Thursday, November 06, 2003
I New York

Well, I quite like it, anyway. They say you should never meet your heroes because they’re bound to disappoint you, and I was a little worried that NYC, a city I’ve wanted to go to since I was knee-high to a Harlem Globetrotter (um, which I still am), would do the same. We had two great days and one which was not-so-awesome. Read on for the high- and lowlights of our trip. Actually, the lowlights are much funnier so I’ll probably concentrate on them more.

Click here for pictures.

And here for more pictures!


Central Park is everything you imagine it to be. Well, unless you imagine it to be full of rapists and muggers, which it possibly is at night. During the day, however, it’s an idyllic place for a stroll, the trees ablaze with colour – or should that be color? – and buskers and birds competing to fill the air with sweet music. Manhattan’s heights rear up in the background, creating a stunning vista, while ice-skaters waltz on the outdoor rinks, joggers puff by and cool girls who probably work in publishing lounge on the grass reading the Times and smoking in about the only place you still can. Butter did some yoga on the lawn. For about three seconds – but it was the thought that counted. We walked from our hotel, on 101st Street, to the Empire State Building, on 33rd Street, meandering back and forth, probably covering about 120 blocks! Which was why Butter spent that evening and the next two days hobbling around like she had bumblefoot, a complaint commonly found in rats.

We probably covered even more ground than the runners in the New York Marathon, which took place on Sunday. The crowds waved banners and watched out for Puff Daddy, or P Diddy, or Ken Doddy – whatever he’s called these days – who was taking part. No-one was interested in Ranulph Fiennes, whose feet, after running seven marathons, must be slightly sorer than Butter’s. Oh, and I should mention that the weather was glorious and freakishly warm.

Bright Sights, Big City

Sugooooiiiiiii!!! That was the considered opinion of the Japanese girls who stepped onto the observatory deck of King Kong’s fave building at the same time as us. Sugoi means excellent, which has to be the understatement of the year. The night view from the top of the Empire State Building is mesmerising. As a connoisseur of views from the top of tall buildings, I can tell you it’s up there with the view from the Tokyo Metropolitan Towers, and slightly better than the view from the London Eye (which isn’t a building, but what the hell?) The only bad thing about the Empire State is that someone is trying to get money off you at every turn – audio tours narrated by a taxi called Tony, photos for which we refused to pose – and the security checks, more of which later. Also, I got asked about my Strokes T-shirt by one of the attendants:

’The Strokes, huh? You know, that could have several meanings. What does it mean to you?’
’It’s the name of a band.’
’Never heard of them.’
’But they’re from New York!’

People stared at my T-shirt all weekend, not because they like the band (who no-one in NYC has heard of) but probably because it translates as The Wanks. Nice.

The Manhattan House of Horror

The hotel wasn’t as bad as we expected (click here to see what some other people thought of it) but I wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy. Although on second thoughts… We arrived to find Beavis and Butthead on the front desk, discussing the merits of a Norwegian death metal band that was blasting from the TV (‘Dude, this band are from, like, Norway but they sound American.’ ‘Sweet, dude.’) and then took the elevator from Hell – yes, I think it actually had come up from the depths of Hades – to the fifth floor. The door of our room would have given Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen a heart attack. It nearly gave me one too, especially when we found that it wouldn’t shut properly. Neither would the window. The bed had mismatching pillows and yellow stains on the sheets that I don’t even want to think about, and the mattress must have been manufactured in the sixties – every time you moved, the springs and the bed mites screamed in protest. The fridge roared like an elephant and shook like Elvis all night. We were provided with two rough towels and two small bars of soap that had been stolen from the Holiday Inn. There were three bathrooms on our floor (en suite? Don’t make me laugh, dude). The shower only worked in one of them, the toilet in another and the sink in another, so you had to visit all three to shower, go to the toilet and clean your teeth.

I give it seven out of ten.

