It’s a helluva town …

29 09 2010

New York, New York

It’s a helluva town.

The Bronx is up but The Battery’s down

New York, New York

It’s a helluva town.

‘On the Town’

Music: Leonard Bernstein Lyrics: Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Arriving at JFK. The flight was late, so our luggage is late, and I’m running late to meet Andy, my mysterious contact for the ‘Sex and The City Location’ apartment I had booked for the next 10 days. I didn’t want to leave him hanging around on a stoop, or worse, have him give up on me, so I called and we agreed to meet an hour later than planned.

“Where you goin’, honey?” the taxi dispatcher asked, with a tone that suggested more, that she dealt with wide-eyed travellers every day, that she understood when I stammered ‘West Village’, that she too, felt weary. She was probably bored rigid of asking the same question hundreds of times a day, but her voice was like a security blanket. “It’s a flat fare to Manhattan, honey, so you ain’t gonna get ripped off. What’s the street address?” Prince Street, near 7th Avenue, number 28. More detail than she needed. She scribbled something on a card and I was dismissed from her world as easily as I had slipped into it.

I thought I was tired, but the drive through Queens sparked me up. There’s a place called Jamaica, there’s the sign to the Mets home ground … to Flushing Meadows … ok sports fans, we’re off to the races. I got my camera out and did something I had never done travelling from an airport before: I started taking pictures. They were bad pix; jumpy, interrupted by SUVs, but I just didn’t care. Or stop. Until I saw the signs. Brooklyn, Manhattan. And then the island, trapped in a summer heat still visible at 7pm.

There is little topography in downtown Manhattan. From the Expressway, the entire island is vertical, but once you’re on the grid itself, it looks like variations on inner-city, Anywhere. Except it’s not. You’re on East 34th street, headed for Sixth Avenue, because you can’t get to Prince Street from Seventh, you’re going the wrong way, and you’ve got some luggage there with you, lady, and I ain’t gonna just drop you somewhere you don’t know where you’re going, it could be a long walk, and this heat, with that luggage. Then I realise: I have no cash. New York taxis don’t take credit cards; they don’t have TIME to take cards. Taking cards requires some sort of parking, or holding up a lane of traffic, and neither is an option.

The driver finds me a bank, but there is no ATM. There’s just this heat, this hot, hot, heat, a different heat than I knew, like the city itself was on heat, primed and ready to mate. I wanted her, I wanted New York, but I couldn’t even get money. The stench of befuddlement must have been stronger than that of the two alleycats, Manhattan and me, because passing New Yorkers (New Yorkers! This was real, I was here! I couldn’t figure out how to find money!) these people of this city stopped and helped me. You have to go inside. They showed me how to do it. The same as some banks do in Sydney. It’s safer. Stops ATMs being ripped out of walls. Oh god, the cringe. I played stupid. It comes naturally. The cab waited. Oh Bank of America, how I loved thee, as money poured out and into my wallet. “Huzzah! I have conquered your banking system. It’s the same. I’m just a bit …”

“It’s ok,” the driver said, “how about that heat?”




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