The Rat Race: Running through Mazes...

Trip Start Aug 24, 2012
Trip End Sep 19, 2012

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Flag of United States  , New York
Sunday, September 2, 2012

There is something strange about Americans and running. A lot of them love doing it, which I suppose isn't strange in itself. A lot of Australians love it too.

But where Australians like to run in the early morning or evenings, when it's cool and the sun isn't horrendously harsh, Americans seem to love running in the MIDDLE of the day. And not just in the middle of the day, but on days where temperatures top 30C, and humidity is just a pinch short of precipitation.

We had arrived in NY the evening before, and thanks to Hurricane Isaac the forecast for our entire visit to the Big Apple was looking hot, muggy, and wet.

Our first morning Shane and I were already sweating as we legged it downtown towards the start of the High Line Park. This 2.4k stretch of repurposed elevated rail line perches above 10th Avenue.

Built in the 30's to reduce the number of accidents that were occuring when cars and barreling trains were mingled on a busy street, the High Line was used until the 80's for transporting freight above the roads. It was abandoned as industry moved away from Manhattan. It was slated for demolition in the early noughties, by which time the power of nature to overtake the structures of man was evident - the tracks were completely overrun with long grasses, and the whole area had become a haven for wildlife.

As we climbed the staircase at the north end of the park, we looked uptown and could see what the line had looked like when it was rescued in the early noughties by a group of philanthropists and community members. The line north of us was still in that neglected state, choked with weeds. There are plans for the line to be expanded further north in the future, such has been the success of the current stretch of park.

As we wandered south, the carefully planted savannah style grasses increasingly gave way to taller, leafier foliage, with pockets of colourful ground coverings peeking through, just waiting for the keen eye to discover them. Coupled with the moist air, at times we almost felt like we were traipsing through the jungle. At least up on the High Line there was a bit of a breeze providing some relief from the sticky humidity. Not enough for us to feel comfortable, but it was much better than down lower, with subway heat exploding out of vents every few steps exacerbating the heaviness of the air.

It was clear by the sheer number of people using the park that it has been immensely popular amongst locals and tourists alike. The clever design of the planting, artworks interspersed at intervals designed to draw your attention, the unique architecture of buildings that have been constructed to embrace the line, and the views overlooking the Hudson River and the streets of West Side Manhattan all combine to create a space that, while very much integrated with this part of the city, also make you feel like you're a world away from the hustle and bustle,

We had been warned to expect rain over our time in NY, and as we continued to meander towards the southern end of the High Line, we began to wish that it WOULD rain - anything to relieve the humidity, which almost felt like we were walking through syrup. But every time we thought the skies might finally open, the clouds would part, and the sun would create a steam room effect.

And this is the kind of weather that many Americans were RUNNING in.

At the end of the High Line we made a beeline for the Hudson Riverfront Park - a length of walking (running) path and green space that runs the entire length of Manhattan, until it meets up with Battery Park at the south end of the island.

By this time it was nearing the middle of the day, and I couldn't tell if I was sweating, or if the sticky layer on my skin was just city goo. I felt like every time I inhaled I was somehow breathing in jelly. We were trudging, melting in the steaming heat between one shade pocket and the next. When a cloud rolled over the sun, we almost cheered. We probably would have ACTUALLY cheered if we had enough non watery air in our lungs.

And here we get to the running part.

If I'd been counting, I'm sure I would have LOST count of the number of people running, in the middle of the day, in the sun. I did grumble halfheartedly to Shane multiple times (a halfhearted grumble was all I could manage given the jelly air) that it just beggared belief that people would actually RUN in this sort of weather! At home, we'd have been hibernating in icy air conditioning, or trying to cheat the liquefied atmosphere by finding something even more liquid - a pool or the beach - to counteract the air's evil plan to fill our lungs with water.

So, because I was paying so much disbelieving, horrified attention to the runners, I noticed something else about Americans. In particular American woman, although it might also apply to the cuddlier men.

The women I saw running appeared not to know about supportive bras.

Their boobs were jiggling around all over the place! Small boobs just looked like they were rattling on the girls' chests, but bigger ones were literally smacking them on the chin before collapsing back down for a rebound off the ribcage!

