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Published: August 7th 2007
New York, New York
Sinatra's favourite city.
Start spreading the news, I'm leaving today, I want to be a part of it, New York New York...
Yep, entry no.3 is coming to you from the Big Apple! It's nice and warm here, about 25 degrees here during the day - not as hot as it was in Boston.
Coming down from Boston, you enter New York City from the north, so the first area you see in NYC is The Bronx.
Abandoned, dilapidated buildings, packs of what look like gangsters loitering with intent on the sidewalk, and graffiti to the days - welcome to New York City.
My hostel is on 103rd St, and as the bus is driving southwards, and the streets get closer to 103rd with no visible improvement in the area, I start to get anxious (as it turns out, 103rd is alright - in parts!).
With the bus station on 42nd St, I caught a cab to take me back up to 103rd. The "hack" (what they call cab drivers here) was nuts, as he muscled his way through traffic and speed-demoned his way to my hostel. I did appreciate his efforts though ;-)
Cabs are reasonably cheap in NYC, and
Blinded by the lights.
you can work out exactly how much your fare is if you know how far you're going - every cab's the same. Rush hour traffic here is mad (especially around Times Square) - you need to be aggressive and have excellent judgement to drive here - I wouldn't want to though.
Areas in NYC can change from good to bad very quickly. Obviously, you stay away from The Bronx if possible, but in Manhattan there are pockets of bad areas, and my hostel happened to be in one of these pockets. Across the road there's a shady bunch dressed in 6XL t-shirts and baggy jeans, always loitering outside the corner shop. And to get to the blue and orange subway lines, you have to walk through two blocks of state housing. And I only discovered after 2 days that the red line downtown is one block in the other direction from the hostel - so I could've saved myself two "gauntlet" runs. In any case, you gotta be on your toes in NYC.
After finally getting a decent night's sleep, I hit the streets the next day - first stop, Times Square. Admittedly, it's better at night when all
Not the one on Ponsonby Road ;-D
the LCD screens take full effect, but the sidewalks are always full, mostly with tourists awestruck by all the bright lights (myself included).
Now I've always wanted to go to Grand Central Station, and I have to say that architecturally, it is every bit as beautiful as it is in the pictures, both inside and out. Access in the terminal is a little restricted though, due to restaurants claiming the nicer areas.
Being a big fan of art deco architecture, the Chrysler Building is probably my favourite in NYC. You can't go up there however, as all 77 floors are occupied by boring businesses such as lawyers and accountants ;-)
After getting some pics of the famous triangular Flatiron Building, it was time to go up the Empire State Building for sunset. The dreaded one-hour queues were non-existent as I walked straight through and up. Unfortunately, there was a bit of light rain and low clouds that reduced visibility, but I still managed to get some good shots.
I didn't appreciate the commercialism once you get to the top though - you are asked to take a photo in front of a green screen for free and when you walk
Probably my favourite building in New York.
out they give you a couple of photos of you with the Empire State Building in the background along with a CD. As you walk out, the girl at a cashier says "that'll be $21.85 please". I ain't paying for something I can Photoshop, so I politely declined and she takes my pictures and CD. They also place an audio tour in your hand, which you assume is free, before saying "that'll be $7". No thanks...
Didn't get up to much the next day, though I did check out Wall St, the New York Stock Exchange and of course, Ground Zero at the World Trade Center.
The site is now fenced off from the public as construction starts on a new "Freedom Tower" and memorial. Looking at the size of the site, you can only imagine the scale of this tragedy and there was no shortage of visitors paying their respects.
That night I experienced an American insitution. Unlike the Red Sox, the Yankees were playing and I was off to Yankee Stadium in the heart of The Bronx. But before you go thinking I'm on some sort of suicide mission, the trip was organised by the hostel
Empire State Building
Along with the Chrylser Building, the Empire State Building is your quintessential art deco building.
and lead by a local guide. There were about 40 of us on a group discount. Just as well, as we had to run the "gauntlet".
The Yankees are like the Real Madrid or Manchester Uniterd of baseball - star-studded, and the most recognised and successful team in baseball with 26 World Series Championships. The fact that I know current stars Derek Jeter, Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui and legends Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio says as much.
Jeter, the most popular Yankee, enjoys a high profile as the highest-paid baseball player in the world (which probably makes him the richest Derek in the world) as well as a string of supermodel girlfriends. Anyway, chicks dig him, so I thought I'd use it to my advantage by introducing myself as "Derek - like Derek Jeter", wink-wink. It didn't work though, as the two girls I was talking to turned out to be Dutch and had never heard of him ;-D
It wasn't an exciting game - 9 innings producing a measly 3 runs for a 2-1 Yankees win over the Oakland Athletics - but I was fascinated by the American baseball traditions. Of course you
Yankee Stadium holds in excess of 50,000 people. And they play "New York, New York" at the end of the game - when the Yankees win of course.
the famous American sport organ tunes and the national anthem is played before every game. Then at the top of the 7th inning, the crowd rises again for a rendition of "God Bless America". Most of the crowd clutch their chest during both songs. If you ask me, it's a bit over-the-top. Then again the Americans are a very patriotic bunch as Borat proved...
For most of the game, I was chatting to a David Smith from England (how many David Smith's do you think are in England?) about football (pronounced "soccer" here). David had rotting teeth, crooked eyes, was an Everton fan, and walked funny, so on first sight you'd think he was bonkers, or a drug addict. But apperances can be deceiving and he was indeed a good bloke. However our beautiful friendship ended once I revealed I was a Manchester United supporter ;-)
As well as another English bloke who supported Crystal Palace, I met an Irishman called Paul O'Connor (how many Paul O'Connor's do you think are in Ireland?). Turns out he was going to the same gig I was going to the next night in Brooklyn. He talked and sprayed saliva a bit much,
Statue Of Liberty
One New York babe you'll never forget. But they don't let you inside her these days ;-)
I appreciated having company for tomorrow night. And it turned out we both have a keen interest in alternative music and football.
