Lost in Tribeca

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I intended to go running on my first trip to New York this month. I knew I would be disappointed if I lost my nerve. I wanted to run through Times Square when it was empty. I wanted to run up Broadway.

I did do this. The second day I was there I ran from my hotel down Park Avenue and 5th Avenue to 34th Street. Along 34th to Broadway, through Times Square when there was only the occasional person making their way to work, up to 59th, and then back to my hotel in Midtown East. I ran it another morning and started to call it my ‘City route’ for New York. And I saw the lights of Times Square for the first time running, before 6am.

Before arriving in NYC I had thought about going to see the memorial at Ground Zero to pay my respects. After I was in New York a couple of days, I instead decided to do a “Ground Zero” run and see how far I got. For me this was often how I connected to places. Even if I listened to music on my run, I always thought about things. It would be an 8 mile run which wasn’t an issue, but I wasn’t familiar with that part of Manhattan and had some concerns about my plans clashing with the morning rush hour.

At 9/11, I had been living in the UK at the time and working in local government. Someone had turned a TV on in one of the offices and  when the first plane had hit the first tower, one of my supervisors alerted me to what had happened. When I went to look at the small television at the time all I could see was buildings and smoke and it was difficult to understand what was going on. The news that day became even more unbelievable and tragic.

For my run I was out of the hotel door just after 5am into a cold Times Square (I had switched hotels). It must have been around -4 Celsius but felt like -10. I headed down 7th for quite a ways. When I was nearing Canal Street, there was a man with a street stand selling coffee and other things. I stopped and started to speak to him. He asked me if I wanted a coffee. I explained I was out running, but maybe on the way back. He asked me if I was from New York. I said no I was on holiday. He asked me if I liked it here. I said, yes I did very much. He said, then you should move here then. I asked him how to get to the Memorial pools. He said to go straight. Do not go any other way, just straight.

Right there, there was a busy road which I looked at and felt ill. Around five lanes of traffic which just looked particularly gnarly. Of course there was a local guy who was waiting to cross as well, and it didn’t seem to phase him at all. But I got past there and kept on going, and it was around then that I felt a little out of my element. I wasn’t aware at the time, but I was in the Tribeca area, and I couldn’t see the Empire State Building at the time. Also, the streets had slanted in a funny way and the street numbers that had guided me suddenly were gone.

It has been a long time since I have felt even the slightest bit lost. In New York I had managed to find my way around just fine up to that point. In fact, I had been asked directions by others several times since I had been in NYC, including by a girl who asked me where Broadway was, when I had only been in New York about two hours.

But I was getting cold, and the run had taken me longer, with extra time talking to people along the way and trying to figure out which way to go. I recognized this fact, that it was probably time to figure out where I was and try to turn around. I tried to figure it out through my google maps on my phone but it wasn’t helping much. I also knew enough at that point to deny myself any new ideas I had about alternate routes home, as those usually resulted in being colder and farther away from my destination.

On saying that, as it was a long time since I had felt lost, and in a way it was a welcome feeling to have that warning feeling that you didn’t understand where you were. In some ways I think it is a good feeling to have, because it means you are encountering new places.

I could see I was on Warren Street. I then asked the next guy I saw how to get back to Times Square. I had obviously encountered different kinds of New Yorkers, most of them friendly and helpful, but this fellow did give me the info I wanted laced with the attitude of ‘if you are stupid enough to be out running in this weather without a hat on, at this time in the morning, you should know how to get to Times Square.” He didn’t say this but I could tell by his voice he was thinking it.

So I headed down the street the man directed me to. But after a while, I decided to ask someone else, just to be sure I wasn’t still lost. There was a young fellow on the corner, just leaving the subway. I said, ‘How do you get to Times Square from here? He said Times Square? He sort of shook his head and looked at me funny. The subway, he said pointing to the nearby station. I said, no I’m out running. So he pointed me in the right direction, and I got back on track then. By the time I got farther down 7th, there were quite a few pedestrians, and I had my first taste of dodging all the people. There were so many of them, it actually made it fun.

Back at the hotel I looked at the map and saw I wasn’t actually that far from Ground Zero. It was only a couple of blocks away, and I had run 7.5 miles. So it wasn’t a total loss, I could call it my ‘Ground Zero’ run, and maybe next time in New York I could have another go.

I still wanted to go for a run in Central Park and also along the Hudson River.

After my run, I then went back to bed to warm up, and was drinking hot drinks for the rest of the day.

I didn’t talk to anyone in New York about 9/11 when I was there until the last day in my cab ride to the airport. The driver I spoke with said he was a bank teller in Queens at the time and he remembered his manager rushed in and told him what had happened. He said his wife had a friend who was on one of the upper floors and sadly lost her life. We talked about our Christmas traditions and other personal things along the way.

The strangest thing was, that when I was in New York, I had happy thoughts when I was there. I didn’t think about the devastation that had occurred those years ago, despite all the news coverage and programs I had watched about that day since then. I did happy, fun things. Saw a hockey game, went shopping, saw the iconic buildings that I had only heard about on TV since I was a child.  I never knew if I would ever get a chance to see New York, and back on 9/11, I am sure I didn’t think I would be looking at the scarves in Bloomingdales several years later. Back then it seemed such a big intimidating place, but also frightening and vulnerable. I was sure excited about seeing New York though, and glad that I went.

Sketch by Wendy Stewart

This is a work of creative nonfiction; it contains no composite characters  and no names have been changed. I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them, but I have taken some storytelling liberties, due to my interpretation of events, fading memory, lack of time machine, and need to cherry-pick some memories over others in order to express my thoughts within the story. Conversations are paraphrased according to how I remembered them.