The Reunion Tour, Day 9: NYC subways suck! And the story of getting tricked into eating truffle oil


I woke up at 8:30am in the NYC HI hostel, packed my bags and headed down to the hostel cafe to get breakfast. I'm in a rush and skip the hot drink (I can't carry it with all of my stuff) and ask for a banana and a donut. "Oh, no coffee or tea?" No, I tell her in a rushed voice. I can't carry that. "We have bottled water if you'd like." Uh, ok, fine. I grab a water, and impatiently wait for my donut. I thought I chose the fastest food option here. "Banana or chocolate frosting?" CHOCOLATE LET'S GO. I watch her microwave (why?) the donut and then put it in a pastry bag. I snag it out of her hands and rush out of the hostel to the trains. I gotta head to Philly on an Amtrak train and I have one hour before my train leaves.

I've already ranted about how NYC subways are THE WORST, but please, give me a moment again to tell you why, so I may let out some outstanding fury related to the horrible transit of the LARGEST CITY IN THE UNITED STATES WHO SHOULD HAVE THEIR STUFF TOGETHER.

The NYC subways are clearly designed for people who already live in the city and know the city. First-time visitor? Outsider? Traveler? NOT FOR YOU. This subway system is specifically designed for a person who has memorized where major landmarks in the city are located, and where they need to go.

I got on the subway to get to the train station from my hostel after asking the hostel staff at which stop to exit. I didn't write it down, so that's on me. However, since Penn Station is a pretty major landmark and hub, you'd think the train maps would indicate this. Nope. I get on the train and I can't remember which stop it's supposed to be...42nd street or 34th? Shoot. I look around the train car, which is twice as long as a Chicago train car with 1/5 of the map presence. I anxiously search around and see no maps, except in the distance on the opposite end of the train, pasted on the train wall, right behind where two people are sitting (surrounded by a crowd of other people, no less).

My only choice is to exit when I think I need to exit, which is 42nd street. I get off, look around, and since there's no signage, I take the stairs to the upper level, look around for signs, of which there are none. I look around some more, until I find on the far end of the station a touch-screen map that displays the disappointing news that I did, in fact, exit at the wrong stop. I return to the platform and get on the next train, about ten minutes later, to go one more stop. GRRR.

Once in Penn station, I sit in the Amtrak waiting area and gather my thoughts as I eat the massive donut (size of my head) from the hostel that is bafflingly still warm. After the chaos of the subway, here I am in an oddly calm, fluorescent-lit white room as Debussy plays quietly in the overhead speakers. There's a pigeon trotting around on the ground by my feet (mind you, I am indoors), and the two men sitting across from me are wearing identical facial hair, glasses, clothing, and are posed with their legs crossed the same way as they each eat apples. It's been a good month since I was affected by the experience-taking of reading The Bell Jar, but being in this eerie environment has me feeling like I'm in an insane asylum.

Soon the screen read that my train was ready to board, and after a short, quiet, relaxing ride on Amtrak, I arrived in Philadelphia.

I took the WELL-LABELED (ahem, NYC) local train system to Carolyn's apartment and finally got to catch up with my college buddy. She was kind enough to host me during my stay here. Fortunately Carolyn works from home so we hung out a bit while I lounged in my PJs as I waited for a load of laundry to finish. I met her cat, Sadie, a fat cat who seems shy but once she approved of the scent of my hands she allowed me to pet her soft white fur.

Carolyn suggested we pop out to grab some coffee. My clothes were still in the dryer and while Carolyn made the tongue-in-cheek remark that she approves of me leaving the house in a tank top and lace bike shorts, I felt like I needed to put actual pants on. I grabbed my pants from the dryer, which were toasty and fortunately dry so I could exit the house looking like a real person.

We walked down the block to Tela's Market and Kitchen, which has a grab-and-go eating area, marketplace for cute jams and condiments, and a cafe in the back. I order a macchiato and the barista asks if I want a real macchiato. I am not a fancy coffee drinker and only picked this because it was cheap, so I blankly stare at him. He continues, "because Starbucks has a drink called a macchiato but it's not a real macchiato." He then tells me the ratio of foam to milk to espresso and I just quietly nod my head as I pretend to know what I want.

