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New York Starring Cheryl

>Oct/Nov 2003

About 11 hours into my train journey I had read and mostly committed to memory my Lonely Planet NYC guide so I was primed to catch the subway to either 96th st or 103rd st on train route 1 as far as I could fathom. I managed to finish reading or at least turn each page of the crappy Lester Bangs book I brought on the train ride to keep me entertained. This was great news as I now officially had no books left to read and a trip to a bookstore was ahead of me. I stunned myself by writing at least 20 postcards in dreadful scribble due to the wobbly train ride and horrified myself and perhaps passengers around me with my food consumption.

Soon enough (800km) I was arriving in New York. I didn’t get much of a view as I just saw some lights on a bridge and then we were underground. It was pretty easy to get to the hostel after initially struggling to find the right line, then a tricky (not really) encounter with the downtown train instead of the uptown one. When I eventually hit the surface I took about five wrong turns in five minutes as I tried to get about one block from the subway stop. I thought I knew my N, E, S, W but obviously not when I have a full pack on.

I spent one night in the HI Hostel and then moved to the Big Apple Hostel in midtown. Perfect location on 45th st and great in every other way as well. I highly recommend this place if anyone is heading to NY. The Big Apple Hostel was to be my home for the next couple of weeks and again after I returned from Washington D.C.

The list of things I did, saw and took photos of in New York is huge, limited only by my energy and money as I think I had plenty of time. I wandered through Central Park and fed pecan nuts to the squirrels which were in abundance. They seemed to enjoy them but I’m not sure that it’s allowed as no-one else was feeding them. I promised to remember to look out for police before I indulged in any other dissident behaviour.

I popped my head into the Guggenheim museum but it was full of strange work that I really couldn’t get my head around apart from a few works by Van Gogh and Picasso. I sort of felt a little guilty that I didn’t try hard enough to ‘get it’, but there’s a lot to do in New York and not everything appeals to everyone. I wandered through Central Park again, my main purpose was to get to the upper west village to find and dine at a restaurant called Quintessence, an organic, raw vegan restaurant. The service was lovely and kind particularly as I was in their lunchtime rush of three people (their words not mine). The meal was kind of like the Guggenheim, arty but I didn’t like it. In fact, I’m not even sure what it was … supposedly nori rolls filled with some sort of digestive aid pate.

Later on it is well worth noting that I found a huge bookstore, the kind I have dreamt about. People were lying around on the floor, sitting on the ground in corners, singles and couples, young and old in every section of the store. I allowed myself only a small amount of time in there because otherwise it is always dangerous for me. I already have enough books to read for the rest of my lifetime.

I love the subway in New York, it’s fantastic to get around on but for the moment, walking was so much better as you get to see and hear everything: men running around Central Park talking about skinny girls, girls walking around talking about relationships they don’t want to be involved in.

What else did I do in New York … I saw a bunch of Broadway shows which was fantastic. Some of the shows I just went to see for the cast, other shows appealed to me for the storyline but in most all cases I had a great time. Admittedly I did walk out during the intermission of a couple but this was mostly due to fatigue rather than disinterest. The tickets were purchased at the 50% discount outlet but the tickets were mostly still about US$50 so the shows always set me back a bit.

Now here’s a list of things I have learnt whilst travelling.

1. Public phones are never in quiet areas because it’s deemed highly unlikely that you or the person you’re speaking to would ever want to hear what the other is saying.

2. Never cross the road for Starbucks. The act of crossing the road itself is not that difficult, it’s just that if you wander a few more steps you’ll surely find another on the same side anyway.

3. Never talk to strangers. They’re strangers because they’re strange. It’s not always the case, but quite often.

The United Nations was another highlight for me. So much so that I went there twice. The first time as soon as I arrived I was whisked away on tour like an important citizen, but in truth it was because they needed one more person on their tour and I was the only friendless sole to be found. I later discovered there was a horrible lady on the tour so it was no doubt because of her that no-one else volunteered to join the group.

Something I am not proud of but I will admit to enjoying was going to a taping of the Ricki Lake show. Definitely not my usual scene but it was hilarious! The show was about the best looking women who work at Walmart and the winner got some Playboy spread.

Of course I made the pilgrimage to Ground Zero but discovered there was not really much to look at apart from construction which is probably the honourable thing. If they had transformed it into a gawdy tourist spot then I think it would be quite disrespectful. Across the road was the Century 21 department store which I went to visit with my new friend Nicky. That place was scary and I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I wanted to get out as soon as I went in. For me the only valid form of shopping is in a book store. It took forever to get out and once you’re in the ‘going in’ stream of people it’s very difficult to change direction.

I finally made it to see an Ice hockey game. It was a battle between the Rangers and the Red Wings. Hope this means something to some people out there. The Rangers won 2-1 but I was kind of barracking for the other team as the girl sitting beside me, who was kindly telling me the rules, was a fan and I had no other allegiance.

I had a great plan one day to go and see a Gospel choir in Harlem, then continue on to the Apollo Theatre, Harlem Market, Spanish Harlem and then the Bronx. The end result was that the church was full so we went to another recommended church just nearby. ‘Mothers’ was having its 207th anniversary we discovered which probably meant more babbling than usual ( I wouldn’t really know given that my lifetime visits to church is a single digit figure and will remain that way). I was frustrated with the stand up, sit down business all the time. When the choir did sing they were entertaining but for the rest of the visit I will be forever glad that I daydream exquisitely!

Stop two was no better although I enjoyed the walk through Harlem. The Apollo Theatre, venue of radical events and singing sensations, was closed apart from the gift shop, but I managed to worm myself into the washroom which would have been a highlight had it not been so smelly.

