I am an excellent traveler.
Like Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man, I too, believe that I am accomplished at things that I am not. His was driving, mine is traveling alone.
It's not that I can't, but the more gumption I get, the more capable I feel - the more I fail at it.
When driving across the country or flying around the world, in a pair or more, I feel great. I can blend in and look like a world-class traveler. And not resemble a tourist. My absolute fear is to stand out with my camera and pamphlets looking like an out-of-towner.
So my first time in New York City alone was an experience. I had been there previously but with people who knew the city, the subway and how to properly hail a cab.
From the time I entered LaGuardia Airport to finally making it to my hotel room, I felt like a fish out of water. My money was already going fast and I was busy buzzing with the words of my parents and others concerned. "Keep your purse closed." "Don't put all your cash in one place." "Be aware." You know, all the things I don't do at home.
After that first night, I was exhausted. So I decided to head over to the hotel bar for a drink. A $13.50 drink. Handing over my shaking twenty, I tried to look like I was okay with the price when all I could think of was the extravagance and how my wallet was already starting to feel light.
#1 NYC revelation: Ask the price before ordering.
My friends were going to meet me a couple days later, so I had a whole day to myself. What to do? After weighing going to Ellis Island with visiting the Empire State Building, I chose to go to Ground Zero. Using the faulty GPS on my phone (trust me, it's horrible), I decided to walk to my destination rather than take a cab or trying to learn the subway. I headed off toward where my GPS told me to go.
And it was an interesting area, Hell's Kitchen. This doesn't look familiar, I kept thinking. The last time I visited the area, it didn't look like this. Brushing my worries aside, I kept heading toward where the GPS lady demanded I go.
And there I was. A few city blocks torn up and being constructed. All around, it looked rather ghostly with so many areas blank. Is this it, I thought? It must be, but I don't remember it. And I had thought the construction was supposedly going up fast, but it looked like this crew had just started. But I took a few pictures and stood there at the site. After saying a few prayers, I thought about the American tragedy and gave my thoughts up as a memorial.
There were a few blocks that didn't have any construction blockades around, so I decided to take a peek at what was inside. Down below, were parked buses. Lots of parked buses. Turns out, I was nowhere near Ground Zero. Just right at the site of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The real Ground Zero was more than four miles away. I wasn't even mad at myself. Similar things have happened so many times in my life, I just shook my head and examined the blisters that had accumulated on my feet from walking so far.
#2 NYC revelation: Research your destination (including address).
#3 NYC revelation: Do not trust your GPS on your phone
After such an experience, you'd think I'd be a little more careful. No. I got into a gypsy cab (a non-yellow cab that can charge you absorbent prices) later that night. I knew it was wrong before I got in, but I didn't want to be rude.
#4 NYC revelation: It's better to be rude than nave and penniless.
All the CSI and Law and Order shows quickly ran through my head. I knew I wasn't in a regulated cab and was unsure of my fate as it looked like a normal car - so I thought of all the creepy, scary things that could happen to me. Although I made it to the Broadway show I was attending, at various points in time, I thought of escaping the driver and rolling to the curb. And after he charged me three times the price of getting to my location, I GAVE HIM A $10 TIP, not because he deserved it, but because he didn't chop me up into little pieces. What a moron.
#4 NYC revelation: Seriously, don't be that stupid.
#5 NYC revelation: Really. That was dumb.
#6 NYC revelation: Don't be nave, trust your instincts and stop being a drama queen.
I will say that I did eventually make it to Ground Zero, and that my friends laughed at my mistakes. ("Seriously, Carrie, there is a phone number listed on this Ground Zero location on your GPS that you took. Wouldn't that give you a clue it was bogus?" my friend Kaytie said.") Actually, no. I thought it made it more reputable.
And those little tips from my parents? The doorman at the hotel had to tell me twice to zip up my purse. I ended up stuffing my wad of cash in that unzipped purse and bumped into everyone on the street.
What about that not wanting to look like a tourist? Didn't work. Every time I got lost on the subway or around NYC, I would say, "I'm from out of town," looking helpless and pathetic.
Well this stop me from traveling alone in the future? No. Will I be more wary and organized the next time? Sure, I will try. But as I said previously, I have always thought of myself as an excellent traveler. It's just not a reality.