I arrive in New York just in time for Halloween, on a dreary and wet afternoon off a flight from sunny and warm LA. The massive weather adjustment here is a bit of a shock to the system after three weeks in California sunshine. By the time I arrive at my hostel, it’s late and there’s just time to have a drink at the bar and head out to find some food before getting off to bed. The bar at the hostel has other ideas though and when I head back after dinner to finish a blog post and a quiet beer as I do so, I get talking to the bartender and then a group of people from all around the world. My quiet night quickly becomes a 1am finish as I plod back upstairs to my room.
The time difference causes a few challenges for me, with New York being 5 hours ahead of LA. It’s a struggle waking up and I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t get out of the hostel as quickly as I’d like. Before doing anything else, I need to change hostels, so I lose another hour or so lugging my backpack around the East Village to my accommodation for the next four nights.
Once done, I head to the 9/11 Memorial Museum – a new addition to the city since I was last here way back in 2009. There’s a fair line out the front of the museum, as travellers flock to try and understand the enormous impact that the devastating events of September 11 had on this city and the world.
The museum is astounding with tragic display after tragic display of items collected from the events. Its beautifully presented, and very moving with the feature being a giant wall of blue squares and a Virgil quote. Each blue square represents a person who perished and every single one of these shapes is a different colour blue. Here, these people are seen as individuals, not as a huge collective of tragic victims.
The most overwhelming piece in the museum, however, was the recorded voice mail messages from people on the planes who realised what was happening. Listening to their calls and hearing the panic in their voices becomes a bit overwhelming and despite the museum having enough material in there for hours more pouring over, I find myself feeling swallowed up by the sorrow and I’ve seen enough. It’s a full on experience, but definitely gives a real sense of the magnitude of this event and how it changes the face of the world forever.
By this stage, most of the day is gone and I have dinner plans in the Hells Kitchen area with some friends from Australia who recently made the move to the city. Dinner quickly turns into drinks and before I know it, we’re heading out to the gay area of the city with bars that each have their own unique personality. My favourite is definitely a sports bar that does two for one drinks – there’s not many gay sports bars that I’ve ever been to. After bar hopping for a while, we happen upon an old Irish style bar that is possibly more accurately described as a cupboard. It’s tiny, with bar seating and a couple of booths and you get the feeling that the guys drinking here are regulars. Now, I’m usually pretty good with having a few drinks on trips, but at a solo traveller I wouldn’t usually get rip roaring drunk – both for safety reasons and then also because I don’t want to waste my next day hungover. But, at 4am, here we are still doing shots with the bartender until at last I call it a night and load myself into an Uber. I then realise I’ve accidentally booked an Uber Pool, so I’m in a car, completely sloshed with a bunch of strangers. The whole thing is a pretty weird experience. I somehow manage to check into my shared hotel room, throw myself on the roll out stretcher bed and fall asleep without even bothering to get into my PJs.
I sleep until around 11am the next day. When I finally wake up, I’m absolutely freezing as the only blanket on my bed has no warmth at all and I feel rotten. Today it’s Halloween and I’m planning to walk in the West Village Halloween Parade tonight but first I have to find a costume. After two showers to try and shake myself awake, a coffee and a greasy burger in the hope that it will diminish the pounding headache I head off to Spirit Halloween – the pop up costume shops that appear at this time of year, to try and find something a costume that will also keep me warm in the freezing NYC fall. Initially, my plan is to go as Joyce from Stranger Things, but those costumes are all in short supply. In the end, I settle on a Black Swan evil ballerina costume that comes complete with face paint. I’m not sure I quite end up looking like Natalie Portman, but it’s good enough and I can pair it with leggings and a jacket to stay warm.
The parade itself is INSANE. One minute I’m uneasily marching next to a knife wielding Michael Myers from Halloween and the next I’m standing next to a delightful Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast. My friends are dressed as a zombie woodchopper and Jessica Jones, so as a trio we’re a bizarre sight to see. But here, we fit right in. Around me there’s Day of the Dead face painted ladies, floats of topless women, and a girl dressed as a bar of soap.
The walk is cold and long and passes through the West Village past a giant moving spider hanging from the town hall. This is a party that New Yorkers itch to be part of each year and despite this one being in the wake of a terror attack earlier that day in Manhattan, there’s defiance in the air. No attempt to kill off our civil liberties and terrorise us will stop our enjoyment of this night. Despite the earlier events of the day, I feel completely safe with a heavy police presence and closed roads.
It is a freezing night out, so I can’t say that when we get to the end that I’m sorry it is over. As the parade disperses and characters spill out into the streets, I find myself standing at the lights next to Michael Myers again. He pockets his knife, removes the mask and smiles at me, the knowing smile of a co-participant in a night to remember forever.