The popular song, "I’ll Be There for You," which comes from a certain popular sitcom means a lot more to my friend and I than it probably should. Especially when it’s the sole reason to make a surprise trip cross country to see the song performed in a musical. But what was supposed to be an adventure for our obsession for "Friends" soon became a quest to explore as much of the Big Apple as was possible in the two full days and one night we had afforded to us.
I’d like to say that we woke immediately with the coming of morning, that the first rays of dawn’s light woke us and we were ready to go. But then I’d be very wrong.
Instead, while Qua woke up with the correct alarm, I remained in bed for an hour more trying to catch more sleep before our long day in the city. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to sleep any longer and so got dressed and ready, and soon we both were out the door.
Our first stop?
A bakery that was in some guy’s basement. Yeah, I’m not joking. It was right there, beneath his house, with a line coming out of his basement. But the cookies were actually some of the best cookies that I’ve yet to have -- and they looked like deformed rocks. And don’t get me started on their milk, my Lord it was amazing.
Once our stomachs were compressed upon our waistbands, we marched on towards Strawberry Fields -- a memorial in Central Park dedicated to the life and memory of the late John Lennon -- but to do so, we had to pass the same place where is life was tragically taken: the Dakota. We even passed the entrance where Mark David Chapman robbed the world of one of the best musicians that has ever lived. It was sort of eerie as Qua and I both craned our necks up to take in the entire length of the grandeur of this apartment complex.
So you can believe me when I say that Central Park was a breath of fresh air and sunlight and wonder. It is kind of unsettling that so much wilderness can exist in a city as big as New York, but there it is, situated between Eighth Avenue to the west and Fifth Avenue to the east topped by 110th street to the north and bordered by 59th street to the south.
Stepping within this fantastical escape from the concrete jungle only adds to the allure of the Big Apple because the metropolis is so much more than just skyscrapers fighting for space in the sky -- there is nature and where there is nature there lies a certain sense of hope and wonder.
From the view atop the Rockefeller Center the park seems very minuscule compared to the entire city, but once actually inside it, you forget that you are actually at the center of one of the world’s leading centers of thought and art and activity.
While here, Qua and I listened to several covers of John Lennon’s popular songs and went to Belvedere Castle -- yes, there is an actual castle in New York City, so you already know I was climbing to the highest tower -- and actually sat on the fountain that the "Friends" TV show opening theme was inspired by. We even went off the trail together in our attempt to find a bathroom. Just so you know, do not ever do that because there are some aggressive squirrels in those woods.
Once we concluded our journey into the wilderness, we decided to find our way into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the MET, where we were graced with the chance at viewing some of the most amazing sculptures and paintings to ever come from the human mind.
There were statues heralding all the way from when Western Civilization only consisted of the Greek and Roman perspective to ornate paintings originating from the Renaissance -- from Italy and England and France -- to raw and beautiful fixtures created by the indigenous tribes of the Americas, Oceania and Africa to abstract lines and color used as an expression of artistic achievement in the modernist era.
Each piece was breathtaking and begged the question of how it could have been created as both Qua and I compared our own artistic abilities to that of the artist and mutually decided that we could never.
After we finished our two hours in the MET, we walked our way to a bagel shop hoping to get a taste of what is so special about the bagels here. It’s worth mentioning that Qua almost lost her life on the crosswalk on the way there as she thought our walk sign was on at the same time that a bus came charging down the street.
Luckily and thankfully and fortunately and just every kind of good ‘-ly’, some instinct took over in her and she raced to the opposite end of the street before the bus could claim her as its victim and keeled over for her breath as some strange man sputtered at her with what could have been anger or exasperation. It was hard to tell.
But when we finally got to the bagel shop, I think Qua and I were both grateful to be off of our legs -- especially her since she’d just had a near-death experience. As we mulled over our bagels, you can believe that the topic of conversation was most certainly recounting every second of what had just happened back on that street. The conversation even stretched to when we left the shop and made our way to Columbia University.