I get a slice of coffee cake and Carolyn enjoys a pastry and some coffee and we catch up until Greg walks past the window and into the shop. It was so great catching up with them both, as I believe the last time we saw one another was around Thanksgiving.

Time flew by and soon it was nearing six and time to meet up with Yvonne on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

Yvonne and I met in Uzbekistan when she was my roommate for the first half of the Central Asia trip that I took through the Monsoon Diaries in early 2016. Yvonne goes to Wharton business school, and tonight the Wharton Dance Studio had a recital. Yvonne, her boyfriend Branden and I met up and walked over to White Dog Cafe, in a cute old area that reminded me of Boston. I was excited to see Philly and its east coast charm as I loved Boston when I went last summer. This little street was charming, and the restaurant felt cozy.

The restaurant has a local approach, only serving fresh and local ingredients, with the menu changing seasonally. We were served fresh crusty bread and Branden picked the beet and arugula salad for the table. It was delightful until I bit into a polenta crouton and nearly gagged as my tastebuds panicked at the flavor of truffle oil. WHY WOULD YOU NOT LIST THIS IN THE DESCRIPTION! Truffle oil is, quite possibly, the worst flavor on earth, and in oil form it coated my tongue and the entire inside of my mouth like a virus that wouldn't go away. After several forkfuls of my butternut squash ravioli, the flavor was gone, but the horrid memory of that experience remained.

Off we went to the auditorium just down the street, which was filled with people rooting and cheering on their classmates. The MCs made a joke about how there were 400 people in the show, more people than some top business schools have in total enrollment. During intermission, I ask Yvonne how many students Wharton has...and she said "around 700." Well, no wonder this is the biggest extracurricular event of the year if MORE THAN HALF of the students participate!

The recital was amazing. As someone who browses Youtube to watch random dance choreography, it was a delight to see a two-hour long show that featured bollywood, afro-carribean, jazz, hip-hop, step and other choreography done to popular music. I didn't grow up in a very diverse area, so it was very cool to see how dance can bring so many different people of different backgrounds together on one stage. The show was super entertaining and had Yvonne and Branden bursting into laughter over seeing their close friends bustin' a move, and all three of us giggling at the tight, unflattering metallic t-shirts the dudes had to wear in one of the Bollywood fusion dance numbers. It was phenomenal to see the sheer magnitude of this dance studio in the final bows, as all 400 students managed to squeeze on stage, including the choreographers.

At the end of the performance, Yvonne asked me if I wanted to attend the student hockey game, which I unfortunately had to decline as I was exhausted from my jet lag catching up to me. This all reminded me of high school in the best way possible. Everyone seemed to know everyone and there were so many activities that everyone seemed to attend. When I went to college, I remember feeling that it was so different from high school in that exact way, so it's cool to see that a business school has that sort of tight-knit family.

I told Yvonne that I'd take the trains home to Carolyn's, but she advised me against it, as she doesn't even take the trains and she lives here. Carolyn, who is originally from the Chicago suburbs like me and just moved to Philly a couple weeks ago, told me how funny she found it that no one takes the (really well-coordinated) subway system here. Yvonne's comments further enforced that. She was kind enough to order me an Uber home, and we parted ways.

My favorite part of the Uber ride was the talking GPS, which, upon arrival, said "you've arrived at your destination...OR HAVE YOU?! Just kidding, you have." What?!

It was about 10:30pm when I got home, so I snuck in quietly but Carolyn and Greg heard me and beckoned me into their room to chat. I entered to find them both buried under their comforter and I stood in the doorway talking to them a la Charlie from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I love the weird relationship we share.

I bid them a good night as I went to the guest bedroom to head to sleep. Each time I stepped out of my room, Sadie lurked in the dark hallway by the door (of my bedroom, and then of the bathroom), scaring me shitless each time.

Off I went to rest, as I have a full day in Philadelphia tomorrow that can't be wasted!