This month, New York City is my Featured Travel Destination. There are obviously an endless number of places in the Big Apple worth writing about. I’ve already profiled the High Line and the Irish Hunger Memorial.
I’ve decided to kick off the month with the personal story of my first New York City experience. It was the summer of 2002, and I had scored a music business internship. I stayed on the Upper West Side at Columbia University, which converts its dorms to summer intern housing.
The Seinfeld Diner & the show’s influence on my view of New York City
My only real NYC frames of reference were the dozens of Seinfeld episodes I had seen. I was addicted to Seinfeld and knew every episode by heart.
So the entire summer ended up becoming one big Seinfeld tribute because everything I saw could be related to the show. When I passed an athletic club, I’d think, that’s the club Jerry and George go to! When I walked to Battery Park, I thought to myself, this is where Kramer’s friend Bob Sacamano sells Russian hats! My first weekend in the city, I experienced the Puerto Rican Day Parade, which had me reliving that episode.
The cool thing about staying at Columbia is that it was right near Tom’s Restaurant on 112th St, which served as the exterior for the diner in Seinfeld where the gang always met up. Eating at Tom’s was wild because I felt like I was in the show. Of course, the interior looked nothing like the diner on the sitcom.
There was a real Soup Nazi, and I always intended to visit his stand, but I never got around to it. NO SOUP FOR ME! I was sad to miss out on that piece of Seinfeld history. But then in 2019, I was wandering the city and look what I stumbled upon: The Soup Nazi restaurant!
Lost in Chinatown: My first morning in New York City
My first time in NYC, I took the overnight Greyhound bus from Pittsburgh. When I got off, I started walking down Broadway towards the Lower East Side. But at one point, I got off track when a diagonal road cut across Broadway. Somehow, I ended up in Chinatown. I was lost and clueless.
After wandering around for a while, I finally stopped into a convenience store and purchased a street map. Silly me for not having one in the first place! I found a nearby Subway (the sandwich shop, not the underground train), grabbed a cold cut combo, examined the map and regained my bearings. Turns out I was just a few blocks from the NYU area where I had intended to go.
Other excitement during my NYC summer: Letterman taping
Work was fun – I helped out with publicity for an agency that represented Sarah McLachlan, Coldplay, Avril Lavigne, Jason Mraz, David Gray, Damien Rice, and a bunch of others. As a result, I got to visit many of the best music venues in NYC for free.
And living on the Upper West Side was fun, because from my 20th floor dorm I could see all of Harlem. Watching all the homemade fireworks in the neighborhood on the Fourth of July was crazy.
Everyday after work in Soho, I’d leave the office and randomly explore a new neighborhood by foot. I hadn’t yet discovered my hipster leanings, so I didn’t make it to Williamsburg – I mostly stuck to Manhattan, whether it was Greenwich Village or Chelsea or Times Square. I soaked up as much of the city as I could.
I blew off work one afternoon to attend a taping of The Late Show with David Letterman. It was my first tv taping (not counting an episode of some MTV beach game show called Sandblast from the mid ‘90s.) The lineup of guests wasn’t the greatest – it was Will Smith, soccer player Landon Donovan, and musician Yo-Yo Ma.
I saw a handful of celebrities during the summer. Nobody huge, but I can say I passed Howard Stern and Johnny Knoxville on the street. This was right after Johnny had appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, so he was a big star at the time. I followed him down Broadway one afternoon and watched as people kept giving him high-fives as he walked but otherwise left him alone. I’m pretty sure I also saw James Van Der Beek in a Mexican restaurant one day.
I also brought my 80-year-old grandmother to NYC for a visit, which was her first time there since the 1940s. She was a ball of energy and ran me and my cousin all over the city. We were worn down and she was still going strong. We walked from Times Square up to Central Park for a horse-drawn carriage ride.
We also did the obligatory Empire State Building visit. The cool thing about having friends and family visit you in NYC is that you get to do the touristy stuff. So I got to check off the Empire State Building early in my NYC tenure, and I never had to do it again.
When the internship ended, I was convinced that I would move to NYC for good by the following year. That never happened, but I still have a special place in my heart for the city and visit as often as possible.