I could literally feel mine aching every time one of these girls trotted by, the way my teeth ache when they show a toothpaste ad with close ups of the bugs drilling their way through the enamel. When I mentioned it to Shane, he agreed that his own (very manly I might ad) chesticles had also gone out in sympathy.

Not sure if they get them here or not, but a tip for any woman (or cuddly man) who runs -
Berlei make an amazing range of sports bras, I can't recommend them highly enough!

As we rounded the southern tip of Manhattan, a merciful breeze cooled the sticky layer on our skin, and we started thinking about lunch. Watching all those people running had worked up my appetite (could also have been the 15 or so kilometres we'd already walked that day).

We reprised our lunch location from our last stay, munching on a fresh salad in the Bowling Green before meandering our way back up Broadway towards Union Square where Shane had some appointments with a couple of pet stores.

We made a brief stop at the NYU bookstore to add to my collection of American College keepsakes. We lined up behind dozens of students all weighed down with notepads, pens and books for their return to classes after the Labor Day weekend.

And of course, as we drew closer to Times Square and our hotel late in the afternoon, when we were tired, stinky and sore from being on our feet all day long, what did we decide would boost our spirits? Why, a trip to Macy's Herald Square (also known as the world's largest department store)! Surely we would feel much better after a bit of retail therapy...on the biggest long weekend of the American year...on a day when Macy's were spruiking a massive Labor Day Sale.

Needless to say, we didn't buy anything that day. I'm not even sure that I would have been able to find a counter in that place, amidst the vast ocean of sweaty tourists (I can only imagine most of them were as clueless as us; I'm sure that no self respecting New Yorker would set a foot within 10 blocks of Macy's on Labor Day Weekend).

So we body surfed the crowds for a little bit, moving vaguely in what we thought might be the direction of an exit.

Then we hit our next hurdle.

If you read my post about Golden Gate Park, you'll remember that Shane has a teeny tiny bladder.

'I need to find a loo,' he muttered urgently in my ear. I turned to him, head butting the person in front of me (yes, that's how crowded it was; I couldn't even turn my head without almost causing a major catastrophe. Images flashed through my head of a tidal wave of tumbling bodies - a domino effect).

'Can you hold on until we get back to the hotel?' I asked, with little hope. As anticipated, Shane shook his head.

'Who knows how long that might take us...' he muttered prophetically.

So began a race against time, with about seventeen thousand people, overstuffed racks of clothing and a floor plan to rival the Winchester Mystery House thwarting our every attempt to locate a restroom.

We went up escalators, and down escalators. We went down, only to go back up again at another point. We followed signs that insisted an escalator was just around the corner, to be confronted with dead ends, or another endless hall of heads so crowded it wasn't even possible to determine whether we were in menswear, ladieswear, footwear, sportswear, childrenswear, petite wear, plus-size wear, or even the über stinky perfumery.

Eventually we stopped trying to work out what level we were on, and instead just decided to get the Hell out of that place. Actually, it felt like we'd already made it to Hell, and perhaps if we descended to the ninth circle, maybe we'd be able to beg Satan to let us out.

It was like wandering drunk in a crowded casino - there are no windows, the lights are bright enough to emulate sunlight, and I swear they were pumping oxygen into the place to keep us all wide awake and ready to snatch up that bargain... If only we could dodge the sweaty masses to grab it.

It could have been hours, it could have been days that we spent wandering in this urban wilderness. My watch told me that it had been about half an hour, but I didn't trust it - Macy's Herald Square could well be an on-land Bermuda Triangle.

And just as I'm sure Shane was about to admit defeat and use a clothing rack as a urinal, before turning to cannibalism so we could survive our endless entrapment, there it was - a brightly lit sign with an arrow and a little stick figure man and woman on it; the universal 'toilet is this way' sign.

By this stage even I was starting to feel a little bladder pressure, as Shane elbowed his way through the masses in the direction of relief.

As he slipped through the mens room doorway, I turned towards the ladies powder room.

And came face to face with the unfortunate reality of a huge department store truth; there are far more women who are brave enough to face the manic sale day crowds than there are men. And when there seems to be only one restroom in the entire ten floors across two blocks of Macy's, if you gotta go, you better get to the end of the line and cross your fingers, toes, and legs.

I took a deep breath, tightened those pelvic floor muscles, and decided that I was getting out of here alive, full bladder or not.

Thankfully I'm much better at holding on than Shane...
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