Five questions not to ask New Yorkers when you’re building a travel writing portfolio

If travel writing is all about storytelling, then I’m in big trouble

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This guy didn’t want to answer any of my deep questions. Photo: M. Yung

As a Midwesterner and an aspiring travel writer visiting the Big Apple over spring break, I wanted to use a trip to New York City to build my portfolio. Sounds easy enough, right?

However, good travel writing is all about storytelling, or so the big-time travel bloggers tell me. And in order to tell a story, one must fully immerse oneself in a new culture. One must talk with the natives, learn the local customs, and ask the hard questions. Y’know, the questions that reveal fresh cultural perspectives and which way is north.

Watch out world, my travel storytelling is gonna take off any minute based on the slew of revelatory conversations I generated with New Yorkers by asking them these five riveting questions:

Number 1: Where am I?

I asked this question of a 60-something man standing against a concrete column at LaGuardia Airport. I was trying to find the pick-up spot for the Uber I had reserved. “D Terminal. The lower,” he informed me before shifting his feet and looking away.

See what I mean? There’s good fodder for a story.

Number 2: How do we get to the ferry?

The 20-something construction worker rose from the barrel he was leaning against and walked toward us. I think I had interrupted the break he had been taking at the far west end of Huron Street in Greenpoint. He pointed one block down, toward India Street, just south of where we stood. “Go through all the construction, keep to the right, and you’ll get there,” he offered.

Can’t wait to build a ten-minute read off that one, I told myself.

Number 3: Why do you think I need a fork?

Just as I uttered this profound query,  a rice noodle slinked off my chopsticks, splashing a drop of broth onto my glasses. The young waiter at Lao Ma Spicy in Greenwich Village had just walked by our table and offered me an alternative utensil. Apparently, I seemed to be struggling.

I mulled over his offer. My stomach rumbled. “Yes, that would be fine,” I said. I set down my chopsticks, blotted my glasses with the corner of my napkin, and waited for a fork to appear.

A travel tale for the ages, folks.

Number 4: Is this train headed south?

When I asked this head-scratcher, I had just become separated from my daughter as we headed back to our flat one evening. She had boarded the train; I missed it. Man, those doors move fast. So I hopped on another train on the opposite side of the platform. After finding a seat, I wanted to verify that I was indeed on the right bullet to Brooklyn. I asked an Orthodox Jewish man next to me; he looked up from his scriptures and confirmed that yes, the G train would take me south.

A novel will come from that encounter. I just know it.

Number 5: How do we get out of here?

After wandering around the subway maze that exists below Times Square, I posed this question to a man striding by in a navy blue uniform. He looked to the ceiling, waved his finger back and forth as if tracing some imaginary constellation and replied, pointing off in the distance, “Take that train to Court Square.”

Yet another meaningful exchange.

All right, maybe my conversations weren’t the kind to evoke rich and meaningful dialogues upon which to build fascinating tales of travel and intrigue. Oh, well. Maybe next time I’ll be able to focus on the people and places I’m experiencing instead of merely focusing on how to navigate public transit.

So, thank you, New Yorkers, for exploring my existential wanderings on street corners and in subway stations, and for not ducking away too quickly when you realized that I was just another tourist, confused, bewildered, and amazed at the city you know and love so well.


My daughter and I visited NYC for a week in mid-March. We asked questions when we needed to, just not ones that will give my travel writing the shot in the arm that it needs. It was a great trip, nevertheless. Feel free to leave a comment or follow my blog for more. And thanks for reading!

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Dear new parents: Complicate your child’s life. Spell their name weird.

Test drive some of the names I’ve collected for this post.

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Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

Dear New Parents,

It’s time to choose a name for your baby, the most beautiful baby who has ever existed in the entire history of the Earth. How do you even begin to accomplish this most important of destiny-defining parental tasks?

Well, based on recent trends, you start by choosing a somewhat traditional name, but then you spell it weird. For example, thinking about Sarah? Go with it, but make sure you spell it Sarrah. Prefer Sydney? That’s fine, just spell it Sidnee. It’s cuter that way, and complicated, too, and besides, everybody’s doing it. All good reasons.

To help you choose a name and spell it weird, below please find a two-step form so you too can make life difficult for your newborn.

Step 1: Once you understand your motivations behind choosing a name for your baby, you’ll know nothing more than exactly why you would do this to a kid. Check no more than two, (okay, maybe three), below:

___I want to make my child re-spell their name a bajillion times.

___I want to take revenge on my child for a difficult labor and/or delivery.

___I want to show the world how creative and individual my child will be and I’m going to do it with my child’s primary identifier.

___I want to make my child repeat the re-spelling of their name, double-check and triple-confirm that it’s right, only to see it still spelled wrong on the receipt, coffee cup, diploma, etc.

___I want to ensure that my child will never find a pre-printed personalized key chain, miniature license plate, or bracelet ever in their entire life, thereby saving me $5.95 plus tax at least three times every time we go someplace new.

___I want everyone to know that my child is so unique, I have no choice but to bestow him or her with an equally unique name that makes everyone ask, “What?! Who?! Whyyyyyy?”

Step 2: Once you understand your “why,” test drive some of the names below. You’ll find more girl choices than boy choices. Not sure the reason, but it seems people spend way more time trying to be cute with girls than boys. Circle your first, second, and third choices, and then apply them to your dog or spouse over a two- or three-day period or to save time, go with your number one choice and force it upon your child for all time.

The names and their traditional spellings are on the left below, followed by the weirdly spelled variants, which by the way, are actually spellings I’ve seen lately on social media and on TV.

Girls’ Names

Abigail–Abagayle

Alexis–Allexous

Britney—Brytani

Cassidy—Kassadee

Casey—Kaci

Chloe—Chloey

Crystal—Chrystle

Emily—Emmali

Hailey—Halee

Katie—Kadee

Kimberly—Kymberleigh

Kinsley—Kinzlea

Lexi—Leksei

Lindsay—Linsie

Madeline—Madalynne

Mikayla—Micayla, Makaila, Makayla

Olivia—Alivia

Sierra—Syiera

 

Boys’ Names

Caley—Kaylyb

Conrad—Konrad

Jared—Jarid

Jordan—Jorden

Lucas—Lukus

Trey—Tray

Cameron—Kamryn

These are all I’ve been able to collect so far, but they should be enough to get you well on your way to complicating your child’s life. So don’t forget: as the parent, you are in total control here. Consider the long-term effects of your spelling choice… then choose the weirdest spelling you can dream up.


Heard or seen any outlandishly creative spellings for traditional names? Click “like” below and reply in the comments. Also, feel free to correct me if I’m taking this a bit far or have failed to see some redeeming value in the weird spellings of names.