Escape Mechanisms

I was introduced to NYC for the first time in December 2005. I was hooked. I tease that I’m a junkie and New York is my crack…it’s really not a joke. I am currently working my butt off because part of the deal with my current position is a path to the Empire State, Gotham, the Big Apple…my soul.

The city during the holiday season is simply, magical. The population swells so if you get claustrophobic or have issues with personal space and waiting, I’d say just read my blog vs visiting, but if you really want to see how different cultures share their holiday spirit, then book your trip (and if you need a tour guide, I’m always in).

In 2005, I planned the trip, staying at the quintessential Waldorf Astoria. The plans included a Knicks game, the Lion King, the Rockettes, a trip to the Statue of Liberty, and dinner at Tavern on the Green. While the trip also included baggage being lost by the airline, our room given away and getting lost a few times, it was still an absolutely dream worthy trip. So many times I was stopped by people looking for directions, and in that moment I knew I was part of that city.

From that date forward, I continued to visit NYC…for business…for fashion week…for my fix. It was December 2016, after my divorce that I decided I needed to go back for holiday wonder. I had a friend who worked for Jet Blue at the time and would offer her discount to me when ever I wanted to go. I had it planned out. I’d take the red-eye one night, arrive around 5:30am, hit all my inspirational spots and fly out that evening at 8pm. I was hesitant to book the trip until a few days before because it seemed the weather wasn’t going to be cooperative. When I realized I needed to just go and deal with the weather, she had left her job and I only went that year in my dreams, but I wrote all about it like I was there.

I decided I would never again wait for the right opportunity to go to NYC. I would go at every opportunity presented to me. So in 2017, I took my babes for the first time during the holidays. I had originally planned to make it a longer trip but due to work travel it was a long weekend. Yet it was incredible to see it for the first time through Isaiah’s eyes. He was hesitant to go, thinking it would be overwhelming (and it totally is) but he loved the energy just as I do. He got to see his first musical, Aladdin, and at the time musical theater was such an important time of his life. We hit the museums, the window displays and all the fabulous food. Because the timing of our visit, we stumbled upon a Hanukkah RV parade…yes, exactly that…cruising down the Avenue of the Americas. They were in as much awe as I was the first time the city shared it’s holiday glory with me.

In 2018, after what was a shit year, I had enough points that my flight and hotel was covered and I decided, “what the hell I am going to go for a day and a half”. Viewing my feed in Instagram, I realized a dear friend was in the city with her daughter and I reached out with the hopes that maybe we could grab a drink and catch up. As fate would have it, we met for drinks and dinner and had the loveliest conversation catching up after several years apart. Don’t you love when you feel so comfortable with someone that you jump back into a friendship like not one day has passed, thank you Maria.

In October this year, I started thinking, “could I make a trip work in the height of the retail season.” I stopped that thought as quickly as I put it out there knowing this is my city and even if I flew in one day and out the next it would be what I would need. There were several things I wanted to do…a mountain list, but doable if I planned it right. So, I booked my red-eye flight on Saturday, December 14 which mean I would arrive at approximately 6am on Sunday, December 16 to 6pm when I probably should be back at the airport. So I would have 36 hours minus sleep for this trip. I found my inexpensive flight and a room to match. I know how to travel on next to nothing.

The days and weeks and months blended together because that’s what happens this time of year in retail. I hadn’t given much thought to my trip until the weekend before when one of my BFFs asked what I was going to do. I responded with my list.

It was a tall order, but definitely worth doing. I packed the morning of my trip, went to work (I was already over 40 hours for the week), worked another 8 hours and did a volunteer shift at Albuquerque Little Theater for It’s a Wonderful Life. This really got me in the mood for my trip…Herald Square, Christmas, magical New York City, oh and those NYC accents, boy oh boy I was ready. It was fun volunteering side-by-side with Laura, Debi and Lee and I love this story. It’s all about believing…“Faith is believing something when common sense tells you not to.” It’s about NYC and about Macy’s. I was smiling throughout and enjoyed it fully. I was so grateful to Lee who offered to drop me off at the airport afterward. When we were exiting the show, I received an alert that the flight was delayed and my departure time had moved out from 11:40pm to 1:21am. I knew it was going to be a long night.

When I got to the airport, there was no one going through the TSA line with me. One of the agents asked when my flight was departing, I had mentioned the time and he said, “Really, a couple before you said it had been moved out to 3:30am.” I kind of wanted to cry. When I got to the gate, I found out how true that statement was. Exhaustion hit me so I sat at a table where I could charge my phone, pulled out my neck pillow and made a make shift sitting bed. I maybe got an hour of sleep. We started boarding the plan about 2:30am. As luck would have it, or my guardian angel, I ended up not having anyone sit in my row, so I moved to the center, strapped on my seat belt, and made that row my bed. I think I slept three of the 3 and a half hours. We arrived about 9:15am. I had planned to take a super shuttle to my hotel since it was the more inexpensive option that Lyft or Uber, but just the day before, I had read on LinkedIn that they were closing up shop and when I looked at the app to try and book, that one-way trip was going to cost $134 vs. the $20 I had been accustomed to, so I booked a Lyft and waited outside the terminal doors for its arrival. It was cool and breezy.

As we made our way into the city, the trek didn’t seem as long as it had in the past and I made it to the hotel within 30 minutes. My friend, Amanda, whom I had hoped to have dinner with in NJ on Sunday night, had sent me a text the night before stating she was actually going to be in Manhattan until about 1pm with a group of friends. This was perfect! I could see her and her husband, Andy, and not have to take a train (nor see the ginormous rats in the station) to NJ…time saved. As I reached my hotel, I was saying a few Our Father’s and one or two Hail, Mary’s. I really wanted to get into my hotel room and shower before hitting the pavement to see her.

Still praying under my breath, I walked up to the reservation counter. It wasn’t too busy, I had arrived before check out, just a little past 10am. I walked up and a woman by the name of Arlene welcomed and asked how she could help me. I explained to her about my predicament and asked if there might be a room available for me to check into (I had actually called the day before and whomever I spoke to couldn’t guarantee early check-in because the hotel was full). Arlene did some investigating and found me a room. It wasn’t my requested room with a king bed but honestly I didn’t care. After, she explained the amenities, an easier way to access free wi-fi and making sure my points were properly captured for this stay, she pointed out the elevator and my room info. I thanked her profusely for her excellent service and made my way upstairs. I got to my room. Opened my suitcase, which I over packed (I think I actually packed less for LFW than I did for this 1.5 days. lol). Pulled out my outfit and jumped into the shower. I knew if I sat down I would crash, plus Amanda and Andy were only in the city until 1pm.

Arriving late into NYC, cut three hours out of my stay. Jet Blue compensated me with a $75 credit which I know I’ll be back in February…but still, I would have 3 less hours to do what I needed to. Anywho, I stepped out into the sunny but cold NYC day around 11am. I was staying at Park and 33rd and I was meeting Amanda at Columbus Circle, so walking up 5th Ave would get me into the heart of all the warm and fuzzies found in the holiday windows.

As I walked past 34th, I turned to my left and caught America’s department store…I had planed to stop by after my time with Amanda. I walked past the Lions donned with wreaths at the NYC Public Library.

I walked up to Saks the north side were fabulously fashionable. I took a few shots but because the sun was in full force the images weren’t as clear as I had hoped. As I reached the front of the store, I wanted to throw up a little bit in my mouth….really, Frozen was theme this year (not. my. favorite.)?!? I didn’t take pictures. I was annoyed. I walked on. I got to St Patrick’s Cathedral and it was Sunday during advent and the lines were vast so I carried on. I saw a few more windows on store fronts before reaching Tiffany and again I was disappointed. There wasn’t anything incredibly imaginative only a few mice playing with jewels. I crossed the street because I knew Bergdorfs wouldn’t disappoint.

And I was right, it was all fun and games and I LOVED it. It was luxurious, colorful and breathtaking. Again, because I couldn’t take proper photos because the reflection, but I was happy for the sunshine and not having bitter cold. I walked by the Plaza Hotel and the line that was waiting to enter and crossed 59th to walk along Central Park. I hadn’t run since just after Thanksgiving and I kind of craving it (but don’t tell anyone). I walked along the road listening to my Somewhere Around Midnight playlist on Spotify through the earbuds in my ears when Whiskey by Red Light Cameras came on. I strutted down the cobble stoned lane. In my look that was a mixture of Christmas, Gwen Stefani and Punk with my red plaid and faux leather pants with gold chain running from my pocket, combat boots, puffed sleeve black sweater, vintage black faux fur coat and over sized vibrant red scarf, I was part of my city. When I walk the streets of NYC, I strut like I own the city. The city energy feeds me and I play off it to my advantage but because I was walking on the cobble stone walkway, I also paid attention because I knew I would also trip like the big uncoordinated Ms Congeniality that I am.

