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It’s up to you

January 12, 2010

At the godawful hour of 4.30 my alarm sprang to life so we struggled out of bed and waited for the shuttle bus to the airport. Outside the air was crisp and cold as we loaded the bags into the van and set off. The driver took a roundabout route, stopping at various hotels in the hope of finding more customers. With time getting on I was about to say something but we hit the highway and made our way to the airport. Due to the Detroit incident security was even tighter than usual, so the line crawled through security. We had just enough time to eat a terrible breakfast from Wendy’s before we boarded the plane and launched off to Philadelphia.

I dozed off before the plane began its descent. At the carousel we waited for ages until our bags finally came and we ran for the downtown train. We rolled past graffiti-laden bridges before arriving in Philadelphia proper and finding the bus that would bear us up to New York City. I slept some more before awaking as we passed New Jersey, and then, in the distance, lay New York City. Through tunnels and freeways we passed and then suddenly we were in the Big Apple. The noise, the crowds and the cold wind that bit through jackets and jeans made for an intoxicating combination as we disembarked and walked the two blocks to the hostel.

After checking in and stowing our bags we returned to the crazy streets and wandered up to Times Square, where the crowds got worse. We ate $14 nachos at a TGIF, an outrageous price by American standards. We went back into the chaos and walked until it got dark and headed for home. After dinner we headed to an Irish bar called Molly Wee’s not far from the hostel and toasted New York City.

Rising early the next morning we went downtown intending to catch the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Courtesy of the impending New Year however, there were tourists everywhere and the queue stretched longer than we cared to wait. Instead we wandered up to Wall Street, glared at the Stock Exchange and the Financial District, and attempted to see over the fences into the World Trade Center footprint. 8 years on and little has been done to the site. Cranes appeared to be lifting and putting down things, but there was little physical evidence of the results.

After lunch I headed up to the Frick Gallery, an art collection housed in a mansion once owned by Henry Frick, a coke and steel magnate of the late 19th/early 20th century. The house itself was incredible, with rooms styled after French parlours of the 18th century, laced with furniture from the same period, murals and other items of sheer opulence. That night we again headed to Molly Wee’s, officially naming it our local in NYC.

The next day we headed south again to Little Italy and Chinatown. We were rewarded with the first decent coffee I’d had in five weeks and the last one I’d have in 2009, followed by a Chinese lunch for $7.

Scenes missing.
If I were to give a bracelet to you, now, I would measure your wrist twice.
Scenes missing.

I woke up to find 2010 much the same as 2009. Having only seen Manhattan we boarded the subway and set off for Brooklyn where I was keen to see Brighton Beach, which contained Little Odessa, the Russian district. The train east took 30 minutes, punctuated by the announcer’s incomprehensible announcements, one of which sounded like “this train goes to Canada”. We got off at Coney Island and wandered up the ancient boardwalk to Brighton Beach. Along the way the Atlantic lay on the right, and a deserted fairground, cafes and a busking rock band were to the left. Turning off the boardwalk, Cyrillic took place under English, announcing pharmacies, grocers and cafes. We stopped at one of the latter for a coffee while Russian echoed around us. The attraction, or at least one of them, of New York City was now firmly evident: the impression of having gone to another country just by travelling a few blocks in this melting pot of a city where a plethora of cultures, languages and ethnicities blended seamlessly, without the tension some would warn about. This heady mix of Korean, Chinese, Russian, Italian and so on offers some intangible attraction that means it’s impossible to say exactly why I found myself loving New York City. I just knew I did.

Having spent four days in NYC and still feeling like I’d barely scratched the surface, I spent the day wandering Central Park and the Met’s galleries of 19th century houses, modern art, European masters and Egyptian antiquities. After several hours I headed back to our new hostel on the Upper West Side via Strawberry Fields and the mosaic dedicated to John Lennon. That night we headed up Amsterdam Avenue in search of a watering hole, and found the appeal of a place called Dive Bar too good to resist. The interior was anything but and the prices confirmed this. With feet aching from the day’s walking we lazily caught a cab the 6 blocks home, and I inadvertently left the cab driver a 30 cent tip.

It was another early start as I set off for “building day”, aiming to see the Chrysler, Rockefeller and Empire State buildings. The Rockefeller Center was suitably overwhelmingly tall, but forgetting it was a Sunday I found the UN building closed. So too was the Chrysler Building, so somewhat disheartened I headed back into the snow and made my way to the Empire State. With gloomy weather and New Years over the crowds had thinned and I was able to head straight on up. The wind was viciously cold out on the deck and my hands were soon numb as I gazed over the metropolis the stretched north south east and west below, broken only by the Hudson and Central Park’s sea of green. As snow flurries flurried around I went back into the warmth and descended down the 86 floors. I headed west for Broadway and arrived at the Ed Sullivan Theater, intending to attempt to acquire tickets to a Letterman taping. Due to the scheduling, tomorrow’s show was the only one I could make, so I put down my details and forgot about it. Some hours later I received a call informing me that I had in fact been successful.

Back at the hostel, happy hour was about to begin so Rusty and I set off with a guy from Israel and Anthony the tour guide. We went to Ding Dong, the original bar that has its sister in Melbourne, but here the rock vibe was far more in evidence. The spaced out barman Chet took our orders without ID, a first since we’d been here. Having yet to eat dinner, Rusty took me to Whole Foods, a place where you can buy salad, hot foot and dessert by the pound. With three pounds of food to last me the next couple of days we headed back to the hostel.

I awoke in the morning eagerly anticipating the Letterman taping, a fitting way to end my first stint in New York. Rusty had managed to acquire a ticket so we stood in line for a while before we were sorted into groups and told to come back in half an hour. We returned and slowly made our way inside, where various aides attempted to get us pumped up by making us practice cheering and forbidding us from making any woos during taping. The theater itself was smaller than I expected, but we were on the ground level in prime position.

We took our seats and the band came out, followed by Paul Shaffer, and then the man himself, Dave, came out to have a quick chat before running backstage before taping started. Alan began the intro and the tapes were rolling. To Rusty’s delight, Michael Cera was the first guest, and he talked about spending 10 days in a meditation camp where he couldn’t speak while Dave mocked his youthful looks. The band played during the ad breaks and are amazing to hear live. All too soon it was over and so we were quickly herded out of the theater before the next taping began.

Back on the streets Rusty made it her mission to find Michael Cera, presumably to do terrible things to him. I returned to the hostel to pack, struggling to believe I’d been in New York for a week already. It felt like we’d been there only days and already we were leaving.

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