Meet Su Jung and read about our serendipitous adventure together. See my complete photo gallery here.
A young woman approached me, asking if could I take a photo of her in front of the building at the corner of Bedford and Grove Streets. As a photographer I always relish the opportunity to do this for a visitor. My puzzlement as to why this building was soon answered when she asked was this in fact the building used in the popular TV series Friends? I answered that I did not know (it turns out it is) but if so, it would certainly only be for the exterior shots only and that the balance would have been done in a studio. She appeared to be somewhat disappointed. This type of thing is a common quest and also the type of thing tours often feature. However, just seeing a building or location without the characters can often be a bit of a let down.
My second question as to why she was alone, deep in the West Village in one of New York City's biggest blizzards in history was also soon answered. Su Jung is a 22 year old engineering student from Korea, studying for one year in California and was visiting New York City for the Christmas weekend and had been trapped in the city due to a cancelled plane flight. She did have friends in the city with her, but they were uninterested in making the pilgrimage in a blizzard to accompany her.
Seeing an opportunity to brighten her day and at the same time have a companion, I explained my day's mission and asked would she like to come along. I got a resounding yes, so off we were into the streets and storm. I also told her of this website and asked would she like to be a story. She was delighted, so my time with her also included photos punctuating our adventure.
I now switched gears, turning this much more into a private tour, knowing full well that for me, any route would take me through snow laden environments and plenty of photo ops. I showed her my favorite spots including Commerce street, Cherry Lane Theater, Grove Court and Washington Mews.
However, I had planned to go all the way to the Hudson River, truly insane in this weather. Was she game? A resounding yes again. She did ask how far and I explained that in Manhattan, the river was never that far, with the entire island being only 2 miles wide and we were in fact only a few blocks away.
We went to the Christopher Street pier. The wind was howling with gusts over 50 miles per hour - absolutely frigid, cutting your face like a knife. The sun was setting, the lighting and atmosphere was dramatic. I pointed out the Statue of Liberty, the Verrazano Bridge, the financial district and New Jersey across the river where snow was being blown, looking like a sandstorm (see gallery). Su commented how waves were rolling in like the ocean. Even though she had a wool hat and mittens, she often felt it necessary to cover her ears.
On our return, I took Su Jung by 121 Charles Street, on of my favorite anomalies in the entire city (lower center photo) and then down Bleecker Street, stopping in renowned guitar shop Matt Umanov and Murray's Cheese. I followed with a jaunt through Washington Square Park which she had not yet visited with its Christmas tree still up.
I had a nagging problem however - a girl with soaked, cold feet. Like many, she had purchased Ugg-styled boots not realizing these were not waterproof. In fact, they operate more like sponges than protective footwear in wet weather. The situation desperately needed to be dealt with and she said she would try to find a place to buy new boots. In this weather I asked? Most stores were closed and she did not know the city. If she liked, I could take her up Broadway towards Union Square, where most likely David Z or Shoemania would be open. Shoemania was living up to its name - it was a veritable zoo with hundreds with the same dilemma shopping for footwear, appropriate for the storm.
Su Jung made a quick decision but showed concern about my time waiting. No matter - I was committed to seeing her through this and out of those wet boots. She made her selection quickly but was worried that she was taking the last size 4 and another woman after her expressed interest. No matter, I replied. You were first and your feet are cold and wet. There were no appropriate socks, however, so back out into the cold in wet feet, with Su Jung saying she would deal with this at her hotel on the upper west side.
I was bothered by this - my home was just a few blocks away and I agonized about suggesting the obvious which could certainly be misconstrued. But I asked - did she want to stop at my home, warm up, dry off, change her socks and then go to her hotel? I was surprised to get the same charming yea that I had gotten the entire afternoon. Arriving at my home on Washington Square North, I explained my good fortune to live in such an historic building overlooking a park (and my reason for living in the same apartment for 30 years).
Once inside, I attended to the first order of business: I gave Su Jung a selection of several pairs of socks and a hairdryer, suggesting she use it to dry her feet. She seemed very much at home, sitting in the center of my living room on the floor. When I suggested she could use a chair, she responded that she was quite comfortable there - she was Korean.
Afterwards we spent some time perusing my website. It was 8PM and we had been together nearly 4 hours. I suggested she may want to return to her hotel and friends. Another yea, and off we were to the subway where I told her that she was to take the C train only. A parting hug and off she went.
Overall, it was a remarkable day. Su Jung's incredible trust as a newcomer to New York City gave me an unprecedented sense of responsibility. Her joyous and adventurous spirit was truly disarming. No need to find a special building on Bedford and Grove or watch a TV series if you're looking for Friends ...
Note: Here is the email I received from Su Jung the following day:
It was the most awesome day in the last 3 days in NY. I couldn't ever imagine I would meet Brian and have fun looking around the real NY life that I could ever get by myself. I was kind of deseparate from the calcellation of the flight to LA cause I'd been thinking Cali was much better than NY. It seems like Californian in spacious and quiet area by oceans can afford to enjoy their life more than New Yorkers in the packed city. The 3days' itinerary was too short that I was traveling around only the main landmarks like Times Square and Wall street just crowded by tons of tourists around so I couldn't reveal the charm of New York. However, yesterday's journey changed my mind and I gotta love staying more days in NY thanks to the snow storm and it was 'no pain no gain':D. My feet were frozen by the watery ugg boots.