A week in New York: Thoughts

So we’ve been home for a  couple of weeks now, and I’ve had the time to let the thoughts settle. I can say what I think of New York in the way I want to. Here we go…

I loved spending time with my Wife’s family. It was amazing. They are a huge clan of lively, interesting people each with their own story, all beautiful in their own way. They mostly live in the Queens area of New York, perhaps a 40 minute drive from central Manhattan (traffic depending). We stayed with them for 4 of the days we were there, and honestly, I would have been happy to stay there for another month getting to know them all better (Almost all of them offered to go out for a pint and a good long talk with me). Each of them had their own stories, their own jobs and walks of life. Each of them wanted to spend time with us, to get to know us, and I wish we’d had the time to hang out with them all in their own time, rather than having to catch brief moments with them in between their busy schedules. As a complete stranger to them, I was welcomed in to each of their homes and showered with kindness.

My wife hasn’t seen this side of her family in around 15 years, since she was a child. The family are a huge network of cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, second cousins and cousins in law. My wife’s Gran had 9 other siblings, who all had their children and so the family tree grew. Some still live in Jamaica, the majority live in America, and two of them moved to the UK to start their families.

Three of the days that we were in New York, we stayed in central Manhattan. New York is so big, that the different districts may as well be different cities in their own rights. Queens is a huge sprawling suburb, with schools and shops and parks and houses. Harlem is similar, but more built up. Apartment blocks, coffee shops and restaurants populated the part of Harlem that we visited.  Manhattan is a huge mess of giant buildings, apartments and hotels. The normal streets are all shops; diners, pizzerias, delis, hotels and restaurants. Above street level, live all the people. The hotel we stayed in was bang on Time’s Square, so we were right in the middle of the city. It’s the most chaotic city that I’ve ever visited.  And, I think, that’s why I didn’t really enjoy staying there.

In the last blog, I said that I didn’t enjoy Manhattan. And I think I’ve nailed down what it is that really bugged me. And it’s more to do with me than the city.

  1.  I’m naturally an introvert. I don’t like large amounts of people, and Manhattan has A LOT of people. But more so than any other big city that I’ve visited, everyone is out to take money from you. It’s the most capitalised place (is that even a word?) that I’ve ever been to. Every 15 metres, there’s someone asking if you want to take a big bus tour around the city. Or to come in to their establishment. Or if you want to buy some tourist merchandise. There’s no peace walking around; you can’t enjoy your walk, as every block that you walk, someone’s asked you something or interrupted you at least twice. Food is three times more expensive than out of Manhattan, and all of their history has been monetised. Museums, the Empire State building, The Statue of Liberty, even the 9/11 memorial museum cost $20-30 dollars to get in to. As a reference, the museum in Bristol, my home town, is free. The Nuclear peace museum in Hiroshima, costs about $5 to get in to. Part of me thinks that such a tragedy as 9/11, should be remembered and shown to people as an example, rather than making a profit. New York has taken history, and made it a business. It seems to take everything, and make it an exercise in taking your money.
  2. People don’t mind their own business, until it suits them not to. My wife and I were looking to hop on the subway, and I was reading the stops above the carriage to make sure that it was going where we wanted to go to. Common sense stuff, right? Some guy chimes in and tells us that there’s only one train that runs from that platform, so that’s the one we need. That’s great and all, but if we’d gone to the wrong platform, it wouldn’t be the one we needed. People chimed in every time we looked at a map with comments that weren’t actually helpful, and honestly, I can read a map. I don’t need help with it.While on the subway, a homeless dude collapsed on the subway, at the far end of the carriage to us. Suddenly the Manhattan spirit of chiming in and “helping” dissipated, and everyone moved away from him, and just stared at him. No one moved forward, no one checked if the person was even still breathing and no one did anything. After a stunned 20 seconds, the homeless person moved again, and to my relief, got up, and moved out of the train on to the platform. Honestly, it was shocking, that after spending so much of my time there with people trying to interrupt me, and tell me what’s best for me, that not one person would move forward and help this person. Having been used to seeing people help others in situations like this in England, it was a shocking thing.
  3. The customer service in the shops is frankly terrible. Maybe I see this only because I’ve been in retail a long time now, but the people in the shops looked like they couldn’t care less. I know it’s a big city, and the foot fall in the shops must be tremendous, but only one person in a running shop actually seemed interested in my business. Occasionally a waiter or waitress was chirpy, but I found it hard to give our money to people who were generally cold and uncaring, to the point of what I’d consider unprofessional. It’s a lot less like that in London, and the complete opposite of the large cities in Japan like Tokyo or Osaka.
  4. The city that never sleeps shuts at 9pm. Every cafe shuts early, and perhaps only the 24 hour convenience stores and a few big bars stay open late. There wasn’t much point staying out if you didn’t want to go drinking.
  5. It took me away from the family that I was enjoying getting to know. I think I would have handled everything above a lot better, if I hadn’t seen what it was keeping me from. If I ever want to go to Manhattan again, I’ll catch a train or taxi from the suburbs for the day, and spend the rest of my time there with the family.

Over all, I had a great time there. It was great to go to a place that I’d seen a million times on TV, and finally get to see it for myself. It’s interesting to see these places, even if you find that they’re not always what they’re made out to be.

If any of the family who live in the States read this: Thank you! It was great to meet all of you, and I enjoyed my time with you immensely. Thank you for your kindness and your gifts, and I hope to see you again soon!

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