Couchsurfing in New York City
I stepped off of the Chinatown bus from Philadelphia into the busy streets of east Manhattan. I was wearing a top hat, a vest, and a new white cotton button-down shirt. I pretended to be in every way ready for the city life and whatever would come my way. I looked up at high buildings that positioned themselves directly where I have grown accustom to seeing blue sky and tried to convince myself that I would make the most of this urban adventure.
I still did not have a place to live, and the Couchsurfing network saved the day. Well, a girl named Carley saved the day. “Yeah,” she wrote, “you can stay with me. You will be my first couchsurfer. I am excited.” So was I. The tender prospect of a place to sleep routs out most fears of the impeding, ever-coming night.
I met Carley in the evening at the Greenpoint Cafe which was located, quite logically, in the Greenpoint district of Brooklyn. I walked through the doors and saw the red headed girl from the couchsurfing photos standing right before me. She was smiling a big welcoming smile and recognized me without difficulty. We offered each other big greetings and she fed me a grilled cheese sandwich before getting back to her cafe duties. It has been a long time since I had the opportunity to eat a plate of USA diner style grilled cheese. I must say that there are few foods on the planet as soothing to a hungry vagabond.
The Greenpoint cafe was dimly lit and was full of young kids who possessed the glen of the self professed artist. A little girl was also running manically around the room jumping over chair, table, and waitress. This was a good place. I read a little from a book as one should do when feeling slightly awkward in a cafe with full knowledge that an impending social situation was on the verge of happening.
Carley soon came over to me and sat down at my table. We drank tea and talked and smiled. It did not take me long to realize that I had made my first friend in Brooklyn. She then led back to her place and we talked around her kitchen table about whatever oddball thing that came to mind, watched a movie, and went to sleep. Couchsurfing is good if you want to make friends.
The next night I met red headed Carley at the cafe at mid-night and she gave me a cup of tea and a beer. I drank both and met some of her friends. They liked to smile and I soon found myself with a group of fun kids in a bar in Greenpoint. We laughed, drank, and talked. Carley, who is wonderfully very direct in her questions and honest in her responses, nearly slugged a bullshit artist who tried impressing us with his art talk about studios and studio shows.
Like most NYC artists, the Bullshit Artist had a real job – he was a furniture mover – but I still wished that Carley slugged him all the same. He was a f’cking geek.
(Where is Tomas the Magician when you need him?)
But soon enough Carley, a Baseball Player, and myself were walking down the street with all intentions of ending the night. Then the Baseball Player – who was a real affable, long haired kid who rode bikes and loved being high – mentioned something about how one of his friends said that nearby water tower could be climbed.
“Well lets do it then,” I roared, not thinking that I would be taken seriously.
Carley was serious though when she agreed with me. Baseball Player was hesitant and tried to put us off for another night. It was now around 3AM and the perfect time to sneak into the storage yard of an abandon factory and climb up an old water tower.
“If we don’t do this right now,” Carely spoke, “We never will.”
She was right and we all knew it.
So Baseball Player and myself acted tough as we walked over to the old fenced in lot from which the water rose up more than 300 feet into the air. We jumped over the fence and made way for it’s base. I went first as I tentatively began up one of the tower’s legs to see if it could really be scale. It really could. The first fifty feet of the climb was without a ladder and I maneuvered up the iron lattice that criss-crossed inside of the tower’s leg. Baseball Player ad Carley followed quickly behind. After a few moments of climbing I reached the ladder, which was old and rusty and no more than 18 inches wide.
This was scary.
But we kept climbing anyway. Chunks of rust kept breaking off of the little ladder and falling upon my friends below and the ground – which was by now over 100 ft below. I just looked straight ahead in front of my and tried to think glorious thoughts of nothing as I continued to climb.
Up, Up, Up we went until we were way high up over Brooklyn. I allowed myself for a quick inspection of where I stood and it was awe-striking. I saw the city lights meet the sea over the disused Greenpoint industrial docks, I saw the City stretching endlessly in the other direction, and I saw the ground far, far below. My climbing companions looked like ants on a plants stem as we stuck ourselves to the tiny rust encrusted ladder for dear life. I thought soon came to me that this was stupid. Luckily for my pride Baseball Player had the same inspiration.
“Do you think we can make it?” he yelled up to me.
“I guess so,” I replied very unsure of the validity of my words.
“My legs are shaking,” Baseball player yelled.
Mine were too. “Lets get off this thing and do it another day!” I yelled as good sense overtook me. We were more than halfway up the tower, but we still had a good distance to go. My friends agreed with my proposal. Circumstance had clearly had won the night.
So, with a good deal of effort, we dismounted the old water tower and almost kissed the ground on our return to the good earth. Then I noticed an old fire escape that climbed up the wall of an abandoned factory. I studied it for a second and then realized that we could scamper up the collection of crates that laid stacked up all over the factory yard and catch the bottom of the fire escape and get on top of the roof.
I brought up this proposal and we all agreed that we needed to accomplish something on this mischief night. We then quickly scampered up the crates and easily made it to the stairs of the escape. The climb from here was a cakewalk compared to the water tower. We were now on top of the factory and gazed out upon be-lighted night-time Brooklyn with a tender feeling of satisfaction. We were somewhere that we were not suppose to be, looking out from a vantage point that we were not permitted to access.
From here the Big City looked beautiful.
Happiness filled me at my decision to come to New York. I was having a good time. I had made some good friends. But these moments of euphoria were ever so brief as we saw a car down below with lights on top and NYPD written in big letters across the side.
Shit, we were caught.
The police stepped out of the car and walked over to the fence that caged in the factory yard. They were right below us and their flashlights were blaring in all directions. To descend the ladder and give ourselves up was the general consensus, as we wished to be taken as the harmless trespassers we were rather than thieves. But as we began down the fire escape I realized that no flashlight had yet beamed upon us. The stupid cops had not yet looked right up above their heads.
“They don’t see us do they?” I asked Carley.
“They don’t,” she replied with a touch of excited exasperation.
“Lets hide!” we all exclaimed in unison as we raced back up the stairs and tucked ourselves behind the short brick wall that closed in the roof of the factory. We sat here and I smoked a pipe and Carley and Baseball Player smoked cigarettes. “I don’t think they are going to come up here,” I said to the general agreement of the group. We were all surprisingly calm, as we smoked, told unrelated stories, and made a few jokes. My new friends were good mischief makers. The NYPD soon retreated to their car and drove away empty handed.
I had made good friends, climbed a nighttime water tower, summited the roof of an abandoned factory, and dodged the police.
Couchsurfing in New York City is fun.
Links to previous travelogue entries:
- Philadelphia to New York City
- English Teaching Urumqi Xinjiang China
- Travel Notes Hungary
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