Category Archives: New York City

Boston Bucket List

A few days ago, I received an email with details about my upcoming graduate school orientation, and it hit me: this grad school thing is really happening (soon!!), and my time in Boston is running out.

Winter Weeping Willow. Boston, MA.

Winter Weeping Willow. Boston, MA.

I’m not quite done with Boston yet. In some ways, I feel like I am still just getting started. So, it’s time for a bucket list. I need help putting together a list of things to do, places to see (museums? landmarks? parks?), and food to eat (restaurant suggestions? outdoor eats?). What does Boston have to offer in the Spring? Who wants to get outside and explore with me? As winter slowly takes off its chilly armor, I look forward to seeing what’s been hidden underneath.

Blue sky and buildings. Boston, MA.

Blue sky and buildings. Boston, MA.

But back to that orientation… My graduate school program is small. In a couple of weeks I am going to meet the 30 other people that I’ll be spending the next three years with, studying like I’ve never studied before and becoming a Doctor of something (whoa)… together. It’s going to be the very beginning of another adventure, one that will take me into a new decade of life. Sure, I wonder if I’m going to make new friends and who those friends are going to be, what we’ll go through together, how much this program is going to challenge me… But when you’re almost 30 and it’s your first day of school, you’re kind of past worrying about that stuff. At this point, I really just want to show up, kick the door down, walk in, and get this grad school party started. I spent nearly a decade waiting to get to this door — I sure as heck am not going to hesitate to walk in now!

Snow piles. Blizzard 2013. Somerville, MA.

Snow piles. Blizzard 2013. Somerville, MA.

Ahh. As you can see, my mind is stuck between Boston and what I imagine will definitely be a hard place… But let’s keep the focus back on savoring the last few months in Beantown. Please tell me what I need to do/see before I leave. Winter made me a little less adventurous than I’d like to admit, so let’s get this show on the road before I once again hit the road myself.

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Filed under Boston, Healthcare, Life Stuff, Massachusetts, New York City, Photography, School, Somerville, Uncategorized, Winter

Tourist in my Hometown

New York City can be a lot of things — cold, frustrating, exhausting, lonely, grey — but it never gets old, even to a native New Yorker. After spending decades living in Manhattan, a visit to my hometown can still feel exciting, invigorating, new, and perhaps above all, inspiring.

Over the past few weeks, during an unusually long break between classes, I have had the opportunity to explore my hometown in a new way. This time, I have been the visitor (complete with having to crash in other people’s apartments due to a renovation project at my parents’ place), and in many ways, I have felt like a tourist. When new opportunities enter your life in an old city, things get shaken up — it’s a good thing. A great thing, actually.

This shaken-up (not stirred) version of NYC that I am seeing is particularly well-timed, as I am pretty sure that I will be returning to Manhattan for graduate school this summer. I have mixed feelings about going home. As is usually the case, there are pros and cons to this move (I am really enjoying life in Boston! Maybe I’ll be back some day…). But, in the end, after evaluating the logistics and the life goals, attending this particular program in New York just feels like the right decision. All we can do is make “right” decisions to the best of our ability as we go, so that’s what I’m trying to do. Eventually, you just have to make them turn into right decisions.

While I want to list all the awesome new places I got to explore (including a bar built into an old NYC carriage house where I sampled the best Manhattan I have ever had — when in Rome, right?), and the cool things I have been doing during my visit (listening to The Moth storytelling in Williamsburg, and attending a five-course chef tastings in Soho, to name a couple highlights), I thought I’d just share a few images of NYC from my trip. Over the last few weeks, this uptown girl spent a lot of time in a downtown world, complete with multiple walks around the WTC site, sky-high views of the entire city, and an early morning stroll by the Hudson River, with the pink of a new day bouncing off a surprisingly pretty NJ backdrop.

My relationship with New York City has been long, and it has had its ups and downs. But I feel like we are now moving into a new phase of life together; we’ve both grown up a lot, survived our own trials and tribulations, weathered our own storms, and risen up from the wreckage of lessons-learned. NYC is an old friend — one I know so well that it sometimes frustrates me, but one that also knows exactly how to make me smile when I need it. And no matter how many times I go to New York, or how many years I live there, it still manages to take my breath away. So NYC, I guess you could say we’re still going strong. This post is for you.

Upper West Side Street

Upper West Side Street

Manhattan view looking north from downtown.

Manhattan view looking north from downtown.

Skyscrapers. NY, NY.

Skyscrapers. NY, NY.

Southern tip of Manhattan, Freedom Tower to the right.

Southern tip of Manhattan, Freedom Tower to the right.

Freedom Tower up close. NY, NY.

Freedom Tower up close. NY, NY.

Totally Normal. West Village, NY.

Totally Normal. West Village, NY.

Spices. Chelsea Market, NYC.

Spices. Chelsea Market, NYC.

One Star and Sky. Time Warner Center window.

One Star and Sky. Time Warner Center window.

Columbus Circle. NY, NY.

Columbus Circle. NY, NY.

South Street Seaport, post-Hurricane Sandy. NY, NY.

South Street Seaport, post-Hurricane Sandy. NY, NY.

Early Morning Walk along the Hudson River.

Early Morning Walk along the Hudson River.

Foggy Night in Downtown NYC.

Foggy Night in Downtown NYC.

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Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, Photography, Uncategorized, Winter

My Trip to Philly

It had been a while since I was in Philadelphia. I’ll start by saying that I’ve been many times before — but, never just for me. I was excited about this trip — it was a trip speckled with memories here and there, but focused on excitement about my future, which could potentially begin in yet another East Coast city.

Entering a dark NYC, 2nd Avenue. NYC, post-Sandy.

With a trip scheduled three days after Hurricane Sandy’s foray across the tristate region, I thought I’d be ok. I had found cheap Amtrak tickets from Boston South Station to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station leaving Thursday afternoon and returning late Saturday night. The weather looked nice, and my schedule was wide-open. But, as many travels with Tavel go, it wasn’t quite that simple.

Taxi in the dark. Midtown Manhattan.

As most of you know, there was still no electricity in downtown Manhattan and most tunnels were flooded. Penn Station was closed, all Northeast Corridor Amtrak trains were shut down, and buses were not able to pass through the darkened city. It was the day before my trip, so I knew I’d have to scramble up some plan Bs. I was absolutely determined to make it down to Philadelphia, and I was not about to let a little biggest-storm-to-hit-NYC-in-100-years stop me. I had come way too far to get to this opportunity, and I’d be damned if anything got in my way now! (In my experience, it is this attitude that will get you places…)

Amtrak at 30th Street station in Philadelphia, PA. Delays, and late arrivals… Mine was the 5:19 train.

I called Amtrak on Wednesday morning with a glimmer of hope in my heart, and anticipation of complications in my gut. They told me all trains leaving Boston were not operating except for two — one of which was MINE. I asked them to double and triple check the information, and they were equally confused and excited for me when they confirmed that mine was one of two trains still scheduled to depart on time.

Bus in the dark. Manhattan.

I felt pretty awesome, but decided to check back in the afternoon because something didn’t feel right. They confirmed that my train was still scheduled to depart on time from Boston to Philly… I still didn’t believe them. I called again, Wednesday night, at which point they told me the train was now going to be leaving Boston with a final destination of New Haven, CT. This made more sense, unfortunately. NJ Transit was not running, and trains couldn’t get past Connecticut, so my problem had not been solved: it was time to explore other options.

Street view. Philadelphia, PA.

