So someone hands me a bag of money and tell me I have to spend it all on traveling. It’s enough for an extra long weekend, not a summer vacation. I don’t hesitate. I book a trip to New York City.
“But haven’t you been there many times before?” my Canadian friends ask, as if this is a legitimate question. “Yes,” I answer with confidence, “and I’ll keep going back.”
Yes, I’ll take Manhattan, anytime
New York is my ultimate urban experience. It’s my shot of vitamin B; a therapy session that makes me believe, I can do it; and a treadmill exercise covering hundreds of city blocks. The city’s magnificent architecture demonstrates what heritage really means. Its music, art and entertainment is a reminder that so much of what we take for granted—a Broadway musical, a “night at the Met”, a Madison Avenue ad agency— is only a copy of a New York original. Where else, for example, could I pop into a hotel lobby (the Waldorf Astoria) and discover a piano tuner working on Cole Porter’s piano – yes, the actual piano.
Like thousands of others, I can’t visit the city without being both astonished and proud of how New Yorkers rebounded in spirit and attitude after 9/11. They truly showed the world in the midst of deep pain that evil can’t keep them down, or worse, turn them into a city that’s angry or bitter.
If I can make it here…
New York is a city that exudes positive energy. You see it in the faces of every New Yorker regardless how rushed they may be (and they are). Their attitude is infectious. When I walk the streets, I feel strong and confident. My newly acquired assertiveness reminds me not to stop and dither on street corners. When I’m confronted with a “deal”, whether it’s for perfume at Macy’s or a watch from a street vendor (where do those watches come from?) I have the New York chutzpah to to say no. But sensible caginess doesn’t prevent me from recognizing a bargain. Why not get into a show at Radio City Music Hall for half price if someone wants to give me a coupon? Even if I do fall for the “deal” (like a comedy show which was free but the three mandatory drinks were $10 each), I at least admire the creativity of the seller.
It doesn’t matter who you are, no one sleeps
And despite the image of Manhattan as a place for the very rich (yes, if you want to live there), it’s wonderfully gritty and untamed. Unlike my protected little neighbourhood in Toronto, you can’t put on airs or demand that your community is shielded from urban reality. The pavement outside the multimillion dollar townhomes is as cracked as anywhere else in the city. Hot dog carts don’t differentiate between Park Avenue and Canal Street. Street buskers are everywhere and sell whatever the weather predicts (as soon as it rains, they magically all become umbrella salesmen). The sirens rage; the taxis honk (since 2011 with a low annoyance horn); there’s 24/7 shouting (its actually just talking); crowds crossing at red lights (one way streets only); and no matter who you are, you share the sideway with delivery dollies loaded up with everything from coats to cupcakes.
New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town
It means you can be staying in the Upper East side where the smaller town homes start around $8 million but still pick up a pizza slice for $3 when you’ve finished shopping at Bloomingdales. Then take in art masterpieces at the The Frick (a 19th century millionaire’s home between Fifth and Madison Avenues), snack time sitting on a bench in one of the most stunning urban parks in the world, designer bargain shopping at Century 21’s upper west location, back to Time Square for a live Broadway show staring several of you television heroes right there on stage; conclude the evening in the Rainbow Room (Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Center) or just a stroll up Fifth Avenue with several hundred others making their way back to their own corner of the city.
I’m exhausted just thinking about it. And you ask me why I keep going back!
Over the great bridge, with sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the moving cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money. The city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby