By Meredith Schneider
Right before I moved to New York City, I was watching an episode of Gossip Girl when the lovely Kristen Bell, as narrator, said, “To survive on the Upper East Side, you’d better be fearless.”
The statement kind of scared me, but I took it to heart. When I packed my bags and went out east, I tried to adapt that knowledge into my everyday life, but there is only so much that can be done when you are experiencing New York City for the very first time.
Whether you are traveling there on business, heading out for vacation, visiting family, or moving to The Big Apple, there are first time experiences that you are going to want to have under your belt by the time you leave. So check out the list below, take warning from the stories that follow, and remember to always be fearless.
Photo courtesy of Joisey Showa Photos.
1. My First Impression of NYC
I had never been to New York before I decided to move here with everything I could fit in four bags. I had heard it was beautiful. I had heard it was full of promise. I had also heard that I should run screaming in the other direction because of how terrible the locals are. I went anyway, and no, I did not have a great first impression of the place.
I got off the plane and waited for my bags. Of course, one of them hadn’t survived the flight and was missing a wheel. I thought it would be easy to stack my two carry-ons on top of my big, rolling bags and make it across the street to the black car I had reserved.
This was my first mistake, the bags kept falling over while I wheeled them, and I made it through the automatic door only after about four minutes of struggling and sidling through sideways. At this point, the people in line for cabs had been staring at me for a while. My face was burning up, my phone was ringing off the hook, and my waiting driver looked very impatient.
Employees walked past me. Other commuters ran by. The people in line for cabs started to laugh at me. At one point I tried to joke about it. “First timer’s luck, eh?” More laughter, no help. I could see my driver across the street, standing by the car and calling me repeatedly. It was at this point that I dropped everything, rejected his new call, and called my mom. I knew she couldn’t do anything, but maybe she had advice. She tried to talk me through it. I cried.
It was another few minutes before I worked up the courage to ask the lady helping people onto buses to watch my luggage while I ran inside to get a cart. At that point, an airport employee did help me and we got my stuff to the car. I had tears streaming down my face. So naturally, my driver regaled me with his life story on our way into the city and gave me very strongly worded advice: “Don’t trust anyone here.”
Great. As staunch as he was in his statement, I still couldn’t help but smile as we drove across the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and the Manhattan skyline sprawled out in front of me.
2. First Trip to Central Park
When I got my luggage stowed in my new apartment, my roommate was excited to take me on a walk. She told me she wanted to go to “the park” because she had only been a couple of times and had never really walked around in it. I just assumed she meant some random small park near the apartment, so I wasn’t very gung-ho about it, but I went anyway. We sat at a bench facing a small pond at the east end of the park, enjoying the crisp autumn air and warm autumn leaves. It wasn’t until later that I even realized I was in Central Park.
If you are not from New York and have never been to Central Park, it is very easy to miss how big it is, 1.317 square miles. There are baseball diamonds, street performers, ponds, a reservoir, stages, and even a few castles. It’s easy to avoid the park in the everyday busy New York life, but there are so many amazing things that I didn’t get to experience there, even living just blocks from it for a year. Trust me, it’s worth exploring,
3. First Cup of New York Coffee
No, there is no Central Perk coffee shop. On my first day in New York, I was left at a corner café alone while my friend went to an appointment. I sat there, sipping my coffee and people watching, and legitimately felt like I was in a movie. Little did I know that Hot & Crusty is not really a “café,” but I took that Mary Tyler Moore moment and appreciated it with a smile.
4. First Trip to Times Square
My first encounter of Times Square also took place during my first days in the city. My roommate volunteered to take me on my route to work so that I would know where to go the following day. We mapped it out and headed to Bryant Park on the F train. We walked and found the lights display that I had only seen in the movies. Times Square was alive with electricity, winter coats, and smiling faces. We took the quintessential photo in the center and walked a block to my work building.
For the next four months I would walk through Times Square at least twice daily. Natives will roll their eyes and tell you to avoid the tourist trap, but I woke up to it every morning. In the dead of winter it is pretty secluded at 8:30 a.m. because its usual inhabitants are below you, navigating the 42nd St. subway station to keep warm.
People will hit you with umbrellas when it’s raining, and tourists will stop in the middle of the sidewalk, causing you to either bowl them over or—inconveniently—step to the side. It’s your prerogative to photo bomb every once in a while, and it’s okay to be impatient. But enjoy it occasionally; there is nothing else quite like it.
5. First New York Brunch
New Yorkers are known for enjoying their weekend brunches. On my first weekend in New York, I was lucky enough to enjoy this dining experience. My friend and I took a stroll through Central Park in the afternoon and she showed me some landmarks on the way. Afterward, we walked to find something to enjoy as our first meal of the day. We went to Le Pain Quotidien, which is hardly a real New York Brunch, but was great nonetheless.
6. First Slice of New York Pizza
I didn’t get to my first official slice of NYC pizza until mid-December that year. My roommate and I had gone to a friend of a friend’s apartment to enjoy some alcoholic beverages and then we somehow ended up VIP at a rave. Apparently my roommate befriended an internationally known DJ at her tanning salon, so we got special treatment.