I looked up flights, which were either booked or in the $300-$450 dollar range (and apparently the closest I could get was Newark, not Philadelphia). That was way too much money, and still didn’t solve the problem of how to get to Philadelphia. I quickly checked out bus schedules — and all buses were labeled as “Canceled.” By now, it was around 4pm. Finally, I got an email (and a series of phone calls) from Amtrak telling me that my train had been officially cancelled. I had an appointment in Philadelphia at noon on Friday — that was my goal. I began to get tunnel vision (har har, no pun intended) for success… My heart started racing a little and I think I accidentally skipped dinner as I frantically began calling bus companies and looking up mass-transit news stories for the area. It became very clear that any train or bus service going through NYC (which is what I needed) was completely shut-off the day before I had to leave, and I wouldn’t know if anything was running until the next morning.

Philadelphia, PA.

I bought back-up bus tickets for Thursday, which were being sold with the promise that if the buses didn’t run I would get a full refund. At this point, the earliest bus ticket I could find was a 2:30pm bus out of South Station, arriving in NYC at 6:15pm. There was a 7:15pm bus from 34th Street (NYC) to Philadelphia, but I worried that would be too risky, so I booked the 8:15pm bus from NYC to Philly in hopes that this would help me avoid any missing-of-the-bus stress. I HATE missing-a-transfer stress. Mind you, this bus was supposed to arrive at 34th Street and 7th Avenue, in the heart of the power outage zone… But BoltBus confirmed in the morning that all buses were running (and on time!), so I had no choice but to trust them and see what happens…

In these situations, you have to think positive travel thoughts. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten on buses or airplanes knowing that my destination might be completely out of my control. I’ve learned that sometimes you’ve just got to trust the travel fairies that you are going to make it wherever you are trying to go — and trust your gut.

Philadelphia, PA.

I actually got to South Station 45 min early and managed to get off of standby for the 2pm bus. With an extra 30 minutes of wiggle room, I felt some good travel-mojo. I began to relax a little. The bus ride was perfectly smooth, with surprisingly few delays. It only got weird when we slowly crossed a bridge into NYC, and I could see — for the first time — the darkened skyline from the bus window. As we drove past the cops, who were checking to make sure there were at least 3 people in every vehicle entering the city, the whole bus took on a hushed tone. Suddenly, we were in the city — but it was a ghost city. As the bus drove down Second Avenue, I couldn’t believe what I saw (or, what I couldn’t see). It was pitch black. The only lights were the occasional cop car, street sign or taxi cab. I looked up at black buildings, and down at quiet restaurants. Every now and then, we’d pass a series of lit up blocks. When we entered midtown, it was one of the weirdest NYC moments I have ever had: The city that never sleeps was being forced to take a nap. And like a cranky child, NYC does not do nap-time well.

Finally, the bus pulled into 34th Street at 6:35pm. I was determined to get on standby for the 7:15 bus, and sprinted off Bus #1 to get in a huge line of people on standby. I pushed to the front and asked if this was the bus to Philadelphia. It was. They were boarding, and obviously there was a little tension in the air, so the guy was pushy and said “Yeah yeah, just get on, hurry, come on…” And within 1 minute I was on another bus (total time on the ground in NYC: 5 minutes). So much for my plan to grab dinner!

Philly Street. Philadelphia. PA.

When the bus began pulling away at 6:40pm, I was a little confused (the buses to Philly left hourly at 6:15, 7:15, 8:15…). Concerned that I had taken a wrong turn, I asked the girl next to me “Is this the 7:15 bus to Philly?!” She said “No…” (Me: GULP.) Her: “…It’s the 6:15.” Ahhh! A smile spread across my face when I realized, finally, that not only was I going to get to Philadelphia after all this chaos — but I was going to get there even earlier than I had planned! It was one of the most satisfying travel moments that I’ve had in a while. I was anticipating the opposite kind of moment, so it felt that much sweeter. As the bus journeyed through the darkness, I settled in, blasting happy music, and six hours after leaving Boston, I had arrived in Philly.

City Hall. Philadelphia. PA.

Ah, Philadelphia. I’ve always really liked Philly, despite bittersweet memories of many heartfelt hellos and goodbyes out of that 30th Street train station (the lasting imprint of a long distance relationship). The city has always given me a good vibe. It comes across as a mixture of New York and New Orleans, with a smaller dose of lights and energy than Manhattan (in a good way), coupled with the bruised and impoverished outskirts of the city that seem completely disconnected yet immediately accessible from the Philadelphia most people imagine (like New Orleans). I love that it is a foodie city, even if it doesn’t come off that way at first. Because it’s definitely a little more rough around the edges than Boston, I might actually feel more at home in Philly than in New England. I was excited to be there, and to really look at it with the eyes of someone who might call it home.

Philly homes. Philadelphia, PA.

Everything I did during my quick trip, I would do again. On Saturday night, a small group of us kicked things off with unbelievably delicious cocktails at The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., a speakeasy-style lounge in the Rittenhouse Square area that I would have never noticed if my friend A hadn’t picked it. With a seven-page cocktail menu ranging from what I’d call a category 1 storm (listed as “Easy Going” drinks, such as the Apocalypstick — Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey, Yellow Chartreuse, Maurin Quina, Cynar, fresh lemon juice, house blackberry) to a category 5 storm (listed as “I Asked for Water, She Brought Me Gasoline” drinks, which includes the Art School Timeline — Lairds Bonded Apple Brandy, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, New York Madeira Wine, Rothman Winter Apricot Liquer, cane syrup, hopped grapefruit and mole bitters served on a rock). I could have spent many, many hours exploring the cocktail menu (and many, many dollars), but we had dinner to attend to afterwards, so my ginger-infused play on a Dark and Stormy (recommended to me by the waiter when I couldn’t decide) would have to do. Oh, and it DID.

Clothing Pin. Philadelphia, PA.

With a strong cocktail in our systems, we headed to First Friday — where we could stroll the streets of Philadelphia at night, going from art gallery to art gallery, and enjoying the quirky and sometimes odd street performers/artists along the sidewalks. After working up an appetite, we found ourselves devouring melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi with a couple bottles of our own wine (apparently PA has strange liquor laws and wine/beer-serving restaurants are hard to come by) at Giorgio’s. Giorgio himself was there, and from the moment a bowl of roasted garlic soaked in olive oil arrived at the table, I knew that if I do in fact end up in Philadelphia — Giorgio and I will meet again.

Sidewalk, homes. Philadelphia, PA.

It would be a quick trip. After a majorly satisfying and exhausting Saturday (I had a 4.5 hour interview with no lunch… oy), I was able to enjoy a light brunch and visit the perfectly relevant-to-my-trip Mutter Museum (this had been on my Philly to-do list for YEARS). This museum is a must for anyone who likes anatomical oddities or random small but packed museums. It is a pre-Doctor of Physical Therapy student’s perfect museum, and since I am currently taking Anatomy and Physiology, my visit couldn’t have been more appropriately timed, nor more appreciated. The brisk walk back to my home base through Rittenhouse Square’s cheery farmer’s market to the slightly quieter South Philadelphia ‘hood made it very easy for me to see myself living there.

Rittenhouse Square. Philadelphia, PA.

I got back to Boston at 1am last night. Luckily, my return train was fully functional, although 1.5 hours late (making it a 7.5 hour journey… oooof). I’m back now, after passing from a potential future home (Philadelphia), through my real home (NYC), to my current home, in Boston. I have a happy tummy and a happy, hopeful heart. I’ll have to be patient as I figure out where I might be able to live next year (it’s not totally up to me).

For now, I can confidently say that if it is Philadelphia, I’d be absolutely thrilled. Sometimes it’s all about where we’ve been. But right now — for me — life’s much more about where I’m going.

On my way home, the lights were back on in NYC. Amtrak view of NYC skyline.

