Part 1 here
By the second full day of our NYC trip, the streets of Tribeca were a welcome change of pace from the bustle of Times Square. Here, in the wonderful peace that exists immediately after the morning rush hour, people walked their dogs, steam eased from manholes on quiet roads. It’s hard not to view New York in cinematic terms. Tribeca is the set of quiet moments in those NY-centric films, where conversation fuels walking and some dastardly man leaves some fragile woman weeping on a lonely street after some horrible revelation. The scoundrel.
Tribeca is really TriBeCa, for Triangle Below Canal Street. I’d wanted to have breakfast there, and after munching a burrito (you crazy, wonderful Americans) we moved on, mission accomplished. Or unaccomplished. After leaving, I realised we’d been above Canal St, therefore breakfast took place outside of Tribeca. I’d failed at breakfast, just like I’ve failed at everything ever.
On to Soho, and into Dash. If you don’t know what Dash is, well, you’re simply not fluent in Kardashian. It’s a clothes shop owned by those famous-for-being-famous sisters: Kim, Khloe and Kourtney. Occupied with making reality shows and having sex with athletes, they couldn’t man their own tills. I’m ashamed to admit I was somewhat disappointed not to see any famous faces there.
We didn’t have to wait long to see a celeb though. We left Dash and rounded a corner to wait for a tour bus that would never come. Actress Angela Bassett climbed out of a car, trying to surreptitiously do some last-minute Christmas shopping. I considered saying hello or telling her I was a fan (which isn’t true). Then I decided to annoy her by calling her Angie or asking for a lift. Regretfully, like a child, I got too shy and said nothing instead.
A far less impressive celebrity sighting happened days later, as confrontational ESPN blowhard Stephen A Smith tried to flag down the taxi we were riding in. This was a great set-up for heckling: I had proximity, a genuine dislike for the target, and a getaway car. Yet again, my nerve went and I said nothing. I took the coward’s route, criticising him within the taxi’s confines instead.
As we neared Ground Zero I developed a headache and it started to rain, which, given the destination, seemed appropriate. I thought there would be a feeling about the area, a palpable sense of loss, that something horrific had happened here. But America continued here just like anywhere else. Maybe the sense of ‘business as usual’ is appropriate—America can mourn but won’t stop, won’t let terror interfere.
Further South, in Battery Park, sits a large metal orb that was pulled from the rubble of the Towers. It’s eye-catching—battered and stretched yellow metal contrasting with the surrounding green grass and the blue waves of New York Harbor. Compared to the area of Ground Zero or the height of the Freedom Tower, the orb is a small reminder of that atrocity, its size making the events seem—to me—more personal. 9/11 was a huge and horrible event, but also a multitude of individual losses.
After walking through the financial district (and failing to find the Occupy Wall Street protestors we had passed the day before) it was time to visit The Lady. Well, to wave at her from a distance and take some photos.
The Statue of Liberty was closed for refurbishment, giving us all the more reason to avoid going to Liberty Island. Choosing to instead pass her on the Staten Island ferry was cheaper (well, free) and quicker. I romanticised immigrants sailing into the harbour, in darkness, searching for signs of civilisation. Then Liberty appearing through the gloom to watch over them, ushering them in: Welcome to America. I may have watched too much West Wing. We snapped literally a bazillion photographs of Liberty and the Manhattan shoreline. Manhattan is so big and high that you have to leave it to get a photo that gives any impression of its scale.
Certain moments in my life serve to highlight my geekyness. I’m in the Big Apple, one of the world’s cultural meccas, surrounded by hip-hop, basketball, celebrities, millionaire businessmen in buildings that reach to the sky. And where am I? Down an alley, taking a photo of a security door.
Not any security door though (I’m a geek, not a psycho). This very door doubled as the entrance of API, the intelligence agency from the cancelled TV show Rubicon. Wait, where are you going?
In my defence, I hadn’t gone looking for the door, I’d just recognised it as we walked past. In my…un-defence, I had searched online for details of the show’s locations. Then marked them on Google maps. So as we wandered around South Street Seaport, a lot of the area looked familiar.
Manhattan’s North-South/East-West grid system makes navigation easy. It so quickly becomes familiar though that, by just our third day, I was utterly confused when the system broke down. The Southern end of the island collapses into, well, the layout of most other cities in the world. Streets wind and twist, making a mockery of our previous belief that, as long as you could roughly find north, you could find your way anywhere.
Madison Square Garden. The Mecca. The Garden. The home of basketball!
