The element of a road trip for this “50 States: Artists + Veterans United” tour was crucial for us because we were determined to piece together the diversity of this country, both socially and geographically.
New York City is a place that, although very relevant in the country’s culture and media, feels far away to most living in the United States. The combination of the city’s uniqueness, its romanticized lifestyle according to thousands of TV shows and movies based there, its idolization across not just the country but the world, its location on an island along the east coast, and its false familiarity among many makes it close but far.
Feeling all of these sentiments, we imagined ourselves having to drive a few hours every day in and out of the city while we were there. Campground or RV park in the city just didn’t seem likely.
Fortunate for us, someone capitalized on the Jersey City marina parking lot, converting a portion of it into an RV parking lot essentially, with electric and water hookups.
Just a few blocks away from the PATH subway line that goes under the Hudson river into the World Trade Center’s Oculus hub in a matter of fifteen minutes, we were able to experience the city, up close while also being back often enough to spend some quality time with Noel :)
After our three-week stay that included two state projects (Connecticut and New York) and yes, many touristy activities, we started to feel like locals. It was the proximity we were asking for, allowing us to not only familiarize ourselves with the city, but have it feel connected to the rest of the tour and country.
I’ll spare you the endless details of our experience in the cities and instead, focus on a few of our favorite things about NYC…
Having previously had the opportunity to visit the city countless of times for my last job as a fashion buyer and also Tyler’s as a footwear designer, we can say with confidence that the best time to visit is during autumn.
Comfortable days with cool nights, the season gives you the perfect temperature to walk your ass off. And that’s what we did on our way. Up and down the island, west to east and vice versa, we walked everywhere. Thankfully our apparel partner, Alpha Industries, Inc. had their PR agency located in the city which enabled us to actually have a reliable mailing address for them to send some jackets to wear — their M-65 Liner and MA-1 Flight jackets were perfect top layers for the early October city weather.
In fact, of all the parks and hikes we’ve taken on this tour, the highest step-counts on my phone are from when we were in NYC.
This leads me to another favorite thing about the city, the access it gives you to the world and country’s history, art, cultures, and music. OK, I’ll admit that was a broad stroke, but I can’t think of any other way to put it.
Feel like seeing contemporary art? MOMA. Feel like going to a concert tonight? Pop online to see who is playing tonight. We ended up scoring some awesome last-minute seats to see First Aid Kit, one of my favorite bands.
Feel like taking a walk back in time? Everywhere you walk offers not only a realtime experience, but an opportunity to think about those who walked on the very street you are. That may come off cliche, however, walking on the Brooklyn Bridge gave me a feeling of awareness to all of the millions upon millions of people that have walked on it since it’s construction.
Among the great things about the city, there’s also its fair share of the tragic, the sad, and the forgotten. We learned that wandering around Wall Street is actually wandering upon mass burial grounds of slaves. And of course, then there’s the World Trade Center. Touring the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum, set on the very site of the two towers, you have the opportunity to walk along the stairway thousands used to flee for their lives. As you’ll see, we were able to host our New York project within the museum, which was extremely powerful.
Shifting gears a bit, another favorite thing of ours in NYC is Shake Shack, and especially their original location. We honestly could not get enough and didn’t mind anxiously waiting for our buzzer to go off. The total number of times we ate SS during our 3-week stay was… drumroll please… five times. While Tyler goes with their classic ShackBurger, my usual is the ‘shroom burger with an order of fries and maybe a chocolate shake that we split. Gah. I’m getting hungry just writing this.
Our time there was filled with final preparations for both our New York and Connecticut projects, meetings with partners and potential sponsors, a visit and presentation to the staff at the national headquarters of our biggest supports: AIGA, the professional organization for design, and even one of Tyler’s dream visits: the NBA headquarters.
Thanks to his friend, Francis, where we got a sneak peak at the redesigned uniforms of our hometown Grand Rapids Drive, which in case you were wondering, is the G-League affiliate team of the Detroit Pistons.
Of course we hit up the touristy things while we were there, the Friends apartment (sorry not sorry), visiting Central Park, walking the Highline, Flatiron building, 5th Ave, getting our required photo booth strip from Ace Hotel, plus much, much more.
One of the things neither of us have ever been able to do was visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, which was technically our first U.S. National Park visit on the tour. As touristy as that sounds, it was actually very humbling and insightful experience imagining a sliver of what immigrants could have seen, smelled, felt, and anxiously waited in as they risked their livelihoods back home to venture to a new land of opportunity.
Ultimately, what makes NYC live up to its hype is its connection to the rest of the country and world. It’s not the distant urban jungle some see it as, but instead, a mirror held up to the rest of the world, and thus, our country as that is what the United States us: a once native, colonial-taken, immigrant-grown, and slave-built nation that’s far from perfect but trying its hardest to build a more perfect union.