Big Apple huge on culture

Leia Karimul Bashar

I went to New York City for spring break, and among the popular tourist destinations I visited, several stood out and turned the trip into an unforgettable experience.

Ground Zero

In 2001, I had the opportunity to visit the World Trade Center in all its glory just five months before the Sept. 11 attacks. I remember being so amazed by the impressive stature of the twin towers that I laid down on my back between the buildings to get what turned out to be a fairly decent picture of them as they arched toward the sky.

I’ve had more than seven years to come to grips with 9/11, just like everybody else, but when the taxi cab driver pulled up to Ground Zero, it was a sobering moment. All the emotions from that terrible day came rushing back, and the passengers in my cab were on the verge of tears.

A fence surrounded the spot where the buildings once stood, and there were holes in the fence where we could peer in and see the construction work taking place to build the memorial. The experience was extremely emotional. I felt a strange combination of anger, acceptance and sadness. I was exhausted after we returned to the hotel, and I had to lie down for several hours.


I learned something important during my visit to Chinatown. As we walked along the crowded sidewalk looking for a place to eat, we came across a kindly old restaurant owner standing outside his shop. He was ordering random tourists to come in and eat his food because his was “the best restaurant in Chinatown.” The food looked pretty good, but I was on a tight budget, so I asked him if there was a buffet. Apparently this was the funniest thing he had heard in his entire life. “Buffet?” he asked me incredulously. “No buffets in Chinatown!” So there you have it, lesson learned.

The Late Show with David Letterman

If you ever get tickets to this show, be prepared to pretend you’re having a good time. A few hours before the show, several Late Night interns herded me and other guests into a small room and told us the rules. He said we had to laugh at each of Dave’s jokes like it was the funniest thing we’d ever heard. Fine, I thought, I can handle that. The most important rule to remember is no peeing is allowed once you enter the Ed Sullivan Theater. I thought this would be no problem, either, but I was wrong. I was so wrong.

As we lined up to enter the theater, I felt a slight urge to use the restroom. By the time we got to our seats, it was a full-blown emergency. I went up to one of the interns and asked him if I could please use the restroom.

“If you don’t get back to your seat right now, missy, you’ll be up in the balcony for the rest of the show,” he basically spat in my face. I felt like I had no choice because I had a great sixth row seat in the center of the theater, and I wanted my family to see me on TV that night. Imagine the worst you’ve ever had to pee, and then imagine having to hold it in for two more hours.

To top it off, they made us clap the entire time during commercial breaks until our hands were about to fall off. The unlucky people on the edges of the rows had to hold their hands up in the air and clap. If anybody on the edges stopped clapping, one of the interns would run over to them and clap aggressively in their faces until they started clapping again. It was like we were being ordered around by fun-Nazis. With the urge to urinate constantly on my mind, I had to sit through two interviews with Nicolas Cage and Rachel Maddow, which made me sad because I love Maddow’s show and I could barely pay attention to what she was saying.

After the Letterman show, I found a McDonalds with a public restroom, and then I came across an Irish pub called O’Lunney’s, where I met two Canadian tourists who had also been to the show. They told me they had to pee the entire time, too. We laughed about the show, and drank our cares away on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day. As I made my way back to the hotel that evening, I took in the sights, sounds and smells that are New York, and I wanted to shout out: “I LOVE THIS TOWN!” a la Winston Zeddemore at the end of “Ghostbusters,” but I was sobering up, and I didn’t want to look too touristy. New York City: truly is an amazing city.