Last Thursday, I landed at New York’s JFK airport. It was a warm fall evening, the last of its kind – the following days it turned bitter cold. I had met Isabel from SODA Books on the plane and we shared a cab to Manhattan.
I felt drawn back to New York for several reasons. One of which was that I needed some time and space to write my next book. Far away from home, with a substantial time difference – that’s the most effective scenario for me, especially now that I was pushing up against a deadline.
I had booked a hotel on the Bowery. It was affordable, the reviews generally positive and the pictures online looked fine. I wanted to stay near the Yoga studios where I’d be taking classes. In the past, I’ve always stayed with friends, but this time I wanted to be completely alone.
On my way into the hotel, I quickly realized that this was going to take some guts. There were junkies lining the hallway, looking me up and down with droopy eyes. It was almost midnight and I just wanted to sleep. I took a deep breath and walked on, gripping my suitcase.
When I got to the front desk, a seriously stoned lady checked me in, reading the house rules out loud to me in halftime: no eating in the room because of the rats. No phone calls except in the lobby (which was filled with shady characters). No setting your own alarm – if you want to wake up, we’ll take care of that. Hallelujah – where was I?! I told myself to chill out, Madhavi, and tried to relax.
I purchased an adaptor from the front desk – had left mine at home in Berlin yet again – and then made my way up to my room. When I opened the door, I had a silent laughing fit and had to sit down. I was in a tiny, windowless cabin with an open ceiling – more of a pod than a room. The air was stale and uncomfortably warm. I searched for an outlet to charge my almost-dead phone and came up empty. My laptop was dead too. I felt like crying – how was I going to work on my book in this desolate, drug-dump? Keep cool, I thought to myself – this is Yoga, the real deal. Just go with it…
At some point, I realized that this wasn’t really a hotel, but more of hostel – or a cheap by-the-hour motel. It was the middle of the night, otherwise I would have taken off immediately. When I went to the shared bathroom to freshen up, a lady was calmly shooting up in the shower. No thanks.
With my money and passport stuffed under my pillow – I wasn’t taking any chances – I tried for some shut eye. After a few minutes, I could hear snores from the other pods. Of course – the ceilings were all open. To my left, someone was noisily munching chips. I was starting to lose it. Behind me, another lady was talking on the phone, despite the explicit house rules. Practice serenity now, I thought to myself.
Please let me sleep!
At some point, as I was trying to hypnotize myself with mantras so that I could finally get some rest, a woman began to squeal like a dying pig. I sat up, electrified – no chance for sleep now. The police arrived, more screaming and at this point it was three in the morning. I still hadn’t slept a wink. I wasn’t sure anymore if I was just overreacting or if it was time to leave this hell-hole. In any case, time for Yoga, I thought.
At Gurmukh’s Golden Bridge Yoga studio there’s a five-a.m. offering. Perfect. I was there at 4:35, ready to go – somehow sensing that my luck wasn’t going to shift just yet. Sure enough, I checked online and only today, the five-a.m. class was cancelled. I was about ready to lose my tired mind, but got it together and moved on.
No way was I going back to my room. The only place open this early was Starbucks. So, I landed there and finally charged my dead phone.
You don’t always have to endure
At five-a.m. one gets a sense of the scope of poverty in Manhattan. I handed out my dollar bills like chewing gum, unable to leave the others out this early without a warm cup of coffee.
I had to decide: stay in the hell-hole, having pre-paid a whopping 400 Euro, or should I search for a new digs? Was I just being inflexible? Spoiled and picky? I decided on a new hotel and set out in the Manhattan dawn to find one. Those who know New York prices feel my pain: it’s not easy to find something affordable. I finally discovered the Ludlow Hotel online – it was just around the corner and I took a chance and booked. I couldn’t get much worse, I thought.
I collected my things from the hell-hole and tried to get my money back using all the charm and empathy I could muster. It worked. I left, still surrounded by junkies, prostitutes and police.
Two streets down, I moved into my new digs. 18th floor with a view of Manhattan. A dream. I fell into bed, took a deep breath and was flooded with gratitude for this experience, for having taken such good care of myself. Self-care is so important! And sometimes, flexibility is not the same thing as endurance. Learning to tell the difference is Yoga too!
© Maria Schiffer