Sweet Liberty

Since 9/11, New York has gone security berserk. Everywhere you go, you get scanned and prodded. Getting on the plane was the worst – you had to remove your shoes, your watch, everything metal bar your fillings – but taking the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, which you’re not allowed up since 9/11, is nearly as bad. After being sold a ticket by the rudest woman in New York (a title with a lot of competition) we queued up for the ride, having to remove our coats, watches and belts. Fortunately, my trousers didn’t fall down. The terrorist attack has given the authorities carte blanche to do whatever they like in the name of ‘freedom’ – I could mention Iraq and Guantanamo Bay at this point – including treating every visitor to the city as a potential member of the axis of evil. Kind of ironic when you’re going to see the Statue of Liberty. The Statue itself is very impressive, and the view of Manhattan from the boat is jaw-droppingly iconic. Just like in the movies.

Down in the Subway

On our way to the Statue, Butter had a fight with a ticket attendant who wouldn’t let us through the barriers because we’d made a mistake and gone on to the wrong platform a few minutes earlier. ‘You gotta wait 18 minutes,’ she growled. ‘But why?’ ‘Because those are the rules!’ when we eventually got on the train, a man near us said to the woman beside us, ‘Hey, move your bag a minute,’ then stomped on a cockroach that had been scuttling near it. The conductor made a helpful announcement: ‘If you’re going to South Ferry, please make sure you’re in the first five carriages.’ Except the way she said it, it actually sounded like this: ‘If any one of you motherf**kers wants the motherf**king South Ferry, PLEASE make sure you travel in the first goddamn five carriages. I REPEAT…’ I think she was having a bad day.

On the Subway to JFK on our final day, a gang of youths from the hood got on and started breakdancing, 50 Cent blasting from their boombox. One of them, who was rather overweight, nearly did himself a mischief. They halfheartedly asked for donations then rapped along with their favourite violent, misogynistic lyrics before skulking off. ‘They could have had guns,’ I whispered to Butter. They coulda popped a cap in our asses at any moment.

But the worst thing about the Subway was almost getting arrested. Yes, that’s right - almost getting arrested! On our final day – my birthday – we lugged our suitcase to Grand Central Station so we could check it into left luggage for the day, because our flight wasn’t until 9pm. Guess what? Left luggage has been closed since 9/11. Literary joke alert: I almost sat down and wept. Thinking we were going to have to lug it around town all day, we headed back down to the Subway.

In London, it’s quite easy to get your luggage through the barriers – you just slide it through those black gaps beside the barriers. In New York, you have to queue up by a gate and ask one of the miserable attendants to buzz you through. The queue was massive so I caught the gate as someone came through from the other side and strolled on into the Subway. Big frigging mistake. A plain clothes cop immediately appeared and flashed his badge at us (yeah, just like in the movies) and started interrogating us.
Cop: Where you from?
Us: England.
Cop: Is that how you do things in England?
Us: Well, the system’s slightly different over there…
Cop: So you just stroll through the barriers, huh?
Us: Pardon?
Cop (belligerently): Do you speak English? You got any ID?
We then had to show the nice man our passports and he made us walk back through the barriers and swipe our tickets.
Cop: You ain’t gonna do that again, are ya?
Us: No. (Me, in my head: F*** you, you goddamn De Niro wannabe)
Cop: Coz next time, you’re going to jail. That’s what we’re doin’ here today. ...Pause... Have a nice day.

We had to sit down after that. We made it to Macy’s where, to our huge relief, you can leave your bags all day, for free. Hurrah for Macy’s! To celebrate, we did some shopping, before Butter’s feet swelled up again and it was time to go to the Airport and home to Blighty.

Phew! That must be the longest blog entry ever. And I haven’t even mentioned the great diners we went to, the two excellent films we saw (Kill Bill and the brilliant Lost in Translation, the Met or the flights (Kuwait Airways – cheap as potato chips – you get what you pay for). In all, we did have a great time in NY, apart from the Subway incidents; ooh, if I ever see that cop in England I'm going to... well, I won't do anything. But I hope he gets his suitcase stuck in the barriers. That'll learn him!