The city that never rests, never mind sleeps
This past weekend, I took a whirlwind trip to New York City in order to play drums with my old band, the Neurotics, at a private party at the very exclusive Sherry-Netherland Hotel at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in Midtown Manhattan. We left Vancouver early Thursday morning and returned before noon on Saturday. It was my first trip to New York. As a naive first-timer, here are my impressions:
- They call it the City That Never Sleeps. It's more than that. It's the City That Never Rests. We arrived late on a Thursday night, and the streets were busier -- with pedestrians, cars, buses, trucks, taxis, and police officers -- than anything I've ever seen here in my west-coast backwater, or even in London or Moscow. The sidewalks were packed. The cars were honking constantly. Cops said "move along!" Yow.
- Most of the stereotypes are true, but they tell little of the story. The buildings are massive and tall. The cab rides are stomach-churning. People are generally better dressed than in most cities, and there seems to be an equal number of overweight balding men who ought to be named Lenny, even if they aren't, and overly made-up women in fur coats walking very small dogs. You get jostled a lot, but people aren't really that rude in general. There are random sewery smells. Delis and ridiculously expensive restaurants sit cheek by jowl. Most things cost too much.
- Walking around Midtown, we constantly stumbled across famous places we'd heard about all our lives. "Oh look, there's Saks Fifth Avenue!" Or Bloomingdale's. Rockefeller Center. The Empire State Building. Central Park. The Chrysler Building. Grand Central Station. Macy's. Times Square. Park Avenue. Madison Avenue. Broadway. 42nd Street. And we never even got far enough south to see the World Trade Center, the Brooklyn Bridge, or the Statue of Liberty. We made it as far north as 81st Street in the Upper East Side, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- For a city that is, on average, colder in the winter than Vancouver, people seem remarkably ill-adapted to the chill. Many people wore a lot more warm clothes than we did, and buildings were often overheated, so that coming in from the minus-5 (Celsius) air outside was like stepping into a sauna.
- The food is consistently good, from the smallest corner deli to real sit-down restauarants. Oddly, the many bars and other drinking holes are extraordinarily poorly lit. Several times, I passed by a place on Thursday night and thought it was closed. Peering through the window, I saw it was packed with people standing, talking, and drinking in the half-light. Strange.
- Other than the many famous places listed above, shopping is unremarkable, because NYC is populated with the same stores as everywhere else, from the Gap to Starbucks. In other words, I could buy most of the same stuff at home, cheaper. So I didn't buy anything except a New York logo touque (or, as they call it, a "hat").
- Because of the high density, the repetition of stores is remarkable. In Midtown at least, there's a McDonald's, Duane-Reade pharmacy, packed-to-the-walls electronic store, T.G.I. Friday's, Tad's Steakhouse, or -- yes -- Starbucks on almost every block.
- There are no back alleys or single-storey structures, in general. Each city block is a solid mass of buildings flush with the sidewalk, sometimes many, sometimes one huge monolith. This time of year, many are decorated for Christmas, and it's simultaneously quite pretty and imposing.
- Even in polyglot Vancouver, I've never heard so many languages spoken or seen such a variety of faces in such a short time.
I can see how someone living in New York, with its pace and variety, might find everywhere else a bit dull. But Vancouver is my home, and it is beautiful, especially on a day like today, with the sun shining and snow fresh on the mountains.