“Remember, nobody is as important as you.”
My brother, Chris, coaches me on how to navigate the ground-level life of New York City. Overtake pedestrians when they’re walking too slow. Proceed with confidence across the crosswalk even if a car is turning. Maybe even cut someone in line if they’re on the phone. New Yorkers are friendly but they’re also hardworking and they need to get things done. No room for laggies.
My dad’s here on business so I’m tagging along to hang out with my brother for a day. The city is calling my name.
6:00 pm – Wednesday
Cuban cuisine on 38th Street. Dad, his coworker, and I enter the cozy comforts of Havana NY. We settle down at the bar and start off with drinks: 2 Cerveza Modelos (Mexican beer) for the gentlemen and a mango mojito for me.
I’m gnawing on the sugarcane when our appetizer arrives: an ensemble of empanadas, croquetas, churrasco, garlic shrimp, fried calamari, yuca fries, and tostones or fried plantain slices.
So yeah. I’m full by the time our entrees are served.
I get a taste of it all: shredded beef, oxtail braised in red wine sauce, and, for my meal, mango tequila shrimp with coconut rice. My belly’s about to burst by now but that doesn’t stop me from having a second mojito and a shot of mamajuana. The chef’s son brings us the Dominican liquor and shows us a photo of it soaking wood chunks in a bottle. It smells like whiskey but tastes smooth and sweet, like honey. Somehow, we have dessert: coconut flan and churros with a gooey chocolate dip.
We waddle out of the restaurant and attempt to walk off the weight in our stomachs, detouring through Bryant Park’s Christmas Market and then, of course, Times Square.
There’s something frustrating about trying to capture Times Square on camera. You take away from the panoramic fullness of it. How your eyes hurt from the lights. Everywhere you look, something’s right there, blinking at you. Even Starbucks and Five Guys have marquees.
9:00 am – Thursday
Chris and I stroll through Brooklyn and get breakfast at Westville Dumbo, a bar-brunch restaurant with tattooed waitresses and customizable egg sandwiches. I get an old English favorite: muesli. Chris gets a second chai latté with a cinnamon stick – on the house for no apparent reason. We eat our breakfasts, drink our hot drinks, and catch up.
Have we had any job interviews? Made a new friend? Applied to grad school? Got a tattoo? Joined Twitter?
We cross the Brooklyn Bridge. The wind sweeps the heat from our cheeks and we tighten our coats. On the railings, lovers have latched their lovers locks like little lovesick lamebrains.
I spy the Statue of Liberty, rising from the horizon like a ghost.
We’re at the former CBGB’s on the Bowery, near Soho. The old punk concert hall (home to the Ramones, Misfits, Talking Heads, and Nikko Toy, the band my dad used to play bass for) has been transformed into a rock n’ roll, high-fashion store. Eight-hundred-dollar leather jackets. High-tech record players. A glossy-paged photobook of the glory days. My brother and I contend with our mixed feelings as we gaze at the remaining walls covered with scraps of posters and stickers.
Our dad raised us on punk and rock n’ roll. My cheeks warm at the posters for Blondie, the Clash, the B-52’s, and ZZ Top – the latter being my first ever concert.
“At least they’re keeping the punk-rock theme,” I say.
Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery! The air smells rich and bready as we bustle inside and order seven knishes: three cherry and four blueberry. As I study the Jewish pastries in the display, I realize what it’s made of.
“Cheese and blueberry?” I say, wrinkling my nose.
“Trust me,” Chris says.
Sure enough, the knish is delish. (You’re welcome.) The cheese allows for a smooth, softer flavor to complement the sharply-sweet blueberry jam. Chris and I stuff ourselves full but we still make plans to have a late-lunch. In New York, you have to EAT.
“I didn’t expect to see so much pussy,” I say after we go to Search & Destroy.
Or, as Chris calls it, the last true punk store in New York.
Upon entering, we’re assaulted with photos of vaginas on a book stand like a photo album of decorated cakes in the bakery section at Costco. The sales assistants wear studded denim jackets with piercings and plaid skirts. They greet us over the clanging music as Chris strides into the store with me trailing behind.
Bomber jackets, bloodied-up Barbies, fishnets, printed socks, and every band T-shirt you can imagine live here. It’s not my natural habitat but everything here feels authentic. Wear, tear, and everything vulgar; that’s what punk stores are made of.
Koreatown! Chris and I embrace our heritage and plunge into Midtown’s Korean (and Japanese) food court, Food Gallery 32. He gets kimchi with beef and udon noodles while I try and go light with bulgogi in Korean sushi.
After a few bites, I say, “I don’t see myself eating all of this.”
“It’s okay,” Chris says. “I do.”
What are big brothers for?
Still in Koreatown, we dip into a two-level store selling books, clothes, and makeup all from Korea. Chris points to a set of wooden ducks on display.
“Those look familiar?” he says.
“No,” I say.
“Are you kidding me? They’re wedding ducks. Grandma and Grandpa had, like, ten of them in their house.”
I take a moment to wonder how I missed ten wooden ducks in my grandparents’ house. If someone owned ten wooden ducks, you would see them. How did I miss ten wooden ducks?
Chris and I head back to meet up with Dad, passing through another Christmas market and then H&M and Urban Outfitters. New Yorkers are so fashionable, I’m almost ready to scrap this entire blog post and just do a fashion blog. Almost.
We regroup with Dad and end the day at a small Ecuadorian restaurant called Ñaño. Here’s me with cerviche: shrimp, grape tomatoes, toasted corn, and pickled red onions, seasoned with cilantro and lime. The best martini you could ask for.
As Dad and I part ways with Chris, I also say farewell to New York, a city of foodporn-worthy meals, pussy-bearing clothing stores, bright lights and puppets too, and an older brother willing to spend 24 hours with his lil’ sis.
Until we meet again, New York ❤
Rachel Noelle is a writer based in Orlando. Read about her here.