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  • An Article by Jeff Epps

New York State of Mind

America in Two Weeks

After my Indonesia Christmas trip, I began to quickly fall in love with travel and I wanted to do more of it. Since I still had a job in China, I couldn't just travel anytime I wanted. But the Chinese Spring Festival was shortly after Christmas, so I decided that I wanted to see more of my own country in the two weeks that I had off work. So, I planned a seven city trip that would include California, the Midwest, the South, New York, Florida, and Texas. Boy, was it an exciting trip and a memorable one that further confirmed my God-given "calling" on this Earth to be a traveler, explorer, and career vagabond.

New York City, Manhattan Skyline w/Brooklyn Bridge

Arriving into NYC

When I was about to leave Memphis I needed to book a flight to NYC. I thought that it wouldn't be a big deal because I figured that every major city in the U.S. had direct flight to NYC, in fact, just about every major city in the world has direct flights to NYC. I also thought that it would be cheap because I thought that there would be an abundance of flights going to NYC from Memphis, and due to demand it would make the prices cheaper. HA!! I was wrong. I learned the hard way about booking last minute NYC flights.

Empire State Building

Not only could I not find a direct flight to NYC, the one I did find had a transfer in Chicago and cost over $400 dollars. I needed to stick to my itinerary and I wasn't going to let anything keep me from seeing New York City for the first time and I had followed my budget pretty well so far, so I figured, what the hell.

Central Park

It was about a two hour flight from Chicago after the transfer from Memphis, though it seemed like it took only an hour. The only other time that I had seen the One World Trade Center and Statue of Liberty live and in person was on a previous flight, during landing, from the window while flying from Beijing. I was on the left side of the plane facing the Hudson River.

Broadway Theatre

I had flown into Newark, New Jersey on my way to Miami and was ripped off by the Travelex currency exchange booth. I later was awarded a full refund for the near $325 dollars that they jipped me for with their doctored exchange rates. That was before I wised up and stopped using those damn places to exchange my money. Now I simply withdraw local currency from local ATMs with my Visa or UnionPay cards. When I got off the plane at LaGuardia and started to walk through the passenger tunnel, I didn't know what to think or expect but BAM, it all started to hit me.

Times Square

I started thinking about the 9/11 events, the New York Yankees, Rudy Giuliani, New York-style pizza, Ellis Island, the Sopranos, Wall Street, Madison Square Garden, Billy Joel, the Rockefellers, Donald Trump, 5th Avenue, Times Square, Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, and so many other pictures, videos, names, places, and flashes of sights and sounds that I was thinking about.

One World Trade Center

Limited Knowledge about New York City

The only thing I really knew about New York City was what I learned from people in the Army and in college, notably my first roommate at Fort Riley, Kansas, who was from Long Island and who was a high riding asshole. I mean, he was a natural asshole and with the way he looked, talked, and acted, he was 100% New York City. At least I thought so at the time.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

The truth is, he was probably thinking as many negative stereotypes, associations, and generalizations about me as I was about him. We had absolutely nothing in common except that we were both in the Army together and we both loved to party and chase the girls around.

34th Street

After we got into a couple of fights, we learned to get used to each other and then we became good friends. I learned more about him and his culture and where he was from, and he learned more about me and mine and where I was from. Once we learned more about each other, we understood each other, and then we respected each other.

Rockefeller Plaza

It's amazing what happens when two people with absolutely nothing in common can become if they simply just talk to each other. Before the Army, I had never met anyone from New York City and I'm pretty sure that he had never even been to a town with less than 10,000 people in it. But it all worked out, eventually. We became good friends and partied and chased girls together. After all, we both wore the same color and served the same flag.

New York Stock Exchange

Growing up in southern Illinois, I learned that people in New York City were all rude and selfish. I didn't just hear this from other people, but that's what the media seemed to used to portray people in NYC to be like. So naturally, I expected everyone to be assholes and I knew that locals would know for sure that I was not from the area. I mean, all I have to do is open my mouth and they can hear the "twang." I'll talk more about the New Yorkers later.

St. Paul's Chapel

I also knew that NYC was a BIG city and that there were many many different kinds of people that lived there and visited there everyday. So, I was definitely looking forward to great couple of days and I was going to see as much as I possibly could in such a short time.

