JFK Airport was doing a great job of impersonating a building site when we finally set foot on American soil. I think our delay in the airport was due to the sudden outbreak of Mad Cow Disease in the UK just prior to our departure. They stopped just short of making us dip our feet in a bucket of disinfectant before allowing us into the US. After jumping into a minibus with a load of strangers heading our way (German Dutch and French tourists), we were Manhattan bound.
Me being the saddo that I am, I had my camera out as soon as we pulled off. The first yellow cab I saw, SNAP! Got it. A sign post for Flushing Meadows, SNAP! Got it. Some signs for a federal auto auction SNAP! Got it. You get the idea. I even took a photo of the sign above our drivers head reading `Drivers tips not included in your fare or vouchers`. It wasn’t long before the magical Manhattan skyline was within sight. Oh my god, The Empire State Building! SNAP! SNAP! The Twin Towers! SNAP! SNAP! SNAP! Loads of other skyscrapers! SNAP etc…! It was at that very moment that I realised I had no film in my camera.
Only joking! I was snapping away like a hungry alligator with a prize catch in its mouth. We lost sight of the skyline briefly while going through a tunnel. Then BANG! HELLO NEW YORK CITY! It was suddenly all hustle and bustle and huge buildings all around us. I, of course, took photos of the first cops I saw standing on a street corner. Didn’t notice any donuts though. Or hot dogs. We were the last to be dropped off at our hotel (W55th street).( I didn’t mind that though, it gave us a free tour of half of Manhattan). Well I say hotel. It was really just a reception desk that happened to have a few rooms above it. Not to worry. There was a nice diner just next door.
A quick look out of our room window revealed the Late Show with David Letterman just across the street. We really had arrived! It was starting to get dark when we hit the streets to get our bearings. We walked out of the hotel and straight on to Broadway. Walking down ten blocks took us right into the middle of Times Square, or as it’s often called `the Crossroads of the World`. Or even `The Great White Way`! Times Square is really just an elongated intersection where Broadway crosses 7th avenue. But what an intersection! Originally called `Long Acre Square`, it was renamed when the New York Times moved to the site in 1904. (The NY Times is now on 43rd St.).
They had a new years eve party to celebrate the opening of the Times Tower and that was the start of the now famous new years eve celebrations in Times Square, when half a million people pack it out to watch the lighted ball begin its countdown fall a minute before midnight.
In the past, especially the 70s and 80s, Times Square was an area to be avoided at all costs. 42nd Street between seventh and eighth Avenues was known as `The Deuce`. A dangerous place of hustlers, pimps, prostitutes, run-down second rate x-movie theatres, peepshows, and sex shops. A real blot on the city’s image. Today it’s clean, policed, and very visitor friendly. What you have now is sports shops, music shops, loads of eateries, and of course the MTV studios! Not forgetting the famous NASDAQ market site, the electronic stock market with the 8 storey tall 9,800 square foot cylindrical video screen. Or the TKTS Discount ticket booth for cut-price Broadway shows. And glancing around me I also saw hot dog stands dotted around the streets. So much hitting us so quickly! The hotel was at least in a great location.
The streets were bustling with crowds of people rushing around in every direction. The aromas wafting off the hot dog stands were delicious; the smell of onions mixed with the meat of the hot dogs, and the hot roasted nut stands were just as tempting. We just stood and took it all in for a few minutes.
“This is it mate, we’re here,” I said to Malc.
“Aye mate,” he said, “what do you fancy first?”
“Empire State Building, lets have a good look at things,” I replied, rubbing my hands together in excitement! Well you can’t really miss it can you? A quick walk along to 5th Avenue, then down a few blocks and we were there.
The Empire State Building. Just say it to yourself. To think that during construction there were on average 4 1/2 storeys added every week. Completed in only two years 1930-1931, it was the world’s tallest building for more than 40 years, standing at 1,453 feet, (until the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre were built). Stately indeed!
We joined the queues for the elevator up to the 86th floor, (in record time!) where we paid an extra $12 to enjoy a flight simulator billed as the New York Skyride (which involved what must have been a midget flying around on a little plane in between peoples legs and around skyscrapers), which gave you a taste of the city. From there we got another elevator up to the giddy heights of the 102nd floor and the viewing platform.
It was totally dark by now and the whole of Manhattan lay below and around us all lit up like I’d dreamed of seeing it. My camera went into overdrive. Another thing I remember about that moment; it was bloody cold up there! We stood for ages taking photos and just looking. This was really it, New York City literally under my feet.
One thing I kept turning to look at again and again (well two things really), were the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, which we were visiting the next day. What a fabulous sight. My dreams were being realised!
The great thing about the Empire State Building is that it’s situated in the dead centre of midtown, which gives you brilliant views in all directions. What an introduction to NYC! When we got back down to the bottom we had a look in the souvenir shop. It was here I bought my first keepsake. A model Empire State Building with a little plastic King Kong attached to the top. (Come down, we know you’re up there!). A classy piece of tat.
I was feeling really hyper by now. The buzz of the city had got to me straight away and I stopped just short of climbing the nearest lamppost and bursting into `New York New York`.
We decided to celebrate the start of our week in NYC with a couple of beers and nice big steaks in a nearby restaurant. Tomorrow would be the day to get stuck into pretzels and hot dogs.
Trying to sort out how much to leave for a tip proved quite eventful. It was all “that’s not enough,” then “that’s too much,” then “how about this.” “They’ll chase us down the street with big knives if we don’t leave enough.” It all proved to be a waste of time because the tip turned out to be included in the bill! Another first after leaving the restaurant though, our first ride in a yellow cab back to the hotel, drivers tip included!