Sunday, May 07, 2006

Balitang New York (June 2004)

Two days after shaking the Miami Beach sands off my shoes and flipflops, I started packing yet again for another trip. This time I joined my cousins F & L (who are in the country on a holiday) and wandered the busy streets of the Big Apple. I normally refer to SF as the 'City' in my Balitang SF but this time that city is New York. This is Balitang NYC afterall. I will occasionally mention the City by the Bay as SF.

This was not my first time to visit NYC so I thought this trip would be such a breeze. Eventhough the city is laid out in grids of streets and avenues, it still proved to be a little disorienting to this small town guy. One way to blend in is to walk really fast. One way to stand out is to hold a map in one hand and a camera in the other. Ha! My cousins seemed to have enjoyed our short time as Pinoy Yorkers as we never ran out of things to talk and laugh about our big city adventure. I wonder whether my cousins felt the same euphoria as I did during my first trip here? I did not bother asking them so I guess I will never know.

It felt weird not seeing the WTC buildings in the Manhattan skyline. The tragedy of 9/11 changed not only the cityscape but also how the city goes about its business. Tourists no longer have access inside the Statue of Liberty and the observation deck is off limits to the public. There are now checkpoints at the South Ferry and other places leading to popular city landmarks. The policemen dotting the Penn and Central stations are hard not to miss. I picked up some creepy vibes around Ground Zero as if it is haunted.

My cousins and I followed a similar path of site seeing as I did a few years ago but with a little twist because I had my own agenda too. Of course, the highlights of the trip for me were the things I could only do in NYC: the Saturday farmer's market around Union Square, the walk on the Brooklyn Bridge, shop hopping in the Village, and a Yankees game later in the trip . All gave me a different angle of Manhattan life. I noticed a few changes that may have been influenced more by supply and demand rather than 9/11. The MTA pass is now $21; smoking is no longer allowed inside any enclosed public areas such as hotel lobbies, bars and restaurants (that is sooo California, thank God!); and Splash has changed its name to SBNY (Splash Bar of New York). Ha!

On our last day, my cousins and I had a little break from each other. While they shopped and cruised around, I went to a Yankees game with a good friend from college M and his buddy D. I was able to get bleachers tickets for the three of us via the internet. In SF, J and I normally leave on the 7th inning to beat the crowd. In NYC, since M and D were late, we came in the 8th inning when the fans started leaving the ballpark. We saw the last 10 minutes where the home team won 2-1. The Yankees lost to Texas the day before so it must have been a great comeback game. Good thing I watched the news the next morning to get the scoop about the crucial innings we missed. Ha!

M made up for the delay by taking me to a fancy Filipino restaurant (Cendrillon) in the city's SoHo (South of Houston) district. It was too late for lunch and too early for dinner that is why the owner-chef R had time to sit and chat with us while we waited for our small plate orders. I happily praised him for putting a together a menu that presents Filipino food as mainstream American. I mentioned how Pinoy dishes are unpopular in SF for lack of imagination to make it look fancy enough while keeping its Filipino flavors. R recounted how he started in the business as a dishwasher and later on as a cook in the Philadelphia area. He's had the same restaurant in the same location for 8 years now. (We are talking about NYC' SoHo district here!) That brief encounter was such a humbling experience for me.

Eventhough I'm sick of airplanes and my feet hurt, the long city walks allowed my cousins and I to bond even more. I am just glad I am back home again.

The trip has once again reminded me that the States is a big country and San Francisco is really a small town disguised as a big city.

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