By Kekoa Stanton. AUG 2003.I just spent the better part of a week in New York with some friends of Charity’s (AUG 2003). I was fascinated by the city and felt compelled to write this travel log.
I was there for (link) Blackout 2003. You can jump to that or keep reading. I was inspired by an article written by Dave Barry about New York. I strongly recommend reading mine first. (If you read his first, you won’t find mine even remotely funny.) (link) Davebarry.com
I tipped the taxi driver well that took me to where I was staying. I sensed that he was new at the job and wanted to boost his confidence. He failed to hit any pedestrians along the way (despite coming pretty close) and wasn’t able to fill out some form he was working on while driving. The poor amateur had to keep putting it down to concentrate on navigating through some of the trickier turns.
The group of us included five people (sometimes more): Charity, myself, three of her friends from home (Brian, Brianna, and Charlie). Sometimes the friend, Heather, with whom we stayed (thanks again Heather) would join us, and also Anne who also lives in New York now. We wandered around Manhattan for a bit and my initial observations of the city are that there are way too many people here and that it is very hot.
The best mode of transportation is the subway system which is basically (if you can believe it) a dirtier and hotter version of the surface. In fact, conditions are so bad that some of the sewer rats (often mistaken for Great Danes) find the subways inhospitable and are forced to actually live in the sewers. Which, incidentally, do not smell as bad as the subways as the urine is fresher.
Speaking of smells, one of the curious things about New York is that every block has its own distinct smell. As soon as you cross the street and arrive on a new block, you are greeted with that block’s smell. I suspect a blind person could navigate around New York City just fine going by sense of smell. A taxi cab could drop him off at the wrong location and he could take a whiff and say “Pardon me, sir, I believe this it 5th and Broadway.” To which the driver would kindly reply “Go’da HELL!” and speed off.
I’m sure you have heard that the traffic is pretty bad in New York City. This is due to the fact that they take a street that is just wide enough for two cars and turn it into a five lane street, and also allow for parking on either side. Therefore no lane is actually wide enough to fit a car. Drivers compensate for this fact by making sure the gas pedal is firmly pressed down to the floor mat at all times, and change lanes at sporadic intervals.
The horn is also a very useful tool for the drivers. It is sort of a universal indicator. Not only does it warn other drivers and pedestrians of impending danger, it doubles as a turn signal, a speeding up signal, a “Hey, @$$#, THE LIGHT IS GREEN!!” just nanoseconds before it turns signal, and a break light.
I believe it is also acceptable to use your horn at night in lieu of headlights. Hitting pedestrians (either in crosswalks or on the sidewalk) is also acceptable so long as a proper “honking” warning is given.
The Empire State Building
Tourist: “Excuse me, why do they call this The Empire State Building?”
Upon entering the building you are sent to stand in a crowded line in the un-air-conditioned basement with thousands of other tourists who are from places where it is acceptable to never bathe. This line last about an hour and culminates to a booth where you pay a mandatory $20 “donation” to get a ticket. This ticket allows you to walk up a flight of stairs where you get to wait in another cramped sweaty line for another hour which takes you to an elevator. The elevator is then packed beyond maximum capacity and inches its way up to another floor where you wait another hour in line with people who take you picture in front of a backdrop of a fake view from the top of the building. As if to add insult to injury they actually request you to “smile” at this point then ask for another “donation” if you want the picture. (Later I learned that the fake backdrop is probably the best view you’re going to get of the place.)
The process of waiting in lines for elevators repeats itself a few more times until you eventually reach the top and have a great view of the backs of peoples heads as the crowd compress itself against the outer fence. By this time it is dark and if you are able to force your way to the outer fence you can see the lights of the city. And as bright as they may seem, they won’t show up on film because there are blinding spotlights just below you shining up to the top of the building. So it would be like pointing your camera at the sun and expecting the stars behind it to show up.
The process of getting down is just as bad as going up. By this time we were tired and wanted to go to bed and prepare for....
I woke up during the night a few times in a pool of my own sweat due to the extreme heat, not to mention the noise. No wonder they call it the city that never sleeps.
Today we get to do more walking. I still haven’t been mugged yet, and there seems to be twice as many people in the city as there was yesterday. I heard the census bureau has a special technique for calculating the population of New York. They get an average sampling of people per square foot then multiply that by the square footage of the city.
I will confess though. They are not all bad. Some people were somewhat helpful in giving us the wrong directions to various locations.
