New York, 2006

The company where I (currently) work is always trying to get people to transfer over to the New York office. There are a number of personal reasons why I didn’t want to do that, however the main reason was always that it — basically — just didn’t appeal. It really didn’t seem to be very much different from London, where I currently live, but, well, more. So when I visited New York in April I was not expecting to like it very much.

As this was my first time in New York, and only my second in the United States, I was immediately drawn to the things that the place is famous for. Yellow taxis. The Empire State Building. The Statue of Liberty. Central Park. I managed to “do” them all, but not always on the first attempt!

The first time I went to the Battery Park pier for the Liberty Island ferry I found a long, snaking line of people and no shade from the sun. Not feeling like turning lobster-red for my wedding photos, I decided to postpone.

Typically the weather turned the day after making this decision. It got to the point that you could barely see statue from Manhattan and I was starting to think the trip might have to wait until my next time in New York. But on my last day the clouds and rain lifted enough to consider it. Even the crowds had evaporated.

For the short trip out, the boat was accompanied by the coast-guard. The memory of September 11th lives on. I just walked around the statue rather than going inside. You can’t go all the way to the top like you could previously — security again. Liberty looks more impressive In Real Life than it does in the pictures. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but it has a poise and grace that doesn’t come across quite so well in photographs.

A ferry took me from Liberty to Ellis Island, which was home to US Immigration for many years. It was late so I only managed a quick look around. It was fascinating if only because my wife had been dealing with UK Immigration for most of the time I’ve known her!

I had a similar experience with the Empire State Building. I first got there and found a vast queue. I had to be at dinner in about ninety minutes. Unfortunately the staff said that there was a ninety minute wait just to get to the top!

The next week I came back and splashed out on an Express Pass. I felt like a celebrity walking past all the queues — sorry, since we’re in America, lines — to step into the lift.

The main difference between London and New York I found is that New York is much taller. I guess this is a fairly obvious observation, but the lack of sky was quite striking from ground level. From the top of the Empire State Building you can see it all laid out in front of you. Even nearly a century after it first opened there is little taller. Looking down, ‘little’ six or seven story buildings seem nearly as far away as the throngs of yellow taxis. South of here, the buildings are smaller — the ground-rock isn’t as solid — until near the tip of Manhattan where things get taller again, and where the twin towers used to stand. Facing north you realise just how big Central Park is.

I’m glad I did the Empire State near the end of my time in New York. It allowed me to make sense of the various bits of geography I’d come to vaguely know. Oh, so that’s next to that!

Not quite fitting in the theme of “failed visits,” I saw Times Square a few times at various times of day. On the way to my hotel I believe I passed through it without realising. I look back and wonder how that was possible. To be fair to myself, it does look very different at night. I had to wonder at the value of any particular company advertising there. There’s just so much neon that absolutely nothing stood out, although I was continually dazzled by the lights, the constant flow of pedestrians and traffic and the noise.

I’ve only really scratched the surface of what I saw on my first visit to New York, yet I only scratched the surface of what there is to see in New York. I liked the place much more than I thought I would. I’m sure I’ll be back.