Stranded in New York City

Courtesy of Tristan Lim

Courtesy of Tristan Lim

I was wearing a sweater, two jackets, a trench coat, snow gloves, boots and a scarf. I was shivering.

Walking to Starbucks, I read on my phone, “historic blizzard,” “three feet worth of snow” and “strong winds.” All flights were canceled and a state of emergency was issued. I had a midterm to take.  I was panicking. I was stuck in New York.

When I was an aspiring and determined senior in high school, I made an extensive list of universities I wanted to attend. Columbia and New York University were on the list. I pictured myself standing in Times Square wearing either an “NYU” or “Columbia” sweatshirt. Choosing to go to UC Irvine, I told myself I would simply visit the Big Apple, but I never predicted I would visit for a competition.

I joined the UC Irvine Mock Trial team in the fall of 2014. Since the day I received my acceptance email, I have been constantly traveling during the weekends for tournaments in Newport Beach, San Diego, Santa Barbara and now, New York.

The picturesque view of “the City that Never Sleeps” did not initially stand out in the first few hours of my arrival early in the morning. Numerous buildings appeared outdated and were covered in graffiti during the drive to the hotel. The traffic on the interstates appeared much worse than those in Los Angeles. The freezing weather had me constantly whispering to myself, “I wish I was back in California.” It felt foreign and extremely alien, this new weather and environment, but I realized that the team might not have this opportunity to travel to New York next year.

Within the first few minutes of arriving at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott, I immediately noticed the abundance of traffic. Hordes of people were rushing to get to their next destination, signaling the closest cab or entering the nearest subway station. The incessant car honks that echoed throughout the city compelled me to cover my ears. Taxicabs and cars hardly waited for groups of people to completely cross the street, getting closer as more of the group was on the sidewalk or driving in between groups of people.

The ubiquity and frequency in which people disobeyed traffic signals, even the police officers, amazed me. The stop sign on a crosswalk was hardly or never obeyed. Most people knew that the “walk” sign would turn on and could not wait an additional two or three seconds to cross the street. Many of them also saw that no cars were crossing and simply walked across the street. I did not want to be perceived as an alien in New York. I wanted to blend with the crowd, so I allowed myself to bend the rules.

I thought navigating through the subway system in New York would be relatively easy and simple. Once I entered the subway, I had never been so obsessive about directions in my life. I triple-checked to be sure I was on the correct train, even asking other travelers, “Is this the ‘A’ train?” I never sat down on the subway because I wanted to be sure I would arrive at the right stop. I would take snapshots of the directions Google Maps provided, constantly checking them while on the train.

I made a checklist while I was on the plane, nearly filling an entire page of things to do while in New York. Watching Les Misérables on Broadway was at the top.

As soon as I had free time, I rushed to Times Square to get a ticket to the earliest show. I was nearly tempted to cross “Broadway” off my checklist because of the price of admission, but I did not know if I would ever come back to New York.  I told myself the experience needed to come first and proceeded to buy the $73 ticket.

It was a decision I didn’t regret.

The resounding sound of the actors and actresses’ voices filled the entire theater. I enjoyed listening to the lyrics of the song and connecting them to the overall plot of the story. The way in which the actors maintained their tone and kept it in a final flourish of sound amazed me. I had tears in my eyes throughout the entire performance.

As the final day of my trip came around, a blizzard halted my return to California. The Mock Trial team would be stranded in New York for an extra two days.

The team did not plan staying an extra two days. There was no agenda at this point. I found it to be a blessing in disguise.

With the exception of a missed midterm, I felt relaxed. I found myself exploring the Big Apple. I visited one of my dream law schools, Columbia University. I explored the massive Central Park. I roamed a very perplexing city, feeling free and unrestrained.