I once read that after you’d cried on the Subway three times you were officially a New Yorker. After a mere 3 days I do not pretend to be a New Yorker (though I did beam inside when I got asked for directions – it’s no big deal) nor have I cried at all on the Subway. I did, however, briefly attempt to masquerade under the title of “New Yorker”.
Tackling New York as a local turns out to be pretty hard when you’ve never been there. The first stop (excuse the pun) was the Subway. Whilst for the tourist this is just a means to an end, journeys on it turned out to be so much more. My first Subway ride gave me a snapshot of what true New Yorkers see (and probably hate) everyday – three boys dressed in low-slung jeans, baggy t-shirts and flat caps got on my carriage with a boom box (I kid you not) and started dancing; they were amazing! I felt like a true New Yorker, I was watching buskers who were actually really cool and American. That was until I realized that the whole carriage apart from me had their heads down (as I do when I walk past the mopey Ed Sheeran wannabe busking in Victoria Station). At that point I decided that the New Yorker image was just not what I was looking for in my 3 days there – I wanted to be a tourist. Map at the ready and proudly wearing my sunglasses indoors, I got off the Subway only to be confronted by a man doing pull-ups on the hand-rails. Navigating past this 15-stone gym-bunny and the hordes of svelte middle-aged women wearing trainers to work was a mission in itself. The Subway continued to provide fuel to the “Melting Pot” image of New York. On another journey a girl suddenly turned to me and my friends and shrieked “Oh My God! WHAT is your accent? I just love it”. It was such a cliché and I’m sure no one will believe that actually happened, but it turned out that she had just moved to New York. And there you have it; an aspiring New Yorker, making the wrong social moves on the Subway, disturbing her fellow commuters. Think Coyote Ugly meets Legally Blond. I took a taxi to go to The Empire Hotel and their rooftop bar, which is apparently really cool; I wouldn’t know I got rejected for being underage. Although I felt like I was in Gossip Girl it was all too unnatural; I didn’t get to see the New Yorkers at their best.
I decided to turn into the kind of person I brush past angrily in Oxford whilst muttering under my breath on my way to a tute. So I dragged my two friends to Times Square. It turned out they didn’t share my intrepid tourist ideals and wanted to go on more cultural visits. How right they were. Never go to Times Square. The lights were blinding, there were shops open at midnight and a mass of policemen with variously-sized guns. Later we decided to go to Central Park and take a boat out on the lake – a classic day out in New York. Enclosed by the Manhattan skyline, sitting on a small boat in the middle of the biggest urban park in the world was superb. I would recommend it entirely. Not only did the buskers out-do the English on the tube but even the park did; there were snapping turtles in the water in Central Park. Imagine a turtle swimming up to you in the Serpentine; it’s a ridiculous image.
The 9/11 memorial is well-done, considered and even slightly disturbing. They have two huge pools, with water cascading on all sides into a vast basin as a reminder of the destruction of the Twin Towers. It is incredibly emotive as each person who died in the tragedy has their name written on the sides of the memorial. I only realized once I’d been leaning on the side for quite a while, exhausted from the heat; it was quite a potent realisation to say the least.
After these three iconic New York attractions, my fellow travellers decided to save me from my tourist self and take me to Williamsburg. It’s like a New York version of Shoreditch but with more bagels and falafel. If you go there, head down to 11th street to Beacon’s Closet – a real Thrift Shop. I had to properly restrain myself from cracking out my rendition of Macklemore’s classic as it was clearly inappropriate with all the hipsters around. At this thrift shop you can trade in old clothes and get store credit (I’ve started coining American terms – I called a pharmacy a drug store and got thoroughly laughed at) or even money, but obviously bringing your charity bag all the way from England requires a lot of dedication. After shopping, if it’s a nice day, there’s a little park on the Hudson called the East River State Park which faces Manhattan. It’s an amazing place to watch the sun set over the skyline, without being choc-a-bloc with tourists taking pictures. I still acted like a tourist, but at least I was the only one. My day was complete with a bag full of clothes from the thrift shop and the sun setting over New York until my friends and I decided to go back to our apartment. We walked past a few cars which had been parked nearby and next to one of them there was a couple fighting; he looked like a mix between Jazzy J and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately I couldn’t catch a glimpse of the girlfriend. This was awkward enough as I didn’t really know whether to barge through them or to surreptitiously change direction, but then I realized that music was blaring out of their car. It was your classic disgusting rap music – pussy this, fuck the police that. This was made worse when I realized that their young son was casually sitting at the steering wheel looking like a younger version of 50 Cent circa his ‘Hate it or Love it’ stage. It was a ‘cry or laugh’ moment so I assumed New Yorker mode and walked past straight-faced, minding my own business.
New York and Food. Give me more. We trekked for hours to find this place called ‘The Spot’ in Brooklyn, which promised pancakes and unlimited Mimosas. It was in loads of Time-Out type articles on good cheap-eats in New York but it was truly in the middle of nowhere; you could see locals looking at us wondering whether we were actively trying to get mugged. The place, however, was great; their glorified Buck’s Fizzes came in pint glasses and after two I was swaying back towards the Subway stuffed full with banana pancakes. Despite this I couldn’t stop myself from buying a $1 pizza slice. All over New York there are places which sell pizza slices covered in grease and bigger than your face. This phenomenon is possibly my favourite in all culinary history. On the more upscale side of food and drink, there is a great place on 66th street called Java Girl, which serves cawfee and shakes. It was populated solely by New Yorkers, who didn’t bat an eyelid or move a muscle from their laptop when the door opened or someone spoke. They had probably been going there for years and I have to say I started to feel like a New Yorker when I was sitting there with my huge mango shake. Alas, I was not. Still very much a tourist I committed cardinal sin #1- I forgot to tip.