On the BoltBus to Philadelphia: I’d like to reel off a huge list of fascinating things I did in my four-and-a-half days in New York. I can’t, though – I spent my a great chunk of my time in one of the world’s most fascinating cities catching my breath, catching up on sleep, and, er, catching up on the laundry.
But isn’t that what happens the second time you visit somewhere? The first visit is a frenzied checklist of sights and experiences, the second is a chance to wallow in it all over again. I can confidently say that the most dramatic thing I did was take the Staten Island Railway to the foot of the Island, to wander around the suburb of Tottenville and look out across to New Jersey in the sunset. It’s a strange habit to visit cities and then to seek out peace and quiet, but it’s something I’m rather good at.
The rest of my time was spent wandering around, taking in the multi-sensory experience that is NYC. The sound of New York stays with me more than anything – the fast chatter, the cars honking, even more chatter. One pal took me to a speakeasy for cocktails followed by hilarious gay cabaret one night, an neighbourhood bar behind the Dakota building screening baseball another night. Could I have those experiences in London? Probably – but New Yorkers attack them with a bit more zest.
Generally, though, it’s daft to directly compare London with New York – both cities run on different sorts of energy, are governed in different ways, and face different challenges. I met Girl With A One Track Mind Zoe Margolis – well, bumped into her on 8th Avenue – who took me for a tour and a drink. She’s a north Londoner, but her first visit to New York was in her mother’s tummy, and she’s been back most years since. Given the choice, there’s no other place on earth she’d rather be.
We talked about this city of eye candy and opportunity, and a few things Zoe said made me think. She spoke of the attractions of New York’s secular, self-effacing, outward-looking Jewish community, proud of traditions because they honour their families, not because of slavish religious aherence and distrust of others. London’s Jewish community is practically invisible, she explained, whereas people’s faces were more familiar in New York, she said. The penny only dropped when we got to a brilliant 1930s-style cocktail bar and I clocked the face of the friendly woman greeting us on the door.
There was one new attraction I did take time out to visit – The HIgh Line, a stretch of disused freight railway now converted into a park. Rusting rails remain in place, but the foilage is now carefully managed. It’s a strange attraction – but seems to have captured people’s imaginations, with hundreds parading up and down the mile-long stretch that’s open for business, taking advantage of a new view of the city.
I’m now getting a new view of a new city – I can see Philadelphia on the horizon from the front of this coach. My journey’s about to enter its penultimate stop…