The Island of Manhattan - my Home for 31 Days


Autumn in New York

Autumn in New York

M & M Store At Times Square

M & M Store At Times Square
M & M Store At Times Square

Friday, October 30, 2009

Getting Down to Business

Halloween starts early here. Officially it is celebrated on All Soul’s Eve however television shows are crammed full of costume ideas and Halloween specials and last night while walking home at midnight, I encountered many teenaged trick or treaters testing out their costumes.
Pumpkins line the streets – real pumpkins – smelling sweet and juicy – colours and shades of harvest – purples, reds, oranges and yellows – an incredible sight. Costumes feature in store windows and everyone is offering 50% off for anything to do with Halloween. There is big money in this holiday.

Thursday was my day to find Thanksgiving supplies for Alex in order to post back home in time for her celebration. At first it appeared that there was none to be found. Many a shop girl told me that they had to wait until after Halloween before showing the new holiday stock. Then I visited K Mart – not like ours – a very snazzy smart looking store on 7th just behind Penn Station – and there I struck gold.

In amongst the Dracula capes, witches hats, broomsticks and Michael Jackson white gloves, was one line of scarecrows, autumn leaves, green men and all the thanksgiving dinner items I could possibly desire.

My first assignment out of the way, I detour back across the street to the United States Post Office. Nothing like our tiny little suburban shops, imagine the Treasury Casino building times 4 – majestic imposing edifice promising through rain hail sleet and snow to deliver – (disclaimers – as long as you fill in the right form clearly and are prepared to wait in line for two hours) Yes that’s two hours of my life that I will never get back. I must admit, after buying the enormous box to mail the thanksgiving treasures home in, and feeling extra proud that I found the correct customs form and completed it, I got to listen to the most jaw dropping conversations while standing in line.

New Yorkers are always talking. Walking along the street, they are talking into their cell. They talk to themselves, talk into their cells, yell at each other – friends and strangers alike – on the street – they are always making noise and communicating. A cacophony of accents from every country on the face of the earth is heard on every street corner, however in the post office line, I only heard one – strong, broad, loud and clear New Yorker. Fascinating!! I smiled to myself as they discussed the Yankees playoffs, co workers not using the GPS on their I Phones, (apparently that is a major travesty), girlfriends dissing boyfriends, husbands cajoling wives and then cooing to their girlfriends in the next call. I stood there and smiled as an entire culture of system, structure, expectation and design was on display. I learned much.

When I finally had my number called, I could almost hear angels singing and bells ringing. Alas, my excitement was short lived. Wrong form – here’s the right one – fill it in and get back in line. Nooooooo – but I did as I was told. (As you do in this fair city!) This time it only took 25 minutes – I felt blessed by the good fairy of the USPC and found myself back in front of an associate before too much longer.

The lady had to type in all the form particulars herself and explained as she went that the USPC like most US companies had laid off 75% of their workers to go automated, on line, self service and more work for each worker lucky enough to retain their job. I did notice signs advising the public to buy their stamps on line – simply print and paste and then self post! Amazing!
The poor lady entering my information struggled with all the details and collapsed in laugher when she got to the name of the suburb. Wooll OOooN Gerrrbba – no that cant be real? Seriously? You guys have weird names huh? Oh well, maybe she needed a little entertainment?
My post office experience done – it was time for breakfast – at 12pm. There are some amazing places to eat here. I must say the selection and standard of food available here is broader than my memory of San Fransisco. Autumn is the season for soup and there are plenty of healthy options available. I found a little shop called AU BON PAIN and had a naked chicken salad – no dressing in sight – yoo hoo – and the most mouth watering bread stick I have ever tasted with my chicken soup. Breakfast and lunch in one meal!

I headed off to 35th to find the Jacob Javits Convention Center to register at the New York Marathon expo for event volunteers. Then I had a meeting with one of the hundreds of New York volunteer centers in the city and registered for orientation and training for the endless array of events coming up in November. Wow I could seriously work every day while I’m here. This city runs on Volunteering and I learned much about why that is and how corporate this aspect really is. In fact this whole city is Business and Marketing 101. I keep remembering the Maths Professor I sat next to on the way to LA and this city is based on numbers. There is a cause and a system and a structure and an organisation and a corporation backing all of it - set up for every possible human need. Walk around the streets – huge advertising screens are sending messages marketing a variety of “social” needs – sponsored by some hefty major corporations – and selling in every word and image and sound.

