Thursday, October 8, 2009
Mind: "Hello, Brooklyn"
Recently, I answered a call for stories for about one' first time hostelling, put out by the San Diego Council of Hostelling International. I was excited to see that not only did they post my story on their website, but they also chose mine for their newsletter! You can see the story -- and read some other travel stories -- on their website, or just check mine out below:
Two double beds with faded maroon covers. An old radiator that had been painted over so many times its slots were clogged with dull ivory blobs. A corner crumbling into powdery hunks of drywall. And a curtain that promptly fell down as soon as I tried to close it against the night.
It was perfect.
25 years old, and I'd never traveled further east from California than Arizona. I'd never traveled alone, except to visit waiting family just an hour's plane ride away. Now, here I was, more than 2,500 miles from home in the one American city I'd always dreamed of visiting: Brooklyn, New York.
Sure, it's not London or Bangkok, but to this Cali-girl, Brooklyn was a slice of American exotica. New accents, new flavors, and a whole new city skyline. They even drank a different brand of bottled water. It was like being in a new country: the East Coast. Call me simple, but that was were I'd always wanted to start my globetrotting adventures.
My partner-in-crime was a much more travel-savvy friend who had flown down to meet me from Ottawa. She had made our arrangements with ease -- even springing for the plane ticket that had brought me from the City by the Bay to the Big Apple -- including booking us in at the YMCA hostel in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood. Staying at a hostel wasn't a matter of saving a little cash…it was a matter of making the trip financially feasible at all. No hostel, no trip.
Never having stayed in a hostel, I was naturally nervous, imagining nightmare scenarios of communal gym-room showers and forced chores ala college co-op housing. Even though I was soothed a bit by the knowledge of our private room reservation (and that no manual labor was required), I was still a bit skeptical.
My doubts began to dissipate as soon as we walked in the door. The front desk staff was friendly, which was especially welcoming at 1 a.m. in a whole new place -- and after a massively delayed flight. What was not so welcoming was that we had to lug our heavy suitcases up six flights of steps. But we made it.
A post-flight shower was definitely in order, even at that hour. Grabbing our thin-but-blindingly-clean towels, we wandered off towards what we thought was the ladies room…only to find ourselves wandering in circles through the oppressively hot hostel hallways.
We smelled him before we saw him round the corner, clouds of old summer sweat heralding the arrival of who we later dubbed "The Stinkiest Man in Brooklyn." He was also one of the nicest men we met in Brooklyn, as he stopped to ask two confused strangers if they were lost. He quickly straightened us out – "ladies' room is on the fifth floor" – before disappearing into his room with a polite, "good night."
Afterwards, clean and refreshed (and relieved that the showers did indeed have stalls), we happily toasted our hostel room with bottles of Poland Springs water, thanking our stars that the AC worked perfectly in the humid 90 degree night. I was so exhausted that I slept like a rock on the surprisingly cushy bed, and awoke with glee to find a whole new cityscape peeking out at me through the broken curtains, just begging to be explored.