My personal and work life have been clashing lately. After some impulsive decision making and financial analysis, I signed a job offer for a pretty cool startup here in Prague. And though I didn't officially begin working for them for another two weeks, they were eager to send me to NYC to cover the social media around a pretty big conference they were hosting . Work aside, I had a great time exploring the city on my own and partying with a pal of mine who was also there on business. But when asked about my experience in the Big Apple, I can't help but unleash a couple of truly astonishing discoveries.
I was nervous when I got off the plane at JFK airport. I had a backpack and a bright red carry-on that matched the red beret on my head. As I approached customs my stomach turned. It had been almost a year since I'd set foot on American soil and the atmosphere was already suffocating me.
"How long have you been out of The States, m'am?" Since late January of this year.
"What were you doing in Europe?" Working.
"What do you work?" I'm a writer. Copywriter.
"Welcome to New York, Miss Laguna."
Welcome to New York.
Though I arrived on Wednesday, I didn't actually get to soak up any of the truly American atmosphere until Friday, once the conference was actually over. I had planned to shop and see some of the financial district that day, but because of an incident with my phone, I didn't get to do any of that. That's right, I lost -- and found -- my iPhone 5 in a Yellow Cab taxi. It cost me $50 to pick it up from the garage in Queens, but the fact that I got it back is already a miracle enough. At least I got to see a tiny section of Queens (Coming to America checklist, complete!).
What's more, I soon discovered that my Czech credit card was not functional and American cards were empty. So, with just $50 left in my pocket (from my dad!), I roamed around Southern Manhattan looking for something interesting to stare at, try on, taste, whatever. As I strolled down the noisy streets, I noticed that people were watching me. People in stores, people walking, people on phones... it was becoming very uncomfortable. I had gone to New York with the vision of all those movies where the women dress in fuzzy 90's and 80's bomber jackets, men have beautiful and trendy hair cuts, kids are running around in designer jeans! But all I saw in the real-life New York City was a bunch of gray blurs. Only one or two of those folks you see on HONY, no glamorous women from Sex and the City (thought there was a middle aged woman decked out in 2005 Burberry flannel), none of those sexy businessmen that the style bloggers always seem to be getting on about. There I was walking around in my bulky leopard print coat, a lavender floral print midi skirt, red lips, red beret, and boots. I was drawing attention to myself like blood on a newspaper. Sure, I got a few compliments from salespeople, but I'm pretty sure they were just saying all of that to make a sale.
Beaten by the high school reminder that I "dress weird," I rushed into the nearest restaurant. A place called Taka Taka welcomed me with a quirky menu of Mexican-Japanese fusion. Defeated by the inability to connect to any sort of wifi (by the way, I don't have a phone at this point so we're talking computer in a backpack) and the fact that I had to borrow money from my parents, I asked the waitress for a recommendation from the menu. "I'd like something hot because my throat hurts." The waitress said her name was something like Lenka and began to recommend a few things from the menu.
"Dis one is goot one... I like dis also, it is having a lot of flavors..."
"Where are you from?" I asked as she trailed off into the fifth menu item.
"I am originally from the Czech Republic."
I broke into Slovak. She immediately relaxed and gave me that smile that Europeans in America always give each other when they realize just how much they miss home. She was excited to tell me I was the first Slovak or Czech person she'd met at work in five years. We chatted on as my food arrived, mostly about her relationships and how it is to live in such a busy city. She obviously yearned for home, always asking more and more about Prague. I gave her my email and told her to reach me on Facebook if she wanted to get drinks later. She never emailed or Facebook messaged me.
Welcome to America.
That night I went out with a buddy also from across the Atlantic. On this particular trip, he came to the city from California, where he's been living for several years now. He said he wanted to "show me the ropes" of some of the bar scene in Manhattan. As my cab pulled up in front of his hotel lobby, I noticed his long gray overcoat and pretty leather shoes. I was under dressed again. Uh oh...
We got gin and tonics at the hotel bar to catch up before venturing out into the night. It became quickly apparent that my choice of bright blue tights (and matching eyeliner) was a few degrees too inappropriate for the crowd at Ace Hotel.
As he took me from bar to bar I tried to avoid the annoying small talk by asking plenty of questions. I could tell that America had changed him, but maybe only on the outside. A successful career in digital may have changed his appearance, but at the core he's just the same humble boy from Slovakia, longing to feel just a little bit of home. We continued our conversations in Slovak.
The night took a few turns as we slid from a hotel bar to an underground birthday bash. No matter where we went, I was immensely under dressed in my black jersey shift dress and hot pink lipstick. My buddy, however, continued to turn heads in his figure slimming coat and geeky-chic glasses.
Overall I had a good time exploring some of the higher-end night scene with this mystery man whose name pops up on my Newsfeed occasionally. Funny, but with him was the first time I'd gotten my ID checked and accepted on American soil. Yay for being 21!
The rest of my trip consisted of many taxi rides and lonely roaming of the shops and streets. The skyline is one of the most spectacular sights I've ever seen in my life! The Empire State Building is a shockingly amazing place once you get passed the overpriced snacks and tired video you're forced to watch before entering the tower! The people are unlike any other Americans I have ever met! And that's exactly what I learned on my trip to New York's capital. It's unlike any other place in the United States of America. It's a city without love.
To be continued...