Why go to Uni for Masters in Business – just spend some time in New York – observe – question and soak it all in.

Wanting to get my bearings, I decided to catch one of those Hop On Hop Off buses to give me an overview of the city. So I take the subway to 42nd Street as most activity seems to begin there. I get a Metro Card for the month so now I have a card that I can use on trains, buses and subways until I leave. Great system!

I find the northern end of 42nd street and locate a Gray Lines bus and take the Uptown trip towards Central Park. Now we’re talking! It’s like two different cities. The Garment District – where I am staying – and the Central Park district – Lincoln Centre, Columbus Circle, Upper West and East, Harlem, Fifth Avenue and the Museum Mile.

It’s been a divine day weather wise and I sit at the top of the open bus and finally find some use for my thick jacket – brrrr – freezing. The colours in Central Park were just as I imagined. Yellow leaves line the city streets, beaming from dark black trunks coursing down to ruddy brown pavements littered with variegated shades of brown and green and red and orange and purple and yellow leaves. We drive past the famous landmarks - New York opera House, Donald Trump Towers, Time Warner Center, Columbia State University, Dakota Building where John Lennon was shot and I marvel at the stately wealth of these haughty 19th century buildings. Rich with attitude instead of history, unlike London or Paris with their hundreds of years of glory in their stories, these New York Buildings hold an air of majestic unusual for such a short length of time. There is a sense that New Yorkers love their stories and live and breathe them so intensely that they leave their mark on every street corner, park bench and brick in every building.

I only get random peeks at Central Park as the tour bus weaves its way through the Upper West Side. Reaching Riverside drive I see across the Hudson River towards New Jersey and it looks warm and inviting as the colours of Autumn hug its terrain. As tempted as I was, I dare not disembark until I plot my subway route. It would be easy to spend every day around Central Park – and get lost without one clue how to return home again.

This was my reconnaissance mission. Two and one half hours of mental note taking for returnables, I felt a pang of disappointment that I didn’t choose accommodation in this area for THIS was the New York in my imagination.

Turning the corner to return to Columbus Circle, I spy the famous Plaza hotel and smell the line of horses and buggies prancing for would be passengers for their jaunt around the park at night. That smell would be enough to clear anyone’s sinuses and I imagine the manure would contribute enormously to the incredible gardens in that area. :-)

It is almost nightfall, the sun setting adds a purple tinge to the well lit New York sky and as I make my way from 42nd Street on foot back to 34th Street, I am amazed at how familiar this already seems to me.

Dinner was at Tir Na Nog again. I had been fantasising about the steak and the second visit did nothing to dispel that infatuation. Mouth watering food, buzzing atmosphere, the staff already seem to know us and the meal is like grandma’s hug – warm and familiar and just plain lovely.
Walking back from the restaurant, I look up at the sky at the blue lit tower that I have been looking at every night and wondered where the Empire State Building was. Then it dawned on me that I had been looking at it all along. It looked very close, so 9pm at night, I decided to take a closer look.

It is open until 2am each day and regardless of the late hour, there were queues of foreigners coiled along the length of the Second Floor. Taking the NY Skyride first – a Movieworld type simulated ride of a helicopter ride in New York was a great introduction to the city – from this alien’s perspective.

Then we queued and lined up and after an hour finally reached the Observation Deck on 86th floor. Not terribly cold outside as one would imagine, I walked around the top of the ESB and tried to identify various landmarks from a bird eyes perspective. Gorgeous place to be at night – so glad to have visited on the spur of the moment.Walking home at midnight, throngs of people move on the sidewalk walking in time to the beat of whatever song is playing in their heads at the time. It feels safe on the streets at night – people everywhere – music, talking, laughter, eating, drinking – I’m wondering when these people ever sleep?

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Central Park

Central Park