I just got back from a mini girlfriend getaway to NYC. I'm not going to write about that, because I haven't fully been able to wrap my brain around it yet. Suffice to say, it was pretty different from the last time I went to NYC. I would say it was equally fun, but I was much younger, more of a risk-taker, and the words "concierge" and "edible gold" were not yet in my vocabulary. Try "hostel" and "leftover cheapest-thing-on-the-menu Chinese food".
My buddy Nat and I went over Spring Break, to escape the suburban mundane. We got a ride from his parents to Montreal and took the train from there, that's how much money we had. We stayed at a hostel in Columbus Circle managed by a Vietnamese man named Lee. He was about 30 years old and 5'0. I want to say he was missing an arm, but I may be making that part up.
One day, after a full day of walking, we were chilling in the common room in the basement. Lee was half-baked and sucking back on a water bong. He glances up lazily in half-hearted acknowledgement.
"I don't have any more weed or I'd offer you some." He says.
"All good, man. We're cool."
He doesn't turn out to be one of those stoners that sits and slowly eats 4 pizzas one after another. He's actually pretty talkative. He reveals that he was born in Vietnam, but travelled to Cambodia on his own when he was about 10 and moved to NY from there.
In my bright-eyed innocence, I squeal with delight. Adventure! "You went to Cambodia by yourself when you were 10?! Man, I want to go to Vietnam and Cambodia; they look amazing. My parents won't even let me leave the city by myself. What fun things are there to do there? How long was the flight in between?"
Lee looks at me with an incredulous look on his face, like he's not sure if I'm kidding. "The fuck you talkin' 'bout, plane? I walked that shit, motherfucker!"
He goes on about refugee life and I feel pretty stupid at this point so I stop talking (Nat probably told me to stop talking. It doesn't sound like something I would do voluntarily). At some time around midnight, he looks over at his empty bag of pot and announces he has to get more. "I'm heading out to the Bronx. China, WhiteBoy, you wanna come?"
I'm so excited about my new gang name I can't even contain myself. The Bronx?!?
I'm not even slightly concerned that a permanently grinning Chinese girl, a 6'5 blond/blue-eyed white boy, and a Vietnamese midget with one arm won't fit in in The Bronx. I've watched enough J-Lo "vids" to feel confident in my abilities to co-mingle with the locals. Look at me! I'm on The 6, too, giiiirrrrlfriend!
YAY ME AND NAT! (That's not Lee.) (But it could be.)
Once we get off the 6, The Bronx doesn't turn out to be like the movies where the girls play double dutch and I throw my head back in a hearty laugh while ruffling the hair of innocent young hoodlums beatboxing on the corner. You lied to me, J-Lo!
It's like a movie, all right, but more like a movie where a high school drop out sells the crack rock and then does hard time for murder in the first and then bounces back to become a functioning and respectable member of society. The beginning part of that movie. A guy tries to sell me one shoe and a 5-month-old issue of YM. No thank you, sir, I already read that one. I become very conscious of my own Nikes.
"Alright, you guys are going to have to stay like 10 steps behind me," Lee says. "I'm going to go into that building for a minute. Don't move." And then, more directly to me, "Stop talking to people."
Apparently, my over-excitement and eagerness to fit in by telling everyone I meet they are amazing is cramping his style. Either that, or my ebonics aren't what they used to be.
Nat and I pretend to be interested in the architectural designs of the 'hood, while Lee heads into an apartment. True to his word, he returns quickly, makes sure we haven't created a spectacle, and ushers us to the nearest subway.
We head back to Columbus Circle. I feel proud, like I've conquered NYC by being in the Bronx for a whole of 7 minutes.