The morning paper had an article about a guy in New Jersey (just over Sludge River) who was busted for selling a stinger missile to under cover agents. The stinger is a shoulder-fired missile capable of shooting down low-flying aircraft. Turns out that everyone in the stinger sting operation was an undercover agent (or at least claimed to be), except the guy doing the selling. It was some international thing with Russian “agents” supplying the guy with the missile. It’s good they caught this guy, but I was thinking it would be just my luck that his friends decide to strike the day I was to fly home or something. Only in New York.
We went to Time Square today. Time square is basically an oversized intersection that attempts to give you a full sensory stimulation overload. There are lights and animated TV type billboards everywhere you look. Some are blinking and flashing or making strange sounds, and people trying to sell you stuff. It’s kind of like a really bad webpage. I was a little disappointed though; in a few places I could still see patches of actual building between the signs.
So, back to the subways. The subways are kept at a comfortable 137 degrees fahrenheit. This is done through a system of geothermic heat, body odor, and poor ventilation.
The area in which the twin towers used to stand is now just a big hole in the ground surrounded by tourists and tiny American flags. Other buildings in the area are in various stages of repair. It was kind of trippy to walk around there and think what it must have been like on the day of the attacks.
There is a wooden barrier there like you see around construction sites. On it hundreds of people have scrawled their most profound feelings. Some are little political bites about whose fault this really is, or who we should nuke to improve the current world situation. But most of them are things like: “United we stand” or “Damn you Bin Laden”
I didn’t get a very good picture of ground zero. In retrospect, I should have ascended one of the nearby buildings and got a shot looking down into the hole. Oh well, I’m sure you can find plenty of good pictures with a (link) Google image search.
Basically we just wanted to find a place that sold cold beverages for less than $6 and move on, so we didn’t spend too much time there.
One of the major things I noticed about New York was when I was trying to buy postcards or other sorts of memorabilia. You won’t believe how hard it is to find something that DOESN’T have a twin tower theme. I wasted hours on fruitless searching. Damn, you Bin Laden!
Oh yeah, it was Charity’s birthday. So I took her to go see Phantom of the Opera. I wasn’t sure if I would really enjoy something like that or not, but I was really impressed by it. It is definitely worth watching. I was amazed with all the cool effects they did using fairly primitive special-effect devices. Mostly things like trap doors, smoke, backlighting two-way mirrors, etc... There was one scene that took place in a graveyard. To simulate leaves on the ground they used a green spotlight with some sort of cut-out pattern on it that created a leafy texture on the stage floor. The story was pretty cool, costumes, and the whole gothic look to the set was all very impressive. It was worth my $50 (each), for sure. I just wish the seats were wide enough to fit an actual human adult. It was kind of convenient though, to be able to use the knees of the guy behind me as a head rest.
More heat, more people more walking. New York is starting to lose its charm. I wish I’d get mugged or something to liven things up.
Fortunately I discovered the air-conditioning in our room last night and slept quite well.
If you have ever walked around New York you will notice enormous mounds of garbage on the sidewalks. I think they are put there by local residents to keep the taxies off the sidewalks.
Today we decided to experience a little New York culture. We took the subway through Hades then back around to Chinatown.
Chinatown is basically a rancid, dirty version of a cesspool, but with dead rotting fish for sale in every shop. Ok, so some of fish aren’t quite dead yet. But if you’re lucky the rotting fish smell will hide the raw sewage stagnating in the street smell. (This isn’t much of an exaggeration.). Man, I wish there were more mounds of moldy garbage around to neutralize the rank. I basically held my breath for a few blocks until we were out of there. I couldn’t wait to get back to the sweet smell of the subways.
After a few blocks, “POOF” we were in Little Italy! It was kind of like magic. The raw sewage and decaying fish smell has been replaced with stinky cheese and fresh body odor. Whew, I can breathe again!
Little Italy is quaint. I was disappointed to not see mafia guys in darks suits cruising around like I was expecting. So we went to a restaurant there where you can get authentic Americanized Italian food served by a sweaty waiter who doesn’t bathe.
Gelato is an Italian ice-cream (“Gelati” when pluralized) found in parts Italy. In Little Italy it is found every 25 feet or so. It’s actually pretty good. Upon Charity’s request we were required to stop at every gelato stand and try it out. We all do what she says; after all, it is her birth-week.
The rest of the day was about to take a turn for the worse. Impending horror like I have never known before would soon consume me. There was little I could do to prepare myself. Charity and her friends were planning on going shopping! THE HUMANITY OF IT ALL!!! Not only did I want to spend the entire day in trendy little stores, if you’ve seen the prices at the stores in New York, you’ll understand my real fear.
