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Danishes and Bookstores: The Journey To and Through Manhattan

McKenzie hops behind the wheel at a rest stop.

The only sounds on a motorcoach at 3 in the morning come from the engine.  The handful of people who boarded in Greenville, Pennsylvania had gratefully shoved pillows between their heads and the window or the headrest and napped.  I was one of them.  I only have a very faint recollection of the three stops that we made before dawn    twice to pickup more passengers and once for a fifteen minute break.

It wasn’t until just outside of Milton, img_0197Pennsylvania that my mom and I both finally woke up and squinted out the window.  The bus was stopped outside a Flying J, the front of which screamed “RESTAURANT” and “TRAVEL STORE.”  We were beckoned to by the prospect of warm coffee and food, a chance to stretch our legs, and a bathroom.
Around 7:45, we sat down in the RESTAURANT portion of the building.  Mom ordered a img_0205coffee in a to-go cup, and we both got waters, which we cradled for the next forty-five minutes.  We chatted; she loaded her coffee down with sugar and cream; and I scribbled in my journal.  But our food never
came.  We exchanged glances with other passengers, who sat in front of half-finished glasses of milk or orange juice    none of us had received our food.  We were supposed to leave at 8:15; it was 8:10.

I can’t write about how good RESTAURANT’s pancakes or biscuits and gravy were, but TRAVEL STORE offered a fine selection of packaged foods, which we purchased with a shrug.  Our stomachs would be ready for all the food Manhattan could offer.  Back on the bus, we split a giant Danish and smiled at each other over our halves.

“You can never go wrong with a Danish,” my mom said.

I’ve never agreed more.

My stomach full, I promptly fell asleep.

img_0249The craziest thing about New York City is entering it for the first time.  The outskirts of the city could be anywhere in the United States, but then you look just past the squat buildings across the water, and there’s a minuscule of the famous skyline.  My brother could have made it from Legos.  But then the Lincoln Tunnel looms before you like sea monsters in movies loom beneath the waves, waiting to swallow you up, and you stare at the dim-lit walls.  Legend has it (or rather, our tour guide, Barb, said) that there’s a design on the wall that indicates whether you’re in New York or New Jersey.  I couldn’t see it.

The journey through the Lincoln tunnel takes about three minutes, and the buildings on the other side sprout and become the skyscrapers New York City’s so famous for.  My img_0253brain tried to reconcile them against the buildings in Cleveland, Ohio, but the images wouldn’t align.  New York    with its towers competing with each other for the title of highest and the variety of people and shops beneath them    is a rainforest.

A prime example of this came around lunchtime.  Mom and I had plans to explore Chinatown, but our feet were beginning to get tired, and we were starving, so we ended up eating at Landmark Coffee Shop and Pancake House in Little Italy.

img_0343But Little Italy and Chinatown aren’t self-contained    they bleed into one another.  Chinese characters and Italian names adorn restaurant signs.  A Chinese waitress handed my mom her spaghetti.  We bought bubble tea in Little Italy after lunch then ducked into the Hong Kong Supermarket.  I’m still not really sure which lines the Hong Kong Supermarket falls behind.  If any part of the United States is actually a melting pot, it’s the Big Apple.

img_0284Even though an express trip doesn’t quite allow for as many friend-making opportunities on the motorcoach as a traditional tour or a showcase trip, large cities will always present them.  There are so many different sorts of people in the city    some visiting from other countries; some who were born there    but sometimes the best kind of accidents happen, and you find someone who has seen the same parts of the world that you have.

Around 7:30 in the evening, Mom and I found ourselves in the Strand Bookstore, which is located on Broadway near Union Square.  One of my professors, Dr. Gwen Schwartz, recommended it because it’s the largest independent bookstore in New York City.

I was in the T – Z aisle of the fiction section when I met Sam.

“I kind of want Joan of Arc because it’s from the same collection as the book I got in Indiana, but I wanna see if I can find David Foster Wallace and Kurt Vonnegut,” I said to Mom.  “I’ve never read David Foster Wallace, and I really wanna get into him.”

“Sorry to intrude,” a voice said somewhere near the floor, “but did you just say David Foster Wallace?”

I looked down.  A book dangled from his fingers, the corner just balanced on the shelf; he stared up at me with wide eyes.

“And Kurt Vonnegut,” I replied.

“Those are my favorite authors!”  He grinned.  “If you’re looking to get into David Foster Wallace, I’d recommend starting with his nonfiction.  Infinite Jest is a bear to read even if you’re really trying    I mean, it’s definitely one of my favorites, but his nonfiction will definitely help you work into his fiction.”

He glanced at the ground, mumbled, “I guess I don’t need to crouch,” and leapt to his feet.  “Hey, I’m Sam.”

“McKenzie.”  We shook hands.

“And did you say ‘Indiana’ before?”

As it turns out, Sam, who works at the Strand, is from Indiana.  He graduated a few years ago from Indiana University (a school which I visited with a friend in late 2016) with a degree in English and Theatre.  We chatted about his programs, writing, and the Kurt Vonnegut museum in Indianapolis.  When I asked him how he found himself in New York, he just shrugged and said, “Just decided to move.”

Sam recommended David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse FiveCat’s Cradle, and Mother Night    and then he offered to show me where they kept all these books in the store.

Sometimes in “18 miles of books”   in the middle of a rainforest-city    you find another midwesterner with the same taste in books as you.

img_0357As I write this, I’m huddled under three blankets.  Occasionally, I stop typing to cough into my elbow.  I blame the cold wind that funneled into the cubby that Mom and I tucked ourselves into in Times Square, but I can’t help thinking about the conversation I had with Debbie.

Debbie and her daughter Alyssa sat across the aisle from us.  They first went to New York for Alyssa’s 16th birthday; this was their fifth trip.  Each time they’ve taken a motorcoach and tried different touristy things.  So far, they’ve taken the ferry over to Staten Island and peered up at the Statue of Liberty, gone up in the Empire State Building, and visited Ground Zero and its museum.  Once they even ended up in Brooklyn because they were chatting on the subway.  During this trip, they saw the Flatiron Building and shopped on Fifth Avenue, and of course, they were in Times Square for the new year.

“Do you think you would do it again?”  I asked.img_0238

“Definitely,” Debbie said.  “It’s an experience.  It was cold, and we could only really see the reflection of the ball on a few buildings, but I could see the actual ball drop on tv.”

Ryan Seacrest’s New Year’s Eve was certainly different than Debbie and Alyssa’s or mine and my mom’s    glamorous, Mariah Carey-filled, and probably much warmer.  But each person in Time Square on December 31st had a different experience and perspective that were important.

There are 17 days until I board the bus for Gettysburg and, ultimately, DC for the presidential inauguration.  Sick or not, like Debbie said, it’s all about the experience.  Thanks, New York.  It was a good one.

M Caldwell View All

I've been writing stories since I was 5. My first book was "Turtle Salad"--I wrote and illustrated it. I was horrified because Sally the Turtle ate a fish.

When I was 8, I wrote to JK Rowling to offer some ideas for the Harry Potter series. Her assistant wrote me back, saying that Rowling only hopes to inspire young readers, not to take their ideas. While I totally understand now, I was pissed then. I vowed to become a better writer than JK Rowling. I've been working toward it ever since.

Now, I'm a 21-year-old sometimes-poet studying writing and French at the University of Mount Union. My work has appeared in the University of Mount Union's Agora and Calliope, Hiram College's Echo, the University of Miami's Mangrove, the Lala, Popular Culture Studies Journal, and the Cleveland Magazine.

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