I don’t like large cities. I wish I did, but I don’t. I recently discovered that places like New York City overwhelm me to the point of tears. Maybe that’s because my parents raised me in Lancaster, and we rarely ventured into historic downtown Lancaster City. Or, maybe it’s because I’m introverted, and too many people over stimulate me. Either way, I am so happy my parents chose Lancaster and not a large city to raise a family.
I went to NYC for the first time in December 2015. Somehow, I had made it through 17 years of living only a few hours from the “Big Apple” without ever visiting the bustling city. So, when a close friend invited me to tagalong on her trip to see the Rockefeller Center in all of its Christmas glory, without hesitation, I said “yes.” I was so naïve and innocent back then.
My friend and I, alongside her mother and a family friend, woke up around 4 a.m. and piled into a conversion van with a driver that we had rented for the day. We grabbed our caramel macchiatos and white chocolate mochas from the local Starbucks and began our drive to the infamous city. The car ride was quiet – as a car ride should be when the sun hasn’t even risen yet.
Our driver, a very nice old man, dropped us off in Times Square. If I’m being honest, which I typically am, Times Square is overrated. I don’t know what I expected, but large mascots walking around trying to cop $50 from unsuspecting tourists was not it. Giant screens projecting half-naked women and advertisements for peanut M&Ms flashed everywhere, and suddenly I missed the simplicity of Lancaster’s Penn Square.
Between running away from life-sized Nemos and Buzz Lightyears and trying not to get hit by a car, we managed to make our way to the ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Center. The scene in the movie Elf where the main characters, Buddy and Jovie, have their first date slipped into my mind, and at that moment, I wished that I had Will Ferrell by my side to scream some sort of Christmas carol in my ear. We didn’t skate, but simply watched as small children wiped out on the ice and threw tantrums – Ah, the spirit of Christmas.
From there we ventured onto Union Square’s Holiday Market. Vendors lined the square, selling anything from Nutella-flavored hot chocolate to socks decorated with pictures of Australian cattle dogs (which I actually bought as a Christmas gift for my dad). We slowly collected gifts for our families and friends, avoiding the overpriced gimmicks – which was much harder to do than one would think. By the time we left the market, we all carried bags filled with figurines, watches and, of course, socks.
Because our stomachs were rumbling embarrassingly loud, we made our way to an Irish pub for lunch. We enjoyed the warmth of the restaurant and the chance to sit down after hours of walking around. As much as I wanted to stay in the cozy pub and hide from the bitter wind, my group and I continued our excursion of the most popular city in the United States.
For some reason, we headed back to Times Square. Instead of people-watching like we had done earlier in the morning as we gathered our bearings, we went into many of the stores that lined the square. We tried on the same clothing that was sold in the same stores at home, but for some reason they suddenly had appeal. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven when we entered the NYC-sized Barnes and Noble. There I managed to snag a signed copy of The Basoon King, the autobiography of Rainn Wilson, my favorite actor in the television series The Office.
By the time we were done perusing the stores, the winter sun had set and it was evening. We elbowed our way to the Saks Fifth Avenue building for their legendary lights. As beautiful as the lights were, and as magical as the music was, it was not worth it. Unless you enjoy being shoved constantly and hearing the sound of sobbing babies, you will not enjoy the Saks Christmas light show.
After a few short minutes of watching the light show, we to hunt for a great dinner spot. Sadly, everyone else in New York City decided the same thing. We went from restaurant to restaurant, searching for somewhere to sit and eat, but with each location the lines got longer and longer. Finally, we managed to find a small table in T.G.I. Friday’s. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to sit as I was at that moment.
My friends and I were so exhausted and so done with New York City by the time we finished dinner that we called our driver and requested that he bring the conversion van around so we could pile in and go home. New York had taken all of the energy out of us, and all we wanted to do was go home and sleep. And so that’s what we did.
When we finally made it back to Lancaster, I was suddenly so overwhelmed with gratitude for the tiny little town that I had been raised in. I’m now thankful for the traffic jams caused by Amish buggies and not overcrowding of cars (although you wouldn’t hear me say that on my way to church on a Sunday morning). I’m even more thankful for the kindness of strangers here in Lancaster, who don’t find it necessary to shove others out of the way. Lancaster may not be quite as popular as New York City or quite as diverse, but I still love it more than anything.