A Metropolis at Your Fingertips | My Family Travels
WTC Transportation Hub
Central Park's Croton Reservoir
50th Street Subway Station

I suppose it begins 8 hours into our first day there. Stumbling out onto the streets of New York City with only five hours of sleep, we certainly looked the part of clueless tourists—my camera was slung around my neck while the rest of the family bore backpacks the size of their torsos. Our itinerary had been planned down to the tee, courtesy of my father, who loved making the most of every minute.

QUARTER-FINALIST 2015 FTF TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP

Guggenheim Museum was our first destination.

As a Southern California girl, I had only known single-story houses—sometimes two stories, if the local contractors were feeling ambitious—and flat, open land with plenty of elbow room for everyone. New York was the antithesis of California’s laid-back charm. My camera was lifted the whole time, capturing the stillness of the heavens as skyscrapers pierced brilliant blue with glass and metal and plaster. The bustle of the streets was equally exciting, the high-speed movement causing us to pick up our pace until I was almost giddy with exhilaration.

Our speed-walk down 44th Street intersected with 8th Avenue, crossing into the 45th and through numbers and names until we found ourselves descending into NYC’s subway system.

One hand fanning myself feebly, I pushed through the turnstile, stuffing the MetroCard into my pocket. In the midst of body heat and lingering summer warmth, I peered down at the rusted tracks. Pools of unknown liquids and scattered trash spoke of a system of old. A baseball cap half-sunk in muck. The faint outline of a Converse in the shadows.

People waiting for the Downtown train milled around the platform, most of them on their phones. I raised my camera again. Click. An image of the time-worn tunnels. Click. A moment where you can see, just barely, the headlights of the next train. Click. Waiting.

In California, subways didn’t—couldn’t—exist due to the constant threat of earthquakes that would crush, without discernment, the trains, the tracks, the paths carved deep in the earth. This hidden city. I glanced around again before joining my family in the small 10 a.m. crowd headed to Central Park.

If we had read the maps better, we would have seen a station that was considerably closer to the Guggenheim than the one at which we disembarked. Our trek down the shaded path was long—made even longer still by the locals we bumped into that made snarky comments about Asian tourists.

It wasn’t long before we found a smaller path that led to the famous Central Park at the heart of Manhattan. Croton Reservoir was the first thing we saw: an expanse of blue, reflecting the ornate buildings lining its shore.

I could wax poetic about the marvel of nature in the middle of such an urban environment, but, perhaps, it was this moment of revelation that truly made the trip memorable: this reminder that twelve dozen steps and a train ride in New York is an eclectic world, only comparable to the stuff of dreams.

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