City Scenes: New Orleans, New York, Newark, November

This Fall ended up being travel-heavy for me, with multiple research and work-related trips following in quick succession after a personal excursion to spend time with my parents. As November draws to a close I am recuperating from what feels like a whirlwind of interchangeable liminal spaces and solitary wanderings in strange cities. The physical toll has mostly been limited to fatigue and fouled-up feet, though the final injury was leaving my favorite sunglasses in the Uber that brought me home on the last leg of the journey.

My visit to New Orleans was occasioned by the annual national convention of my ostensible academic discipline. It was the first trip to New Orleans of my adult life, and as with past conferences I was determined to make time to explore the city proper and not have my experience limited to hotel lobbies and ballrooms. But frankly I was still feeling burned out from my solo travel in Toronto two weeks earlier, and colder-than-expected New Orleans weather further dampened my exploratory ambitions (though it was still warmer than Pittsburgh, which was freshly dusted with snow when I departed).

I had planned to at least try out the city’s bike share program and get some cycling in around the French Quarter. But even on that front my ambitions were stymied. The Blue Bikes Nola system uses a proprietary app, and the ride pricing seemed steeper than I’ve seen in other cities. The locking mechanism was also unique: each bike has an affixed cable that users must manually secure to the docking port (or any other desired fixture, I suppose). The first two docking stations I came across were completely empty, and by the time I found an available fleet I wasn’t in the mood to go riding in the rain. It was good to catch up with friends and colleagues (some of whom I hadn’t seen in several years, having not attended an in-person convention since the pre-COVID days), but I ultimately failed in my mission to take advantage of my time in New Orleans beyond the confines of the conference.

I was back home for a single day before embarking for New York. This was a research-related trip that I had been trying to plan for several months. Due to a crowded schedule and emergent personal circumstances I had to book this travel for the week of Thanksgiving, which was less than ideal for a number of reasons. But at least the weather worked out in my favor and it was mostly beautiful late Fall conditions in New York.

I think it was my first time back in the city in five years. After my recent experiences navigating unfamiliar terrain and figuring out public transit in various cities there was something comforting about returning to the subway system. Even though I’ve never been a New Yorker, I’ve often felt a reflexive defensiveness about the outdated infrastructure that gets unfavorably compared to newer transit systems in other cities. “Sure the subway stations are dingy, and the Metrocard reader at the turnstile doesn’t work half of the time, but that’s New York City charm!” Since the last time I was in the city the MTA has upgraded the entry turnstiles to the Omny system whereby you just tap your phone or credit card to enter. I’ve long held on to my Metrocards as souvenirs (and bookmarks) so there’s a nostalgic pang in seeing them be phased out.

I’m pretty sure the CitiBike program had already been implemented when I was last in New York, but the bike share system has a much greater presence now. The bikes and their stations were ubiquitous in each of the boroughs I visited. The increased number of bike lanes was also apparent.

The “Oculus” World Trade Center transit hub had recently opened at the time of my previous visit but this was my first time being inside. The PATH train to New Jersey still requires a physical Metrocard so I was able to scratch my memento itch.

The PATH train was another first-time experience and increased my envy of the affordable and reliable transit in the greater metropolitan area. I disembarked at Newark Penn Station for my first foray on the Jersey side of the Hudson.

I’ll have more to say about my Newark experience in the future, but in the meantime here are some stray street scenes from this first trip.

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