Yesterday morning, I went to the Statue Of Liberty. The dreaded mile-long queue wasn't that at all and I was ferrying to Liberty Island in 25 mins.
The statue is actually smaller than I thought it was - I thought is was the size of a skyscraper. It's more like the size of the obelisk in One Tree Hill. I guess that's still quite big ;-) Apart from the statue and a great view of the Manhattan skyline, there's not a lot to do on Liberty Island, so it was back to the Hostel.
I met up with Irish Paul at about 6.30pm, to go to our gig. The band that we were going to see were The Stills from Montreal, and were playing at the "Celebrate Brooklyn" festival, a bit like the AK07 festival. It was a great evening of live music in the park. Paul had a couple of The Stills' CDs so he had heard them before and quite liked them. Personally I thought they were a bit average.
Brooklyn itself though, is
It's not all high rises and pretentiousness like Manhattan, and the buildings and apartments are still very nice, and things seem a lot more laid back here, without being too far away from the action.
Anyway, a few Budweisers later and me and Paul decide we should check out the the NYC indie music scene. The first place we go to is The Delancey, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, who were charging $6 for the live music downstairs. It was a bit of a leather-rock crowd down there, complete with skimpy onstage female dancer to keep the folks entertained between sets.
Interestingly, we see an all-African-American rock band called Rain Of Kings, who on appearance create expectations of Kele from Bloc Party, the drummer from The Libertines and TV On The Radio. However, Rain Of Kings never quite meet those lofty expectations, so it was off to an apparent "incubator" of local acts called Arlene's Grocery. The band we saw however, was actually from Minneapolis, but were very impressive nonetheless. Seymour Saves The World are a nerdy three piece with keyboard, bass and drums, reminiscent of Death Cab For Cutie, but more upbeat and poppy,
with an element of jazz.
After their set, I then asked the doorman the way to the famous CBGB's. He then told me that he could "if he had a time machine", as unbeknowst to me, the old place had finally bitten the dust. So it was back to the subway to get home, which took a full two hours! The trains are less frequent at this time in the morning, but this isn't the first time I've had gripes about the NYC subway.
I'm normally pretty good with subway maps, but in NYC I found it rather difficult. Multiple branches off the same line, local trains that turn out to be express trains, and inconsistent signage in stations make NYC's subway difficult to negotiate at the best of times. Add to this temporary station closures and temporary suspensions of service and it becomes a complete nightmare. However, I do like the simplicity of the street names - if the street names increase in number you're going north, and if they're decreasing, you're going south. Or if you notice the areas getting dodgier, then you're going north. Likewise, if the avenue numbers are increasing, you're going west, and if they're
A haven in the middle of the chaos, where you can escape the madness.
decreasing, you're going east.
When we finally get back, I bid Paul farewell and hit the sack.
The next day, I went for a stroll through Central Park. At 893 acres, it's pretty big and once inside, the traffic noise fades away. And with two zoos, two theatres, several lakes, a castle, two massive lawns, baseball fields, several statues and monuments, and a soundshell, there's plenty to do in there too. There is also a small park inside called Strawberry Fields, dedicated to John Lennon, over the road from where he was shot.
In the soundshell, there was a massive crowd and a huge line to get in, as Rodrigo y Gabriela were playing. But there are plenty of street performers to keep you entertained should you not be able to get into the bigger acts.
Central Park, and indeed NYC, is teeming with street performers, from a guy drumming on a drum made of plastic buckets, to breakdancers performing inside a moving subway carriage. There is also the more traditional sax players on Fifth Avenue and full jazz quartets in Central Park. And the quality of performance is usually pretty good too, and I tipped the plastic
View From Belvedere Castle In Central Park
A view of the Great Lawn atop Belvedere Castle in Central Park.
bucket drummer, the sax player on Fifth Avenue and a Chinese man playing lovely Chinese violin in a subway station. There are also scores of people trying to flog off anything from fake handbags to bottled water.
But for every street performer, there is beggar, such is the desperation and disparity on the streets of NYC. But at least some of them have a sense of humour, such as one in Times Square who was holding a sign saying; "Need a beer - but at least I'm not bullshitting you!"
NYC is also the most diverse city I've ever visited. There are literally people here from every corner of the globe, with a million different languages being spoken in the streets. And we thought MRGS was multicultural? Mind you, just about every person in the US is either an immigrant, or descended from immigrants, and New York was one of the first ports of call.
Service in NYC, and in fact in all the places I visited in the US, is generally apalling.
Most workers are rude, and can't wait to get rid of you. It makes you feel resentful when you have to hand them your money. One guy serving me pizza, was so grumpy it actually made me laugh!
It extends to people on the street too - twice I've approached people on the street for directions and they've kept walking, completely ignoring me. One of them was Asian too - you won't even help a brother out?
Is the begging, desperation and rudeness a product of over-population, overcommercialisation and a user-pays society? I've never quite understood the value of looking after the poor until now.
Four full days in NYC is probably enough to do all the touristy things - but there's so much to do here that you stay here a full two weeks and still find things to do. Which is exactly what one of my roommates is doing - he's just "being" in NYC, and good on him.
Could I live here? For a short while, yes. A six month to one year secondment would be ideal. But I think it's a bit too full-on to live here long term.
Anyway, am off to London now - a good chance to catch my breath and to organise a few things.
Won't be doing too much in London, so my next entry shouldn't be too long - but I guess you never know with me....
Until next time,
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