Day 5 (23rd)
The last full day. This was shopping day. Or, more accurately, ‘going to shops and not buying anything’ day. Macy’s, FAO Schwarz, and Bloomingdale’s were all experienced without a cent spent.
Serendipity 3 was our next stop. To men, S3 (as I’ll now call it) might not mean much. To birds, however, S3 is well-known. A scene in the rom-com Serendipity takes place here (funnily enough). My girlfriend loves that film, so off to see it we trotted. S3 is surprisingly small; you walk in into a narrow foyer with glass cases on each side. Behind the glass are gaudy novelty toys and items for sale. No one pays them any attention, but they can barely be seen anyway, because queues for tables run along both sides. S3 is incredibly popular. We were told the wait would be at least an hour. Like sensible people, we left. Then we gave up on sense, hailed a taxi and came back, then waited another hour before our names were finally called. S3 is a place where people do this kind of thing, where people make reservations months in advance and wait in the cold for two hours for a table.
I crowbarred myself behind a table that was forced into a corner. Christmas lights hung beside us, making our small space feel all the more crowded. I noticed a framed poster for the Serendipity film, which was understandable, though strangely it sat on the floor, leaning against a wall. Despite the wait, the noise, the cramped confines, dining at S3 was a success due to Frrrozen Hot Chocolate, which is basically a big milkshake, but one clearly made by God herself and brought to Earth by angels. A delightful taste experience.
Then onto Central Park’s Wollman ice rink, another location from the world of chick-flicks, and then to Central Park Zoo. The ‘everything is bigger in America’ ideal took a hit when we arrived there. It paled in comparison to its British competition. Then I remembered that our zoos are out in the country on hundreds of acres of land, whereas this one is in the middle of a densely populated city. What was I expecting? This is a zoo, not the Tardis, there’s only so much land to work with. NY is bigger vertically, and last I checked you can’t safely stack pandas.
Speaking of animals (seamless transition there) we moved onto horses, with carriages attached. Before arriving we’d looked online for carriage ride prices around Central Park and reacted in horror at the price being £160. At the park we found one (which admittedly only lasted half as long) but was only £30. Which is a savings. And so a charming Irishman and his horse, Shaggy, dragged us around some of the park while we warmed up under a blanket of suspicious cleanliness.
My geek-lust for the TV show Rubicon reared its head again. A significant moment in the show’s too-short run happened at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. We approached it just as dusk did, and as we walked through the darkness below Bethesda Terrace two buskers played classical music as the angel of the fountain revealed herself. Very cinematic, and romantic, if one is given to such things. People spoke in whispers as we all took in the beauty: the terrace, the fountain, all casting lengthening shadows, while the lake behind us shimmered.
Equally romantic was me dragging my girlfriend around in the dark to look for a location from Ghostbusters. Tavern on the Green is the restaurant outside which Rick Moranis gets attacked by the demon dog. It’s also where Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn meet P Diddy in Made. On TV it looks completely encased in curved glass, but we arrived to find bricks and 90-degree angles. I still haven’t figured out what went wrong.
Then it was time for The Question (not to be confused with Lebron James’ The Decision). Months earlier I’d decided to propose in New York, but hadn’t decided on a location. Neither of us like being the centre of attention, so popping the question in a busy place (like at the top of Empire) was out. I wanted to ask on the last night, because then I could minimise the awkward time if the answer was no.
The opportunity revealed itself. I’d have a chance to get out on the terrace of the hotel bar. It looked over Times Square, and it would be romantic and quiet. We came back to the room, where the nerves kicked in a little bit, and headed down to the bar. We bought drinks and headed out.
It was freezing. I knew I wouldn’t have long before the cold became too much for her and she went back inside. She sat a table, making getting down on one knee nearby difficult. My spy training kicked in, I improvised. ‘Let’s take some photos of each other with Times Square as the background’. I didn’t feel particularly nervous, but looking back at those photos you can see tension in my face. ‘Okay, your turn’. I took the camera and gestured for her to move to the railing. The set-up was perfect. I pounced. Walking towards her, I kind of blacked out, and came round as the words were pouring from my mouth. For some reason I garbled something about ‘not getting down on one knee, but…’. She looked at me like I was crazy. I got down on one knee. She called me a silly man and told me to stand up. The answer, thankfully, was the right one.