The Statue of Liberty via the Staten Island Ferry

Getting to the Hotel in Manhattan

I was overwhelmed at the airport because I was in the largest city in the United States. I was cautious with the taxi drivers outside because I felt like they could smell vulnerability all over me. I showed the first taxi the address and he said he didn't know how to get there. I thought that he was just lazy or wanted a passenger with a further destination so that he could make more money. I went to next taxi and he agreed to take me. I asked him about the other taxi and he said that he wasn't a city taxi and that's why he didn't do it. The taxi driver was cool and I like to pick their brains when I travel to new places because most of the time they have been there for years and they can give me invaluable information that sites like "TripAdvisor" will not.

71st Street, Upper East Side, Manhattan (near Central Park)

The fare was only about $28 dollars and I was surprised because we went all the way from LaGuardia Airport to 71st Street, Manhattan, near Central Park to La Quinta Inn & Suites. Check in was, for the most part, painless. I booked in advance so that made things much better. I stayed on the second floor and had a view of the street. WOW. I was still trying to process the fact that I was actually in New York City. It took a while for it all to sink in. I mean, I was in one of the greatest, one of the most visited, and one of the most historic and iconic cities in the world. You know I ordered myself a New York-style pizza from a local pizza joint and chowed down in my hotel room while I watched the local evening news and bragged on Facebook about where I was.

I tried not to stay up so late because the next day was going to be one of the most memorable days of my entire life as I had mapped out a fun-filled itinerary to hit as much of Manhattan as I possibly could. I would do just that after a shower and a good night's sleep in my first night in the "Big Apple."

Central Park

Day 1

Since my hotel was right next to Central Park, that seemed to be the best first stop on my first day in the "Big Apple." It was a chilly February morning but it was still a great day to be in Manhattan. I didn't explore a whole lot of Central Park, but just enough to get a few pictures and and experience some really great scenery. The cold actually made it better. There is something about that New York nip that made it a much better visit. It wasn't a freezing cold, just a calm kind of cold. It was relaxing. I liked it up until the snow storm.

Theodore Roosevelt Park

As I was walking toward the Subway station, I passed a couple of interesting places, the Theodore Roosevelt Park and the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library. I'm a history guy, so the latter is a place that I now wish that I would have actually went into and checked out. But I had much to see and little time to see it. These places were not on my itinerary and being able to be surprised by them was a real treat.

The New-York Historical Society Museum & Library

I was actually looking forward to riding on the New York Subway because, you know, it is historic and iconic. I was just a bit disappointed at how arcane it was compared to the mass transit metro trains that are in Asia. I'm used to the state-of-the-art, digitized speed metros that are a smooth ride. But it didn't make me appreciate the Subway any less. I had been waiting to hop on. Honesty, the Subway is the BEST way to get around Manhattan, in my opinion. This is especially true for people who are new to NYC.

Avoid the taxis at all costs and be very careful about people who claim to be UBER/LYFT drivers. On my way back to the airport on Day 3 I told the hotel to call me a taxi. They called a LYFT driver and he tried to charge me $45 dollars to go to LaGuardia airport. I talked him down to $40 and I was upset that the hotel didn't call a taxi like I had requested. Remember, it cost me less than $30 from LaGuardia to the hotel. So, I knew something wasn't right because UBER/LYFT rides are supposed to be cheaper.

Anyway, I made my way to the Subway and bought a ticket and off I went toward lower Manhattan to check out some of the best sights of NYC.

Approaching Subway Train

Manhattan Subway Station

9/11 Memorial & Museum

I had my Day 1 itinerary ready and the One World Trade Center and 9/11 Memorial was something that I wanted to see first because I've kept up with all the conspiracy theories and the news about the World Trade Center terror attacks on September 11, 2001. I was a freshman in college when that happened and like every other American, I can remember that day very well. Honestly, I don't buy most of the conspiracy theories because I believe their garbage. But I am interested in finding out the truth, like most other people.

9/11 Memorial, Lower Manhattan

When I got to the 9/11 Memorial I started getting goosebumps. I had never been to NYC before and after seeing pictures, videos, and movies of NYC and the World Trade Center events, it was surreal that I was actually standing at "Ground Zero." Being the chilly February day that is was made it more spooky. I actually remember that snow flurries started to fall around the time I showed up. Looking up at the One World Trade Center that was right next to the Memorial was pretty cool. I was gonna go up to the top of the One World Trade Center for $35 dollars, but they said that the view would be distorted due to the cloudy day that it was. I'm sure that there are people that would never even step foot into the One World Trade Center for obvious reasons.