As always, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

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Filed under Life Stuff, Massachusetts, Natural Disasters, New York City, Philadelphia, School, Travel, Travel Disasters, Uncategorized

Vacation Without A Vacation

Vacation has been Heaven-sent. I cannot tell you how much I am LOVING the time off! (Or maybe I just did.) Well, calling the time “off” is generous; the fact is, I am pretty much constantly writing and editing my sample chapter for the second round of submissions to editors/publishers, and a second chance at making this lil’ book-dream of mine come true. It is thrilling and terrifying (in a good way) and my fingers and toes are crossed in every direction.

Chilling in the spring-like winter upstate this past weekend. Dutchess County, NY.

Writing and editing all break has been a welcome change from all the science. It’s challenging in its own way, but at least I’m working with words — my native tongue. I’m back to science — what I can now consider my third language, I suppose — in two weeks, and boy am I savoring the final days of freedom. Once it starts back up, I will be studying like there is no tomorrow. The amount of additional tiny pieces I have to put into place in order to get this whole grad school plan in motion is pretty overwhelming, but I’m trying to take it one day at a time for now.

New Year's Day sunset walk by the Hudson River. NY, NY.

Even though I’m sitting here, intensely  jealous of my friends who just posted photos from trips to Thailand, Egypt and South Africa last week, I know my “trip” is awesome in its own way — albeit less sexy. It stings a little to have to subdue the travel bug I’ve got constantly crawling around my mind, but I know I’m doing what I want to be doing. I’m trying to think of it as just having more time than usual to plan for my next trip. Lemme tell ya — when I get on that plane and fly somewhere far away from all this work (preferably with someone very special, TBD) — man, is that trip going to fucking blow my mind. Until then, I’ll keep looking at all of your photos, reading about all of your trips, minding my own business and attempting to keep my arms and head inside the vehicle I’m on.

Trying to make two dreams come true at the same time is actually one of the scariest and most exciting trips I’ve ever been on. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more writing to do.

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Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, School, Travel, Winter

A New Yorker’s September 11 (in Maine)

In ten days, it will be ten years since September 11, 2001.

There are a lot of September 11 commemoration articles, documentaries, etc. going on, so I couldn’t help but chime in. I’ve never fully written this down, so here is my story — where I was, what I experienced, and how September 11, 2001, hit me. Please feel free to share your experience as a comment, or say whatever you feel needs to be said.

Rainbow in Dutchess County, a wedding gift for my sister from Hurricane Irene.

A New Yorker’s September 11 (in Maine)

The phone kept ringing. I figured it was just my brand new roommate’s persistent boyfriend, Jared, whose constant calling had already become routine even one week into my new life as a college freshman living in Maine. I had just had crew practice that morning and was up at 5 am rowing on the New Meadows River, so I was trying to catch a few minutes of shut-eye before heading to my 10:30am Art History class. After the third or fourth call, and my roommate’s third or fourth refusal to get out of bed and answer the phone, I got up — slightly annoyed, but more perplexed — and picked it up myself. Jared’s words changed my world.

Me: “Hey, Jared…It’s Rachel. Emily’s asleep.”

Jared: “I’ve been calling nonstop! You’re from NYC, right?!”

This was the little many people knew about me at this point.

Me: “Yes…”

Jared: “Turn on the TV right NOW. Terrorists are attacking New York! They just crashed a plane into the Twin Towers! TURN ON THE NEWS! IT’S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!”

His words didn’t make sense. What was he TALKING about? Terrorists? Attacking MY hometown? My family was there… all six of them. This stuff didn’t really happen, did it?

Me: “Wait, WHAT?”

Meanwhile, I started to hear knocking at my door. I told Jared I had to go, and that I would turn on the TV. I thanked him for calling. My mind started trying to spin some sense out of what he said, but his words still bounced off of me as nothing but words — they weren’t sinking in.

I answered the door. It was a couple of my dorm-mates asking me if I was ok. Ok from what? I still wasn’t sure what the hell was going on. I started getting nervous. I had only left New York City a little over a week ago, and all these people checking in on me were shiny new friends who knew little more about me than the fact that I was a New York City girl in Maine living on the fourth floor of Maine Hall at Bowdoin College, but I would soon need their comfort more than I had ever needed anyone’s.

Most of us hadn’t connected our TVs or cable yet, so the boys downstairs came and got me, and told me to call my family and come watch TV in their room. My first instinct was to call my Mom — my Dad was at work. I tried calling. NOTHING. I couldn’t get through. I tried calling my Dad. Nothing. I tried calling cell phones, landlines, home, work, brothers, sisters… Nada. Word came through that the Pentagon had been attacked too. My dad worked in Rockefeller Center in the middle of Manhattan, 30 or 40 floors up. Was he safe? Where was my baby brother? It was his first day of school.

Just before I headed downstairs to watch the news, the other NYC-girl who lived next door to me, Allison, came to my room. She asked me if I heard what was happening. I could barely comprehend what was going on because it was all happening so fast. I had never used the word “terrorists” until that day. I had never used it directly relating to my life, at least. Earlier that summer, in July, I had taken a friend visiting from Paris to the Twin Towers. I was just there, probably for the fourth or fifth time in my life. I remembered how impressive the lobby was, with the high stone arches lining the endlessly tall windows. I remember waiting in line in the lobby, and loving how excited all the tourists looked.

We went up to the top, and looked down at the whole city. It seemed like a dream now. My mom used to work in one of the Towers. Sure, I remember the bombings. I remember getting bomb threats at our school and piling into a nearby school’s gym until we were told it was safe. Growing up in NYC during the 80s and 90s was different — the city had changed a LOT since then. It was safer, stronger, there were less prostitutes, less drugs, fewer crack vials on the sidewalks and less guns, but I knew the city had a dangerous side — I grew up  there. My backyard was Riverside Park.

Who else did I know who worked in the Twin Towers? I knew there would be someone — if not someone, 50 people that I knew indirectly. Maybe many more. But the Towers would be fine. They were huge. They were the biggest thing about the biggest city I had ever known. They were indestructible. Were they our Titanic?

Allison burst into the room and asked me, “Did you hear what’s going on?” I said “Yeah, I’m so confused. What is happening?!” A few friends stood and watched as we tried to put together the scraps of information we had gathered. Neither of us could get in touch with our families. All I kept thinking was what’s next? Where is next? How many of these attacks are we supposed to expect? Were we safe? Was my family safe? Was anyone safe?

Then Allison and I had the most bizarre reaction; we started laughing. It was a nervous, uncomfortable laughter that neither of us could understand, but we stood there covering our mouths in shock. Then, she said “Oh my God, I think I’m going to cry…” I told her I thought I was going to cry too. I still didn’t even know why, but everyone was scaring me. I knew so little, but I could see the fear and the shock on everyone’s faces. Before I knew it, our awkward laughter had turned into a confused, fearful cry. It was almost like everything around us was telling us to cry, whether or not we understood why… yet.

No one else was crying. People hugged us and told us to go watch the news. The first priority was getting more information. Allison began to realize this was affecting us differently than everyone else. We sat on the floor in the dorm room directly below my new room and watched, live, as the second plane hit the World Trade Center. At this point, my tears turned silent. I felt sick to my stomach. My new roommate stroked my back. Someone else got me tissues. I just watched. I couldn’t believe it.

No, this was not happening. I was not seeing this.

The first Tower crumbled to the ground. I watched it happen, live, with my hand covering my mouth, feeling like I wanted to throw up, watching my world crumble, feeling my heart break, just trying to understand what my eyes were telling me.

I never planned to have all these new friends see me cry ever, let alone within two weeks of arriving on campus. But I had no control. I settled into my tears and watched, in shock, quiet. I didn’t want to talk. I couldn’t.

