17 October, 2010

New York, in 18 hours or less.

Thursday i worked from late afternoon until nearly two AM trying to finalize and export a video before the weekend's deadline. Friday night a Bangor contradance with Boston-based Nor'Easter, and late night food and networking at Dysarts Truck Stop. When i got home at two i still hadn't packed for the trip. Thank God i'd at least done laundry. 

Saturday morning dad roused me after about three hours of sleep - thankfully, he was driving south anyway. I snatched sleep on the Downeaster from Dover to Boston, and tried on the bus i hopped heading for New York. Without a couch to surf, or any cheap hostel options left, i had decided last-minute to meet a friend from Bilkent and spend all night clubbing. A toddler threw tantrums sporadically for the duration of the four hour ride, spending the last twenty minutes in what seemed like her death throes.

Akif was waiting at Penn Station when i arrived. A quick Subway ride to 17th street, where we danced until 5 am, then made for Times Square. When, on a Central Park bench about 8 AM i couldn't keep my head up, he offered his lap for a pillow and read short stories while i power-napped. Then it was off to the Lower East Side to meet another friend for bagels.  

When we all parted ways midafternoon, i settled into a pub and googled for Turkish restaurants. Turns out there are many in New York - scattered from top to bottom of Manhattan. The most promising budget-friendly option was within walking distance. Istanbul Grill, on 14th Street, was even better than i'd hoped. The lokanta (cafeteria-style) offered most kebabs from $6-7; a hot bowl of mercimek (lentil) soup just like i remembered and a bowl of sutlaç rounded out the meal on either end. And of course, the bottomless glass of black tea. For an hour i felt strangely at second-home. The host, a fellow named Şukru, seemed tickled when i walked in and just started speaking Turkish.

Over dinner, a Swiss traveler at the next table told me about the High Line, a retired section of elevated-train track that had been transformed into a mile-long promenade of gardens and art installations. Sunday afternoon was the perfect time for a visit; it was bustling with camera-toting New Yorkers. The plantings relied heavily (if not exclusively) on native perennials and grasses, with broad naturalistic sweeps of planting. Heuchera, Polygonum, and small birches fluttered in an October breeze.

Then it was time to head for the airport. Fellow traveler and journalist Wade Shepard left a great tip about getting to JFK airport from the subway system - without paying extra to change directly to the Air Train. Taking the Q10 bus from Lefferts Circle isn't exactly a shortcut, but it's worth saving $5. With one qualifications - beware the cabbies, if as i did you happen to dash down from the train just as the bus pulls away. 

"It's a Sunday," the cabbie said. "Won't be another bus for 45 minutes. And it's a 45 minute ride to the airport."

I was worried. I'd allowed more than three hours from leaving 14th Street to boarding the plane, but i couldn't afford that kind of wait. Still, i turned him down. "Gonna ask a question upstairs," i replied to his hounding. Sure enough, the MTA attendant said "i don't have the schedule in front of me, but they run about every ten minutes." So jtake the Q10, and beware dishonest cabbies. 

Waiting to board Icelandair 614, i tried to read, but literally dropped the book as sleep loosened my fingers. My seatmate was a horticulture journalist from Helsinki, but as soon as we reached altitude, my eyes clicked shut and stayed that way for the four? hours until descent began. I woke only enough to get through passport control, then napped away the 40-minute bus ride to Reykjavik too. 

The waitress pours a third cup of coffee. After four days of sleeping in intermittent less-than-three hour stints, Reykjavik at last wakes slowly around me. Sky wisped with pink and cream clouds, the sun rose low and late, softly painting massive hills across the "smoky bay" that gave this city its name.