Thirty-two summers ago, I paid my first visit to New York City. The main occasion for my trip was to check out New York University, where I would be starting law school that fall.
While it may sound odd in this day and age for someone to say this, I had accepted NYU’s offer of admission sight unseen, based largely on its overall reputation and strong support for students who wanted to enter public interest law. You see, I also was pretty broke, and I didn’t have the funds to visit the law schools to which I was applying. Having opted happily for NYU from a distance, I wanted to preview the situation firsthand, so I scheduled a late June visit to New York City.
I reserved a room at the Vanderbilt YMCA on 47th Street. It was like staying in a youth hostel, reminiscent of my semester abroad in England the year before. Another adventure begins!, I thought to myself.
During my short trip, I spent a lot of time around NYU and its Greenwich Village surroundings. I discovered some of the cheap local eateries that would get a lot of my business during the years to come, I did some hanging out in Washington Square Park in the heart of the Village, and I paid my first of hundreds of visits to the remarkable Strand bookstore.
Of course, I also checked out NYU, including Vanderbilt Hall, the main law school building, and Hayden Hall, the residence hall where most first-year law students lived, both located right on Washington Square. I could feel the butterflies churning in my stomach in anticipation of what was to come, and a little voice inside me wondered if I was in over my head.
I did standard tourist stuff as well. Going up the Empire State Building. Taking a guided tour of the United Nations. Becoming bewildered by the city’s labyrinth of a subway system. (If you’ve ever been lost in the Dante-esque middle level of the West 4th Street stop in the Village, you know what I mean.)
My NYC recon trip confirmed that in terms of sophistication, I was a babe in the woods. I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with big cities, having grown up in northwest Indiana right outside of Chicago and having spent chunks of time in major European cities during my semester abroad. However, New York seemed overwhelming to me, ranging from its apparent vastness (in actuality, Manhattan is a mere island!) to its exorbitant prices. (Upon my return, I would report breathlessly to friends and family that a fancy ice cream place called Häagen-Dazs was charging one whole dollar for a small cone!)
Nevertheless, I also had a gut feeling that I was making the right choice. I knew that New York would fascinate me, and — nerves notwithstanding — I had a good feeling about my decision to attend NYU. My instincts would prove to be right. New York and NYU were the right places at the right time for me.
I didn’t take any photos of that visit, but I’ve held onto the guidebook I used to traipse around Manhattan. In Frommer’s 1981-82 Guide to New York, author Faye Hammel writes:
You should be advised that there is one dangerous aspect of coming to New York for the first time: not of getting lost, mobbed, or caught in a blackout, but of falling so desperately in love with the city that you may not want to go home again. Or, if you do, it may be just to pack your bags.
That quote captured how I would feel about New York for years. As would this song: