Phenomenology of The City

Design by Helen Huynh

“This is the train to: Grand Central. The next station is: Grand Central.”

The Metro-North speaker rings loud and clear—a voice distinctive, familiar, and oh so near—we’re about to enter that really long stretch of dim tunnel. We’re gliding into the station and even though your phone’s still plugged in, it keeps connecting and disconnecting and probably isn’t even charging anymore—but that’s okay; now’s the time to unplug it anyway because soon we’ll be in the 


Canceled brunch plans last-minute?
(A) Hangover
(B) Midterm paper
(C) Spontaneous daytrip to The City

D it is! Chances are your professor has made an appearance in The City within the last four weeks (and chances are that they actually live there, specifically in the same neighborhood as your other professor, and that they carpool together to work once a week), and chances are that you too have visited our illustrious, one and only “City” in recent memory. Clearly the Yale-NYC pipeline is robust, and as you rack your brain to recall your most recent adventure—keeping in mind (A) Hangover was also an option so you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself—I’ll respectfully remind you that your trek to The City only counts if you were screaming—at least internally under oversized headphones that’ll make you seem like a local when you end up on the Lower East Side—to either of the following: Alicia Keys or Taylor Swift (you know the ones). Redemption if you listened to Kanye (specifically “Flashing Lights”)—and double redemption if you somehow managed to avoid “Flashing Lights” (why’s it always gotta be “Flashing Lights”?). 

But I’m a sucker for it, too, and really, it’s no wonder why one might amplify their anticipation for beholding The City by listening to such songs—iconic pop-cultural sensations suitable for the iconic cultural hub itself. Museums and galleries and performances abound, not to mention real shopping opportunities and real food. The City has a lot to offer a Yale student. And let’s not forget about the sacred nail appointment to TrySomethingNewTM every three weeks. Life as a student is stressful, so why not travel two hours and be stressed out there?

But that’s precisely it; despite all the psychological and physical tolls traveling naturally inflicts, the trek to NYC is somehow cathartic, restorative, spiritual, even—the Metro North is clearly not like other girls. She’s glamorous—expressive, but cool and collected. She gives sultry stares to strangers she’ll never see again. She knows it, too, but does it anyway—even though she’s wearing the same variations of XXXL baggy jeans complemented by XXXS baby tees and will be tagged later that afternoon as a “tube girl” sporting, as we transition into fall, this season’s color “cherry red”—specifically in leather jackets and on nails. You’re guaranteed to feel better after completing your sacred route through The City, and then you can spend the train ride back reflecting and romanticizing your day while you pretend to do the work you brought with but were secretly hoping to be distracted from.

A daytrip to The City does distract from our problems, seems to make them magically disappear. I’m a pious believer that you can, indeed, run away from said problems (unless you, like me, happen to grace Times Square—especially recounting that unfortunate incident where I was chased by a man armed with a whip who knew how to use it and had to sprint across Times Square not once but TWICE, AND IT WAS THE SAME MAN BOTH TIMES). There’s some shade of pixie dust you’re only privy to when you’re a stone’s throw from Madison Ave. Maybe this shade of pixie dust is found in shimmery lip gloss, or maybe for some it’s in the saccharine residue of a glazed Krispy Kreme donut in the event that you absolutely must make your way through Times Square and want to make it count—but the truth stands that the sudden empowerment felt by the Yalie-turned-NYC-sojourner is real.


Probably it’s something as simple as interacting with “proper adults” who didn’t also exit the first Game Theory midterm applying what they learned in class to frantically try and optimize their grades. But I’d like to think that the magic of NYC is more special, that it lives in the temporary tattoos of all arcane shapes and line-art designs my friend and I feverishly applied at the Whitney Museum’s annual Halloween party.

The two of us single-handedly decreased the average age among attendees; a fact perhaps best emblematized by us donning our didactic skills to teach to the queue of enthusiastic adults who, albeit spritely, were but rambunctious creatures in the craft of temporary tattoo application. Suffice it to say: we were kind of a “big deal”—and many thought we were museum employees and approached us with questions. I’d like to imagine it was definitely because we had assumed the enigmatic and enchanted aura imbibed by merely crossing the threshold into The City. But if you press for details, you may hear that we arrived rather early—at an eager 7:30p.m.—though surely that wouldn’t explain away our…vociferous…command over the crowd, now would it?

The Halloween Party was only open to members of The Whitney, and member I had just become. While paying for admission to simply visit the museum at my suitemate’s ardent entreaty, they talked me into purchasing a membership. They must have done a good job, because here I am still convinced it was serendipity. I enjoyed my jaunt through the museum immensely, and for all the hours I spent wandering through the exhibitions, captivated by the irregular walls—not to mention the art actually on them—and for all the time I spent in transit and at Chelsea Market and even stopping covertly at the Starbucks Reserve, I did not once think about my readings or papers, my unread emails or timesheets, but instead basked in the beauty of the present. There’s something about being surrounded by art that reminds you what culture is—what it means to make “education” into “edification.” And there’s something about culture that expresses the beauty of controlled chaos, the ceaseless social interaction woven into the fabric of time, shared smiles and shy compliments that remind you of place, everyone coming and going—and some of them staying—in line-art trajectories tattooed on our brains like the intricate lines on my wrists and hands.

Soon I’ll have to head back to Grand Central, board the train and put on my headphones, dwelling in the same magic that glints off the shiny surface of my fresh temporary tattoos. Soon they’ll fade to dust and thin, latex-y membranes I’ll massage off my skin—but for now I feel charismatic and badass, like I’ve adopted an alter ego from the pulsations which keep The City forever alive, something as magical to acquire as to relinquish, knowing that today these streets have made me feel brand new.

“This station is: Grand Central. This is the train to: New Haven.”

Soon I’ll play the song again, but for now there’s something renewing in the soft exchanges among strangers with a kindness tender and fair, when the day’s memories twinkle with quaint narratives kept alive in the stories we tell and share, like that one time in March when some guy was writing two-dollar poems on the steps of the MET and I sat down beside him, and by happy accident wrote a constellation of humanity and cast it into the sky. 

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