One World Trade Center

I didn't check out the Museum while I was there. It just slipped my mind. I think it had to do with me being so amazed at just being at "Ground Zero" and looking at the names on the Memorial of all the people who died during the attacks. I was there during the day, but at night it is all lit up and it's supposed to be a real sight to see. The names are lit up and there is a ring of light around the inner perimeter behind the waterfall.

9/11 Memorial @ Night (courtesy Four Seasons Magazine)

I made a list of things that I promised myself that I'd see on my second visit to NYC. The 9/11 Memorial at night is on the list, along with the 9/11 Museum that I missed the first time around. This should be a first stop for every New York newbie, in my opinion. The Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, and everything else can wait.

9/11 Memorial (Gallery)

I joked with one of the policemen working at the door of the One World Trade Center and I told him I like the way they talk in New York. He laughed and said, "I like the way you talk, buddy." I told him that he sounded like my Army friend from Long Island that I was roommates with at Fort Riley, and the officer said that he was from Long Island. That was neat.

So, since I was in Lower Manhattan I decided to mosey on down toward Wall Street and the Staten Island Ferry. I was revved up from all the cool sights that I'd seen so far and anxious to see more. There is SO much to see and do everywhere you go in Manhattan that it's very difficult to stay focused on a simple itinerary list of things that you've previously planned. Since I was in the heart of Manhattan I had to grab an overpriced souvenir from a shop near the One World Trade Center.

Souvenir Shop Near One World Trade Center

I came across something that I didn't expect to see in the "BIG Apple."

NYPD Smart Car

I started walking south and really didn't care how or when I got to Wall Street because I was having so much fun just being in NYC and everywhere I looked I saw something awesome. The cold weather really didn't bother me at all. I actually appreciated the light flurries that came down that made my experience that much better. I was in heaven on earth and there were new surprises everywhere. I grabbed a bite to eat and finally figured out where the hell I was going. But I knew that if kept walking south that I would eventually reach the water and then finding the Staten Island Ferry terminal would be easy. I came across signs like these and they made things easier.

Information Sign, Lower Manhattan

I had been wanting to see Wall Street for long long time for several reasons. For one, I've been investing in U.S. equity and bond holdings for years. I wanted to see the place where a lot of the legal, administrative, and financial decisions are made that affects MY money. Sure, Washington lawmakers and lobbyists help to pass the SEC-regulated laws but the Wall Street gurus help make sure that those laws are enforced. I wish that I could have went onto the New York Stock Exchange trading floor and seen it with my own eyes. To be able to meet the brilliant people that work the floor and who are featured in countless magazines, newspapers, and online articles. I really want to meet the guy on the right in the picture below, who is a veteran of the NYSE and has been pictured in more photos than any other NYSE trader. I can only imagine what I could learn from that man.

Iconic NYSE Floor Trader, Peter Tuchman

By the way, the NASDAQ index is NOT a part of the NYSE, only the Dow Jones & the S&P 500 is. A lot of people believe that they are all three a part of the New York Stock Exchange. Nope. But the NASDAQ building is close by. There were a lot of interesting places around Wall Street.

Wall Street

I didn't even see the bull statue with the girl statue in front of it. I'm not sure where that even is. Maybe I walked right past them or something because I kept staring at the New York Stock Exchange building. It's really hard to describe the feeling you get when you see these places in New York for the first time. When I see places like this, I like to just stand and stare a while.

Trinity Church Wall Street

One thing I love about New York City is the history that's all around you, and the historic churches and synagogues can take you back hundreds of years. Trinity Church Wall Street serves as a local reminder that Wall Street is not ALL evil with greed, fraud, and ponzi schemers. Just kidding. I love Wall Street.

Federal Hall (George Washington faces NYSE)

When I got close to Wall Street I asked a police officer how to get there. He said, "You're gonna walk that way and see a great big statue of George Washington and he faces it" as he pointed his finger. So, that's what I did and as I got close to the George Washington statue, I turned the corner to the left and WOW! The moment that I had been waiting for finally arrived.

New York Stock Exchange

Looks like that day there was a new IPO (Initial Public Offering) by Varian Medical Systems, with the VAR ticker symbol. This is when a company decides to issue shares of stock for sale to the public to help raise funds and bring value into their companies. I've always wondered what it's like to work on Wall Street as a stockbroker. Movies like "Wall Street" with Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas help make Wall Street look like the powerful place it is.

