I am, by far, the least musically inclined person I know. Yet that doesn’t stop me from making a mental playlist for myself: Yikes, and then Some: A Life Soundtrack by Cynthia B. When I meet new people the Law and Order: SVU theme song plays, complete with the opening words. Traveling solo for the first time at sixteen conjured up a dramatic sweep of my arm and It’s a Whole New World (a classic, really).
When I stood before a glittering Times Square last summer, the broken record player in my mind settled on Do You Believe in Magic by The Lovin’ Spoonful (except only the first line—because isn’t that the only one everyone knows?). While I had always known that New York was something else in itself, I chalked up all of the anecdotes and the pictures to be hyperbolic. I was dead wrong.
There is something extraordinary about being able to travel independent of family and friends. There was no one for me to compromise with, no one to drag to all of my attractions—but, alas, no one to drag my luggage for me. But that’s okay, because my decision to skip out on the Empire State Building was completely worth the bit of sore arms and stiff neck I ended up with. (Eighty-something bucks for an elevator ride was certainly not worth it to my tiny teenage wallet.)
Instead, my Metrocard and my (increasingly sore) feet took me on the journey of a lifetime. Throughout my three days in the city, I visited the Rockefeller Center (a daunting marble building, really), the Nintendo New York store (a field day for yours truly—so much that I went twice to score a souvenir t-shirt barely my size), and zipped to the American Museum of Natural History, land of the dinosaur fossils and a paradoxical timeline that begins at the time before time existed. (Crazy, right?) And because I wasn’t already feeling the agony reverberating through every part of my legs, I spent a good chunk of time walking the High Line, a linear park structure built atop a disused railway in West Manhattan. My primary purpose in New York, however, was to visit colleges, so I toured Columbia and NYU. I was to see the Bronx Zoo on my last day, but couldn’t quite make it in time.
A (few) word(s) of advice for my fellow independent travelers: know where you want to go. While I managed to scramble together a list of New York-y things I wanted to do and scheduled university tours in advance, I didn’t plan out an itinerary for my visit there. I suggest finding your points of interest and shaping your schedule around the location of each attraction. (Because when you’re adventuring mostly by subway, you’re going to want everything to be nearby one another.) If you know where you’re going and don’t look touristy, no one will pay you any mind. New York City has a life of its own, after all. That life began long before any of us existed.
There is a beauty in being so small in such a large city, to be reminded that my existence is a mere blink in the history of the ground your feet walk on, that the city has stood before me and will continue to stand long after I no longer do. I am connected with those that walked the streets before me, who built the city I look up at. I’ve traveled through time—I’ve done the impossible.
So yes, The Lovin’ Spoonful, I do. I do believe in magic.
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