Fortunately there was an enormous power outage that took out the entire north-eastern region of the United States and some of Canada. Whew, talk about your close calls!
Due to the outage most shops were closing because they had no lights, and credit card machines wouldn’t work either. So unless you had cash to pay for a $40 rolling pin that resembled a regular piece of wood (not making that up) then you were SOL.
At first we weren’t sure what to make of it. It took a while before rumor (via radio) informed us of the magnitude of the blackout. Of course your first paranoid instinct is that it’s some sort of terrorist attack (Damn you Bin Laden!). But then the radio assured us it was just the Canadians. French-Canadians of course (Damn you Quebec!).
Later, (days later) after all the buck passing and finger pointing they have concluded that Ohio was to blame (Charity and all her friends are from Ohio). I say we invade at once! Probably some fundamental Amish extremists! Nuke’em all, I say!
Actually its kind of amusing to see how debilitated a modern city is without power. Fortunately places like hospitals that need it for life and death stuff have generators.
We couldn’t check our email, or watch the news to find out what’s going on. With the stores all closed, you might consider the great economic loss to the city with such an outage, but just think of all they’re saving on their electric bill!
All the traffic lights were out. This of course had no adverse effect on the way people were driving. It’s not like they obeyed the lights when they were working.
Fortunately we were not in an elevator or on the subways. Rumor has it people on the subways had to wait for an hour (or more) in total darkness before they would let them out. I suppose they didn’t want people wandering around on the tracks should the power come back on. Then they had to follow the soot filled walls to the next station. Man, and riding the subway under normal conditions is bad enough!
Soon enough traffic was totally gridlocked, cars honking, and the streets were filled with hordes of angry pedestrians cursing at each other as they make their way home. Well, I guess its not too different form any other day on the streets of New York.
The big difference was the HUGE exodus of people. It reminded me of a scene you’d expect to see of refugees fleeing a war torn country. Except in this scene the refugees are all complaining that their cell phones are not working.
We decided it would be best to make it home before dark. It took us 5 hours to get home. We were in Soho on Manhattan Island. Where we were staying was on Roosevelt Island. It wouldn’t have taken so long but Roosevelt Island is an awkward place to get to. The only bridge that goes there is from Queens. So we had to walk over Queensboro Bridge, which actually spans over Roosevelt Island, but you can’t get onto the island unless you are willing to fall several hundred feet. Queensboro Bridge is roughly 1.25 miles from on ramp to off ramp.
Then in Queens we had to walk a few more miles to the bridge that finally takes us to the island. We got there just as night was falling. The good news is that we were on the 18th floor. I hadn’t had enough exercise for the day. The stairwell had no lights because the crew who installed the emergency lights had cleverly wired them to the building’s main power supply.
As you can imagine, after all that walking in the heat and what not we were all looking forward to a shower and some nice water... oh, wait, the water pumps in the building are electric. Ha ha.
It was kind of cool looking out over the city at night and seeing only the black silhouette of the skyline. You could see all the cars headlights on the roads and a few buildings that had generators. Other than that, just candle-lit apartments and the moon.
Ah, to sleep again with no air-conditioning. Fortunately I am too dehydrated to sweat.
We all stink to high Hades and is going to be another hot day. Rumor has it that some places have power, so we decide to go and see if we can go buy water.
It’s our last day and we want to go and sleep in the shade at central park. Nobody is keen on the idea of walking back over that bridge so we attempt to catch a bus (subways are still out of commission). Everybody else and their dogs are trying to catch the bus too. It was like mass chaos and anarchy to get on a bus. Those things were packed beyond full. I simply wasn’t aggressive enough to get on the first four that came. Little old ladies were shoving me out of the way to get on (no joke).
New York has rubbed off on me; I have become bitter and callous. Frankly I don’t care to see any more of the city. I don’t care if they ever get their power back.
I’m standing packed in a city bus and my BO is so bad that I can’t even bear to be beside myself. I hate everyone here as much as they hate me. I reach my arms up to grab the hand bars and allow full ventilation of my armpits so the rest of the bus can get the full effect of my stench. I notice sitting right below my armpit was someone who had shoved me while trying to get on an earlier bus. Ah, the sweet smell of revenge.
So this is New York, The Big Apple. If you make it here, you’ll make it anywhere.
It’s hot, I feel like mugging someone.