New York. The Big Apple. And particularly in reference to my journey, what I’d term Mighty Manhattan. A place that has enjoyed arguably the greatest economic and cultural flowering of any one city at anytime in humankind’s history and endured probably the worst example of human ignorance and hatred in the form of the September 11, 2001 terrorist destruction of the former World Trade Center towers. Without forgetting the Holocaust and other war crime related tragedies, of course. Shit. How even and especially through a highly personal perspective do I adequately convey just how large in every way that place was, and is? I guess whatever I write will ultimately be dwarfed by that cultural colossus even as it joins countless creations laid at its artistic altar, so I might as well just quit stalling and get started, hey. A complicated yet not insurmountably difficult journey lay ahead of me from JFK International Airport, in Queens, through Brooklyn and under the East River to my Upper West Side, Amsterdam Avenue, Hostelling International New York domicile. It was late, about 11pm, and after trying to figure the logistics out on my smart phone, I gave up that approach and asked a random for their advice. It was to catch the Air Train to the E train which, within Manhattan itself, would connect me to the (what would become very familiar) One train. Keep in mind I’d never experienced a subway before, unless you count the one occasion while at San Francisco in which I went underground simply to buy a tram ticket. Which I don’t. Count, that is. But the friendly advice was sound, and I checked in at the hostel about 1am for one night – because my room was booked the following night. This meant I had to wake up after not nearly enough sleep, lug all my stuff downstairs, check out of my second floor dorm room and check in to one on the fourth floor I was lucky enough to be able to stay in for the rest of the week. This, and anything else I had to do within the hostel over the next few days, was more taxing than usual because of what I’d describe without exaggeration as the slowest elevator I’ve ever experienced. Seriously. I remember one day while waiting on the ground floor and bitching about it, with Jayapel the Indian guy with whom I’d shared a few beers and cigarettes out the front of the hostel. He made the astute comment that it was weird for a city famous for its frenetic pace to have such a slow elevator located anywhere within it. I suggested “Maybe the lift (as Yanks call them) engineer had a healthy sense of irony”. He chuckled, after which we probably waited another 10 minutes for the bloody thing to take us upstairs. Regardless and especially after the disappointment, due to my own health, of New Orleans, I wasn’t going to let that kill my Big Apple buzz. No fucking way! And, in any event, the glorious albeit grungy subway more than compensated for any time lost due to that slothful stair substitute.
A place to rest my sure to be nightly wearied head secured, I walked around the corner to and followed West 104th Street straight to Central Park. This being early December, after the trees had lost all except their every leaf but before a snowfall: the park was quite dead. Few people, biting cold wind and intermittent cloud cover that kept most things, mostly, shadowed. Brown leaves drifted with wind gusts along and to the ground like mournful snow. But every so often, while for example standing on the Great Hill, looking downtown across the placid Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir or admiring a single weeping willow caressing the surface of The Lake in front of The Loeb Central Park Boathouse. Every so often, the sun would peek from behind passing cloud and reveal an almighty city seemingly hewn by some godly sculptor from a solid mountain of glass and concrete, within which I was presently standing he or she had also grown an enormous rectangular garden. The mortal awe it inspired was boundless. Deeply, instantly in love with the city and its heart and lungs that I’d found myself within, I spent the rest of the afternoon ice skating the Wollman Rink; alone but amid other tourists and New Yorkers, under Mid Town’s twilight shadow. It was “very pleasant” according to my notes, which is in some ways accurate and in many others a dramatic understatement. I visited the Smoke Jazz and Supper Club on Broadway that evening. The music was legendary. Really what I’d expected of New York. But the only problem was some bastard tried to ruin the atmosphere by launching into a loud coughing fit. That bastard was me. I still hadn’t completely escaped the unholy affliction that had dragged me down and almost killed me in New Orleans. I swear the woman running the joint was quite not empathetically shooshing me from behind, until an attentive barman passed me a glass of iced water. After sucking on the ice I managed three Scotches and Coke, enjoyed the rest of the gig and retired to bed – which was conveniently two blocks to the south-east. My first visit to Times Square came the next day, on Thursday December 6. Wow. I mean I wasn’t exactly impressed in many positive respects. More struck dumb by the greatest monument to advertising and natural resource wasting electricity I’ve ever seen. While surrounded by so much unnatural light concentrated in a roughly half-mile stretch of road, night turned to day and stayed that way eternally, in Times Square. After the obligatory few photos I made it back to the hostel on the good old number one train for some free beers and good music in the form of Baam! Formerly known, minus an “A”, as Bam, http://www.reverbnation.com describes the young musician-songwriters as “an energetic indie rock band with a strong jazz influence”. Couldn’t – I really couldn’t – have put it better myself. Supporting them was the darkly humorous, languidly melodic Superhuman Happiness. Possibly the best age-appropriate music I heard the whole trip, and I’d stumbled across it by returning to the hostel early. No plans: it’s the only way to fly. Or perhaps Publilius could put it better: “Malum est consilium, quodmutari non potest (A plan which cannot be changed is a bad one).”