Thank God I have a sense of humor about myself because I needed it to make it through Newark airport. Already out of sorts from our swift plane exodus and the unforgiveable need to retrieved a checked bag, I was pretty skittish hanging out around the baggage carousel. It didn’t help when I got accosted by a guy rushing past me and purposefully grabbing my arse. He was quick, though, and by the time my shock wore off and I whirled to deck him, he had already moved on. Welcome to Newark, indeed.
Having been prepared for a 2 hour transfer to Manhattan, I was excited to learn the trip wouldn’t take have that long. And I got to speed through the infamous Lincoln Tunnel!
My anxiety over being back in New York was in full force by the time I got to the hotel and, rather than put it off, I decided to just drop my bags and greet the city head on. It only took a few blocks of ambling before I realized this was a whole new world. Unlike the frenetic insanity of Times Square, Hell’s Kitchen was a world within a world. With the sun setting and blanketing the buildings in a dusky pink hue, my shoulders began to relax and I let myself absorb the sights and sounds of my new home for the next week.
I traversed the side streets until I had them committed to memory then headed to 9th Avenue. While the busiest part of the neighborhood at this time of night, it was still a quiet oasis compared to what I had braced myself for in the city.
With every type of ethnic food available, I walked the main strip several times just to take in all the spicy smells of Indian curries, Italian marinaras and jasmine rice. I’ve never been anywhere that exemplified the idea of a “melting pot” better than in these few colorful blocks of Hell’s Kitchen. I finally settled in to a place serving Latin empanadas and waited my turn for an inside table (I still didn’t relish the idea of enjoying my food covered in smog fumes).
The close knit tables left no regard for personal space but after downing the best white sangria I’ve ever had (okay so maybe it was one and a half..or two!) I had even become chatty with my neighbor. With dreadlocks almost as long as I am tall, he ad drank significantly more than I already and was feeling no pain. He launched into a giggling story about his plans for the remainder of the evening. He pointed out he had a boyfriend (I suppose I must have been smiling too much from the sangria and he didn’t want me to get my hopes up)
and then regaled me of his dinner choice – the viagra stew which, he assured me, was not misnamed and whose aphrodisiac properties were unquestioned. Although, he lamented sadly, he perhaps shouldn’t have ordered it since his boyfriend had to work the bight shift that evening. Curious fellow and all I kept thinking was “oh, how I wished I lived next door to you.” I definitely see him appearing in one of my stories at some point. My tummy full of a Cuban empanada and a fig & honey dessert one, I decided it was time to head back to the hotel and get some sleep before the sun rose.
Taking what was probably a super sketchy road (and undoubtedly one Frommer would tell you to steer clear of) I weaved my way through giant piles of garbage, sidestepped even bigger rats and waved to all the men sitting on the stoops drinking and smoking all matters of intriguing substances. Unlike the rest of New York where I felt invisible (or, let’s be honest, detested), everyone here waved back. Sure, they hesitated first and sized me up with a “wtf” glare initially but all eventually broke into grins and, more often than not, wished me a good evening. This, I knew, was a neighborhood I could love.
I paid more attention to the hotel when I arrived. Noted the coolness of its name, the nifty font meeting rooms and the doorman Nico whose smile was unfailing the entire time of my visit.
I also got my first taste of the Press Lounge bar scene, the observing of which would become a nightly ritual for me. But tonight I was too exhausted to do anything more than note it in passing and finally crawled into bed.