Downtown - things will be great

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of United States  ,
Friday, October 13, 2006

From the peak of the Empire State building it was down to the depths for my first NY subway experience, heading south to the looming downtown area. Granted that it was a weekend, but I was still surprised with the lengthy delay between trains. From the handful I caught, it seems it's not uncommon to wait 15 or 20 minutes for a train on what I would have thought would be quite busy, central lines. Frankly that's Sydney standards, disappointing compared to the regularity of London or Moscow metros and certainly not something a mass transit system would want to emulate.

Anyway, once on the train it's quite pleasant (they're actually air conditioned - something London certainly lacks) and there's plenty of freaks which make for entertaining viewing. From 31st St I headed under some of the funkier areas of Manhattan - past Astor Place, Bleecker and Canal streets in the Lower East side - which I'll have to get to one day when I'm with someone to enjoy the culture with (apparently it's grand). Out the other side and I ended up alighting at the Brooklyn Bridge station, in order to see an engineering wonder of the same name.

I emerged into the light and a sea of pink clad breasts, something I couldn't find anything to complain about. The deal was a fund- raising walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and there was a stream of women were pouring across the bridge from the Brooklyn side as I attempted to get a better view. Once I'd done with my ogling the bridge itself did look structurally impressive despite being a tad ugly. It spans a distance of almost 500 metres however and since it was built in 1883 and is still standing tall I gather it wasn't meant to be pretty.

Into downtown itself and once again I was pleasantly surprised by a religious building. St Paul's Chapel sits in the middle of a sea of concrete and glass, adding a wonderfully moist and green touch to the urban landscape - especially when the sun is sparkling through the trees as it did that day. What really struck me though was the crumbling, mossy grave stones lined up in the church grounds - many from around revolutionary times and all in the ornate scripting that was the fashion of the time. For the middle of a world financial capital, there's some serious history here indeed.

St Paul's (completely different to London's version by the way, similar to St Patrick's in the last entry) is at the head of Wall Street, a narrow strip of real estate that is the epitome of financial power and made famous by the movie of that name starring Michael Douglas and Charley Sheen - 'greed is good' was their mantra and is probably still the case for a new generation today. The street itself is a narrow and non-descript really, stretching for maybe 200 metres, but as it houses both the New York Stock Exchange, a stylish bronze of George Washington and not too many tourists it suited me ok.

Some of the street art nearby isn't so great but the memorial to one of the Sept. 11 fire crews I found on the waterfront at the end of Wall Street drew a tear to the eye. They probably would have been one of the first teams on-site that fateful day - RIP lads.

From there it was logical to head to the southern tip of Manhattan and jump the (amazingly) free Staten Island ferry. Since there's a tunnel complex between the two islands via Brooklyn these days nary a car or truck pays for the privilege of crossing, and neither do the hordes of happy day-trippers who take it each day. So why go to Staten Island? The ferry takes you past the Statue of Liberty for nix is why, so if you end up doing this take a tip head down stairs as a) there are less people down there (crowding the windows) and b) the windows open which makes photography a lot easier. The outbound leg travels a lot closer to herself so get your pictures then.

Back on solid land and Battery Park beckoned, with its massive swooping eagle statue and the monolithic monuments dedicated to naval casualties in WW2. Each is covered with names resulting in a stark but tasteful reminder of American lives lost at sea in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific theatres in that particular conflict. Along with all the other memorials I've seen recently it again reminds me that we really don't want to end up with a WW3!

The next stops underlined that again as I headed around to the south western side of Manhattan, closer and closer to Ground Zero. One of the mangled plaza sculptures that lived at the base of the World Trade Centre has been resurrected at the northern tip of Battery Park, beaten back into shape after having thousands of tonnes of rubble piled on top of it. It's interesting to watch the reactions as passers-by come to realise what it actually is, and sobering when it hits home for you too.

Construction has started at Ground Zero now and I think most New Yorkers are pretty glad about that. Life's moving on and some see the start of construction as heralding a new era for the nation spiritually and hopefully politically. With the mid term elections around the corner we'll see about that shortly...

I didn't get out partying this time around but still occasionally slunk around after dark to check out some of the neon sights. There's some beautifully lit buildings about and of course places like Times Square and 42nd burst with colour and atmosphere in the moonlight, which makes them much better to visit once the sun goes down. Unfortunately the rain came out as well whilst I was caterwauling, which deadened the mood just a tad. I retreated to Macy's and did a touch of shopping instead. The night-owl in me can wait until next time.

Back on the steamy streets and a couple of other things piqued my curiosity. I'm not sure if the Spanish-speaking population has actually increased since I was here last (6 years ago) but it sounds like it from New York businesses that officially retail in both English and Spanish these days. I thought it was only a west coast phenomenon but no longer. It was pretty bizarre seeing a row of dedicated Spanish speaking customer service reps in the middle of an ultra-orthodox Jewish-owned camera store, especially when they were more busy than the English-speaking team.

On that note, you may have heard that the increased migrant population and illegal immigration is making some serious headlines at the moment, so it was also interesting to see a protest and stand-off outside the Mexican consulate on my wanderings. The protagonists were getting very vocal and quite nasty and New York's finest were having a hard time keeping the warring factions apart. That it was right across the road from the Williams Club probably didn't impress its members too much.

The other item is there must be a lot of choking incidents throughout the city because every restaurant in town has a Heimlich manoeuver poster somewhere around. In my various restaurant experiences I didn't see it performed but I do know now that it also works in cases of drowning and acute asthma. Work wasn't the only place I learnt stuff that week...

Back to Britain and, more specifically, Scotland now. See you then.
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