We (Nicky and I) continued to wander, stopped at a Soul Food Kitchen for lunch which included fried everything sold by the pound, very little of which was digestible. Soon enough we met one of those strange strangers I was telling you about and we couldn’t get rid of him for several hours. I blame Nicky as she initially started talking to him but then I think it was my fault as I was too pleasant and kept talking to him when Nicky had given up and was trying to run away.

The final stop of that well planned day was out to Yankee Stadium where the Yankees had lost the world series the previous night. There was lots of rubbish around and not much else. We didn’t realise until we were there that you can’t really see anything by walking around it and the best glimpse you get is from the train but we were happy to have made it out to the edge of the Bronx.

Another day my roommate decided that she had to go see Conan O’Brien so I tagged along not really knowing what I was getting myself into. The show tickets have long since been distributed so we had to line up in the wee hours of the morning for standby tickets. We arrived at 7am (9am is when they’re given out), found where we were supposed to be, lined up but as there was no-one else there we wandered off and came back a few minutes later. Still there was no-one there but this was definitely the place to line up. Shortly after, the security guy (Aboa) set up some crowd control gates so we moved there, took some photos and then finally another person turned up perhaps an hour later, then a few more, until finally at 9am there were people at least into the double digits. I had standby ticket number 1, my roomie had number 2.

That’s not where this story ends. We later found out that the stand by ticket is only valid if someone doesn’t turn up so you have to go back to the studio at 4pm and line up again for another hour. In between we decided to go to the Met. Now I’m not sure if this is the biggest museum in the world but it’s big and full of loads of interesting stuff. Unfortunately our early morning had killed me and I wasn’t able to stay awake enough to enjoy anything. Too tired to catch a train back to the hostel, we took a taxi (which takes about five times as long as the train). I slept a few hours and then it was time to go back to the studio. The bad news was that even though we had stand by tickets number 1 and 2, neither one of us got in. Depressed, we headed off to Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream where we got a discount (they pitied us). We met two guys in there who work for NBC who also pitied us so they offered us a tour of NBC (Bob liked us because we didn’t like George Bush). Just as we were about to sign in and have our visitor pass photos taken, someone offered us Carson Daly tickets which we gratefully accepted even though we had been offered them before but weren’t interested. This time we couldn’t really say no as they were being so kind. So off we went to Carson Daly where we saw Ted Danson and no-one else I know of. The show was really bad and it’s no wonder they have so many tickets to give away. Perhaps I should be more grateful, but it was really really bad which makes something I did later even worse.

The next morning we lined up again for Conan O’Brien tickets. This time we got stand by tickets number 6 and 7. Three guys from Israel had been in line since 4:30am and were saturated as it was raining. We didn’t have the heart to tell them we had tickets 1 and 2 the previous day and still didn’t get in. Positive thought will get you anywhere … and this time we got in. The show was hilarious, really funny and well worth the effort. We went to celebrate at Ben & Jerry’s (it works for all occasions). Against my better judgement we went to see Carson Daly again, partly because I thought it really couldn’t have been that bad and also because Nicky liked it and wanted to go again. This time the show was so much worse! The show is so bad that we turned up almost two hours late with no ticket and they still let us in. Worse still, they were taping for Friday which means it runs for an hour instead of the usual, more bearable half hour. The guests were abysmal. Some guy from Saturday Night Live who was a complete ass and a chick from That 70’s show who was almost as bad and certainly just as rude and offensive. I couldn’t wait to get out.

Like any good NY tourist I headed off to the Empire State Building. There are at least four different lines you have to stand in. If you’re planning on going will take you about two hours before you get to the top where you can see anything. The view is well worth it even if you’re only up there for 15 minutes like I was.

Another interesting (free) thing to do in NY is to walk across the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. It sort of happened for me by accident. I was heading to Chinatown on the subway and got off at the wrong stop which was nearby to the Manhattan bridge. It seemed like a fun thing to do so I walked over, a little unsure if I was going to get mugged or anything. The Manhattan bridge is great because it gives you a wonderful view of the more famous Brooklyn Bridge and a view of the Manhattan skyline. The whole trip took about 1.5 hours (I walk slow). Sorry if I sound like a Lonely Planet guide. Just thought some of this info might be helpful if you’re planning a trip and wondering what to do.

I went to Washington DC, did a bunch of vaguely interesting things and most of the time wished I was back in NY. It didn’t feel safe at all if I walked a block away from the hostel AND there was a creepy guy staying in the hostel. No luck either way really.

For any Sarah McLachlan fans out there, I saw her play at the NBC Today Show Summer Concert series at Rockefeller Plaza. Well I didn’t really see her much as I was a few people back in the crowd and I’m not tall enough! I did hear her though. The next day I had a ticket to an exclusive in store performance she was doing. It’s a long story how I got the ticket, the short version is that Luka is an absolute gem!!!! We sat in the front row of a small crowd and listened to her play a small set before getting a cd signed and asking her when she would come to Australia. May she said and true to her word she will be here. I already have tickets.

Quickly to the flight home which was horrendous. 13 hours or so to Japan, eight hour delay then another 13 or so hours to Sydney, lines for security, lines for transfer, nice easy one hour flight to Melbourne, luggage lost, don’t care at all – too tired and I was home to big hugs and kisses from my two nieces with the rest of my family there to greet me.

A couple of weeks later I was back in Sydney for a volunteer stint at the Champions Trophy Hockey and it would be another two months before I bothered working in the real world!

As always I’m sure I’ve bored you senseless so wake up and do some work or whatever it is they pay you for.

Tigers in India were great. Hope you’re ready to read that one as well.

Cheers

Cheryl

PS Please forgive typos, grammatical errors, rubbish, junk and anything annoying.

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