I arrived at Columbus Circle and sent a text to Amanda to let her know. The holiday fair was great but I wanted to find her first. She mentioned that they had moved to the Market in the train station but when I descend, all I saw were trains so I ascended to the street and called her. She said to cross the street and enter the train station entrance near the Shops of Columbus Circle. I was having deja vu as I hadn’t been there since June 22nd after a wonderful day at the Mermaid Parade and surreal evening in this neighborhood. I descended the staircase and there she was right around the corner. I smiled and walked up. I don’t think she recognized me immediately as I was wearing my glasses. We embraced and walked back to the bar where they were having cocktail. I gave Andy and big hug and was introduced to the rest of their friends. It was a quaint bar where Christmas had exploded all over the ceiling and walls (hot glued Christmas balls–it was magical). We took seats at the bar and started to catch up immediately. She wanted to hear about my new job. I wanted to hear about her daughter’s wedding. I had maybe 4 hours the night before, had just walked 2 miles and had worked an approximate 50 hour week…I was wondering if I should order a coffee or a cocktail at 11:30am and then I remembered I’m in FUCKING New York City. I ordered a New York je t’aime. Seemed appropriate…although, I thought the Jameson, Elderflower, Orange Blossom might knock me out.. We talked about life and everything in between. We talked about my travels. She mentioned how courageous I am. I smiled. We ordered another round and about an hour later we decided they needed to head back to Port Authority. I asked if I could walk with them as I was headed to Hudson Yards next.

We walked, talked, and laughed. It was so good to see them again. We did our tourist thing in Times Square and I think I convinced them to visit NM in May (fingers-crossed). We took our touristy photo and walked on to Port Authority. I gave them hugs and told them I’d reach out in the coldest month and probably the coldest day for dinner in NJ. I THOROUGHLY enjoy my time with them.

I walked on to Hudson Yards, since it’s opening last Spring, I had read all about this luxurious urban work, live, play neighborhood and I had it on my list to check out. I first headed out to the vessel (because I hadn’t gotten enough steps in yet and thought I should walk 5 stories). However the line was way too long and what, you have to pay for entrance, I was totally turned off by this but still got a cool photo. I walked into the Hudson Yards “mall” and it was basically, a mall with high-end stores. I left as quickly as I could find my way out. Instead, I decided to head east to “my” department store. I arrived with the masses and walked in with awe as I normally do.

Macy’s saved me during my Christmas trip in 2005, when American Airlines had lost my baggage and not wanting to miss the Knick’s game we stopped by for pj’s and unmentionables (ok, undies) just before midnight. Macy’s DTLA provided the electricity, table and chair for me to sew my impromptu look for Los Angeles Fashion Week in October 2016 and Herald Square inspired me (along with a call urging me to take the Personal Stylist position earlier this year, in April). I walked in to the grandeur of Herald Square with Dream and Believe in my forefront. If you’ve never been, it’s a little overwhelming and exciting at once. I didn’t know where to start, but then realized how much I love the Benefit Brow Bar so in shooting my shot, I walked over and asked if they were taking any walk up appointments. They were and in that moment I knew it was meant to be.

With my brows on point, I walked up to the Story level. What I love about this concept is that it is made up of products and businesses that have a story (I keep tormenting local businesses and artists to submit their ideas…one day, I hope they take me up on it because it really is a cool concept). I really didn’t have time, need or room in my suitcase for much more than I bought, I decided to head back to my hotel which was a few blocks away. I still had planned to get my tattoo and grab drink at a quintessential speak easy and it was already 5:00pm…but first I wanted to see the windows. I loved this year’s theme: “Santa Girl”. It reminded me of my own journey…they will say, “no” and you will say, “YES”. We can all be what we determine we want to be, even when the world says, “no”. Think of Greta Thunberg, who has been mocked for her convictions in saving the planet. The only thing I was disappointed about was the fact that there was no Salvation Army outside the Herald Square entrance…no dancing, no singing, no bell ringing this year.

