About Kingston’s Short Stories: In this series, I’ll be sharing one story from every year of my life. The stories may at times seem mundane, but its these day to day occurrences that define us. A lesson is then pulled from each story.
Needing Them More Then They Need Me
When I was 21 and in my last year of college, I was pretty dead set on being an accountant. Competition for jobs was stiff though. And whenever I met with an employer in the field, I could sense they knew that they had the upper hand and that I was a dime a dozen. They knew I needed them more then they needed me.
As summer approached I struggled to find employment, normally for college students an internship in their related field. This was my last summer as a college boy so I felt I had to make it count. With my inability to find anything, my reasoning went that I needed to expand that search both in geographic terms and the scope of what the internship was to be about.
In my school (University of Nevada) it was implied that newly minted graduates would work in public accounting in the Cali-Nevada region with few exceptions.
How to Create Options
I broadened that scope, which that summer, led me to working as a government accounting intern in Upstate New York.
Wanting something productive for that summer was part of the motivation, but another part was a sense of adventurism.
I didn’t know much about New York, all I really knew was NYC and the Niagara Falls. Both of which I wanted to get up close and beholden with my own eyes.
Which I did during that summer with both spots being valuable experiences. The first spot was New York City which I visited before the internship even started.
Due Diligence: A Must Before A Solo Trek
I learned from my day tripping experiences last summer as an exchange student in Shanghai that these solo trekking adventures require a lot of pre-planning to make them viable.
So as I was looking through and doing my “due diligence”, I was flabbergasted by the expenses of a visit to NYC. After unsuccessfully finding a coach surfing host, I decided to have no living accommodation booked and to just wing it when I got there.
To further cut costs, I brought with me 2 jars of peanut butter and 2 apples which would be my food for the next 3 days.
So with what I had mapped out, I took an Amtrak train from Rome, NY (near Syracuse) down to the Big Apple which took about 6 hours.
I arrived with my “3 day supplies of food” ready to do a lot of walking once I got to Penn Station. It wasn’t possible to get very far on foot, but I remember strolling through,
- Madison Square Garden
- Central Park
- The Upper East Side
- The Rockefeller Building
There was a light drizzle that May throughout this sightseeing and I used “The Top of The Rock” (Rockefeller Building) as some cover from the elements.
“Getting It For Free”
When I was inside the building, I was surprised that you needed to purchase a ticket to see the top of the building. In my dismay, I was about to turn and leave.
I got a tap on the shoulder.
“Hey” A female voice called out.
I turned and saw a middle aged woman with a friendly smile.
“Need a ticket.” She continued.
A bit taken aback, I simply nodded.
The lady handed me a ticket, waved and turned to rejoin the troop of students she was leading.
I looked down at the ticket.
“Student Age 14-17”
“Yeah Boi! ” I thought to myself with glee. “I get my stuff for free! “
I rushed behind the group of high school students queuing up to blend in as one of them.
Very pleased with myself, I wandered around the mini museum that was part of the experience before taking the fancy elevator up to the iconic NYC landmark.
As the elevator doors opened, it was strangely quiet. And I saw,
It was a foggy, drizzling day which meant you couldn’t see anything from atop the building. Disappointed, I asked the friendly security officer what would be a better day to visit. We struck up a nice chit chat before I left.
All By My Lonesome
Dusk was slowly setting in now thoughts of where I would be sleeping that night steadily creeped up as I wandered Times Square.
By nightfall the exhilaration of being in the Big Apple began dying down. Times Square was crowded with seemingly happy people and I wasn’t included.
When an energetic man dressed as Spiderman jumped in front of me seeing if I wanted to take a selfie, I shook my head and scurried away.
My pre-planning included finding a homeless shelter to stay in near Chinatown. I took the subway to head over there.
By the time I got to Chinatown it was dark and the rain was coming down heavier. I began staring at dry street corners as I walked. Contemplating whether those cement floors would serve as my bed for the night and if so, praying to God/Buddha or whoever would listen that I don’t get robbed or molested when sleeping.
The ‘5 Star’ Experience
I got to the pin of the homeless shelter I had saved on Google Maps and walked inside.
The fellow working the desk said all the beds were full and that I should have came earlier. It was around 8PM now, I gave him a heartbroken look, dropped my head in defeat and walked out the door like a stray dog.
I took several paces outside. Then an idea struck me.
I went back inside and said,
“Hey man, you know anyplace that can take me in for the night?”
The fellow gave me an empathetic look and handed me a flyer with a name and address.
“Mainchance” was the name of the place.
He gave me subway directions and I headed over there.
When I got to Mainchance asking for a place to stay, they greeted me with a security screening followed by asking if the bottle I always carry with me was empty. In my childlike innocence I didn’t understand they were asking about alcohol.
After they had said “Yes,” I shook the security guard’s hand vigorously, grateful to have a roof over my head.
After getting settled in to the reclining chair that would be my bed, my thoughts turned to my phone. Battery was dead from the days adventures and I needed to charge it. I hadn’t contacted my mamma all day and she was likely worried.
To my horror, none of the outlets worked as I began frantically plugging my phone into all visible outlets, much to the bewilderment of the “real homeless” I would be living with for the next 3 days.
Out of pity, a few of the guys helped me out and we eventually found a working charger. Out of gratitude, I offered them “my precious,” a mostly eaten jar of peanut butter.
They politely declined.
With a phone with some juice, I stepped outside to make a quick call home.
Mom gave me the useful lecture of a worried mother, another family member teased, asking me of I was staying in a 5 star hotel as I had been so secretive of the trip (no comment) before my mom began being a bit more pushy in wanting to know where I was staying.
“Uh… (imitate static), your breaking up mom, gotta go!”
I hung up to return to my “bed.”
I was roused early next morning around 5AM with only few hours of sleep, unacclimated to the new environment. They were kicking everybody out for the day. They fed us breakfast first though, I got a hard boiled egg, best egg I ever ate in my life.
The next few days, I was easily tired from the lack of food, lack of sleep (heck Mainchance dragged us out for a fire drill when it was 3AM one night) and a lot of walking.
But I got to see what I wanted to see, which included:
- The Statue of Liberty
- Ellis Island
- Newark, NJ
- Staten Island
- Wall Street
- The Brooklyn Bridge
Among other things.
I fell asleep on the train ride back to Rome and after another long walk back to where I was staying, plopped onto the bed to sleep.
The Importance of “貴人”
When I was 20 and an exchange student in China, I discovered my love of solo trekking. During my trek to NYC at 21, I learned that you can’t do it all by yourself. There are just too many factors in play when you are a stranger in a strange city. Something is bound to go wrong. In such instances, you need the kindness of a stranger. In my Big Apple adventure, it came in the form of,
- The school teacher that gave me a free ticket
- The front desk man that pointed me to a homeless shelter that had space
- The 2 guys in the shelter that helped me find an outlet for my phone
My mom calls them “貴人” (literally “valuable people”) that help you out along the way.
“No Man Is An Island” they say. And I would find that out firsthand in subsequent treks into:
But these are stories for a different time.
Approach strangers on a back foot, but never underestimate human kindness.