The diner next to our hotel was getting some good business off us, especially first thing in the morning. We’d tried McDonalds for breakfast but I found it was taking two of them to satisfy me. Is it just me or don’t you get enough in those places? The diner was different, what I would call a proper breakfast. Real bacon and egg (with about two hundred different ways to have your eggs cooked), toast, sausage, as much coffee as you want. Not too keen on maple syrup on pancakes though, must be an American thing.
“Good coffee that”, was usually the first thing Malc was saying in the morning.
It was time to go and check out the cities `backyard`, Central Park. What was once 843 acres filled with shanties, pig farms and marshland, changed thanks to the vision of journalist and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and architect Calvert Vaux, creators of this masterpiece right in the middle of Manhattan. Work started in 1857 and took twenty thousand labourers twenty years to construct (although the park actually opened in 1959, before work was complete).
Workers removed almost three million cubic yards of soil, blasted rocky outcroppings to create the picturesque rifts the Olmsted-Vaux plan called for, planted between 4 and 5 million trees, 816 varieties of other plants, drained marshlands, used ten million cartloads of stone and earth to transform the whole look, and dug the reservoir (now named for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) which is now circumscribed by a popular 1.6 mile jogging track. It all adds up to the lush 843 acre park of today.
We had originally planned to hire a couple of cycles and ride around the whole park, but Malc has awful problems actually riding a pushbike (balance, peddling the right way, steering, you name it), and he decided not to go ahead with the quick lesson I had promised to give him.
So, (on foot), we entered the park from the south and headed straight for the Woolman Memorial Rink, (in the south east corner), for me one of the best known features of Central Park, restored in the 1980s by tycoon Donald Trump. Although we had no intention of pulling on skates and making fools of ourselves on the ice, we spent a bit of time there watching plenty of other people fall flat on their arses. To be fair, everyone seemed very capable and it was maybe just as well we didn’t enter the fray and disrupt the flow.
From there we made our way up through the park, taking in the warm sunshine and mingling with lots of other people enjoying the surroundings. The park was created for `New Yorkers who have no opportunity to spend their summers in the country` (Frederick Law Olmsted), and they were certainly making the most of it today.
We were in the company of other walkers as well as cyclists, joggers, kite flyers, sunbathers, would-be artists and the odd musician. Olmsted and Vaux would be over the moon to see their masterpiece being so well appreciated. The baseball pitches were about the only thing not in use when we strolled past.
Central Park has so many attractions, you could spend days in there and still find more to do. We’d walked up as far as 79th Street when we realised we were just across the road from the American Museum of Natural History. Malc had wanted to have a look in here (he has this thing about Dinosaurs!), so now seemed as good a time as any.
This is the largest natural history museum in the world (attracting over three million people a year), and now covers four city blocks. It holds over 40 million specimens (including 96 percent of all known species of birds), and the exhibits brilliantly detail the evolution of life on Earth. Malc was in dinosaur heaven, but before he totally indulged himself in that, he joined me in a walk around the space and time exhibition they had at the time. Enlightening stuff I tell you!
The funny thing is, amongst all the hi-Tec displays, the computerised simulations and the digital technology, the one thing that’s always stuck in my mind was the spiral walkway that descended three floors. I was right at the bottom of it when I had to look twice at the `Timeline Chart` printed on the inside of the walkway. I walked right back to the top and saw the opening diagram, the big bang, the start of it all. All the way down the walkway, events in the Earths history were mapped in areas of millions of years, all taking up a good few feet to demonstrate the length of time, i.e. Ice age, Stone Age, Dinosaurs, etc., then right at the bottom covering about three inches was Human life on Earth. A tiny little fraction in the Earths history. When you see it laid out in front of you like that, on that scale (even though you know it from your school days!), it looks fascinating.
Malc wanted to spend a bit of time checking out all the dinosaurs, I was wanting to head downtown to check out a bookstore I’d heard about (the Strand), so we agreed to meet back at the hotel in a couple of hours. I had the address of the bookstore and knew which subway station to get off, so it was a piece of cake. Except it wasn’t, and after wandering up and down streets, round corners, and up and down more streets, I gave up and asked a few people for directions. The trouble was no-one knew where it was so I decided to head back to the subway to ask from there. I was just about back at the station when I just happened to glance to my right. There, sticking out like a sore thumb was the Strand! When I’d left the station earlier I just walked straight ahead. A little look to my left would have saved about forty five minutes of meandering! Never mind, I still enjoyed my time mooching around in there, even if I didn’t actually buy anything!
After meeting back up with Malc, we decided to go and check out a steakhouse we had walked past about a hundred times already just off Times Square. On a poster on their window they were advertising huge T-Bone steaks. `Try one if you dare! ` It was screaming at anyone passing within about five blocks. Malc didn’t actually fancy it and ordered a regular steak. Not me. “One of those big fellas please, and make it snappy”. “Take a seat buddy, and prepare yourself”. I sat and prepared myself for a good twenty minutes before a waiter strolled over with an impressively large plate, on which I was expecting to see half a cow sizzling away. “Huge T-Bone, you call that a huge fucking T-Bone?!” I felt like screaming when the plate was put down in front of me. What a disappointment! Maybe if my name was Fido or Rex or Bouncer or some other pet dogs name I would have enjoyed it more. In case you haven’t yet guessed, it was all bone. As the saying goes; I’ve seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil! There was only one way to put this fiasco behind me. Three words to Malc was all it took; “fancy a pint?”