I wrote this on my first 'official' night living in New York. Inspired by Vivian Gornick, and Manhattan's "unintentional beauty," as Milan Kundera would have it.

An evening excursion in Chelsea, Manhattan, New York City

The streetlights hum low and lovely and I am pretending not to notice the sketchy men in brown leather vests fogging up the clear night sky (at least, as clear as city skies go), nearing ten o'clock on a brisk autumn evening. Lauren wanders slowly behind me, mismatching my abrupt pace, staring at the window displays in modern furniture stores. I see abstract expressionism posing for armchairs and coffee tables and enchanting patterned bedspreads that would put Martha Stewart to shame. We discuss dreams of abandoning this crazy pre-med (her) or engineering (me) thing and secretly become interior decorators, which is where our true talents probably lie anyway.

Before long, my inner compass (obviously defective) tells me that we are hopelessly lost. We had not sensed the familiar warm glow of the Old Navy store that would have ensured us safe passage to the 18th Street subway station, nor did we see Madonna's billboarded H&M advertisement in her $29 trackjacket. We had found ourselves on Gramercy Park South, land of the upscale bars and ambient Italian restaurants, peering longingly inside wondering when our Columbia degrees would grant us Golden Tickets into this magic realm of sweet-smelling candles and crystal wine glasses, charming waitresses and couples rubbing their noses together across the table over tiramisu. We slip through a couple of distinguished-looking men in suits, walking towards their cars red-faced and jovial. I smell clean white linen on one and fabricate his entire life in my head. He has a black cat named Nepenthe. He sorts his skittles in a visual pattern problem that once showed up on an IQ test twenty years ago. He likes scuba and saving the marshmallows in his hot chocolate for the very end.

We are still lost, and Lauren and I take turns summoning up the courage to ask someone for directions and risk looking like a tourist. It hardly matters, however. Although I am cleverly disguised as an indie poseur-child in my skinny jeans and beige blazer-jacket, Lauren sports a Columbia sweatshirt that practically radiates our displacement. It's my turn to approach somebody. I smile awkwardly at a middle-aged lady in a turquoise business suit and say, "Excuse me" before my voice trails off and I realize she won't be responding to me. Lauren's turn: she does the same thing and asks for the nearest subway station, except the fellow grins apologetically and shrugs, indicating that he cannot speak English. Luckily, a young man overhears our plea and unplugs his iPod headphones to spare us a few more blocks of pointless roaming. "Two blocks that way, it should be on your right." We thank him for being the fine Samaritan that he is, and practically skip the rest of the way.

We have impeccable timing. After boarding the cool, air-conditioned 1 train for our epic ride home, I find a seat above the subway map as a silent testimony to our adventure. A man with thick glasses gets on our train at Columbus Circle. He has a dog in his messenger bag. The couple next to us start petting him when his owner's back is turned. The man sitting across from us says, with all sincerity, "That has to be the cutest dog I've ever seen." We ask what breed it is: a toy fox terrier.

The hipster gets off at 79th Street, and our compartment collectively sighs and mourns the departure of the dog.

Peering into different worlds through the windows in Chelsea, or bonding with strangers over a little dog, or secretly wishing of what will be—all of that might have been worth shuffling around those dark streets asking for directions. The city is a crossroads. Different people going about their business—a couple enjoying a romantic dinner, a lady shopping for new clothes (see turquoise suit), a man who likes scuba and marshmallows—are all connected by the vibrancy of passing through a New York street in the same evening. Even two college girls with an aptitude for getting lost.