I have never written, properly, of my three days spent in New York. It was a long time ago now, back during that college trip where I also visited D.C and Philadelphia. I’ve not really wanted to write about it because not only was the city a massive let down, but there was some awful, shambolic things going on as well, mostly to do with a hotel cock-up. But, since I have written about Philadelphia and Washington, I feel the need to add New York for a sense of completeness, though I have been purposely selective in some of the details.
Lights, so many lights! Bright, in your face, overwhelming lights! The buildings are so big and so tall and the place is so noisy and full of people. It is, after a long day spent on a bus, all too overwhelming. Welcome to Times Square, the heart of New York City… For a kid from small town En-ger-land, not used to a mega-metropolis like this, this isn’t what you want to see when you’ve only just arrived.
Walking around, it is impossible to see anything properly. It is impossible to get a good view of the square or catch my bearings or work out where the heck anything is. In films and movies you get these wide, sweeping vistas, the impression that you can see everything, but down on the ground the reality is very different. All you can see is these in your face, glowing, neon, wall to wall adverts or cars or the backs of other people’s heads. And don’t you dare stop or you’ll find yourself in the way of about ten other people. The fact that the nearest building appears to be a sleazy gentleman’s club isn’t helping. This doesn’t look like the world famous heart of a world famous city, a place that a person must visit. This looks more like the wrong part of town, a place to get away from as fast as possible.
I would rather go straight to bed right now, especially after such a long day and especially as I’m feeling ill from all the lights and stuff in Times Square, but unfortunately for me there is a scheduled visit to the Empire State Building to get through. It’s a long slog away from Times Square, exactly what I don’t need or want, and the Empire State Building turns out to be an expensive load of nothing anyway.
We get there, there’s a lengthy queue, the ubiquitous security checkpoint, a brief photo in front of a green-screen (extra to buy the actual photo) and then, and only then, do you get to go up to the top. There’s nothing up here, except for the view, and because it is night there’s nothing much to see except for a lot of lights blurring away into the distance. Whilst the city itself is well lit, nothing much can be made out. There’s a big black square in the middle, Central Park, but you can’t really call it seeing Central Park when it’s all dark. It’s a very pretty view, but you can only stay staring a bunch of lights for so long and seeing as I am not a fan of heights (and still feeling ill from the lights of Times Square) I don’t particularly want to stay up here for too long. Eventually I retreat, I don’t even go to the very top observation deck, and make my way back down to safer ground, the lobby. Unfortunately the meeting point is in the little shop, one floor above, so I’m left waiting down below until someone has the nouse to come and find me. I do find a swastika hidden in the marble work whilst I’m waiting though.
I can’t say I have been all that impressed with New York so far. This city is paraded in so many movies and TV shows as this wonderful, fantastic place, full of hopes and dreams, of chirpy street vendors selling hotdogs, wise cracking smart alecs, and a friendly, loveable, community atmosphere. In movie New York everything is fun, fun, fun! In reality, it appears to suck. It’s big and bright and overwhelming and there isn’t that much friendliness around. But maybe that’s just because what I’ve seen so far hasn’t been the best this city has to offer.
Next morning- Dragged out of bed at eight of the AM for a disappointing breakfast. The breakfast at the Happiness Hotel back in D.C was better than this, and that was a crap-hole. This hotel, somewhere in Hell’s Kitchen, at first appears nice and swanky but is actually covered in buboes of black death. I’m not even going to talk about it. I don’t want to think about it. It still makes me shudder all these years later.
Out in the cold of the New York February morning I’m feeling better than I did yesterday. I’m still not impressed much because this isn’t the most picturesque neighbourhood, but this morning I will at least get to see a few more sights than just Times Square and a few twinkling lights. Once again, like we had in D.C, there is to be a walking tour. It’s conducted by a native New Yorker, no I can’t recall his name, but he has a horse’s head on a stick so that we know where he is and where we’re going.
The first part of the tour, through Hell’s Kitchen, towards Columbus Circle, is not all that interesting. The tour guide points out a few mediocre features on some not impressive residential buildings, an inflatable rat which is hanging around as some kind of protest against corruption, and not much of any lasting significance. You can tell he’s proud of New York, proud of his city, and that is a lovely thing, but you can see the same sorts of things he is pointing out pretty much anywhere. Only when we get to Columbus Circle, at the corner of Central Park, do things get a little more interesting.
I like Columbus Circle, it is the first actually nice bit of New York which I’ve seen. We probably only spend ten or fifteen minutes here, going inside to see the view over Central Park and down towards Fifth Avenue, and I’m pretty sure that the next stop will be Central Park. Despite being a cold day, it is nice enough to go have a wander around a big green space like that… It will also be nice to not be surrounded by eye wateringly tall skyscrapers. I’m beginning to feel trapped by walls here. The open space will be lovely.
