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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These streets will make you feel brand new …

2 09 2010

I love New York. It is the back story to The Referral.

Sydney. Late June 2010. Ever the impulsive one, I decided to take an overseas holiday. Escape the winter that was not discontented, but worse. I was disconsolate. I knew I didn’t want to be in Sydney, I knew that, but that was all I knew. Every part of me was screaming, ‘get your damn passport’, but where to go? My last trip had been to Switzerland (part uni internship, part pursuit of another unsuitable, unattainable man) – and the one before that, India. So, back to flashpacking? Cambodia? Vietnam? Laos? I’d never even been to Thailand.

I workshopped it with the office. Morocco was a good attempt, but I only had two weeks, and I had always wanted to go to Morocco as part of a bigger North African trip.

I asked my friends. “Let’s go to New Caledonia!” Genevieve said.

I thought about it. I’d never really spent two weeks on a do-bugger-all holiday. I’d always ‘travelled’, mostly because I had grown up on the beach amd because I had a high opinion of myself, that I was somehow better for not finding South Pacific idylls an enticing holiday option. I didn’t really like how that thought made me feel about myself. I cut my internal poppy down to size and mulled over the Nouvelle Caledonie idea, as if saying it in French made it more ‘me’. It caught on. I could practice my French. I could go on holiday with a friend for once in my life. This might actually be fun. Yes, New Caledonia it would be. 

“Oh, you really want to go to New Caledonia? I thought you wouldn’t do it, so I booked two weeks in Hawaii instead.”

Oh. Oh FUCK! I had allowed almost two weeks to go by … and I hadn’t organised a thing.

Then, two words kept coming up in the many conversations I had during the day:

New York.

“Kimberley, Kimberley, you will LOVE New York, I guarantee it.”

“You’ve never been to America? You simply MUST. GO. TO. NEW YORK.”

“I used to live in the East Village, make sure you buy lots of Ralph Lauren towels, they last forever.”

“You must go. There are lots of people I can hook you up with.”

That’s when I started to think about it as a serious option. I could go to New York. I could be a marvellous creature among marvellous New Yorkers. Expat Australians. Artists. Oh my god: I could be in the village with Randy Jones – the cowboy from THE Village People – true, Randy and I had already met but that weekend deserves, and will get, a post all of its own.

I could go to New York … maybe a quick day in Boston … and I could go to Washington. Recreate scenes from The West Wing. Talk Beltway politics with my best friend from high school. Listen to Lincoln. Oh god. I could see The One That Got Away. Maybe even meet The One He Went Away With. No, it was always only ever in my head. Still, dinner wouldn’t be out of the question, non?

I could be the person I knew I could be; the person I like, the smart, independent, engaged one who comes out to play when I am somewhere else.

In a few weeks, I could be in New York.

Yes. OK. Done. I’m sold. Onto the web. Get a travel permit. Book a ticket. Find somewhere to stay. It took quite a while as I buggered about with which gorgeous apartment I should make home. Finally found it. A fourth floor walk up in the West Village (secured three days before I flew out). Subscribe to websites called “Urban Daddy” and “Not for Tourists” that would put me so in the minute the New Yorkers I was being ‘referred’ to would LOOK. IN. AWE.

Yes. I was The Referral.

It started with Patrick. My darling boy, the Cary Grant to my Kate Hepburn. As soon as I pressed the go button on the whole New York vacay, Patrick sprang into action.

“Ramplin,” he said, “leave it to me. I will sort it all out for you. I will put you in touch with Matthew. We met Randy through Matthew. Yes, yes, it will be fine. You’ll love him. I’ll call him tonight – but firstly, you must come to see Trevor Ashley with me at the Opera House. I don’t care about your ‘I’m tired’ and your ‘I have a sore throat’ and your ‘I’m Acting CoS’. We’re going out.”

And we did. And a gay old time was had by one and all. Probably  bit too good. Wine gave way to beer, beer to champagne, champagne to martinis. Venue after venue. Met the most adorable people. Paul and Richard, both especially delicious. The delightful Jayne Ambrose, agent of said Mr Ashley and former wife of the late, great Don Lane. Jayne was very matter of fact about it when I asked whether New York was a good destination for a single woman in her late thirties:

“I married an American. That’s how much I loved New York. Of course you’ll meet men. American men love women. Even the gay men. You’ll meet a man. But you’ll fall in love with New York.”

Jayne, I really must see you again. You were right. Because that night Patrick called Matthew. Well, he dialled the number outside The Civic and we screeched at the poor man like the messy listen-to-mes we both are and, thus I was entrusted to Matthew’s care.

When we met, over dinner at Momofuku in the East Village, with his mother, cousins, and step-father from North Dakota or some such place, Matthew retold the tale of the conversation. Which was essentially as I have told it, with the addition of Patrick failing to hang up, me screaming at Patrick that I didn’t need looking after, and that now, because we were so stupid and screechy Matthew would hate me, and Matthew being able to recite our conversation quite unnervingly:

“Two double gin and tonics and an apple martini, and by the way, make it good, because she’s going to New York.

“I’ve just referred her to my friend.”