Three hours into the flight to JFK and eight hours into the new year, I give in. My brother holds out a barf bag and I lose my dignity into it.
I make ragged apologies between spewing while the stranger next to me shifts uncomfortably and averts his eyes. This is already turning into an interesting trip.
Weeks before, I received a work email inviting me to participate in the Nasdaq opening ceremony for the first market opening of 2015. I thought I had been included by mistake and promptly ignored it until asked in person whether I was going.
How could I turn down an opportunity like that? I’d be helping promote the Microsoft Band while kicking off Nasdaq’s Fitness Week.
Since my brother Matt was scheduled to visit me at the time, he agreed to overcome his dislike of travel and accompany me to New York City.
The whole morning of departure played out like one of my many flu-fueled fever dreams from the last couple days – I got lost on the way to the usual airport parking. My parking reservation didn’t go through. We barely made our flight. And now I’m throwing up on the plane.
Upon landing, it’s clear I need to recuperate before we can hit the town. We catch a cab to the CitizenM, an ultra-modern hotel near Times Square. The trendy lobby has no desk, only a self check-in kiosk midst the background buzz of socializing, and the small room embodies chic European minimalism.
Next to the king-size bed overlooking the city is a tablet to control the mood lighting, blinds, TV, alarm, etc. We briefly set the theme to “Party” and zone out to shifting colors. True to name, the “rain shower” feels like standing in a gentle downpour and offers different shampoos for AM and PM. Even the pen invites you to steal it.
I’m in love, but it’s a reserved hipster love that acknowledges the other’s hipness with a cool nod.
It’s Matt’s first encounter not just with New York City but with the East Coast in general. I think my excitement on his behalf outweighs his own.
“It’s your first subway ride!” I squeal as we squeeze into the crush of humans on the downtown-bound line to West Village. We explore Washington Square Park, eat pizza on our feet at Joe’s (as seen in Spiderman?), and watch an intimate screening of Song of the Sea (currently only showing in two locations worldwide) at IFC.
The next morning we’re woken by the “Wild” alarm. The lights turn on, with the mood lights set to red, and the TV plays jungle sounds. I try not to remind myself that it’s 3am PST.
As I put on my purple dress (for the band’s theme colors), I discover I had grabbed my black exercise shorts instead of tights when packing. Sickness has a way of turning me into a deranged zombie.
I would rather not walk through the icy streets with bare legs, so Matt volunteers his black long johns for the task. They fit surprisingly well, so long as I wear them a particular way.
This is how I find myself walking through Manhattan wearing my brother’s underwear. On backwards.
Early morning Times Square is still strewn with the remains of Near Year’s Eve celebrations, eerily quiet before the influx of tourists. At the Nasdaq headquarters, I’m expecting some kind of trading floor or offices, but unlike the more old-fashioned NYSE, all the trading is done electronically. The entirety of the place is a lobby and TV studio on the ground floor.
I wonder once again how I’ve ended up here while I chat with all the senior executives and leads from our group. Even my young female representation isn’t crucial, since most people have lady guests. I just go along with it and try to soak everything in, ogling the fancy camera equipment and lights.
While we wait for our cue, a photographer takes pictures of us at the podium. My turn comes just after I stuffed a bagel in my mouth. I manage to pause chewing long enough to smile.
Finally, the coordinator tells us to take our places. I’m scuttling across the back of the stage to the far end when they give the cameras rolling cue. I end up stuck in the middle, just behind our towering VP.
We’re instructed to clap and cheer for 2 minutes, an interminably long time to maintain maximal enthusiasm. On the TV screens behind the cameras, we see images of us being broadcast on all 3 major news networks.
“Ringing the bell” entails hitting a touchscreen button reading “Markets Open”. Oh, Nasdaq, you so modern and hip.
After the big moment, the coordinator takes us outside, where all the photos from earlier are being displayed on a 6-story high screen. Including my awkward bagel moment. Definitely surreal to see your image blown up so big and public.
I pick up Matt at the hotel (“I never want to leave this bed!” he says) and we meet back up with the group for a fancy lunch. Spirits are high.
With all these oh-so-grueling work responsibilities over, we have the rest of the weekend for pure tourism. In this spirit, we visit the New York Public Library (where are all the books?!), attend MOMA Free Friday, stare at the corpse of Lonesome George and learn about pterosaurs at the Natural History Museum, escape the sleet and snow with warm sandwiches at Say Cheese, and see Matilda on Broadway.
Mostly we just merge into the non-stop flow of the city and pound the pavement, racking up 10 miles a day in the cold while still sick.
Since neither of us thrive in urban environments, we keep being drawn back to Central Park with its trees and open sky. In fact, we were so desperate to avoid the city streets that when we overhear some tourists talking about the “Home Alone bridge”, we make it our quest to find it… despite the fact that we have no idea what it looks it.
Since we’re transitioning off the company dime, I switch to an even less expensive hotel, the gothic themed Night Hotel. Our room smells like cigarettes and I miss the CitizenM.
When the concierge offers to get us a cab to JFK for a flat flee, we end up with the classic New York cab driver from hell. He leans on the horn as he weaves between cars, cuts people off, and intentionally drives down turn lanes to cut people off some more. We get to the airport in record time, but he refuses to accept my credit card and takes the last of my cash with no receipt.
I’m too tired to protest.