We were waiting in line to go to the top of the Empire State Building. Our time was ticking and we only had 3 hours left in the city at most. To start off our impromptu 5 hour excursion, I witnessed first-hand the nightmare that is driving and parking in New York City. My mom wasn’t sure how to take public transit into Manhattan, so we made the brave and incredibly dumb decision to drive our rental straight into the middle of the world’s worst traffic jam.
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My first hour in New York was identical to my first minute. Immediately after entering Manhattan, I heard sirens and horns coming from every side. We spent the next hour accompanied by this chorus of sounds through miles of stop and go traffic in our mission to find a parking garage.
The parking garage that saved our lives was on 42nd street near the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Relieved to be out of the traffic, I was eager to begin my exploration on foot. Naturally, we began in the Museum, but I soon realized that $25 dollars and one attraction was not the best way to see New York. We left.
As we made our way towards the Empire State Building in a taxi, I got to the real matter at hand.
“Mom, do you remember where you used to live?” I asked in Chinese. My mom had lived in New York when she first emigrated here from China and I’ve heard more than one story about her struggles on this very ground.
“I never lived this far up in Manhattan. Your dad and I were very poor at the time and we had to share a small room with four other families.” I had heard this story before. “I can’t remember exactly which street it was on anymore. It’s been 20 years now.”
Disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to tour my mom’s old living quarters, I turned my attention to the Empire State Building. As we got closer to ascending the skyscraper, my anticipation grew. Soon, I’d be able to see all of New York at the top of its arguably most famous building. The elevator ride to the top was too fast for my excitement to get the better of me, but when I stepped out, I couldn’t help but gasp in amazement. I could see New York!
Gazing out at the most populous city in the United States, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonder. In every single building in this entire expansive city, were people living their everyday lives and trying to meet their own goals and create their own happiness. All 8.4 million souls that called this city home were going through their own struggles and joys. And at some point, my mom had been amongst them. She too had worked and cried and laughed and lived in this city that is so foreign to me in the hopes that one day she would be able to do exactly what she had done, move to a small suburb where her kids could grow up happy and carefree.
Having never lived in New York, I can’t possibly imagine what my mom’s daily life had been like 20 years ago, when I didn’t even exist in her mind. Did she fall into bed exhausted every night from her long shift at the restaurant? Did she cry when things got so impossibly hopeless or did she smile and tell herself to keep trying? What were my parents like when they were young and trying to reestablish their entire life in a country on the other side of the world? I can only stare out at New York from above and try to imagine her eerie struggle.
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