Only I am wrong, as we don’t go into Central Park at all. The tour guide takes us right past it, right alongside, down to Fifth Avenue. The guide points to the hotel used in Home Alone II and then points to another building down the street, the lair of some evil, corporate megalomaniac. The only reason I have heard of this evil, corporate, megalomaniac is because his surname is a slang term for a fart. I take a photo for that reason… Now I wish I hadn’t done that because, well, it’s the lair of an evil, corporate megalomaniac who all these years later attempting to do many evil things, like recreating the Berlin Wall across the Mexican border. I’d rather not go in there these days, for the same reason, but the tour guide thinks it will be a brilliant idea and rides his horse’s head into this quite frankly awful, dimly lit atrium, which is covered, entirely, in bits of red marbley stuff and gold edgings. This, this, THIS, is the very definition of tacky. It was, clearly, designed by somebody without taste and without any sense of subtlety. The only mildly interesting bit is a massive gold waterfall, and only because it would make a good climbing wall.
The tour guide continues to march us around mid-town, to sights like St Patrick’s Cathedral, the New York Public Library, the Rockefeller Centre and the Chrysler building. It has, at least, picked up a bit of interest since leaving Megalomania HQ. The inflatable Spider-Man perched on one building is far more worthy of a photograph than the inflatable rat. I absolutely love and adore Grand Central, though being led through the labyrinthine lobbies, I get the impression that it must be almost impossible to find the correct platform. I am also particularly impressed by the ceiling of the Chrysler Building lobby. That thing is a work of art, something America should be proud of.
Sadly, we don’t get to see anything for very long. It’s just a quick view, enough time to take a photo, a quick wander through the building entrance if it’s possible, then out the other side again. We do stop, briefly, for a bite to eat and a rest at Rockefeller, but it wouldn’t have been my choice to stop.
The tour ends outside Macy’s, and for the afternoon we get to do some shopping! I would rather visit a museum of sorts, but I do buy a computer game from a little shop. I never actually play it properly because it’s a bit rubbish- A proper waste of thirty dollars, in other words.
Evening brings a relief from the disappointments in the form of a Broadway hit- Hairspray. Again, not my choice, and I don’t think I’m going to enjoy it. It’s just what you want from a Broadway show though, it’s cheesy, unforgivably catchy and has Norm from Cheers dressed as a woman- I’ve had a soft spot for it ever since, I’m not afraid to admit- It’s a decent end to a long day of very little.
The next morning involves a lot of waiting around in the hotel lobby, for this is the last day, and our bags are all being put into the hotel storage, ready for collection later on. There is still more of New York to see before then, however.
Firstly, the New York subway system… What an awful, terrible, hole this is! New York City government could make something of this, but nah, why bother? Let’s leave it all dank, and grey and slimy. If anywhere betrays the whole idea, from the movies, that New York is this amazing, glitzy place, it’s the subway system. It’s this horrid, sweltering pustule beneath the surface. It’s a cess pit. Thankfully the ride down the rails to the tip of Manhattan Island is not a long one and the train isn’t too full of uncouth types either.
At the other end, finally, wide open space, fresh air and the sea… Or what counts as the sea, I guess. Given that it is still February everything about is a bit grim and brown, but it is far nicer down here, in the bit of New York they call Battery Park, than it is up there in Midtown.
The group is corralled towards the Liberty Island Ferry, somebody goes off to collect the tickets, and there is more waiting. Unfortunately two people decide to disappear, which renders any chance of us actually getting off the boat, onto the island, null and void. We’re also supposed to see Ground Zero whilst we’re down here but that waiting means we might not. There may not be time for that and a Liberty Island Ferry ride. There isn’t, and we won’t get to see Ground Zero. That, and the fact we also won’t be able to get off the boat, is just another pair of disappointments in the whole string of disappointments that has been this city.
Getting onto the boat isn’t easy either. There is a longer than necessary safety briefing, cramped inside what appears to be an old cattle warehouse, precisely like a herd of cattle, or maybe the chickens in one of those awful chicken farms that sometimes appear on Countryfile, but that only comes after the ubiquitous security checkpoint.
There are little trays to put everything in… You’re bag, your phone, keys etc… I put everything in, take off my watch, put in the tray. The security lady intervenes.
‘Don’t put your watch in the tray,’ she tells me. Alright then… I start to put my watch in my bag.
‘No… Don’t put the watch in the bag.’ Right… Back on my wrist then!
‘No… Do not put your watch back on your wrist.’ Errr… Where do I put it? I try to put it in my bag again.
‘NO, NO… Do not put your watch in the bag.’ I am very confused by this point and the lady is getting very annoyed and very intimidating. I can’t seem to put the watch anywhere and the lady postulates to her colleague, in front of me, if I’m a bit dumb. Where the watch went I have no idea in the end, but it must have gone somewhere.
The boat ride is pleasant, but short and crowded, and all too soon it is over. With the ending comes the end to this entire trip, a coach ride to JFK, a flight back to Heathrow and then another long, long coach ride back up north. I can’t say I’ve been all that impressed with New York, I much preferred D.C and Philadelphia. Then again, it may have been because in New York we saw almost everything and yet practically nothing at the same time. There was no time to adjust, to get used to it. There was very little time for stopping, for sitting and staring. It all made the big apple taste a bit, well, rotten, I guess.