Its been five years since I left New York so I was curious to see how it might have changed and if, in any way, my relationship with it had been affected by the absence.
It was immediately clear that I felt right away that New York is truly ‘where it’s at’. I’ve seen a lot of great American cities in my effort to populate this blog, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and many in between.
None of them come close.
What has changed is the number of people sleeping on the streets, the bums begging at every corner and the strong smell of marijuana at regular intervals – day or night (Mayor De Blasio has decriminalised it). When I was here in 2013 the previous mayor had long held a view that Manhattan should be kept clear of anyone who might be involved in crime, and anyone who slept rough or appeared in any way to be even slightly dodgy would be stopped, searched and driven to the New Jersey border to go and live there.
But it still feels very safe I have to say. There are loads of cops all over the place and none of the beggars or homeless try to get in your face too much. There’s a change, but it doesn’t change New York. It can take it.
More to the point though, what happened to proper English usage in the last five years?
It seems that here, more than anywhere, the use of adjectives, verbs and adverbs have been replaced by the word ‘like’ and a snippet of associated role play. You will have witnessed this in our own young people in the UK too (the ones that watch too many American shows at least), it’s not confined to New York, it’s just much worse here.
So a group of young girls pass in the street and the conversation relates to a recent experience with a good looking boy. Instead of saying, ‘I looked at him and thought he was very handsome’ we hear ‘I was like “whoa” and I’m like [action: opens eyes and mouth wide], “omigod” and I just thought “all right boy – lookin’ fine!” [action: uses hand to wave cool air on face] “mmm….mmmm”’
The use of ‘I’m like’ followed by a replay of the actions undertaken at the time has become the new language of the younger generation. It’s as if they don’t know any other way to describe something.
An overheard conversation relates to a recent shopping experience. Can you translate?
‘I was like “omigod” but the guy says “sixty dollas”- I’m like “no way” – he’s like “for you fifty” so I’m like “get them in a bag then” and he’s like “yeah I will” – check them out [action: points to shoes]
Amongst the noise of chatter in the street the most commonly heard word is ‘like’.
For our first day in New York we decided to go to Roosevelt Island, something I have never done before. There’s a cable car that takes you from Madison Avenue and 60th over to the island which is home to a visitor centre, a mental health facility, apartment blocks and a couple of parks. The main attraction is the cable car and you’ve done that by the time you get there.
We walked for a bit trying to get a feel for the place but it turns out it is just a different place to look at Manhattan from and wish you’d stayed there. We did, in fact, have lunch there and it was perfectly acceptable.
I’m glad we went over though, just to know not to do it again.
We then walked down to Macy’s on 34th and did some exploring amongst its vast halls of expensive goods listening to lots of ‘likes’ amongst the other shoppers and trying to locate the toilets. Truthfully the toilet was our main purpose in being there.
As we walked away we stepped out on to the road and were promptly honked at by someone turning into our path when we were perfectly within our rights to cross. I was like ‘duh!’ and I threw my hands in the air.
Dinner was an Italian affair at Forlinis in Little Italy – pricey by our standards but very nice and very traditional New York Italian with bags of Sicilian atmosphere. No pictures because we were frightened we might be mistakenly photo-bombed by a Mafia don and be whacked on the way out.
For our second day in New York we went to Boston.
Boston is three hours away from New York and it takes three and a half hours to get there on a tour bus. We didn’t realise that it takes five and a half hours to get back at the end of the day on a tour bus. If we had we might have chosen to do something more productive with this day.
We rose excitedly at 5 am in order to shower and walk uptown to our meeting point. There we boarded the bus to Boston with our tour guide Chris whose actual name was Yaou Chang but he translated it for us so we would understand him more clearly. That was as much as we could understand of his broken English.
We then took our seats behind the ‘Recliner family’.
I don’t actually understand why planes and buses have reclining seats. There’s little enough space to squeeze your legs in without having the guy in front kicking back and lying in your lap. Honestly the recliner in this bus went so far back I could have rested my coffee on his forehead and hung my headphones over his lug. And he didn’t even give me fair warning. One second I’m looking down at my growing belly (holiday food), the next there’s a blob of a bloke looking up at me. Well be would have been looking up if he wasn’t slurping and grunting his way through his sleep ritual.
We were on the bus two minutes and he was off to sleep – in my lap.
I glanced behind but the poor woman who would have had to suffer my ginger bonce in her bosom looked too sweet to cause such distress to.
I would ban recliners in all public transport. I don’t care if you are a recliner or not – it’s just not right.