As we watched, RAs came around to tell us that classes were canceled for the day, and that there would be a mandatory full-campus meeting in the gym at 4pm that afternoon to discuss what was happening. They also told all the New Yorkers to hang tight — that they would help us get in touch with family as soon as possible.

There I was, surrounded by almost-strangers, in a new place, with a new life, after leaving my one and only hometown — Manhattan — to live somewhere else for the first time in my life. And there I was, watching on TV as the world I knew best literally fell apart. I kept thinking: I was just there… I could have been standing right there. 

My 18th birthday was two days later. I felt weird. I was in the wrong place to be experiencing this. I should have been there, on the ground, running away from the plumes of smoke with everyone else, trying to help. I couldn’t comprehend what this meant. I remembered plenty of bombings and minor attacks on New York City, but this hit too close to home. This was too big. This was different.

I watched as each Tower crumbled into dust from a dorm room in Maine. I watched as the lobby I had just stood in disappeared into an ominous, terrifying cloud of black death. I watched, helplessly, as I tried desperately to come up with the names of people I knew were in that building. I couldn’t think of any. I watched with my hands covering my mouth, tears rolling down my cheeks, new friends stroking my back, my phone sitting silent, my family all within a few miles of this disaster, and I tried to understand WHY? As large-scale as these attacks were, why did it feel so personal? Why did it feel like someone was attacking me? As weird as it sounds, I felt in that moment like those Towers were my family, and everyone in them was a part of my family, and I was watching someone kill them right in front of me, and I couldn’t even remember their names.

The Bowdoin College campus was right next to a Naval Air Base. Pretty quickly after the disaster struck, planes started soaring over campus. Huge planes — the kind that blast in your ears and shake the whole building. I felt so incredibly vulnerable. I had never felt that vulnerable. The way I saw it, my home, my family, my world was under attack, and I was so small that I couldn’t even make a phone call to check that my mom, dad, two brothers and two sisters were ok. What could I do besides sit there and watch everything fall apart? How long would we have to watch? Whose world was I living in?

I was worried about not even showing up to my 10:30 am class, so I told everyone I had to make the two-minute run across campus to tell my Professor that I wasn’t going to be there. I was prepared to sit through class if I was supposed to. Mostly, I think I needed alone time, and to run away from what was happening the only way I could.

As I ran across campus, I caught the eye of a friend — Elliot — who had been one of the pre-orientation leaders I met during my backpacking and canoeing trip the week before. He sprinted — literally — across the campus to give me a hug, to ask if I was ok. He looked me in the eyes and held my shoulders and said “Are you OK? Have you talked to your family? Is there ANYTHING I can do?” I was blown away by the support of Elliot, of my dorm-mates, of my proctor group friends, of the boys downstairs, of the girls upstairs… I hadn’t processed my feelings yet. They were just coming out in sloppy, bizarre bursts of emotion that were completely disorganized and confused.

I reassured Elliot that I was OK, although I wasn’t sure if this was true, and accepted his hugs before I continued on to my Professor’s office. I walked in, totally shaken like a bright orange autumn leaf on the ground that just got stomped on. I was the only one there. He told me class was cancelled, of course, and asked me if I was ok. We talked briefly, then he told me to go back to my friends and keep trying to get in touch with my family. He wished me luck.

The rest of the day was a blur, but I was beyond impressed with how Bowdoin handled something so unexpected and shocking. In retrospect, I think it brought me closer to my new friends, and my entire campus, than anything else could have done in the first two weeks of college. For the rest of our lives, this would be something we all went through together. For the rest of the day, week, month, year and years to come, this would be the family that surrounded me when tragedy struck… and it would again, only in a more personal form a few months later when my mom was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer that December, 2001.

Needless to say, it was a rather somber 18th birthday. But no more so than when I went home, for the first time, after September 11.

I’ll never forget it. The city was different than when I had left it. The atmosphere had totally changed. American flags hung from every building entrance. The city that once stood tall like the Twin Towers — untouchable and strong — was now aching, heartbroken, and trying to muster the strength to stand back up. It was hurting, but beneath the hurt there was pride. Every restaurant or cafe I visited, people were still talking about it. You heard, “I was doing… (this) when it happened…” “So and so’s brother was getting a bagel on the corner…” “My coworker lost his father…” Etc. etc. My parents knew at least 300 people in the towers. My friend Chris’ parents had reservations for their anniversary dinner at the restaurant on top of World Trade Center — 7pm, September 11th, 2001. A family friend was catching the elevator, late for work after a fight with her husband, when a fireball shot through the elevator down to the ground floor and knocked her across the lobby. She wouldn’t get home until March 12, 2002, after two months in a coma and a long, painful recovery from 2nd and 3rd degree burns covering 82% of her body (her story is currently featured in Vanity Fair). The stories kept piling in. So and so’s uncle died, so and so’s fiance was there, and on and on and on and on and on… But, we were safe. What I was feeling, what I was experiencing, as profound as the effect felt for me, it was nothing compared to how this was going to directly affect so many other people’s lives. But the city, as a whole — the country — we were all in this together.

There was a vulnerability to the once cocky city, a vulnerability like the one I felt as I watched the World Trade Center disappear  — one life at a time — into nothingness. But there was also a strength like I’ve never seen before.

I remember taking off my bags and putting them down beside my bed when I got home, to NY, for the first time that October. I walked up to my window to look out at the changed city and noticed it was hard to see through the screen. The screen was filthy. I had never seen it so dirty. I took a paper towel and began to wipe away the thick layer of ashes that coated my window. I’ll never forget it, because in that moment, as I wiped the layers of dirt and ash off my screen, I realized where it had come from. I wiped it as carefully and thoroughly as I could, and let a tear roll down my cheek as I did so, because I knew that those ashes came from the World Trade Center on September 11th. I knew that the wind had carried them uptown, and that I was wiping away broken hearts, and that it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right, but it was as real as ever.

I couldn’t wait to get downtown. I was supposed to be there and almost felt guilty that I wasn’t in NYC on that horrible day. My local train was the one to the World Trade Center. I got on and took it to the closest stop it would allow. And then, it hit me: THE SMELL. I’ve never smelled anything like it. As the train got closer and closer, the smell got stronger and stronger. It was the first week of October. Everything was still so fresh. Every wound was open and still bleeding, and you could smell the death. When I walked out of those subway doors, I had to cover my mouth and nose. It smelled like burning, like chemicals, like metal…like hatred. It smelled toxic and sad, and so so real. I walked out onto the streets. I followed them to the remains of the buildings I once knew. I saw the signs for missing loved ones. I smelled the burning. I felt the destruction. I can smell, see, feel it all still today.

I know it might sound cheesy, and cliche, and melodramatic, and whatever the heck you want to call it, but that day really did change my life. For the first time, I realized I was a part of this world more than I thought I was. I was not untouchable — my city was not untouchable — and I could do whatever I wanted with my life but the world would be something I couldn’t control.

I also realized how much I loved New York. I loved it like a brother or sister. I loved it because it was a part of me, and I was a part of it, and I was going to love the hell out of NY because anything else was unacceptable. Yes, this wasn’t just about New York. The attacks on September 11th were so much bigger than New York, and yet for me, I felt instinctively protective over my town. As Carrie Bradshaw once said (oh yes, I went there…), “If Louis was right, and you only get one great love, then New York may just be mine…and I can’t have nobody talkin’ shit about my boyfriend.” New York and I, well, we were in this together. New York took a hard hit, but I wasn’t about to let anybody think they could knock us down.

