New York, New York!
IF you have ever seen a dog riding in the back of a ute – wild eyes rolling, drool flying in gleaming, wet strands – you will understand how it feels to be a human in New York.
For a dog smells are everything. So imagine the ecstasy of hundreds hurtling towards that snoz. The delight as they hit those moist receptors. The information, the gossip they contain. It must be like ecstacy for the canine senses.
As I walked through the streets of the world’s biggest city, wearing the hippest gear I owned and feeling decidedly under-hip, my eyes could not work fast enough.
A guy wielding an elephant-trunk pipe sucked greese from the pit of a takeaway shop, disappearing down the hatch in his perfect NYC street worker costume.
A dog pulled its owner past on rollerblades. The dog just wore feet.
Under the New York Police Department people in costume posed for photos with tourists to make a buck. Spiderman peeled back his head and took a breather, flicking a skittle into his mouth, cool as shit.
A cluster of army/navy ? troops waited at the lights. They were in town for the wknd, and their stiff hats poked ahead like beaks through the human surge of traffic.
There were just people everywhere. Everywhere there was something to watch.
If you visit the Big Apple, get the open bus tour. Bargain it down a little, there’s so many on offer this isn’t hard. Pay $30 or less.
As you glide through the streets on the top deck, traffic lights close to taking you out if you stand to snap a picture, you realise how old and remarkable the city is.
In the good old days people just got stuff done.
The Empire State Building went up in just one year, with four storeys done in one week. Bet Campbell Newman can’t get that kind of progress in Queensland in 2014.
Not many people know it, but a plane crashed into the side of the famous building after WWII.
We glided down 5th Ave, with Rupert Murdoch’s three-storey penthouse throwing a careless shadow across our bus.
I thought of the greedy man sitting up there sipping a gin and planning the biased front pages that marked his Australian papers’ federal election coverage. GRRRR.
“How much do you think it’s worth?” our tour guide asked the group.
My guess of three million was met with laughter and the answer “$57 million actually.”
Whatever you wanted this city had it. We saw Cooper University, a free-tuition institution started by Peter Cooper, which accepted students with the best grades into courses such as architecture, arts and others.
The world needs more opportunities for brains rather than wallets to get you into uni.
Abraham Lincoln spoke there, lucky buggers.
We gazed upon the might of New York University. These guys were so loaded that when building of the premises was halted due to a supplies problem with the quarry, they simply purchased the quarry and finished the job.
Times Square was predictably amazing. Video footage advertising spanning two storeys lit up the sky, hundreds of people gathered for discounted Broadway show tickets, and every few metres someone tried to sell you something.
It was electric.
We stayed in Brooklyn, about 20mins out on the subway line, at the hipster hang of Williamsburg (Billsburg if you’re a real hipster).
It was a different taste of the city. At night empty looking warehouse buildings would slide open a corrugated tin panel and a funky bar or pizza joint would come to life. There was great street art, great coffee and the general hum of daily life that you only find in the suburbs. Families would sit in big groups around someone’s house front sharing drinks and cooking on a heat-bead bbq.
We only had four days in NYC and didn’t care too much about ticking off the tourist list. That doesn’t tell you anything about a city. We didn’t bother with the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building…etc.
Instead we explored the Lower East Side, poked through galleries and museums and generally checked out the scene.
New Yorkers are a funny lot. Street smart and geared faster than the rest. Nice if they have the time, short if they don’t.
I didn’t achieve my dream of banging on a taxi’s yellow hood and yelling “Hey! I’m walkin’ here.”
I highly recommend the New Museum in Brooklyn. One exhibit featured a group of around 12 guys singing and playing guitar constantly for eight hours. The effect was to walk into an almost meditative state of song; harmonies, altos and steadily building intensity to culminate in a beautiful, strange experience.
Some of the guys would stop to have a drink and lie on a mattress in the large room while their comrades carried on the music. It had something to do with the Sigur Ross singer, which I can’t remember.
There was a huge lineup at Footlocker one day for cool kicks, which are like gold teeth in New York. One entrepreneur was even renting camping chairs along the queue.
As we hoofed it past Bryant Park, one of NYC’s best pockets of green, I overhead a kid on a school group outing.
“I should do a thing on it, like a whole science project, about how people respond better to low fives, like right in the middle of the chest region……not high.”
Filled my laugh quota for the day.
After getting my first pimple in years I decided I needed some time out of the smog (which by the way is nowhere near as bad as Bangkok, as most New Yorkers catch public transport and don’t clog the roads), so we set up camp at Central Park.
It is magic. Visit it.
There are whole Instagram and online communities dedicated to exploring new pockets of this amazing green sprawl.
I shut my eyes and dug my fingernails deep into the grass. It was still so loud! A muffled loudness, but that NYC buzz was still there.
Big groups of friends shared food and swapped babies; a steady stream of horses pulling carriages, plumes bouncing, held up pedestrians; kids practised cartwheels; people took photos; kids asked for donations to their basketball team for jerseys; joggers and roller bladers glided by; bold squirrels approached for treats; lovers lay tangled in the sun.
The place was uplifting.
We explored a tiny corner of its immensity. I found forums on people’s favourite parts, and realised you could spend a year in the park and see new things every day.
We left refreshed, and stumbled upon a true highlight.
The street crew who breakdance, flip and spin under the golden horse statue on one edge of Central Park.
A solid crowd had gathered, and they knew how to work it.
I watched as they moved forward in turns and did their thing. Whoa.
Muscles bunched under their dark skin, the kind that came from actually using them, not just pumping them at the gym. The main guy went from a one armed handstand into a dizzying head-spin, then flipped effortlessly onto his feet and into a spinning breakdance move.
And they were funny too.
“Obama wants change, but we want twenties,” the guy yelled to the crowd.
“I want you to keep in mind that the moves we do do risk our bodies, and we could get seriously hurt doing them. But we consider this our job.”
They plucked four people from the crowd, lined them up, and got everyone involved as one crew member (who looked around 10-12 years old) took a running jump and flipped over the top of all four. He landed on the rock-hard cobblestones. Amazing.
“Remember, if we are here performing for you it’s good for two reasons; one – we’re not on the streets, and two, we’re not at your house.”
Two members toured the crowd with their collection hat. Yelling out when there was a good donation.
“We just got ten dollars from New Zealand!”
“Twenty dollars from Mexico!”
An African American lady handed them a tenner and the guy held it up to the sun. She laughed, embarrassed. He was very good looking, shirtless, and flirting with her.
“A black lady just gave us ten dollars, and it’s real!” he yelled to a laughing crowd.
Her and her friend laughed hardest.
We walked the Brooklyn Bridge, being softly shoulder charged by the throng of people going the other way. It was like salmon going upstream.
The structure itself was stunning, curving into a striking assembly of lines the closer you got to the city.
We watched a World Cup qualifier in a crowded pub, drank some of our old friend, Blue Moon – with hunks of orange of course, and fell exhausted into bed at night.
New York, New York. Ha-mazing!
I dreamed we sat in a wooden house
White paint peeled off the walls
We lit a fire on the kitchen floor
And fed it cupboard doors
As we talked, your head of flames
Blazed with heat anew
I was grateful I had known you
And you were grateful too
The night wound on with ease, for we
Had catching up to do
Your eyes still sung of mischief-
Still sung their sorrow blue
The way I miss you now has changed
The hurt is drying out
Now I smile as I remember
Your art, your laugh, your pout
The sun tried to rise, but we
Forced it back with laughter
“This night is for old friends,” you said,
“You can do your rising after”
When we parted it was easier
As the fire burned to the ground
I smiled as my eyes opened
And blue smoke curled around