Big City Bright Lights: A tourist guide to visiting New York

Wait

Image by morner via Flickr

My first trip to New York, New York began with me being scammed right outside the airport. A college friend invited me and another friend, Mo, to the city and said that catching a taxi cab from LaGuardia Airport to Manhattan would be easier. From Manhattan we’d catch the subway to Jersey City, Jersey, where my friend from college lived. I didn’t have time to research bus lines or the train system. That was mistake #1.

The first green words I heard of New York’s fast-paced sound was “Where you goin?,” in a South African accent. The cab driver grinned. “23rd ST and 6th,” I said. “That’ll be $55.” I kept walking and accidentally bumped into a New York Airport Service Express bus attendant.

“Where you goin?,” the Spanish bus attendant said. “23rd ST and 6th.” “That’s near Penn Station. You can walk to it. It costs $12 one-way to ride the shuttle to Penn Station. How much was the other guy going to charge you?,” he asked. “$55,” I said. “You should have slapped him,” the bus attendant laughed, waving for Mo and me to join him on the magical-discounted ride, making us believe we were getting a deal. Mistake #2.

$12 sounded like a good deal.

The express bus has 6 main stops: Grand Central, Port Authority, Penn Station, Bryant Park, JFK Airport and Midtown Hotels (between 31st and 60th Streets).

I called my friend from college to ask if Penn Station was near, 23rd ST and 6th, where Mo and me were meeting him.

“You have to walk a couple of blocks.”

“Oh God no.” It was 20 degrees outside. 20 degrees in New York is colder than 20 degrees in Ann Arbor.

I hung up with my friend and asked the bus attendant exactly where the stop was.

“Penn Station,” he said.

“I don’t know New York. Where is that?”

“It’s the first stop. It’s easy.”

The bus attendant failed to mention we had to transfer to another bus. The express bus dropped us off in the November cold on a bustling street near 31st ST. True New Yorkers poured through us wide-eyed tourists. We non-New Yorkers Mo, me, and 10 other tourists, waited, cold and desperate for another bus to pick us up and head to Penn Station. We waited for about 20 minutes. The bus, more of a shuttle, arrived and waited 20 more minutes. The driver shouted at true New Yorkers pushing past him, bundled up, trying to hail cabs.

“Ride for a cheaper more comfortable ride,” he shouted, waving to the shuttle.

I watched amazed at how New Yorkers hurled themselves into traffic, in front of cabs, into harms way.

the beginnings of a terrorist attack gone sour

Riding through the city I felt a sense of “I-have-arrived” nostalgia. Though I had never been to New York I considered myself a native. The city always felt familiar like home or home away from home. That feeling dissipated by the end of the night.

My friend, a fake-New Yorker I learned, said to meet him in front of the world’s largest Macy’s flagship store in Manhattan (the area is called Herald Square). Manhattan was insane. People were on top of people. True New Yorkers avoid going to Manhattan during the holiday-shopping season unless they absolutely need to go or live in Manhattan. I couldn’t deal with it. We walked to the closest subway at 33rd ST.

We caught the Commuter train – PATH – Journal Square to head to Journal Square. The train runs about every 10 minutes.

On the Journal Square train to Jersey a drunk man and even-drunker woman almost hit me with a plastic Pepsi bottle playing drunk field hockey. A drunk college student fell asleep standing up on the train and almost fell on top of me. He got off. A drunk man groping and his girlfriend got on. The man must’ve elbowed me in the head at least 6 times. It wasn’t even 9pm yet.

I moved to another set and smelt something awful. When I looked down at my feet I saw a small brown shopping bag. It was half open. I looked inside it and saw something slushing around. It was vomit. Red, white, and corny. We all burst out laughing. Through laughing, my friend said, “Welcome to New York.”

take the a train

Tourists before you arrive to the city you should research The Port Authority of NY and NJ. It is essential to have a clear, if basic understanding, of the transit system before arriving in New York.

AT JFK

From the airport you can take the M60 bus, which picks up at each terminal right out in front of the baggage claim area at JFK. The M60 bus stops at Harlem-125th Street Station. From the Harlem Station you can connect to NYC transit, Subway: 4,5,6, and Bus: M35, M100, M101, and BX15 and connect to the PATH train that goes to Jersey City.

AT LGA

Several buses pick up at LGA.

The M60 bus drops you off at 116th and Broadway in front of Columbia University. From there you can take a bus, taxi or subway to anywhere in Manhattan.
Take the Q33 bus to Roosevelt Avenue-Jackson Heights or 74th Street and Broadway in Jackson Heights Queens. If you get off the bus at Roosevelt Avenue, you can catch the E or F trains into Manhattan. If you get off the bus at 74th Street, you can catch the #7 train heading into Manhattan. This train stops at Times Square where you can transfer for free to another train to take you anywhere in the city.

TIP 1: Buy an unlimited MetroCard. You save so much money between getting on and off the train and on and off buses. The fake-New Yorker didn’t know about that either. The MetroCard machines are at the airports.

TIP 2: If you’re flying during December or New Years Eve bring about 3 big overcoats, hoodies, and cardigans, and gloves, and hats. You’re going to need it. My bones were cold and I lived in Ann Arbor. During November the weather is milder but bring winter clothes.

TIP 3: Avoid eating at Dunkin Donuts. They’re everywhere and most are 24 hours. I gained about 40 pounds eating there.

TIP 4: Avoid eating at chain restaurants. Why go to New York and eat at Applebees. My favorite restaurants are Spices (in Chelsea and Manhattan), East of 8th (in Chelsea) and McCormick’s & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant (in Times Square. Yes this is a chain but you wouldn’t know it. The food is delish and it is pricey. Get an industry-type to take you.)

TIP 5: Pack hand sanitizer. Trust me.

Avoid being scammed by airport shuttles and insane ‘Taxicab Confessions’ drivers.

Price/Time Breakdown

  • Taxi, About $20-60 not including tip, 50-55 minutes
  • Subway/Bus combo, $2, 45 minutes (day), 60 minutes (night)
  • Shared-ride van, $13-15, 50-55 minutes
  • Express Bus (nothing express about it), 45-100 minutes
  • Limo, $50 and up, 45-55 minutes
  • Helicopter, $159 and up, 10 minutes flying time

Information:
Harlem-125th Street Station is located at 101 East 125th Street & 1818 Park Avenue, New York, NY, 10035 (4.19 miles to Grand Central Terminal)

For a list of other options check out the website New York City Airport Guide.

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