My stomach started to rumble so I remembered that there was one of my fav places a block up…I stopped by Shake Shack because that’s where I nosh when in town. I got the bun-less bacon burger with cheese and bacon and cheese fries–don’t judge, I had already walked 4.5 miles. I returned to my hotel, nourished my body and changed. I was missing a party hosted by my friend, Shannon. However, I told her I’d dress in the theme of blue, white and silver…so I opted for a little Hopeless + Cause Atelier. I wore flowy, loose clothing because I knew I’d be exposed for my next destination. I called for a Lyft and headed down stairs.

I got my first tattoo when I turned 20 and wanted to get my 2nd when I turned 40. Years past and other things came up, but this year I was determined to get it and get it in NYC. After months of searching for the right place and price point, I found the one. As I arrived in my Lyft at Three Kings Tattoo, it was more than Deja Vu. I had been there before. Not in the tattoo shop, but I had walked through the park on a warm Sunday night in June talking about the Netflix original, Russian Doll, and how the show was set in the East Village and that park had be used several times in the show. I learned the history. We had a drink in the bar on the corner, Maiden Lane, where I was told I was the “sweetest person” over and over. And here I was next door to get a sweet and dainty, “la vita é un dono” tattoo with a bow. I had stayed a few nights only a few blocks away this past year and yet, I came to find this tattoo parlor, not by that resident but by a colleague who had posted the wicked tattoo he had gotten a month or so back. That Instagram post prompted me to research the business and the artists. I had found that the rates were much more reasonable than the others I had found in the area and Brooklyn. They were super responsive to all my questions and I could stop by for a walk up appointment which was super important to me since my plans were fluid this trip.

I arrived just after 6:30pm and was told that I’d be on the table about 7:30pm. I was told that I could come back at that time, but not from the area and dark, I opted to sit my booty on the couch and wait. Exhaustion started to set in and I started to nod my head in an attempt to sleep. My second tattoo reminded me of child birth, it sounds great until it actually happens and you remember all the pain that occurs with the act. I sat patiently 2nd in line until my tattoo artist, Ana, asked me what I’d like. I showed her my sketch told her where I wanted it and what the saying meant. She took it back, sketched it out and came back for approval. After a few edits, we were set.

I actually didn’t climb the tattoo table until 8:30pm. I took off my top, laid on my side, raised my arm over my head and stretched my leg out to create a smooth canvas for her to create. She went to work. I cringed and at moments jumped when a nerve was hit. My nails dug into the table and I know I ground my teeth and in about 45 minutes it was complete. My tense muscles prevented me from jumping up, instead slowly ascending to a seated position then descending from the table I dressed and admired my new decoration and reminder about life and living. Full of adrenaline, I opted not to go to the speakeasy as it was now 9:45pm instead I grabbed a Lyft back to the hotel. I went upstairs and decided I needed to see the Bryant Park tree and Rockefeller Square in the glory of night, so I started west on 33rd as I turned on 5th the wind hit me and I knew I was not up for the cold. I headed back toward my hotel and as I turned the corner on 34th, I was greeted by, “FUCK, it’s cold.”, by a stranger. At first startled, I then laughed. As he apologized, I agreed with him and went on my way to a Duane Reade to get snacks and a bottle of wine. They didn’t sell wine and I wasn’t interested in spending $10 on a small bag of nuts, so I headed to the hotel bar for a drink. After I warmed up, I went up to my hotel room, undressed and watched, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. I had already planned to watch episode 9 with the fam upon my return, so I thought it would be a nice build up to fall asleep to. And fall asleep, I did.

I woke the next morning around 8am. It’s cray how well I sleep in NYC. However, I woke with a scratch in my throat, so I opted for hot, steamy shower and then after I dressed, I headed back to the Duane Reade for vitamin A and EmergenC. I also bought a gift card for Arlene, who really kickstarted this trip. I ran across the street to Starbucks for a medicine ball…I was trying to stave off a cold any way possible. After I dropped off my bags and the gift card, and explained to Arlene how grateful I was to her for her customer service, I headed north to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This holy space is my constant when I visit. There has been only two times that I haven’t made the trek when I’ve visited. At that time, I also received a notification about a reservation opening up for the Blue Box Cafe at Tiffany’s. I had been trying to get in for the past month and every time I received the notification, I was too late and the reservation had been given to another patron. I was so happy I was going to be able to enjoy this treat because as I found out the restaurant was going to be going through a remodel for the next year as well as the entire Tiffany and Co on 5th Ave (I had been reading, Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M., by Sam Wasson and was really intrigued to fulfill this wish). About 20 minutes later, I arrived for mass and sat back and enjoyed my participation in it. The music, the word, the beauty before me. I arrived when confession was in session and I pondered the thought of it, but time was of the essence.

