An Englishman In New York

Editorial note: This will be the first in a number of posts over the next few weeks. I have a lot of ground to cover regarding my recent exploits and the best way to do this is to get it out there before it becomes ancient history.

I’ve just come back from only my third trip east of the Mississippi in 27 years. The main purpose of this little jaunt was to meet my sweetheart’s family in New Jersey, with the added benefit of some sightseeing and meeting some of her friends. As our time was short, we  only had one day in which we could see some of the local sites, so we made our way to  the nearest train station and headed into New York.

We had sketched out an itinerary, but as is usually the case, this was rather fluid and subject to change depending on circumstances, so we weren’t tied to the sort of rigid route march like agenda so common when time is short.  Our original intention had been to take the train to Penn Station and make our way from there, but due to repairs further up the line, we had to change at Hoboken and then take the PATH train into the city. Despite what you might imagine, there is no 200 foot high statue of the city’s most famous son, nor is the station named after him, but I did get  a very good view of the south end of Manhattan, and in particular, the World Trade Center while walking along the platform, so it wasn’t a bad start to the day.

Our change of lines meant that our arrival point was the station  under the World Trake Center aka The Occulus, a vast, shining, white labyrinth of very high  end shops under a vast, curved glass ceiling. It has a very futuristic feel about it, and was the antithesis of the stereotypical New York Subway station seen so many times in an endless stream of gritty, realistic movies from the ’60’s and ’70’s.

This meant that we were much  closer to our first stop of the day, an historic pub on Water Street called “The Dead Rabbit” where we met my sweetheart’s niece and her boyfriend. We enjoyed a very nice meal ( See ‘Food, Glorious Food’) and chat before they walked us down to the Staten Island Ferry.

Suitably fortified, this, at  least for me, marked the start of our sightseeing trip. I’m not sure what I expected, but I found a mix of the familiar and new in the terminal. Of course, it was much bigger than the ferry terminals I’m used to in my part of the world, but there was  still the expected mix of locals and tourists, although with more food outlets and people touting trips and cold drinks. Still, the ferry is free, so the constant assault of offers for tours and the like was as small price to pay. The ferry, although not much smaller than the Seattle boats, was foot traffic only, for obvious reasons, so we found a spot on the uppermost deck and tried not to block traffic.

I will admit that one of the things that irritates me the most about the local boats is the hordes of tourists swarming topside to gawp and take selfies. I just don’t see the attraction of taking a picture of a partial view, but I suppose social media is all about the self, so go figure. On the way to Staten Island the most prominent sight is that of  Lady Liberty, and I suppose there are now hundreds of people showing their phones to friends and saying  “Here’s a picture of me blocking the view of the Statue of Liberty”. Not so I. Of course, I took pictures, but I made darn sure I’m nowhere in frame. It’s a very enjoyable ride, I have to say, and by far the best and cheapest way to see such a famous landmark. The journey back is a little more prosaic, although there is a very good view of Governor’s Island and the Brooklyn Bridge, so all in all, a very enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half, although the Starbucks in the Staten Island terminal has by far the worst espresso in the world.

Due to the extreme heat and humidity, both in the high ’80’s we took a cab along FDR Drive, rather than the Subway to the Empire State Building,  the next stop on our trip. I’ll save the details  for “Empire State Human”, but it was without doubt the highlight of the whole trip, and well worth the price, although I could have done without the stress of being in New York traffic.

After exiting via the gift shop – what else did you expect? – we retired to an Irish pub – again, what else did you expect?- to regain our strength before meeting one of my sweetheart’s friends for a light dinner. Imagine, however, our surprise to see chalk boards either side of one of the pub’s many T.V. screens decorated with Seahawks and Husky logos. Apparently, the pub, Feile, is home to quite a lot of U.W. alums! Who knew?

We had  intended to visit The Highline, the park built on part of the old elevated railway line, but time and temperature meant we decided to leave it until our next visit, but even so, our truncated schedule made for a very long day, and we were glad to be able to relax on the train home. At least this  time we were able to leave from Penn Station and avoid changing trains.

I realise that two pubs and two attractions don’t make for an especially exciting or enlightening post, but considering out time constraints, I don’t think it was a bad use of time. I’ve checked something off my bucket list, and had a fine time to boot.

But enough of this travelogue bullshit. What are my impressions of New York? Well, it was just what I expected, but also, not. it was incredibly crowded, with hordes of people barreling along narrow sidewalk at  the bottom of concrete canyons. Even London isn’t as crowded. I was surprised at how many storefronts are not much more than a door and a small window, with dozens of such glorified kiosks on each block. Many stores appeared to offer little more than gaudy trinkets or fast food of dubious quality, yet many others seemed to be long established local stores.

The traffic was insane, and we narrowly avoided a collision due only to the quick reflexes of our taxi driver as a car pulled into traffic from the kerb without warning. I will admit to gasping and slamming my right foot onto a non existent brake pedal, but this seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary to our driver. I guess I’m just a small town  boy after all. One other thing that struck me was the noise. The fact that the area consists entirely of very tall buildings means that all sounds are trapped in narrow canyons, and I’m sure my sweetheart was as tired of repeating herself as I was of asking her to repeat herself. It’s not that it was a deafening roar, but a constant background bass rumble that made it very difficult indeed for me to hear anything at all.

On our way to dinner I did experience a truly N.Y. experience. While crossing the street we witnessed a homeless woman with obvious mental issues yelling incoherently at a (I’m sure totally legitimate) street trader. We all found something truly fascinating  in the middle distance on which to fix our gaze and moved on. Once clear of the conflict zone both my sweetheart and her friend said “Welcome to New York”. I guess some things never change

 

 

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