fluttering around with a peculiar urgent laziness underneath the artificial light, I hopped back on our bus, which felt like sensory deprivation compared to the flashing pinball machine of Manhattan that lay outside.
But let’s back up.
This past weekend I was blessed and privileged enough to travel to NY, NY with my lovely teammates to compete at the American Athletic Conference Indoor Track Championship. To everyone’s delight, indoor conference was held this year at The Armory, a century old building that houses one of the country’s premier indoor tracks, and hosts the renowned Millrose Games among others. That we were going to be running on a track that had been the site for so many inspiring moments of victory and speed was exciting enough, but the fact that the Armory is located in Washington Heights in New York City was almost enough to send my team over the edge with excitement. We don’t exactly see large amounts of hustle and bustle out here in lovely Tulsa, Oklahoma, and so to be traveling (for free I might add) to one of the cultural capitals of the world for four days was a big deal for all of us.
The track meet went pretty well; numerous teammates ran personal records, there were a lot of event titles won, and so many of the races were incredibly exciting to watch.
Personally, I was able to run sub 17 minutes in the 5k, which I am still in shock from. That was really cool, and I can’t wait to take on outdoors.
But while the track meet was awesome and incredible, and I could write an entire post dedicated to it, I want to focus on New York City, because that place was make-your-jaw-drop incredible.
It was the greatest mass of humanity I’ve ever seen. Movies, TV shows, and novels have all described its chaotic streets and steaming smells to me before, but to see it in person was utterly overwhelming, and this was the greatest impression it left me with: people are amazing.
Yes, people do stupid, cruel, idiotic things sometimes, but looking at this city all I could feel was impressed by my own species’s sheer ingenuity and creativity. I have never felt so small, and I have never felt more human. The phrase, “a drop in the ocean” pretty much perfectly sums up my experience.
New York’s beauty was not the same as that of my beautiful Rockies, or the lush tropics of the Bahamas, or the green dampness of the ivy covered Appalachians, but it was stunningly beautiful all the same. Despite the less glamorous sides of New York, the trash bags piled on street corners, the men and women whose skin is smoke colored and hair matted, the school’s with barred windows and protective fences, taken as a whole New York seemed to me this collective monument to the grit and fierceness of humanity. The entire city was bold, rising proudly as a sign of mankind’s stand against the world. And so many people. A myriad of languages filled the streets, and it seemed every type of subculture was thriving there, taking part in its own fair share of humanity’s monument.
New York for me was like a huge field of wildflowers; when you see one flower, its pretty, but when you see an entire field, it’s incredibly pretty. I think people are hands-down absolutely the most beautiful things on this planet, way more beautiful than flowers, and so to see an entire city filled to the brim with such a kaleidoscope of people was an immensely heavy dose of beautiful. The waves of energy and activity and drive and human experience rippling from that city were intensely tangible.
Our big night to explore the city was Saturday night, when we were allotted 2 hours in Times Square to do whatever. My mind was focused on one thing, getting to see the Empire State Building, so when we were dropped off I set off immediately towards my goal. It wasn’t long before I was by myself, power walking through the city streets. I didn’t mean to be by myself, but somehow it happened, which doesn’t bother me. It’s a common enough occurrence.
I have always been a wanderer: I get distracted in new places easily, have an intense curiosity, and generally prefer to go at my own pace. Whether it be in an airport, a vacation tour, camping, or just around campus, I often find myself separated from the group. It’s not usually something I do on purpose, it’s not like I don’t like the group, I just get very set in investigating certain things that catch my eye and before I know it I’m alone. So to find myself walking through New York for the first time alone was not exactly surprising, and honestly, I probably preferred it that way, because then I don’t have to worry if I’m dragging others around to check out things they think are dull. Prime example: not many people love Broadway theater as much as I do, so they probably would not have enjoyed the theater district as much as I did.
Whilst on my solo adventure, I did indeed make it to the Empire State Building (although I didn’t go up to the top because it cost freaking $32, which is just bogus), and I also got to explore: Koreatown, the theater district, Herald Square, Bryant Park, a random salad/deli place from which I bought $15 worth of berries, and of course the Times Square stores. I thought it wasn’t bad for 2 hours, but I’m definitely committing to an entire day of wandering next time.
As I got back on the bus that night, I knew I could never permanently live in New York. The lack of sky would suffocate me eventually, and my need for the color green would drive me crazy. But I left that lovely city feeling pretty proud of humanity and happy to be part of it, because it was the most concrete testament to the indelible resilience and passion of people that I have ever seen.