It wasn’t until I left New York to come back home to London, that I finally realised after all these years what Frank Sinatra meant when he sang ‘if I can make it there, I’ll make it…anywhere’. New York is undoubtedly the hive of hyperactive culture. Darwinian enthusiasts need look no further for proof: it’s a city that (at least to this traveller) truly incorporates ‘survival of the fittest’ into the rule-book. But that’s not just it. It left a mark on me that no other city has. It has an incredible music scene, but it’s not London; It embraces fashion, art and culture, but it’s not Paris; It has an impressive architectural history, but it’s not Rome; It has an unforgiving, party-inducing night life, but it’s not Barcelona; and it has loads of ridiculously bright lights, but it’s not Vegas.
So what is it about New York that captured my imagination so intensely? Well, since every day was an experience in itself, full of cool and random events, culminating with the undisputed fact that I have the memory of a goldfish these days, I took daily notes on my phone. I could produce the notes word for word, or even take a couple of screen shots from my phone, instead of using them as a memory-trigger to write out a more thought-out account of each day, but I thought it would be a great way for me to actually take the time to think about the experience (as well as trying to decipher what the hell I meant when timestamped notes of 2:38am say “met randoms on train home. Tequila. Ow”).
Due to the length of my rambling, I’ve decided to divide my experience into three parts. Days 1-3, Days 4-11, and Days 12-18. Below is Part 1. Parts 2 and 3 will follow shortly.
I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I do recalling and recording it.
It’s hard to hide the smugness when you say goodbye to your work colleagues, especially when you’re heading out the door on a near three-week holiday. If you’ve ever worked in an office before, you’ll know that turning on your ‘Out Of Office’ is a surefire way of cranking up the excitement levels to 10.9 on the Excite-O-Meter. Grab backpack, smile and wave, head to Heathrow. I’m settled on the flight. Thankfully there’s films on the plane to keep me busy. I can’t sleep on planes. Ever. I think it’s something to do with trying to sleep in an upright position. That, and I always (and I do mean always), without fail, sit next to the guy who insists on having his light on all night. Complete darkness in the entire cabin, except for ol’ Lighty McBook Lover. On a more positive note, the pilot sounds like Seth McFarlane, so Brian Griffin is literally flying the plane. He also mentions that he is flying his parents for the first time in his career. The lady next to me seems relieved, and remarks “well at least you know he’s going to fly extra safe”. I smiled, until I wondered whether the pilot was 18 years old and this wasn’t just his parents he was flying for the first time. I calmed down after a couple of drinks. Who’d have thought alcohol can have that kind of effect.
I was met at the airport by my friend Jami. It was really good seeing her. We talked in the car the whole way home, and talked a whole lot more when we went out drinking. It was so good to walk the streets of Brooklyn in just shorts and a singlet (tank-top, vest, whatever you call it you weirdos). All this time in London I’d almost forgotten what a summer felt like. We found a bar that gave you a free pizza with your beer. Somehow whiskey became involved. I blame Jami. We watched the Miami Heat win the NBA Championship as Jami taught me the etiquette of tipping, before deciding that even though it was only 2:30am local time, it was in fact 7:30am London time, and I’d probably do well to crash.
Breakfast time. What better thing to eat for my first New York breakfast than my first New York Bagel. With cream cheese. It reached about a 7.6 on the Nom-Factor scale. There’s something quite satisfying about eating what feels like a whole loaf of warm bread covered in cheese. Satisfied, I set off to take the Subway for the first time (Day 2 shall be known as the day of firsts). I love taking public transport in the city you’re visiting. It makes you feel like a local. You stand patiently, waiting for the train to arrive. You get on, you pack together like sardines in a can, and you can even catch a glance and offer a wry smile which says “yeah I’m a local, I feel your pain, I’m one of you”. No? Maybe it’s just me.
Not knowing where I wanted to go, I decided to ride to 5th Avenue. After all, 5th Avenue sounded like something I’d heard from Seinfeld before, or something (I’m obviously a very good planner). Specifically, I got off at 5th and 53rd and walked. Just walked. It was at this point that I realised how long it had been since I was in a city that dwarfed you with skyscrapers. Yes I know at my height I’m easily dwarfed (5’9″ if you must know; ladies I’m only kidding I’m actually 6’4″), but given that most of Europe tends towards smaller buildings, it had been a while since I’d been in a city that had these monolithic temples of white-collar gear-grinding. I spent a good part of the day wandering aimlessly around, until I made contact with Lauren, a friend from back home and now a New York grinder herself, who took me to lunch near her work in Times Square. We ate ’til we couldn’t move, Lauren returned to work, and I decided to take in Times Square. In a moment of randomness, I found the Best Buy Theatre and saw that there was a Reel Big Fish & Goldfinger show playing in a few days time. A blast from the past I couldn’t say no to. “One ticket to 1998 please sir”. The ticket clerk didn’t get the joke. I doubt 1998 was a year he was old enough to remember.
That night I was fortunate enough to catch the most amazing sunset I had ever seen. From my view at Jami’s place in Greenpoint, I could see purples, oranges and reds that I’d never seen before covering Manhatten. You can see what this looked like in my set of photos in the Travel section of this blog (cross-promotion for the win).
Jami had the day off today, so we kicked off with a bagel breakfast and headed to Williamsburg. Now coming from Brunswick, as well as spending time in East London, I’ve seen my fair share of hipster culture, but Wiliamsburg takes it to a whole new level. I don’t share the collective hatred the world seems to have for hipsters. I actually loved it. A lot. The food is good, the beer is cheap and there are so many random acts of music and art everywhere it’s just a cool place to be. It helped that it was in the high 30s too (that’s 80s/90s for you prehistoric, Fahrenheit kids). We got some food and headed into Manhattan to attend Tropfest – the short film festival, its origins from my home city, now a world-wide festival. We met with Lauren and some of her friends and had a brilliant time in the sun. The afternoon was cut prematurely though, as Jami and I headed back to Brooklyn to Windmill Studios where a bunch of very cool people were hosting a ‘party at the Moon Tower’. To clarify, these guys were screening one of my favourite films Dazed and Confused, and had decked out the studio with a screen, chairs, beer, popcorn, and the place was filled with ‘seniors’ who were more than happy to dish out punishment on all the ‘freshmen’ attending. They had the truck and they were all armed with genuine paddles. If you don’t get the reference, go and rent the film. It’s a classic.
The screening was a huge success, and will go down as one of the best nights out I’ve ever had. Kudos to Jami for organising that. We made the long, drunken walk home (Brooklyn beer is damn good beer), knowing that heads would be sore the next day, and crashed out pretty hard.
That’s all for now. Part 2 will be up soon, although at the rate it took me to finally put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard), soon may actually mean a few years from now. Let’s hope not. Until next time…