This fall, I will go back to the site of the World Trade Center for the first time in ten years. I will go back to remember, and to reflect. My heart goes out to all of the families of the victims, but not just to them — attacks like this one happen all the time, and nobody rebuilds for the nameless victims in more constant, small-scale attacks. That said, when I get down to Ground Zero, and stand over the footprints of the World Trade Center Towers I once knew so well, I will be looking up, at a new tower, built stronger, smarter, and taller than the first ones. In many ways, I am that Tower. New York is that Tower. Each decade only makes us stronger. I can’t wait to enter the new World Trade Center, go all the way to the top, look out over the city and smile — for me, for New York, and for everyone who couldn’t be here today. Until then, I remember. We all do.

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Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, September 11, Uncategorized, USA

Two Years of TwT

Two years. Two freakin’ years. Exactly one year ago today, I wrote this post: One Year of TwT. I was in Ecuador, unsure of (but excited about) everything, hurting from a couple of my most major heartbreaks, and trying to navigate my way through a dream job that didn’t necessarily answer my questions or quell my secret wish to be in healthcare. Two years of learning, of risk-taking, of leaps-of-faith, of putting myself out there (and yes, I’m a little sick of myself too, don’t worry). Travel writing was still a dream job in many ways, but one that I was realizing more and more may not have been my dream job, afterall.

Over 15,000 ft up, atop Ruminahui Peak with Cotopaxi Volcano and interns Allison (L) and Emily (R) in Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador. October 2010.

When I started this blog, I felt wholeheartedly like travel writing was going to be my escape route from a life that was feeling a little too mediocre for me — maybe even not me at all. I needed za-za-zoo in every form. Travel became a passion to replace passion, and writing became the support that replaced support, but how could I say that even the two together were not enough? I had to dedicate myself entirely to one dream in order to know whether or not it was going to last.

Sometimes I can’t believe all that happened in the past year — coup attempts, the Galapagos Islands, the World Cup, Juan the Amoeba (grr!), quitting my job in Ecuador, moving back to NYC, applying to post-baccs, switching careers – first, in theory then it actuality, going back to school, and all the people in between. To think that I have even the slightest chance of capturing all this in book-form (pray to the publishing gods, please) is unreal, unbelievable, and yet it makes absolute sense to me right now. But, the important thing is: I lived a dream. No other way of saying it. And yes, the dream turned out to be imperfect, but it came true. (I just happen to have more dreams!)

View from the Cathedral overlooking Old Town Quito, and clouds. Summer 2010.

I am writing from the other side of my first college course since…err…college. I did it.

Yes, I learned a lot very quickly, I made new friends, and I even managed to submit my final sample chapter to my literary agent (double YAY), but the work is only intensifying right now. The hunt for an editor/publisher begins (anyone out there?! haha. OK sorry, had to.). Two days into my second semester-condensed-into-six-week course — Statistics — I am realizing that this is going to be even tougher and more time-consuming than the first course. I’ve even gotten to use a calculator for the first time in ten years (and I figured out, all by myself, how to calculate standard deviations with it). While Developmental Psychology may have wiped the dust from my brain, Statistics will hopefully grease the wheels.

You’d think, logistically, that it might get easier every class… But no. While yes, there are correlations (see, I’m already talking like I understand statistics) between Developmental Psychology and Statistics, these seem to be two very different beasts for my brain right now. And then, come fall, I will be doubling up with Chem I and Bio I (plus labs, obvi), a workload that promises to be, um, challenging for a girl who hasn’t thought about either subject in 12 years (to say the least).

Leaves in the cloud forest. Mindo, Ecuador. Summer 2010.

Meanwhile, summer keeps on glowing. I’ve spent weekends by the pool upstate, as planned, and weeknight with the occasional glass (or maybe shared bottle) of wine (but, really, mostly doing homework or studying for exams, which I will have every Monday for the next six weeks — OY).

Today, in a fruitless quest to find a dress for at least one of the four weddings I somehow plan to attend during the remainder of this summer (did I mention I’m also a maid of honor for my sister’s NOW LEGAL wedding in August!?), I tried on a way too short and tight sexy little thing because I couldn’t resist its sparkles. It was totally inappropriate. I’d be lying if I said that I am not still covered in glitter after taking it off. Only now, it feels celebratory and appropriate, like I’m my own TwT party’s confetti. But, the reality is, I’ve got to get to bed because I have my first Statistics lab in the morning.

Two years ago, I was in NYC starting this blog with a heavy heart and no clue where I was going with it. One year ago, I was in South America living a travel writing dream that made me wonder if it was enough. This year, the whole plan has shifted and I’m back in school doing pretty much the opposite. I promise I’m not insane — I’m just a very active participant in this life thing.

All of this began when I started TwT, unsure of all that would unravel in my life around it. Now, it continues with TwT. And, hopefully, all of you.

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Filed under Ecuador, Healthcare, Life Stuff, New York City, School, Travel

Back to School (at 27)

I wandered through Staples looking for pencils for the first time in six years, with some combination of a smile and a frown both on my face and in my soul. Standing there, surrounded by Post-It’s and highlighters, felt strangely familiar yet vaguely foreign. I was cautiously excited.

There I was, at 27, hitting up my local Staples for back-to-school supplies about two weeks before most students were going to graduate (if they hadn’t already – and let’s be honest: most people my age already have… two or three times by now). The pens I got all throughout college apparently no longer exist. I stood for a good fifteen minutes trying to decide whether to get the one-subject Five Star notebook or the two-subject, the .5 mm pens or the .7 mm pens, and there was nobody there to help me make these decision. I decided on the one-subject Five Star and the .5 mm pens, and then picked up a few highlighters on my way to check-out. But really, I was just about to check back in.

Handicap sign in the floor. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

A lot of people have been asking me how it feels to be a student again. I’m about two weeks into my first course at NYU (Developmental Psychology — I’m learning all about babies and infants and how children under ten years old function and develop, mentally — actually super interesting to me!). On the first day, I got to class not five but twenty minutes early. (I was not surprised – perhaps a little too eager though?) So, I waited outside the classroom with my new notebook and pen, wondering what was going to happen to me when I entered that room. (Don’t forget to turn off your Blackberry, Rachel!)

Luckily, it was a small class. Unlike my upcoming bio, chem and physics lectures (600 people a piece), this class consisted of about 25 kids – mostly Asian NYU undergrad females, if you want to know specifics. The first thing the professor asked was for each of us to go around the room, say our name, what year we are (he…hehe…) and why we are taking this summer course. I was appropriately last. Developmental Psych is an upper-division psych class with Psych 101 as a pre-requisite. The only reason I’m allowed in is because I took Psych 101 already…the first semester of my freshman year at Bowdoin (if you need help with the math, that would be ten years ago). I knew I was in for a challenge because I am expected to remember Psych 101, and (I’m sorry Professor L from Bowdoin!), well, I don’t. Or at least it’s in some files in the back that I’m going to have to ask the monkeys in my brain to retrieve immediately.

I am in a class full of psych majors. Most are juniors or seniors retaking the course for a better grade or rushing through pre-reqs to  graduate early or on time. They know their shit and I, clearly, do not. But I have had a lot of fun since college! Ok, not totally helpful.

When it was my turn to say my name, etc., I broke it down: “Hey everyone! My name is Rachel, I actually graduated from Bowdoin College in 2005 as  Spanish major with a minor in Archaeology… I’ve been a travel writer and editor for six years and now I’m a career-changer doing a post-bac pre-med program at NYU so that I can become a Doctor of Physical Therapy. I took Psych 101… ten years ago… so I might need your help!” I smiled. They laughed. (Hopefully not at me, the pathetic grandma in the class who they were easily going to trample with their informed psych knowledge.) Whew. That wasn’t so bad. Hey, I sound pretty cool.

