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Rats, Tourists, & NYC

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

Mike and I went to New York last weekend. It was my first time in the city, and I was excited to see it, but I was extra excited to see the infamous street rats, "Big as a small dog," someone told me. "Big as your cat. Big as a fu**ing racoon." We were going to see a Broadway play and Ground Zero and the Statue of Liberty. We were going to eat a New York bagel and walk all over the city and run in Central Park. We flew out of LAX and for nearly five hours straight I read a book called White Oleander by Janet Fitch, about a mother who is self-centered beyond repair and her young daughter, who spends years in and out of foster homes. I only took a break from the book to eat a turkey wrap and complain about my tight hips. "Almost there," Mike said, as we flew over Nebraska. As if.

Once we got to the city, I kept a sharp eye out for rats, but saw none. The streets smelled like piss and garbage and weed, mixed with whatever food stand was nearby. I felt dirty just going outside, a thin sheath of grime coating my body. I was overwhelmed by how many people were everywhere, and how many of them were tourists like me. People in the subway, in the bagel shops, in line to take a photo with the wall street bull. Usually in crowds I watch people, but in New York there were too many people to watch. Everywhere we went was an elaborate test of patience and avoiding other bodies.

The subways reminded me of the train system in Chicago, where you could get pretty much anywhere on the L or the Metra. In New York, you can pay $2.75, get on the subway anywhere, and get off at any time. You can go from one end of the city to the next, all underground. It's liberating and easy, and it made me wonder why other cities aren't investing in better public transportation. In Los Angeles, nobody considers the public transportation system a viable option as it often takes twice as long as driving would. The subway, Mike told me, is where we'd surely see rats.

We went where tourists go, and because I was a tourist I bought a pink NYC hat and sent postcards to my family. "Hello!" I wrote. What the hell do people write on postcards anyway? Our first tourist stop was to see Lady Liberty. The line was long, and there was a security process that rivaled TSA. We got on a ferry, got off the ferry, and looked at the statue. It was a nice statue, but the view was probably better from the water, where you could see her all at once against the bright blue backdrop of the Hudson River. We wanted to climb the stairs into her crown but a security guard stopped us, "Can't go up there," he said, "COVID." His eyes were bleak and tired. The crown of the statue of liberty was the only thing that was still closed for COVID in the entire city.

Later that night, we ate at an Italian restaurant before going to a Broadway play. We sat outside at a small table covered in white paper. Condensation from an air conditioner above me dropped onto my shoulder. Mike knocked the table with his knee and water spilled all over his lap. Girls walked by wearing glittering onesies and feathered boas for a Harry Styles concert at Madison Square. We saw The Book of Mormon and ate Twizzlers in a theater that was built before Americans grew fat. We laughed at parts and stood clapping at the end. The Book of Mormon has been on Broadway for 11 years. Afterward, we walked through Times Square on our way back to the hotel, "Crazy, isn't it?" Mike said, and I nodded because for once, I couldn't talk. It was nearly 11 p.m. and Times Square was packed with street performers and food trucks and people, so many people. Giant screens lit up the night-a dancing M&M, an ad for "Paws of Fury." I slept hard that night, and dreamed I was a journalist on an assignment to learn about sex, relationships, and HIV in New York City.

The next day we ran around Central Park, dodging other runners and bikers and the occasional man on roller blades. Afterward we walked to a coffee shop called The Sensuous Bean that has been on the Upper West Side since 1976. We ate lunch and went to the 9/11 museum, where remnants of the towers are on display. Images of each person who died lined the walls of an entire room. We walked through an exhibit so packed with people that we couldn't move. People kept bumping into one another and taking photos of the displays-a fire truck that was half-burned and inoperational. Letters and notepads and wallets and shoes found after the towers fell. Memorials written by bereaved family. We left that area early; it was overwhelming to be in such a crowded space that was also so charged with emotion.

The last tourist stop was the Freedom Tower, where you ride one of the fastest elevators in the world to the top. The view of the city was fabulous. The overpriced café and cheeky photos were not. We abandoned the crowded tourist spots and had wine and fries at a tiny café in the West Village. We walked to a local bookstore and bought books (The House of God by Samuel Shem for me). Our time in the city was coming to a close. The next morning, we ate brunch at a very cute, very white restaurant where the waitress told us we could order a shot of vodka, if we wanted.

We took a train to Long Island that afternoon, and soon we were in Suburbia where I met Mike's family who are obviously all very lovely people. "We didn't see any rats," we told them. "What a disappointment," they quipped, though I'm not sure they understood just how disappointed I actually was.

P.S. Go be a tourist in New York City, or do some free stuff, or go somewhere else entirely.


Sarah Rose

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