After mass, I headed across the street for the tree at Rockefeller Center. It was crowded and filled with joy, wonder, and selfies. I took my photo and then did a little shopping. I headed to the garment district next.

On 11/11 I received a text from a beautiful young women, whose momma’s birthday was on this day. She asked me to create a dress for her that she could wear to a wedding and to her eighth grade graduation in 2020. I was honored and floored. I had created for her momma and had told her when she was ready, I would create for her. She was ready. After taking, photos and samples, I headed to my favorite tree in Bryant Park.

It was lightly snowing and it was absolutely magical…everything I needed to fulfill my holiday fantasy. After walking the holiday fair, which I absolutely LOVE, I took my annual photo of the tree and then headed over to Grand Central Station because I wanted to get Truffle oil and honey from The Truffleist. I fell in love with their products in 2017 and decided I wanted to make honey-truffle chicken for dinner on Christmas Eve. As I perused the market at Grand Central Station, I found The Truffleist was no longer offered there so I jumped on the internet to find out were I could purchase their goods and back to Bryant Park I went.

I purchased my goods and it was already 2:30pm and my reservation was for 3pm so I headed north to Tiffany’s. Arriving at 2:45pm, I checked in and was told my table was almost ready, so I looked around the floor until it was 3pm. At that time, I was directed to my quintessential Tiffany Blue table. It was such a treat and I have to thank my friend Sofi for suggesting it. I had the choice of the pre-fix menu for breakfast, lunch or high tea. I opted for lunch with pumpkin soup and poached salmon…all drool-worthy. I paired it with the Tiffany team. About an hour later, I left perfectly sated and sad to head back to the hotel for my ride back to the airport.

The entire afternoon, I kept getting the “once over”. I wore a cream colored over-sized sweater with distressed jeans and over the knee sandy suede boots and my faux fur coat and red scarf…but the one thing that didn’t fit the outfit was the Nintendo Store bag with Mario on it. As I was walking back, I was stopped at the light on Park and somewhere near 33rd and a man turned to me asking, “Did you wake up on the right side of the bed?”. I responded, saying, “Excuse, me?”. He said, “Your whole look is incredible. I hope you’ve had a great day because you look like you woke up on the right side of the bed.” Because I’m oblivious to compliments like this, it took me a minute to respond and as I said thank you, he walked down the road. It was such a sweet way to leave the city.

Within the next half hour I was on a Lyft back to JFK, once again feeling so full of joy, wonder, and gratefulness to be back in the place I love so very much. I had approximately 45 minutes until my flight would board so I opted to grab a glass of bubbles to cheer this trip. As I sat down and my glass was presented to me, I was reminded of something. She is always around even when I’m not looking (do you see her–2019 is the year of the mermaid). I smiled and raised my glass to la vita é in dono. The only Debbie Downer moment is that I think I caught a cold from the guy behind me who kept exclaiming, “I’m not sick. I only have a cough” (as he kept hacking up a lung, sneezing and sniffling). UGH…still worth it. When I landed, I looked at my phone to see it was 11:11pm and I smiled.

As I complete this blog on my momma’s birthday, I am reminded the importance to live your life. Find joy. Enjoy wonder. Find happiness. Sometimes you have to escape to be reminded of this. Life is short. You only die once; you live every day. Enjoy life to the fullest–la vita e un dono. Wishing you a Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas.

With light and love,
Dara Sophia Romero

1 thought on “Escape Mechanisms”

  1. Love it!! A girl after my own heart! My love for NYC sounds similar to yours. I fell in love with it many years ago as a teen on my first trip with my brother Mark. As I approached 50, I remember planning and knew I needed to be in NY as I hit that milestone in life. My husband and I spent a week there and we celebrated my 50th birthday dinner at one of my favorite little places, Café Havana. We’ll have to share stories some day! Beautiful to hear you living life to the fullest, it is shorter than we think!

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