Bench at Fort of San Cristobal. San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I’m not gonna lie: that first class kicked my ass. There was so much material (a semester course condensed into six weeks = 2.5 lectures per class – FAST-pace), so many terms thrown around (dependent variables, independent variables, classical conditioning, Pavlov, Skinner, bah!!) that I could kind of remember learning about but needed to work doubly hard just to catch up to the discussion. It was a bit of a shock to my system when I walked out of class and realized I had spent the entire hour and a half just trying to keep my head above water, but it was only day one: this was to be expected.

Day two was not much better. I was still on a treadmill that was set to a slightly too-high speed, but I hadn’t fallen off yet. By day three, something finally clicked. I was participating in the discussions and (I think) sounding at least mildly informed about what we were talking about — progress. By day four, I had become one of them. Well, at least in the classroom.

I am still way behind these kids in terms of my psych background, but I’m realizing I do have something they don’t have: life experience. I’ve found two other girls in the class who I’ve become friends with; a 28-yr-old pre-Physician Assistant girl from Houstan, TX and a 25-yr-old pre-Nursing girl who is currently planning her wedding on Cape Cod this summer. The three of us quickly commiserated over the class material and being slightly older than the (very) young undergraduates, who honestly seem really young to me right now…. But everyone is quite friendly and it’s a really nice group. We don’t say “like” as much as the other kids in class, and we take notes using pens and notebooks rather than iPads or laptops, which are constantly tapped at during class. Our iPhones and Blackberries don’t start ringing mid-lecture and we don’t sit cross-legged in our chairs because, well honestly, I’m just not that flexible anymore. Ha.

It’s different to be a student right now, but there is also some part of it that falls right back in place for me. Just like I knew all along, this is not going to be easy and it’s not going to be any walk in the park, but every day after class, the other two oldies (ok, we’re not that old) in the class and I reflect on the material and our classmates while walking through Washington Square Park. This campus in the middle of NYC that has been here my whole life is, for the first time, slowly becoming my campus. I’ve got my first paper due tomorrow, I’ve finally moved into my apartment and bought things like olive oil and pears — I no longer have just milk and coffee. And to top it off, I’m trying to write a book. OMG, I’m trying to write a freakin’ BOOK! More on that another time :D

It’s not easy now and it’s not going to get easier, but all this is exciting. It’s like I’ve begun a brand new life in my old hometown. When I start panicking about the financial burdens I have, the fact that I don’t just want to do well in these classes, I NEED to do well, and the overwhelming mountain of work ahead of me, I suck it up, buy myself a beer with a few friends (because I can… ha – those little undergrads can’t do that! Booyah) and I savor the challenge of it all.

Strolling with sass through a muggy San Juan day. Puerto Rico.

I’m just trying to make a couple dreams come true. No biggie. If it were easy then what would be the fun in that? Or, more importantly, what the heck would I write about? That’d be one lame book. While my fellow Developmental Psychology classmates may be more prepared for our first test on Monday (yep, that happened fast), I like to think that, when I’ve been tested by life these past six years since college, I’ve done pretty well. And isn’t that what really matters? Hmph.

Now time to write this paper…

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Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, School

White Noise

As I sit here at my new desk, in my new room, in my brand new SoHo apartment, I’m thinking about the noise around me. I’m living, for the first time, on a busy NYC street and on the lowest floor yet (3rd, after fifth-, fourth-, and seventh-floor apartments). Every time a bus rolls by, my apartment shakes like there is a minor earthquake. Whenever a truck goes by, I hear the aggressive screeching, rattling and clanking that distinguishes it from any other vehicle. Cars whiz by in a relative whisper compared to these big gas-guzzling monsters, and even motorcycles add a loud chuckle and spit to the busy background sounds that will now become my new New York white noise.

Like the traffic outside, things are moving quickly. I just spent my first few nights in SoHo, and what can I say? It takes a couple weeks to get settled into a new place, but I think I’m on my way. Here’s what the past week has been like:

On Monday, I woke up really early to spend four hours sitting at a sterile, isolated computer desk while people all around me took important, possibly life-defining standardized tests. There was a palpable sense of stress in the air that seemed to parallel the weather outside, where humidity condensed into the blackness of a summer-like thunderstorm. From the 17th floor of a high-rise in midtown Manhattan, I watched the rain crack down from the sky like it was never meant to be up there in the first place.

I was taking the GREs. The first hour was rough, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable. It had been twelve years since I took a standardized test, and the security measures of the facility were a bit over-the-top (I was not allowed to wear long-sleeves!). But at about the halfway point, I got into a groove and felt comfortable. In a sick way, I was enjoying myself; there was a certain nostalgia to the whole test-taking experience, and I found myself sinking right back into the experience of it, like sitting in the same nook of an old smelly couch you haven’t sat in for years.

Stillness at sunrise on Isla Floreana, Galapagos Islands. Ecuador.

After celebrating my completion of the exam with several beers that evening, I found myself a bit dazed and burnt out the next morning (ok, fine: hungover) when I was supposed to be packing for my final move into the new digs. (I had postponed the move because I realized I was focusing way too much on the apartment and not the GRE-studying, so decided it was wisest to focus on my exam, and move in immediately afterwards). On Wednesday, I loaded the last things I had at my parents’ place into a taxi and headed downtown. Finally, I was home. Sort of.

Home is an empty word when you haven’t lived there yet. The apartment needed a lot of things, and I wanted to take care of the odds and ends before the weekend. Thursday, I spent most of my day running errands around the new ‘hood, with a quick stop in ‘Dash, the Kardashian’s store because I couldn’t resist (just to look and see if they were there, while pretending to admire sparkly mini-dresses and $75 tank tops. Mmhmm… not so much what I’m going for these days!).

The afternoon was spent at the famous wedding dress mecca that is Kleinfeld’s. This was a pretty wild experience for me. I went to help my sister’s girlfriend/fiance find a wedding dress for their wedding this August, and let me just say: WOW. Like, WHOA. I have never been surrounded by that many brides-to-be. It felt like I was in some diamond-encrusted bubble of beaded silk, embroidered organza, satin, chiffon, charmeuse and lace. Needless to say, I felt out of my element.

But, there was something slightly fantastic about it all too. I mean, this was a bizarre place for ME to be in, and yet, it only takes one moment surrounded by racks of designer wedding dresses to get you in the mood. My mom, future sister-in-law, and I began plowing through the dresses. These weren’t just dresses, they were GOWNS. Not to get all GRE on you, but here is a quick multiple choice analogy question:

Kleinfeld wedding gown: dress

a) carrot: vegetable

b) stiletto: flip-flop

c) Kobe beef: hamburger

d) limo: bicyle

e) diamond: dirt

(The best answer is C.)

It didn’t hurt to have the cast and camera crew of “Say Yes to the Dress” all around. The experience was somewhat thrilling, and at the same time, confusing. I am not one of those girls who fantasizes about their wedding, but there is something to say about the whole experience when you see some of these dresses. I mean, my mom CRIED (like, actual tears behind the leopard print eyeglasses) when a girl she didn’t even know walked by in what appeared to be seven layers of dresses in one. I was like “Mom, are you crying?! You don’t even know her!” as she, the same woman who told me to play in the traffic as a kid (jokingly), struggled to coherently say “but that DRESS! It’s just so, so, exquisite! It’s beautiful!” Shit, it was true. But I will NOT get choked up for a wedding dress that is not mine! Every time I made a comment about a dress, my mom would laugh at me and say “but Rachel, it’s not YOUR wedding” and I would bite my tongue and take the scathing bullet that I didn’t even think would hurt. Obviously I didn’t care. Right? I really wasn’t there thinking about me at all… And yet, why did that hurt just a little? Probably because, as we all know, there are layers and layers of depth to a comment like that.