Hooray, celebration. We kissed and toasted and briefly forgot the cold. She told me how surprised she was that I asked, and then I found out why. That summer we’d gotten on to discussing marriage. Not wanting to suggest that proposing was already on my agenda, I lied about my thoughts on marriage. Apparently I’d gotten carried away and had gone on about the pointlessness of marriage, the ridiculously high cost of weddings, how a ring makes no difference etc. All lies, painted on thick to hide my planned surprised. Very thick.
Appropriately, for the city that never sleeps, we didn’t have long to dwell. We had tickets for Mamma Mia, which was playing across the street, and already we could see the queues growing. Proposal or not, we paid good money for those tickets, they were getting used.
Glasgow pubs at weekends had taught me that groups of shrieking women are best avoided, but Mamma Mia embraces them. The daughter’s friends arrived. Instead of running to each other, they screamed first. The mother and her friends did the same. My ears bled. The rest of the show was better, probably due to the lack of shrieking wenches.
From the maturity of proposal to releasing my inner child—we were in Toys R Us. A younger me would’ve killed to get into this place—almost lifesize Spider-man and Superman figures, a huge T-Rex, and a goddam ferris wheel in a shop. Amazing.
Then to the Marriot Marquis’ View Lounge. 48 floors high, 360 degree rotating view. £6 entry fee, expensive drinks. Despite the cost, the Lounge is sexy. Its lights and those of Times Square bounce off the windows, giving that bleary-eyed, late night feel of intimate moments in cinema. The Lounge felt like that bar where George Clooney meets Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight, even though that bar wasn’t in NY and didn’t rotate, and I am somewhat less than Dr Doug Ross.
The bar takes an hour to complete a rotation, so there’s little feeling of actual movement. You notice it when you start a conversation and, by the time you’ve finished, your viewpoint has changed. For the drunkards, the problem may come not from the revolving floor itself, but from the death of momentum that comes when stepping from it onto the stationary middle part of the floor. Though, with these prices, I can’t imagine people drinking enough to get steaming.
Day 6 (24th)
The last few hours of our trip. There was sadness about leaving, but we’d had our fair share of New York. It was time to get back to Glasgow (returning to Christmas presents certainly helped). I realised that I had hardly been alone in NY, so that morning I took a short walk to get breakfast.
There was one more thing that felt New Yorkian that we hadn’t yet done: ride the subway. We decided to go a stop or two, so we could say we’d been on it. We rode north to have one last walk in Central Park. A busking Mariachi band got on just as we were got off.
Central Park was freezing. I clambered up a rock to get a photo taken, and at the top spotted some black rope sticking out of a pile of material. Then I recognised that the material was a sleeping bag and the rope was dreadlocks. In this temperature, someone was sleeping in the park. At first I assumed it was a homeless person, but the bag looked high-quality—maybe it was some hardcore camper. I stood staring, then felt like I’d invaded their privacy (assuming they were still alive) and quietly climbed down. It was so cold that I demanded we soon stop for breakfast so I could regain feeling in my hands. And someone was sleeping in that.
And then it was time to go. We packed up, checked out, and kicked around the hotel bar. Our ‘taxi’ to JFK airport was a Lincoln Navigator, which seemed an appropriately American way to leave.
I realised I’d failed to do one last thing in NY: go to a sports bar. Manhattan had been surprisingly light on pubs, but as we sat down in the airport at a place called Buffalo Wild Wings I realised I was inadvertently checking that last thing of the list. We ate burgers and
chips fries and watched NY’s American football derby—the Giants against the Jets. The two teams only play each other once every four years (somehow they’re in different conferences), so the game was getting a lot of media attention. We sat among two dozen people all seemingly watching the game, but when the Giants scored the place was quiet. So either the viewers were all Jets fans, or they were like me and were just watching with no interest in the outcome.
Food and a ball game, a fittingly American way to leave. Soon we’d be boarding, and go from NY to Amsterdam to Glasgow, getting less and less American with every mile.