After the rave was over, my head was thumping from the alcohol and blinking lights, so we took a cab to the closest pizza place. To this day I couldn’t tell you where we got the pizza, but our cabbie let us eat it in his car, so it was like Christmas came early. Even in my confused and tired state, I still remembered the advice my dad had given me from Seinfeld. My roommate and I both folded our slices in half and flicked the grease off of them (to the amusement of our cabbie). The pizza was glorious and worth the wait.
If you’re looking for the best slice of pizza in NYC, you’ll be met with too many opinions and not enough time. Check out Artichoke, Joe’s, DiFara’s or Bleecker Street for some delicious, cheesy goodness.
7. First Black and White Cookie
I could be ignorant, but I didn’t realize what a staple the black and white cookie was in New York until my tenth month in the city. Even though they are proudly displayed in the window of just about every Hot & Crusty you come across, the thought just never occurred to me. My friend from college had just moved to the city, and she wanted to be the one with me when I tried my first black and white.
I Googled the best one in the city, and was torn between frosting-topped and fondant-topped cookies. My friend and I met on the Upper East Side near my apartment and walked twenty-five blocks to Glaser’s Bake Shop on 1st Ave. between 87th and 88th Streets. It was worth it. Not only is the place adorable—tucked away and decorated with family photos from the over 100 years it has been in business—but the staff is fun and friendly, and the cookies are unbelievable. Take the trip north if you have time. You will go back for seconds and thirds and never feel bad about it for a second.
8. First Time Being Bothered by a Homeless Person
No matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you do, you will encounter homeless people in The Big Apple. I was lucky enough to have my first big city interaction with a homeless person in one of the most stress-inducing buildings in the city—the post office.
On my first day at my first job in NYC, I went to the post office with my coworker to learn how to send out stacks of mail from the company where we both worked. We were standing in line together—two almost-strangers—when the man behind us started talking to me. He seemed really nice, asking about my day and wondering about the two pretty ladies in front of him. Then the questions digressed and the conversation spiraled into “You are Barbara Walters, aren’t you?”
Mildly offended because I look nothing like her and am just a fraction of her age, I deterred his thought and thanked him for the compliment. He was very sure that I was her, and started asking about all of the people I had slept with. He then asked about my plastic surgery and went into very graphic detail, which I normally wouldn’t have minded, but I had been in line for a very long time and the man was very loud, so everyone began staring at us.
It got to the point where I had to turn around and just ignore him. My new coworker just stared at me with her jaw on the ground, surprised that I even entertained a stranger for so long. I watched him while we walked out. He was just hanging out in the post office.
If and when you encounter homeless people who bother you, maintain your composure. That’s the best advice I have. They’re not all bad. Some of them will tell you that you look like Mary Poppins, compliment your smile, or hold a door open for you. In fact, be respectful to everyone you encounter and walk away if need be. You never know their situation in life.
9. First NYC parade
Many New Yorkers will cringe when they hear the word “parade.” It seems like there is one every weekend, and they often block natives’ paths to their local coffee shop or favorite weekend haunt. But New York is alive with culture; I think it only makes sense that so many festivals and parades find a home there.
My first NYC parade was Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I woke up early, dragged my roommate who had never been in all her time in the city, and watched from a hill in Central Park South while Spongebob, Snoopy, and the Pillsbury Dough Boy flew past us. Since then I have stumbled upon the Pride Parade, Puerto Rican Day Parade, St. Patrick’s Parade, and many more. It might be annoying, but it’s good to stop and enjoy the celebration every once in a while, even if it’s Santacon.
10. First New York All-Nighter
During my first weekend in New York, I really experienced “the city that never sleeps.” After walking Madison Ave. all Saturday in flip-flops (people will cringe at that—especially in November,) and riding the Staten Island Ferry for the first time, I rushed home to get ready for a concert. I took the F to Waverly Place to meet some friends, and we took a cab over to Terminal 5 to see Chromeo.
After that, we walked several blocks before giving in and getting a cab—heels are just a bad idea in that city—to the East Village for drinks at a swanky cocktail lounge with more people. I thought the night would end around 2 a.m., but I was then carted to an underground dance club even further south. The black walls and red lights mixed with trippy club music should have tipped me off to the fact that I was pulling an all-nighter.
We stayed for a very long time, and then cabbed over to Artichoke for some pizza. I didn’t eat, but I did stand with my friends for a while. Two of us ended up on the F train back north, but it was the weekend so it didn’t stop by my house. My phone died, my heels hurt, it was 5 a.m., and I had no idea where I was, but I walked with confidence in the direction that I thought I belonged and made it back home pretty quickly.
What really amazed me was that I as was walking home from a night of debauchery, people were outside stretching to run the New York Marathon. I had also been out an hour longer than anticipated because daylight savings time jumped while I was on the dance floor.
I really was in the city that never sleeps for the first time, and boy did it feel great.