After Wall Street I decided that it was time to see the next best thing, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island via the Staten Island Ferry. I was having the time of my life and it was getting to the point where I didn't wanna leave New York City. Manhattan is a place that I could definitely reside, easily. One reason is because of all the direct flights from NYC to several other major global cities around the world. It's a convenient city for regular travelers.

Statue of Liberty (Gallery)

Ellis Island

The Staten Island Ferry is popular among tourists and locals, alike. It's about a 20 minute boat ride across the Hudson River to Staten Island and the scenery is amazing. There is a postcard view of the Manhattan skyline, Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. It's a must for first timers in NYC.

Staten Island Ferry

Statue of Liberty via Staten Island Ferry

We arrived at the terminal on the other side and I walked down the corridor and some bearded guy with long hair was shouting with a sign about, "Trump wants peace with Putin, he's right, you're wrong" over and over and over. I stayed clear of that guy and just kept walking. All I cared about was keeping the peace with myself during my New York visit. I grabbed some lunch and took a look at my itinerary and figured out what was next to see and do.

Broadway Street

It was time to head back to Manhattan via the Staten Island Ferry. I was on my way to Broadway Street and was going to head toward Times Square and the Theater District. Times Square is located at the junction of Broadway and 7th Avenue and stretches from West 42nd to West 47th Streets in midtown Manhattan. Someday I WILL see the ball drop on New Years Eve.

One Times Square

There was much more to see and I wanted to see the best of Manhattan before checking out the less than stellar tourist attractions. I wish now that I would have seen Times Square at night, instead of the day because at night is when you can see all the awesome theater lights. I wasn't really thinking that much when I put together my itinerary and I was still a rookie traveler. But I'll be back in NYC for sure, and next time I will be there longer and will see what I didn't see the first time. You can only really taste it in two days time.

Times Square (Gallery) Part 1

Times Square (Gallery) Part 2

Times Square (Gallery) Part 3

There was SO much to see at Times Square. I was taking so many pictures that my phone started to die and I needed to charge it up. I grabbed a coffee at a local coffee shop and plugged my phone in. After about 30 minutes my phone had enough juice and I continued walking down Broadway toward the Time Warner Center.

Time Warner Center

I had seen quite a bit on Day 1 and it was time to think about what I was going to eat for dinner. I also needed to plan my Day 2 itinerary and map out a convenient route where I could cover the most ground in a short amount of time. Day 2 would consist of the Brooklyn Bridge, Macy's on 34th Street, the Empire State Building, 5th Avenue, the Rockefeller Center, and Madison Square Garden.

Day 2

I woke up around 9am and ate breakfast at the hotel. I was able to meet some travelers from all over the world. That's the beauty of NYC. It's a global city with new transient travelers coming and going on a daily basis. Everybody wants to see New York City and I've probably seen more New York Yankees logos during my travels than any other logo, including the vintage red Coca-Cola logo. There's just no other place like New York, New York.

Macy's, 34th Street, Manhattan

I wanted to hit 34th Street and see the world's largest Macy's store along with the Empire State Building, since they're both close to each other. I am a fan of "Miracle on 34th Street," the original 1947 film starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwenn. The movie depicts the Macy's Santa Clause (Edmund Gwenn) who claims to be the real Santa Clause under the name, Kris Kringle. Rowland Hussey Macy (R.H. Macy) actually died 70 years before the film in 1877, but his character is in the movie.

I've always wanted to see the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan. It has been a NYC tradition since 1924 and has been televised nationally on NBC since 1952. It is the world's largest parade and lasts about 3 hours long. Why would I want to attend the parade? Who wouldn't?!?!

My suggestion is that before you visit New York City, watch movies, documentaries, or videos that take place there or that talk about it in some way. Read articles online or in magazines that feature pictures. Then when you visit it prepares you for an even bigger surprise and it becomes more surreal. This goes for any new place that you're about to visit. Don't watch any remakes of "Miracle on 34th Street," because they're not as good as the original. Originals are almost always better because they were made first.

Empire State Building

Empire State Building (Gallery)

I picked up a sweat suit with a non-matching sweatshirt and sweatpants. I wanted to jog the Brooklyn Bridge, just like I jogged the Golden Gate Bridge a few days before. Having attire from the iconic flagship Macy's on 34th Street made it even better. Speaking of the Brooklyn Bridge, that was my next stop.

Jogging the Brooklyn Bridge with clothes from the 34th Street Macy's flagship store