Lost and Hound 2002: An American Odyssey (The Big Apple)
Embarking on a 50-day adventure across the United States of America – our target was to tick off as many states as possible, whilst experiencing the highlife of travelling on the road. For my companion, Rich, New York was his dream home and we discovered why it is the city that never sleeps. Our base near Times Square was the perfect spot to explore the splendid sights of the world's favourite city.
|As we flew into this consumer nation, the colours of British Airways guided us onto the runway at JFK Airport, however what led us to the core of the big apple was somewhat less reliable. We were quickly introduced to a breed of Manhattan people whose duty was to exploit the unsuspecting tourist. The gypsy cab driver, seemingly friendly at first, reeled us into his world by swiftly relieving us of the burden of our baggage. After a 7-hour flight this was a pleasure, but if the long walk to the multi-storey car park wasn’t a hint then the unmarked car really was the final nail in the coffin.
The term gypsy cab now refers to anyone who works for one of the legal car service companies and unlike the iconic yellow cabs, they dare to venture into the meanest streets of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens looking for business.
A mere $80 dollars later and we took our empty pockets onto the streets of New York where the sudden torrential downpour was like a slice of heaven after the sweltering smog we had been subjected to on our journey from the airport.
Our daily excursions usually passed through Times Square, whose bright lights are truly evocative in the darkness of night. It is the hub of all things New York with the flashes of modern technology hovering above a wave of madness on the ground. After being absorbed by the captivating colours we walked the maze of avenues and streets towards Ground Zero. At the time it was almost a year since the attacks on the World Trade Centers so only the desolate rubble that remained served to remind us of the events of that September morning. Well, not quite as incredibly I spotted opportunist traders attempting to sell postcards displaying the horror that befell America, with the word “America’s worst moment” scribed on the front.
Coming up to a decade later and the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq have long since begun, whilst efforts to commemorate the terrorist attacks are well under way. A viewing wall on the east side of Ground Zero acts as an area for quiet reflection and inspiration with plaques displaying the history of Lower Manhattan and the Trade Centers as well as a list of the fallen victims. By the time restoration is completed there will be two square pools where the buildings once stood and a memorial and museum, as well as new World Trade Centers.
|The next day the 7th inning stretch at Yankee Stadium sent a shiver down my spine as the 55,000 spectators joined together to vociferously sing “God Bless America” in honour of the September 11th attacks. Home to the New York Yankees baseball team, it lies just north of Manhattan in the Bronx, the only borough of New York City to be based on the mainland of the USA. With a wide diversity of inhabitants it is also often overlooked as a dangerous working class area, despite being home to the world’s largest zoo and some beautiful botanical gardens.
The Yankees have since built a new stadium nearby, but the original structure hosted a massive 6,581 games from 1923 and was affectionately known as The House That Ruth Built (in honour of the star Babe Ruth), whose prime years coincided with the opening of the stadium. We were fortunate enough that our day out at the ballpark coincided with derby day against local rivals The New York Mets (known as the Subway Series) and we were able to witness the fierce nature of this historical encounter.
The Mets lie just across the underground and over the tidal strait of the East River in one of the most multi cultural places on the planet. Also home to the Mets’ Shea Stadium, the area of Queens incredibly can claim that nearly half of its population were born outside of the United States. It is these 100 nations on a small section of Long Island that have produced a musical heritage from the Ramones to Run DMC and Fifty Cent.
The next baseball we witnessed was a little more subdued but just as intensely participated in the relaxing surroundings of Central Park. Here anything goes, from a myriad of sporting opportunities to a step back in time on a horse drawn carriage and outdoor artistic performances. This inviting grassy area is a world away from the giant skyscrapers that dominate the New York skyline, however a community of tranquillity is probably what the Lady of Liberty intended to welcome you to when she was erected in 1886 as the gateway to the city.
|The 225 tons of copper donated by the French has come to symbolise freedom and democracy and originally was the first sight of America as immigrants arrived in their droves to the harbour. Nowadays the airport customs provide a secure entrance to the country whilst the statue has taken a step down to a role in Ghostbusters.
From her 305ft vantage point she has guarded the nearby Ellis island over the years as from 1894 it became an important immigration station for those wishing to live the American dream. It was abandoned sixty years later and left to fall into atmospheric ruin, but not before it benefited those suffering from widespread hardship in eastern and southern Europe at the turn of the century. As America came out of depression and began to assert itself as a world power, it became seen as the land of opportunity and those rejected entry to the country even tried to swim to the shores of Manhattan.
In hindsight, who can blame them with the awesome silhouettes of the Rockefeller, Chrysler and Empire State Building, to name but a few, to greet you in the morning. If you’re not visiting the many monuments, then a stroll around the streets of New York will produce the booming fruit and fish markets of the bustling Chinatown (largest collection of Chinese in the Western Hemisphere) slowly engulfing the shrinking street of Little Italy and its restaurants.
New York, the city of dreams, will entertain you forever, especially judging by our hostel roommate Mad Tim. We spotted him taking a midnight McDonalds, doing daytime Greenwich Village shopping and he was still alive at the crack of dawn with the fervour of being in the metropolis. He kept us awake by singing a Supergrass song all night, then we awoke to find a note that read “And for my next performance…”.
The truth is the big apple will eat you up in an instant and take you under its spell and you will never finish eating it, no matter how many times you go back there. It is a city forever.