Thursday, November 3, 2011

Enamored with....

There are many nouns that would adequately finish that acclamation. For today, I'll focus on my taxi, Harlem, and soul food. My plane ride to New York was uneventful. After reluctantly tearing myself out of my covers this morning at the ungodly hour of 5:30am, I rushed around my tiny apartment gathering odds and ends to prepare for my trip. I had convinced myself that it wasn't that critical to get up sooner because traffic would be a breeze, no one would be at the airport that early and SLC airport is tiny. However, I did forget one tiny detail that made me panic like crazy on my trip to the airport. As a side note, it is INCREDIBLY difficult for a woman to pack a carry-on considering the liquid constraints and no accompanying luggage. At first I was stressing and fretting over it and then I remembered that SLC airport is a joke when it comes to regulations.

On my way to the airport, I stopped for gas and THEN realized what time it was. Oops! I started muttering things to myself as I listened to Tamer Hosni and tried to make it to the airport as quickly as possible. I was determined to make time AND wean myself from my lovely gps. As I arrived I remembered that I had to park and shuttle it in. Oh no! I was so worried that this would take for ever and arrived at the security to my terminal an hour and fifteen minutes before my flight departed. DUMB idea!

My heart was racing and I was starting to panic until I craned my neck to get a glance at the flight departure time of the girls' in front of me in the security line. Their flight left 15 minutes prior to mine. After that, I took a sigh of relief and tried to calm my anxiety until I arrived at my gate. After flying through security, I briskly walked to my gate and actually waited for 20 minutes before my plane boarded and then waited an additional 25 minutes on the plane before departure.

I had a mini victory when the woman who was supposed to sit next to me asked me to surrender my isle seat for the middle seat and I smiled and kindly declined. I assured her that I wanted my seat and almost didn't feel bad because I knew that she too wanted the seat. Despite two hours of turbulence during the flight, I slept for much of the trip. The night before I made a grocery store run at 12:00AM and was quite exhausted.

Upon arriving at JFK, I walked to the exit and got in line for a taxi. I have never had a taxi in the United States in part because they are ridiculously expensive and also due to my rural upbringing. I got a jeep cab and sat in it just as though I were in Jordan. I maintained similar etiquette as a passenger and tried not to make too much conversation or eye contact with my driver. From my observations and assumptions, I think he was Pakistani or a light Indian. He had a slight British accent, which I would assume is from his English aquisition origins. From his appearance, I also made the inference that he was Muslim because he wore conservative Islamic looking clothes, and medium length beard. Also, when a Sikh driver crossed our path, he wasn't particularly warm to him.

Since my first exposure to NYC as an adult was through the subway system, I was entranced by the beauty of the bridges that we crossed. I think we crossed over the Hudson River. As we passed the houses, I was intrigued by their awkward shapes. They seemed to be sucking in their walls in attempts to maintain their distance from the other houses. Some of the houses reminded me of Germany, while others just made me smile to be back in NYC.

When I arrived at my hotel, I registered with Opportunity Nation and received my key to my room. It is a DREAM! I have a king size bed of which I occupy about 1/4, a large plasma screen TV, and other basic room amenities. The whole hotel is smart and edgy and one night stay is equivalent to a low end of $290. After jumping into my beautiful bed to soak in a small portion of my enjoyment, I set off to walk the streets and find somewhere to eat dinner.

As I wondered, I immediately came across a falafel stand. Although I wanted to order something from the stand, I knew I wouldn't get a receipt for a reimbursement and I knew that I should try something different. As I scanned the signs, my eyes were caught by "Soul Food." earlier this year, I went on a date with a young man who said that his favorite food was soul food. I had never heard of that before and showed my ignorance by asking him if he was pulling my leg. No, he wasn't! Soul food is another name for Southern food that is renowned for it's delicious flavor and grease.

As I peered into the restaurant, I wondered what kind of an adventure I was about to embark on. I followed behind a woman and watched her as she pulled a plastic container off of the top of the glass shelves above the buffet of hot dishes. I followed suit and pulled down a plastic container for myself and quickly realized that the names were insufficient to explain whether or not there were pork products in the food. I asked a young man for some clarification and received a quick list of all of the do's and do not's of halal soul food. It was impressive to me how helpful and understanding he was and it made me smile that New Yorkers had the exposure necessary to understand and respect people from different backgrounds and beliefs.

While talking to a friend the other week, he indirectly challenged me to be open minded and try new foods because it is a form of embracing and learning something valuable and beautiful about another culture. It was my intention to embrace as much African American culture as I possibly could! As I almost blindly piled food that looked appetizing onto my plate, the young man who helped me before approached me and said "Just in case you wanted to know, that big brown thing on your plate is a crab cake." I looked at him gratefully and realized just how out of place I must have looked in this small establishment. I was truly a sight and some watched me intently with amusement. Some of the foods that I tried include: collard greens, crab cake, crab salad, a delicious orange rice with beef, deep fried bananas and a vegetable and noodle dish that was sensational! I considered going home to my hotel room, but decided that I would benefit more by soaking in the environment and enjoying a little piece of New York.

My little spot was near a window with a poor view of the neighboring building's wall and a small patch of cracked cement. I quickly lost interest and instead watched the people in the restaurant. Sociology is truly influencing the way that I view human interactions and environments. The local news was on and several others were enjoying their meals in the room. The ceiling was painted like the heavens with clouds and a bright blue sky. I wonder why. When I ate as much as I could pack in my stomach, I reorganized my containers and thanked the clerk at the front desk as I left. My stomach smiled from within. I can fully attest that Soul food is INCREDIBLE!

When I got back to my apartment, I prepared for the Opportunity Nation night at the Apollo theater. Little did I know that some people actually have this theater on their bucket lists. I had never heard of it before and there I was, privileged enough to attend an event at it. It was first established in 1914 and has played an important role in the history of Harlem. Philicia Rashad opened the night. When she walked on stage, I recognized her face, but had no idea who she was. Just in case you are as lost as I was, she was on the Cosby Show. The crowd roared with cheers and the young women in front of me were clearly star struck. Rashad is clearly a woman of respect and grace. She spoke of the importance of education and promoted the arts and creativity. She stated that opportunity begins with a thought. Innovation begins with an idea that is expanded and developed until it becomes a reality. Thank you, Philicia Rashad for telling me to think big and pursue my intuition.

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