When I wrote this I was on the bus at the start of a 10 hour-ish trip, heading from New York to Toronto, and I figured this would be the best chance I’ll have in the next few days to give an update on this last week.
New York is the kind of city that you could easily love or hate for exactly the same reasons. Today alone I was shoved aside by a man who yelled, ‘move out of the way, I need ta take a shit’, had cigar smoke blown in my face by the man striding ahead of me and overhead a Times Square employee yell ‘fuck off’ to a bunch of people who were quite obviously in the way.
I’ve enjoyed the pace, the way people whack car bonnets in frustration and the strange people we’ve met during our short and very chaotic stay.
We spent the majority of our time in Brooklyn. On my first day here Taylor and I just wandered around, exploring everywhere on foot. We caught the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge and made our way across. A cyclist screamed at me for stepping over into the bike lane and gave me daggers as he passed by, it was my first taste of the tip of the iceberg that is New York aggression.
After crossing the bridge we headed in the direction of the financial district. The streets were absolutely swamped with tourist activity and the experience was both overwhelming and frustrating at once. Street sellers touted cheap 9/11 memorabilia and calendars for 2013. I instantly became frustrated by the whole situation and struggled through the crowds toward the site of the attacks. I’m not really sure why I was so keen to see the site of the attacks, part of it was to read about the history of the twin towers, another part of me wanted to know more about that actual day and another part wanted to better connect with a time in my life that changed my understanding of a lot of the world and developed my awareness of religion, international politics and fear.
Unfortunately, the site is so popular that you have to book in advance for access, so Tay and I continued our tourist shuffle up Broadway toward Times Square and stopped by a farmers market on the way. We ended up walking around for about six hours and were very tired and foot sore when we returned to Brooklyn that night.
The next day I caught up with a co-worker from the library who was also in NY. It was the day before Hurricane Sandy was meant to hit land so many of the usual services were shutting down early in preparation. Central Park was to close at 5 pm and the subway system at 7 pm. It curtailed our ‘hanging out’ time quite a bit so we powered through a lot of activities. We met at South Pier and jumped on one of the free ferries that pass by the Statue of Liberty. The statue is quite amazing, and I’m not sure if my reaction was because of my exposure to American culture or from studying immigration and a vague understanding of American history. Either way, I stood transfixed by the statue and even felt a little emotional (okay maybe that was because of lack of food and little sleep…).
We explored Central Park a little and then went to the MET, which is one of the best galleries I have ever been to. It has this amazing collection of art from all over the world and from various stages of human development and civilisation. One room in the contemporary gallery was full of massive bags that closely resembled goon bags….naturally as an Australian, this was one of my favourite installations. The Picasso and Monet paintings were beautiful, I’ve never really been that into Picasso – but seeing the actual artwork up close and the thick brush strokes really inspired me.
After a busy day exploring we finished it in Times Square over beers and on my way home I made a quick stop at the bottle shop to pick up more wine for a quiet night in before the Hurricane hit.
The damage done by Sandy was minimal in Brooklyn in comparison to Manhattan. We moved into Manhattan yesterday for what had initially been planned as a night in NYC for Halloween. After an almost hour long trip through horrible traffic and closed off bridges in a limousine taxi, that would usually take about 20 minutes or so in a yellow cab, we dropped our bags off at our hostel and set out to see how the city was recovering. We were staying in Upper Manhattan and as subway services weren’t running we caught a bus to midtown and a little beyond. The bizarre thing about the city was that upper and midtown Manhattan had power and then it stopped at 34th street and from there downward it was all silence and closed shops. It was quite an eerie place to be and the contrast between the areas was astounding. At one end of town people were sitting out the front of cafes, shopping and drinking and then at the other end people were collecting ice from distribution points and sleeping in shelters where beds lined walls and filled rooms.
It felt like a place we shouldn’t really be, so we made our way back uptown toward the bus depot to collect our tickets for Toronto. We arrived to a pretty empty bus station and a printout stating that services were delayed until further notice. ‘Shit!’ I said and walked around the sign to make sure I’d read it right. A NYPD officer was standing close by and I asked him why bus wasn’t running, ‘ah I don’t know if you know this, but there was a hurricane a couple of days ago’, his voice was dripping with sarcasm and I was not in the mood, ‘ah I know that, but the bridges are open and other stuffs running, why aren’t the buses?’. He gave some vague sarcastic answer and to avoid kicking him in the teeth I walked away as he was still talking, at least I got a little satisfaction out of the situation.
We were both peeved and angry by that stage and started making our way back uptown, searching for listings on Craigslist offering rideshares. On the way back uptown we spotted the collapsing crane that was featured HEAVILY on CNN (seriously this thing got hours of airtime with various close ups and eye witness accounts) and which has now become a tourist attraction in its own right – I definitely wasn’t the only person taking photos.
When walking we also happened upon a street (I think 95th) that was absolutely buzzing with Halloween activity. There were kids everywhere dressed up, houses were pumping music and it got us excited. We got so pumped that we returned back to our hostel, dropped our backpacks and ventured back out to buy candy for trick or treaters. We bought some candy and sat on a stoop on the street, handing out candy to kids who were dressed up. Afterward we stopped by a pub for a beer and this is where things got a little more interesting. The minute we walked in this 50ish year old guy attached himself to us and started talking about Halloween and if we were looking for candy (we still had our pumpkin head bucket), we said no but that he could have our remaining candy, he stuck his hand in the bucket and started lamenting the fact that we didn’t have chocolate (just starbursts). ‘Chocolate’ he said, ‘I need chocolate; I’m black so I need chocolate’. He kept crapping on about chocolate and how he’d married a white woman and that he needed chocolate. We got the gist. At one point he looked directly at me and said ‘chocolate, I need chocolate’. ‘Chocolate?’ I said, ‘chocolate’ he said and smiled. EWW.
He made it his mission to get us some literal chocolate and took our bucket. Whilst he was gone we slipped out of the bar and ran a block laughing and repeating ‘chocolate’. We made our way back to the hostel and sat for a while on our beds, surely we couldn’t stay inside on Halloween!?! So we looked up another bar that was close by and made our way over there. We sat by the bar, had a beer and talked to a very self-absorbed New Yorker, called Jay, who told us that preservatives in food are making us live longer and completely ignored me when I said that I thought it was more the case they slowed down the process of decomposition when a person died. He talked a lot of crap, but bought us two rounds of drinks so I was happy to listen to a bit of BS for a while. Somewhere along the way Jay disappeared and we ended up talking to a nice guy who worked for the World Bank. He’d been working with the UN for quite a while and had travelled extensively throughout Indonesia. It was all good until Taylor went to the bathroom and he professed his keen interest in Tay to me. When she came back he said it again and told her that he wanted to procreate with her. It was bizarre – he was my skin colour and told Taylor that together they could have beautiful babies. ‘They’d have blue eyes, blonde hair – can’t you see it?’ To be frank, we couldn’t…neither Taylor or this guy have blue eyes or blonde hair …. and I find the idea of choosing a partner based on the appearance of your potential offspring quite disturbing.
Luckily, when we returned to the bus depot the next day the bus services were up and running again and after a two hour wait for a ticket to simply be printed we wound our way through the busy streets, had a hot dog, some cake and a salad at Wholefoods with Katelijne and Yves. Now Tay and I are in Toronto sitting in Mags’ and Kyles’ bedroom and Katelijne and Yves are still in NY waiting for their delayed flight, which is now departing on Sunday.
A Canada update will follow one of these days – right now I’m a little too distracted with seeing familiar faces and new ones to write too much, so I probably won’t be back here for a least a week.