Blue feet: dare to be different. Blue footed boobie. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Alas, watching my sister’s fiance prance around in these actual wedding GOWNS was a fun, out-of-body experience for me. Every now and then, I would catch myself noticing dresses that I liked for me (how could you not?!), and I’d have to quickly look at a mirror, see my jewel-less style, my blue plaid flannel shirt, and my dark circles under my eyes to jolt me back to reality.

But hey, my reality aint so bad! Yesterday, I had my NYU post-bac pre-med orientation. I met some awesome people along with whom I will be spending the next couple years struggling through hard sciences. It was so cool to be with a bunch of other people whose friends and families think they are kind of crazy for doing this, and to commiserate over the fact that we are all in our mid-t0-late twenties and even thirties, starting something new, and excited as heck to begin.

Among my new classmates: a couple professional musicians, a published novelist, a Marine, a Navy pilot, a twenty-two-year-old who just graduated early from NYU and already wants to get back into school, a bio major who has to retake all the pre-requisited because they’ve expired, and… me.

In a couple hours, I will be heading to Connecticut for a high school friend’s wedding — the first of six (give-or-take what I can actually swing) this summer. On Monday, I have my first class. It all starts to happen. I bought my first textbooks yesterday, and am standing in the gates, waiting for the doors to break open so I can fly through. I’m going back to school hungry, and the time has almost come to take my first bites.

But first, I will toss back a little champagne and get my dance on at an old friend’s wedding to celebrate the important stuff and the amazing friends that happen along the way — the calming white noise that will counter the loud cacophony that is about to become my new life as a student. While, as has been the case for a few weeks, I feel a bit in-over-my-head, everything is under control at this point.

On Monday, I begin. Right now, I pack. And, in case anyone was worried, the writing won’t stop. TwT is along for the ride.

Here’s a little rock and roll for you, coming from an uptown (North side?) turned downtown girl:

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Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, Uncategorized

20,000 Hits Under the T, and Joe

You, me, and TwT have made it to 20,000 hits. The blog was started twenty-two months ago with no certainty of where it might go. During this time, I think I took about 20,000 hits myself! OK, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but a lot of shit happened – let’s be honest. Yet somehow I made it here, to another turning point between one set of life decisions and another, past the 20,000 hits and onto the next ones.

I’m in the eye of another storm – a pleasant but slightly stressful one (as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not very good with change, even though I invite it constantly). Things are chaotically being thrown all around me, and I’m just trying to keep centered and hold on to my Panama hat. For starters, as we all know, I’m moving from the Upper West Side to my first non-UWS home in NYC: SoHo. You know, it’s funny moving downtown. It’s like moving to the opposite side of your hometowm – mine just happens to be NYC (and it’s the only hometown I’ve got). I’m about to take the GREs, which I thought I’d never ever have to do and would somehow get away without every seeing a standardized test again. The hardest part was realizing what happened to all that math I studied so hard throughout high school and during my freshman year of college. As I was telling a friend yesterday, my brain really feels like an out of shape muscle right now. I got it from a slow walk to an awkward jog, and now I’ve got a reasonable pace, when it comes to my math abilities, but I’m definitely not in sprinting form yet. Hopefully I should be there by the fall.

This is how my brain felt when I started studying for the GREs. Sea Lion on the shore of Isla Espanola. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Speaking of, I’m about to go back to school for — if all goes according to plan — what will be five straight years of intense classes without A SINGLE summer vacation. Brutal, right? No more rendezvous in Buenos Aires whenever I want. No more last-second trips to sleep on a friend’s floor for a week in Brussels, or hop on a plane to a friend’s family’s home in Kona, Hawaii, or convincing anyone to fly to Central America for a week or two, or being a “YES” person when it comes to trips and expensive meals. But you know, I really am excited for this “other” path I’m on now. Thank goodness I got all those trips and international romances out of my system, because only now, after experiencing more than I would have ever imagined I might in my early twenties, am I ok with giving all that up.

Some of you might not know this, but since January, I have been volunteering at two different physical therapy/sports medicine and rehab facilities here in New York. I signed up partially because I needed some volunteer hours for my eventual Doctor of Physical Therapy application, and partially because I wanted to be 110% SURE that this investment of time and LOTS of money (breathe Rachel, breathe!) is going to be worth it.

I’ve got to say… I walked into the volunteering with only a vague idea of what to expect and what I might get out of it. I was nervous before the first day, realizing that there was ever-so-slight-a-chance I could still change my mind, and I didn’t want to. But I hoped, if anything, my volunteering would at least confirm everything I was planning to do.

Well, it did more than that. Not only did I become more certain than ever that this is what I want to do, career-wise, but I got even more excited and more motivated. I love it. I’ve said this before, but it’s so funny how different and foreign the whole healthcare thing is from what I’ve been doing since I graduated, and yet how right it feels to be involved in some way. Working with people is fascinating, fun, exciting and inspiring. Through my PT Aide jobs, I have encountered such incredible and fascinating people! There’s been the professional female volleyball player, the ballerina who her PT describes as “the Black Swan” equivalent, the gay Irish speech therapist, the Argentine guy with back problems, the Polish man with a frozen shoulder, the teenager who wears totally inappropriate things to her PT sessions, the attractive male athletes, the marathon runners, the pregnant woman with backpain, the adorable arthritic Ecuadorian lady who speaks Spanish with me and bakes us zucchini cake every week… the list goes on and on!

Lonely George. The last remaining turtle of his species. Charles Darwin Center. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

And then there’s Joe (*not his actual name). One thing you learn quickly in PT, and I’m sure in other medical fields, is that everyone has a different response to pain and treatment — both physically and psychologically. The way each person deals with his/her injury on both those levels can vary incredibly. Much of my job has been working one-on-one with patients, either getting them ready for their treatment, helping them after their treatment, or showing them how to do certain exercises and self-care measures for when they are on their own. I deal with ice, heat, e-stim, laser probes, foam rollers, mats, BoSus, thera bands, exercise balls, ramps, weights, and all that good stuff all day long (in case you were wondering). But one thing that always changes is the individual, and you have to adapt to each one as you go. For me, that’s one of the most fun parts of this job: just seeing the way people are different, and making sure each one feels comfortable, safe, strong and hopeful.

A lot of the time is spent motivating the patient to push themselves, get through their exercise challenges for the day, and/or generally measuring their progress and capabilities (while having conversations over just about anything – so fun!). Everybody has such an interesting life story, and they always want to know mine. It’s funny, because when you talk to people, you really get to see that everyone has been through SO much… Ups, downs, loves, frustrations with the world… Most people are also willing to open up very quickly, which I respect and appreciate. I get lots of unsolicited advice about life, actually, which is great (hehe), and I surprise people when I tell them that I am not fresh-out-of-college, that I’m changing careers, and that I have traveled to a lot of different places. They are also intrigued by my family’s background, which is fun to talk about.

But the best experiences are when you get to work with people like Joe.

Joe is 82. He is about 6’4”, totally grey and old in some ways (on the outside), quiet, respectful, and sweet as can be in that silent, reserved, peaceful sort of way. He is a musician and an orchestra conductor (the office I work at is right by Lincoln Center, so we get lots of performers). Joe is also an avid runner and has been his whole life.

I see many patients just out of surgery, with crazy scars (I love scars!), swollen joints, extreme pain, and a list of complaints. Joe had both hip and ankle surgery on the same day. He aces every single exercise and strengthening activity I give him, and he never complains – not even a little bit. Not only that, but some people take months or even years to get back for a run after a surgery, and Joe took weeks. In addition, he runs every day. He is 82, I repeat. And, without a negative comment, a complaint, or a frustration, he tackles every challenge ahead of him and succeeds with flying colors. He has an incredibly strong mind, and he is determined to get back to running 8-10 miles per day.