Anyway, apart from the dreadful journey there and back, the trip to Boston was – well actually it was dreadful.
Our first stop was that internationally renowned seat of learning, Harvard. Well they don’t use adjective, adverbs or verbs there either. These doctors, lawyers and business leaders of the future were ‘like “omigod – this is Harvard you know”. Not only that, our tour guide, ‘Chris’, had not checked ahead – and when we got to Harvard it was closed.
Closed to vote in a new president – I was like ‘you’re joking aren’t you?’
So we walked around the yard that we were meant to be inside and pressed our noses against the railings of the fence wondering what it must be like to go to Harvard and be a future president or something. Truthfully we hadn’t known it was part of the tour so we didn’t get too fussed.
Now ‘Chris’ was full of facts (translate from Cantonese = completely made up rubbish). Harvard is the best university in the world he tells us. MIT is the best technology school in the world. The library at Harvard is the biggest in the world, Boston is the biggest marathon in the world. Reclining seats are the best thing since sliced bread.
Rubbish Chris! Just because Wikipedia says something that doesn’t make it true.
So we then went into Boston to follow the Freedom Trail and to learn about American History from Chris. We were then rushed through the key locations in the story but given ample time at gift shops and eateries all of which were run by Chris’s family I think. At one point we had to go rogue just to grab some pictures in the city centre while Chris told the tour group about the oldest church in the world right in the middle of Boston.
And then on the five and a half hour journey home (the longest journey in the world) my wife and I had Mr and Mrs Recliner to nurse in our laps all the way.
What I can say is that Boston is a truly lovely place and we will be back (without Chris) to do it some justice. One day.
Next morning we got up much later and took the subway to 125th street, crossed the platform and took another subway back to 81st street where we had originally planned to be. We then got our and I ran round Central Park one more time. It was exhausting – I am not in shape at all.
I then took my rucksack and tried to change in the Bethesda Park toilets without touching the sides of the cubicle, the floor or the bowl with any part of my body. That was much more exhausting.
We then decided on a lunch at the Boathouse. That was very nice. I had soup and Cobb Salad while my good lady had a burger.
To relax we hired a row boat to have a romantic meander around the little pond in the park. It was more exhausting that the last two experiences.
The place was so busy we took most of our hour trying to get out of the chaos of first time rowers (myself included). We nearly sank twice.
Then we realised that, instead of the modern plastic oars attached to all the other boats, we had two lumps of wood that someone had hacked off a tree and carved into baseball bats with a penknife. Worse still the linkages hadn’t been greased this century so they squealed with every heave and squawked with every ho. It was painful.
We timed our trip out knowing that we needn’t to head back after half an hour to avoid the extra charge for exceeding the hour. That wouldn’t happen to me.
But we hadn’t realised that coming back into the flotilla of hapless sailors at the start required the navigational skills of Admiral Nelson to overcome. We were inside ten minutes of our return time and it looked like we would fail with less than fifty nautical yards to row. I spotted a guy to my right who was also clearly under the clock, and he was heading for the same narrow strait I myself had pointed my bow to’ard. He came amidships and rammed me, the blaggard, and I had to haul astern to avoid us both ending up feeding the fishes.
He caught my eye and I held his a moment. He flinched and smiled. ‘You have that one,’ be politely said. I was like ‘duh!’ and I steered a course for port within moments of the clock running out.
Truthfully we were ten minutes early such was our panic.
However, the stress was so significant I was glad to hand it in and return to land.
We made our way next to 72nd and Broadway and walked down to our hotel on 31st street where I showered before we hit the trail again.
We walked to the Highline on 11th Avenue where we intended to walk on this former elevated railway line down to Greenwich Village for dinner.
It was closed.
I was like [action: wtf]
So we walked to the side of the Hudson to make our way down and crossed into Greenwich where we wandered amongst the streets watching the locals walking their dogs and pretending they live like normal people and don’t just stay there so tourists can gawp at them. We popped our heads in a few doors looking for the right place to eat but were put off my ‘omigod!’ being shouted from every corner and the ‘omigod’ prices being charged for salads.
We finally landed on Bleeker Street pizza which sits discretely between 7th Avenue and Bleeker Street (surprisingly). The 14 inch pizza with three toppings and two drinks came in under thirty dollars and it was magnificent.
It was just the thing to energise us for the twenty five blocks home.
This morning we had to come out to Starbucks just to do this blog. We Skyped my sister who celebrated a birthday ‘like “really don’t mention that”‘ Here she is