People often travel to far off destinations to “find themselves”, as if there is this destination called epiphany, where everything that never made sense back home will suddenly self-organize. Don’t get me wrong, escapism is a legitimate rejuvenation tactic, and why not escape to a beach in Bermuda while you are at it. I have experienced these rejuvenating moments in exotic locales myself. Like the time I was splashing in the clear blue Pacific Ocean at Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica during sunset, enamored by the reality of my existence at that place at that time to witness such extraordinary beauty. Or the time I woke up one morning in a small village in the hills of East Africa, walked outside the mud house I was staying in to a view of acres of banana plantations misted over by the morning dew. Moments like that make you wish time would stand still.
But my point is that you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a vacation to a far-flung destination in order to find some peace of mind or escape reality. I came by a place like that right here in NYC where I currently live. I love riverside park that runs along the upper west end of Manhattan. Some of my favorite memories are watching the sunset when sitting on the rocks framing the Hudson River and watching some lonely ships pass by, as the New Jersey scrapers on the other side of the shore start to light up. But a couple of nights ago, I decided to venture to the northern end of the park (most Manhattan-ers would scoff at the suggestion of traveling any further north than you have to), something I’ve never done before. It was around 9pm and the park, as well as Riverside Dr, was pretty empty. Around the late 120s, I noticed a lookout post that jutted out of the bridge I was crossing. I ran up to the post and sucked in my breath as I took in the view. And then I started laughing…
I’m not quite sure why I laughed out loud. There was something uplifting about being there; the wind in my air, my favorite song streaming through my iPod, the perfectly warm NYC night. But I think I was laughing partly because of the absurdity of the view- something was just so ridiculous and chaotic about what I was seeing. The traffic fleeting by beneath me; the calm Hudson waters laying right next to the zooming cars. The promiscuous Harlem neighborhood peeking through underneath the bridge I was on. The grandeur of the lit up George Washington bridge right at my eye level. Unglamorous project housing looming up behind me. An obnoxious Heineken billboard parading right above the traffic on Henry Hudson Hwy. The tall Jersey buildings framing the opposite end of the Hudson. The odd mix of textures, intensity, and structures invoked something in me, something about co-existence. About different things, places, people living side by side in their true and unique forms. When you see all of these things together, it doesn’t make much sense, but it was still magnificent and it told a story. It tells a story about the city that it’s a part of, and NYC is truly a tale of co-existence.
I climbed up on top of the stone railing and sat up on the post. To a passerby, I probably looked suicidal but the feeling I had was of being on top of the world. It was right out a movie. I felt a pressing urge to stand up on the stone ledge and yell something ridiculous like “Hello World”, or indulge myself in a Titanic-esque moment. But equally pressing was my fear of heights. After some minutes of contemplation, I stepped down. Maybe one day… I will be able to stand up and yell “Hello World”. Until then, I know I’ve found a sanctuary. I’ve found a place to escape to right in the city that bewilders the heck out of me. It should tide me over until my next exotic vacation.