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New York City is large, busy and grimy. Constantly moving,
waiting for no-one. If you're standing in a queue, have your
ticket ready. Don't hold up the next person, don't stand in the way.
Keep to the right. Have your change ready. In the song New York,
New York, Frank Sinatra bombastically sings ‘If I can make it there, I 'll
make it anywhere. It's up to you, New York, New York!’ There’s a sense
that New York has to accept you and not the other way around.
New York City is one of the most visited cities in the world, with
over 50 million international and American visitors each year.
They discover a city that’s larger than life. The sheer size of its
buildings, the intensity and volume of traffic, the endless whirling
of noise and the forever expanding list of top attractions makes it
impossible to fully appreciate everything New York has to offer.
For a city that never sleeps, it took superstorm Hurricane Sandy
in 2012 to slow it down. With seawater surging over Lower
Manhattan’s seawalls, the city was inundated, causing f looding
in tunnels and subway stations and widespread electrical damage.
The borough of Staten Island was worst hit, losing more than 20
residents, most drowning inside their homes.
As you f ly in to John F. Kennedy International Airport, the size and
scope of the city is immediately apparent – and once on the ground,
with incredible gothic, art deco and neo-classical architecture
every where, it’s not difficult to appreciate some of its history.
Cramming in all the highlights is usually a visitor’s aim, perhaps
making New York a city to look at, rather than feel intimate with.
New York might be on the list of the world ’s best destinations – but
this city is also a home to its nearly nine million inhabitants.
Like other metropolises around the world, the real heart of a city
lies in the lives and stories of the locals, either those born and bred
or those that have been adopted by this incredible place.
My taxi driver from JFK to the city is born and bred. Yet he has
never experienced the lofty heights of the Empire State. Another
driver has seen it all, living through 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy –
and with his Jewish heritage, he has suffering in his soul. These
locals are mostly relaxed and gentle. They’re in no hurry to catch a
Broadway show, pack the best museums into two days or shop to
At Bloomingdale’s an elderly lady sits atop a stool, eating her
homemade sandwich while elegantly sipping a tall latté. Wearing
dark sunglasses and a stylish trench coat she reveals she had once
lived in Monte Carlo and she reminisces over some lovely friends
from faraway Australia. There’s no arrogance in her eyes, just a
willingness to share and an openness to accept visitors to her city.
On the Upper East Side, the same family has been operating a
diner for several generations. The collection of memorabilia and
photographs tells the family’s stories. And the diner shows its
age – the decor is tired, the menu archaic. Going inside, I step
back into a 30-year time warp. But the place is packed with locals
and only a smattering of tourists are there. We’re drinking very
average coffee but feasting on king-sized breakfasts. Although
the presentation isn't impressive and the side dishes taste like last
night's leftovers, this meal alongside the locals is more memorable
than any hotel buffet.
Perhaps New York can be conquered by staying in an expensive
hotel, eating at the Hard Rock Café, window-shopping on 5th
Avenue and seeing a Broadway show. But it's worth taking a
moment to observe the people and walk in their shoes. New York's
contribution to history, fashion and finance through to theatre
and food culture is astonishing. But just as compelling are the
stories of individuals and their connection to the city. Did they
‘make it there’ like Frank? Are their pockets lined with dreams? Or
are they, like many of us just trying to keep ahead?
My feeling about New York is that its collective heart is beating
louder and stronger than ever. And as Sinatra sings, ‘my vagabond
shoes are longing to stray, right through the very heart of it, I want to be a
part of it – New York, New York!’
above: The bustling New York subway system;
passengers from all walks of life
Just as compelling are the stories of
individuals and their connection to the city.
OCTOBER / NOVEMBER 2015 Journeys 21
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