The Knicks, New York’s only NBA team, have been awful for over a decade. And basketball was invented in Massachusetts. Regardless, basketball has become synonymous with New York. A player having a big game in a celebrity-filled MSG is always big news among basketball fans; Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James have all played some of their best games in this arena.
We were here for a pre-season game, to watch the Knicks face off against their local rivals, the New Jersey Nets. On paper, the Knicks are a much more talented team, but neither looked like they would have much success when the season began (they wouldn’t, the Knicks would win one game in the playoffs before being eliminated. The Nets would fail to qualify). Still, rivalries can exist below the elite, and this one may turn fiercer when the Nets invade New York and become the Brooklyn Nets in the near-future.
Knicks fans were content to ignore the Net’s players and disparage their fans instead, some of whom boldy sat amongst Knicks supporters. New Jersey’s team is mostly forgettable outside of Robin Lopez, who barely played, and Deron Williams, who was immune to criticism by being far better than any of the Knicks.
One player who New York fans knew and loved (to target) was Kris Humphries. Humphries is a solid, unspectacular player. But for nanoseconds (well, 72 days) he was married to Kim Kardashian. And the fans were all over him for it. He was booed and jeered the whole time he was on court. And when he rode the bench in the fourth quarter, Knicks fans chanted “We want Humphries”, requesting him back in the game so they could heckle him some more. This surprised me, and raised some questions:
- Are basketball fans this well versed on reality TV?
- Are they booing because he divorced her? So, are they on Kim Kardashian’s side? Or are they booing just because he was involved?
I’m not sure if they even knew the answer.
At professional basketball games in Glasgow (yes, we have those), kids teams play during halftime. The same thing happened at the Knicks game. But the two are worlds apart. In Scotland the games consist mainly of uncalled travels and misplaced lob passes. At MSG, the kids pulled no-look passes and crossovers. These New York youngsters were light years ahead of their Glaswegian counterparts.
After an Applebee’s breakfast it was on to Rockefeller Plaza. I’d been told that the view from Top of The Rock was better than that from the Empire State Building. The difference is night and day. Because I went to Empire at night, and this was during the day (awesome lol!). Why Top of The Rock is better, I’m not sure, it may have something to do with being able to see Central Park. The park seems to start and stop on perfectly straight lines, dropped between the homes of the rich like a green zone in a Sim City game
At the NBA store I talked myself out of buying a John Starks Knicks vest, despite wanting one for years. I’ve realised you have to look athletic for that to be a good look. I am flabby, I have moobs, I have no muscle. I do not look like a basketball player (though at the time of this trip I was one. Not a good one though. I am flabby, I have moobs, I have no muscle).
And then onto Brooklyn, on a tour bus, while listening to the velvety voice of a man who was clearly the love child of Michael J Fox and Matthew Broderick. What did I know of Brooklyn? It’s where Biggie lived and tour buses weren’t supposed to let you off there. So I was wary. But it was nicer (and looked safer) than I expected. The guide had a genuine love for the place and referred to it and its residents as ‘us’. So when we got the chance to walk around a little, we took it.
Just a little, of course. We were dropped off with directions to the Brooklyn Bridge. 15 minutes later we were leaving again. We passed a basketball court and I briefly considered jumping on, but thought a Scotsman in walking boots and a big coat rattling jumpshots off the backboard might be too strange a sight for these teenagers.
Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge was my first chance to use both height and distance to frame Manhattan’s southern skyline. Awesome. I took over 800 photos in five days in New York, and a majority of them are partially failed attempts at capturing the scale and height of the architecture. These shots serve more as a reminder to me of where I was (as this post does) than give any realistic impression of the city to someone who’s never been.
As stupid as it sounds (and it definitely does sound stupid) I felt less like a tourist after having left Manhattan and returning, even though I was only gone for two hours. But back at South Street Seaport the tourist reared his head again, buying a beer because it had a New York name (Red Hook).
A follow-up beer was a bad choice, when combined with a hot, slow bus journey back to the hotel. Neither one of us had experienced jet-lag getting to New York, or on coming home. Perhaps this was just fatigue from long, busy days, but when I got back to our room I could barely keep my eyes open. I’ll just have a wee lie down, I said, which was taken as a joke. Seconds later I was snoozing. I woke half an hour later and tried not to waste the night. We headed down to the hotel bar, where I didn’t want to risk having any more alcohol in case I passed out on a hotel couch. Half an hour later I was back upstairs for a solid nine-hour sleep, restoring my energy for exploring NY again the following day.