Joe is an inspiration to me, and to the other patients. He is one of those people who –without trying to be an inspiration at all– quietly shows everyone else that we are capable of whatever we set our mind to (at least with the proper preparation and care). After working in PT for a few months, you finally get to see patients make extreme progress and take steps towards a new chapter — the one that begins after their pain has ended.

At first, I loved the PT Aide-ing because I was finally able to be useful and work with people in some helping capacity, be trusted in that way, be an authority (at least they think so!) on how to help. But when you see a patient who can barely lie down on the treatment table on day one riding the stationary bicycle so hard you have to slow them down on their last day of treatment, you realize what it’s all about; that feeling, that smile, that moment when you witness someone who has overcome a difficult experience… THAT is what makes me so happy and so excited to suffer through all the science classes I’ve got ahead of me right now.

Joe is one of the reasons I cannot wait to be a part of this field. I knew I would feel this way, and for years I tried to brush it off because who wants to spend five years without summers in school when you’re supposed to be getting married, thinking about having babies, buying a house and making a great salary (allegedly)?! Well, my work with Joe is done, and I’m about to begin school. But the other day, Joe’s physical therapist told me he was asking about me. He told her that he wanted to thank me, because my work with him really helped and he felt great and was running 8 miles a day again. What did I do?! I’m not sure I really deserve the thank you, but that gesture, that thank you, is why I’m doing this. The truth is, Joe is the one who should be thanked.

A large wave off the coast on my last morning in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

But where am I? This weekend, I’m moving, for real, into my new apartment. I take the GRE in ten days. I go back to school in two weeks. Everything is uphill right now. Nothing feels easy.

Then I remember Joe. And if Joe can run 10 miles after hip and ankle surgeries at age 82, I think all of us can, in our own way.

Cheers to the next 20,000 hits. And THANK YOU for the first 20,000.

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Filed under Healthcare, Life Stuff, New York City, Physical Therapy, Uncategorized

SoHo Za-Za-Zoo

I headed downtown with reluctance, ready for another disappointment, tired of searching, but – as always – with a twinkle of hope in my increasingly cynical New Yorker eyes. I was beginning to resent swiping my Metrocard at the entrance to the subway, for it only led me onto a train of disappointments.

After searching uptown, where I thought there would be more apartments available and for better prices, the realtor with whom I had been apartment-hunting sent me photos of a small SoHo apartment with black brick walls. SoHo? I thought. Yeah, right

Cherry Blossoms and Sky. Central Park, NYC. (Taken by Blackberry)

The idea of being within walking distance of NYU seemed impossible, so I hadn’t been looking downtown. I looked at a couple Brooklyn apartments (some day, I do think I will end up in Brooklyn if I am still in NYC…), but, in order to get the benefits of cheaper apartments, you’ve got to go deep enough into Brooklyn that the idea of hopping on a train one to two times a day (for science labs, NYU events, using the NYU gym — whatever) buffs the sparkle of Brooklyn down to a dull muted tone. There is a lot of appeal to living in Brooklyn, but I guess this just wasn’t my Brooklyn-year.

I headed down to Canal Street on the 1 train — my loyalty will always be to the 1, no matter where I live — to meet the realtor in front of the SoHo walk-up. While black brick walls aren’t my thing, my quest for the right apartment was becoming thoroughly dehumanizing, and I had to give something different a chance.

SoHo is way too cool and hip for me — I’m a comfort girl. SoHo is like the pair of cute shoes that I figure I should own, but never actually wear because I’m much more comfortable in my Upper West Side-esque flip-flops, alpargatas (actual ones from Argentina, such as these, NOT Tom’s – side note: did you know these currently very popular shoes are Argentine gaucho shoes that Argentines have been wearing forever? Notice the Argentine flag on every pair?), and flats. SoHo is chic, fashionable, designer, white tablecloths. I am sporty/casual, low-maintenance, reusable water bottle, and second-hand table right now.  But I am also something else: open-minded. I had to at least see what a SoHo apartment could look like.

We met downstairs. I immediately felt this neighborhood — the SoHo-Tribeca border with Chinatown and Little Italy just a few blocks away — felt totally not me, in a good way. I’m an uptown girl at heart, but if I could live on the corner of Guanguiltagua y Arosemena Tola en Batan Alto (my Quito address – yeah, I had to carry an index card around my first week), I could probably handle this change of scenery too. South of Houston isn’t South America — what’s the big deal, right?

Bridge in Central Park. NYC. (Taken by Blackberry)

On the corner of my potential future block: a cute Mexican restaurant. SCORE. Also on the block: a mini-supermarket, a pizza place, a cool lounge, and a modern Chinese-comfort food restaurant. All great things. I also like it when buildings have names. This one did. But I’ve stood hopeful outside a building many times. This momentary optimism was usually quickly shut-down upon ascension into the potential digs. According to the photos, this apartment had black walls. That’s a big no-no for me! But I knew that a little paint could fix that — the black walls, at this point, were not a deal-breaker.

We entered the red and white, tiny, tiled lobby. Good vibe. We headed up to the third floor – good: fourth floor or higher apartments were deal-breakers to me (knee trauma), and second or first-floor apartments usually meant noise, garbage, cold, or darkness — all deal-breakers. (I told you, I know what I want.) The staircase was wider than other ones I had seen. I liked this: good for carrying my bike up and down. We got to the door. It had a good number. I walk in, quickly evaluating the tiny but cute kitchen, which opened up into a decent little living room, and that’s when it happened: I smiled.

The apartment is completely imperfect — the kitchen is teeny-tiny, but it is an actual eat-in with a big window: score. The bathroom is in two parts: a toilet in one end of the apartment, the shower at the other end (hehe — this would “not” make sense better if you could see it). They call it “European-style” — yeah, yeah, whatever. The walls were NOT black! Much to my happiness, the apartment was full of light, the brick walls are painted white but in a really nice way. The light fixtures were antique-style, not the usual upside-down glass bowl with a cluster of dead bugs at the bottom. The floor was being redone, the closet space was great, the views were actually nice (enough) and — most importantly — despite all it’s minor imperfections, it was the first apartment that I walked into and felt HAPPY.

After a whirlwind of cashier checks, lease-signing, paperwork and the nightmare that is moving-logistics, I have a new apartment to call home, beginning this weekend. It’s going to be a quirky place to live, but – if anything – it can be “that quirky SoHo apartment with the weird bathroom that I lived in during my twenties.”

As you can see, I may come off as a perfectionist with unreal expectations (OK, I really hope I don’t but I think that is how the previous realtor I was working with might describe me), but really, I just know what I want is out there, and I’m willing to take a little longer to find it. Of course I am also willing to compromise, and I’m not expecting everything I am looking for to come in one perfectly tied-up package, but the important thing is finding that place that makes you happy, despite its imperfections. And really, the imperfections are what make my new home special.

A mid-April stroll through Central Park. NYC.

Every apartment brings with it a new set of memories, life experiences, ups and downs… I’m excited to find out what SoHo has in store for me. Within the next three weeks, I have to pack up all my stuff, move it all downtown (along with furniture in three different locations), unpack, set up wireless, set up cable, set-up furniture and LIFE. I also have to finish studying for the GREs, take the GREs, get my new NYU ID, figure out my new life, and begin school for the first time in six years. There is actually even more going on, which I’m not blogging about… Just trust me when I say I’ve got my hands pretty full right now.

But outside, the cloak of winter has been lifted and the cherry blossom petals rain over the cement. A new season, with a new apartment, and a new chapter full of possibility is about to begin. And the black walls have been painted over in white.

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Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, Uncategorized