Yes, Qua and I decided to explore the campus of an Ivy League school and be surrounded by what will most likely be the world’s next leaders. And just like with Central Park, Columbia University quite literally transports you to another world entirely. The beautiful architecture of the campus swallows up the haze of the towers behind it as the typical idea of what an American university takes shape with the multiple dorm halls scattered around the lawn with classroom buildings dwarfing them and the library situated at the helm of it all.
There were students everywhere: lounging on the stairs, walking to and from class, reading on the lawn, playing soccer, and doing homework. The two of us decided to walk through the library and our breaths caught in our throats and our gazes became trapped by the busts set under spotlights and by the towering cases of books that stretched towards the domed ceiling. There was a skylight perched in the middle of the dome.
Later, we found our way back to the subway station and rode all the way back to Harlem to change for the musical that night. After quickly taking showers and getting ready, we took the subway all the way to St. Luke’s Theatre on 308 West 46th Street to see the reason that we had recklessly bought tickets for this trip in the first place.
And it was worth every penny.
The show creatively tied all 10 seasons of Qua and my favorite show into one two-hour musical experience. All six of the actors nailed their parts correctly -- from Landon Zwick’s excellent ability at reenacting Ross’s stammering sadness to Katie Johantgen’s correct quirky performance of Phoebe to Patricia Sabulis’s power of commanding her enduring act as Rachel that dominated as much as it did in the original show (especially when she would mutter, “Well yeah.”).
The sets reflected the same sets of the authentic inspiration and it made me want to sit on THE orange couch and walk through Monica’s iconic door and bask in the friendship between all six of the people onstage.
Despite the musical being a parody on the show, the jokes scattered throughout the entire thing made me love the show even more, even with its drawbacks and flaws. The humor directed towards the TV show was not meant to make fun of the source material, but rather posed as a sort of social commentary on the art of it and it was funny. There is no denying that.
The case for why the two of us abandoned all sense of responsibility to conquer the Big Apple lived up to its reasoning. Even if the original cast could not take part in it.
After the show, the two of us also got pictures with everyone from the cast besides Seth Blum (Chandler) and Lisa Graye (Monica). And for dinner, we decided to try our luck and ventured into Little Italy.
I forget the exact name of the restaurant we decided to eat at, but man was it the best Italian food that I have ever had. I ate the pasta primavera and Qua had the ravioli and for dessert, we shared the tiramisu. When we finished, when we left the restaurant, we asked the help of three locals who had just graduated from NYU for the best subway back to Times Square. In hindsight, we both wish that we had hung out with those three since they asked us to, but alas, we were more worried about getting home then exploring the party scene of the City.
So, we get back home, change, and take Claire up on her offer: to go up on the roof of the brownstone and look out on the views of our little part of New York City. And here is my description for that experience that I wrote down in my Fiction Writing journal:
“I am sitting on the roof, allowing my feet to swing four stories above the street -- they lightly kick against the edifice of the building. There is no garden up here. There is only asphalt up here and the light breeze coming from the Hudson River. On the wind, the sounds of the city life below say hello to me like a plastic cup being shoved ceremoniously into my hand after walking into a party: the excited murmurs from people who must be tourists, the constant honks of the taxi cabs, the pattering of shoes on concrete. Past the brownstone across the street, I can make out the very top of the George Washington Bridge and the moon perches itself just right behind it.”
That night, Qua, Claire, and I climbed a ladder and sat out on top of a brownstone in the middle of Manhattan. How many people can say in their lives that they have had this amazing experience? Barely any. This was the moment where I knew that this trip was totally worth spending over five hundred dollars for. It will forever be a moment that will be seared into my memories.
With our feet hanging over the edge of the building, our breaths fogging the night air, and our words becoming lost on the wind coming from the river, the three of us discussed our plans for our last full day in the best city in the world.