It was reading the challenge here that inspired this topic today, on America’s Independence Day.
My visit to New York was my only time on US soil. The closest I got before that was the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, when I was with my daughter who had forgotten her passport so we couldn’t get over the bridge. Anyway when I arrived at JFK it was midnight (5 am for me) on 7th July, three years ago. So that’s three days after Independence Day.
My first impression of a New Yorker was gained from the taxi driver. Not good. How was I to know that I should be able to tell him whether the hotel was east or west of Madison? In London, you give the driver the name of the hotel and he knows exactly where to go. He’d be out of a job if he didn’t.
But here I was, sitting behind a growly driver muttering under his breath about ignorant foreigners. Not that his own speech was exactly with a New York accent; many of the cab drivers were obviously imported from elsewhere, so perhaps that explains their geographical inadequacies. And perhaps it was fortunate that I couldn’t make out everything he said. Once we’d crossed the bridge over the East River onto Manhattan, he drove around in circles and figures of eight as I watched the meter figures creeping upwards, until we suddenly recognised the lights of the hotel. And then he sat and watched as I struggled up the steps with my luggage.
Luckily the rest of the trip made up for that miserable start, and apart from the cab drivers, all the people I met in New York were smiley and up-beat, and falling over themselves to be helpful.
The reason for the trip was to celebrate a mate’s 40th birthday. She told me afterwards that she’d spent quite a while figuring out how to plan something that would get the highest number of her friends to travel over from Europe and party with her family and US pals. And she certainly got it right.
The party on the Saturday night was on board Amberjack, a boat that took us down the East River, and up the Hudson, before going out to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on the way back. The food was delicious and the wine flowed. We chatted, danced and took in the scenery as the light faded and the city lit up. It was an absolute dream for a first-time visitor to New York.
As was the rest of the trip. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to go back so I made sure I had a couple of days to catch as much as possible of the island. I saw it all from a helicopter; went up the Empire State; paid my respects to Ground Zero; trekked the shops; walked through Central Park; chose to visit the wonderful Frick instead of the Guggenheim; saw Times Square, Grand Central Station, South Street Seaport and Brooklyn Bridge; and finally was refused entrance to the Rokefeller Rainbow Room because of my flip-flops, so got high on cocktails in the basement bar instead.
On Sunday morning, before flying home, I met the birthday girl alone for a real American breakfast with easy-over eggs. And, of course, for the good, long chinwag that we couldn’t have the night before, because so many other people were vying for her attention.
It was a really memorable visit that still sits in my mind as if it were yesterday.