At midnight just off of Times Square, a dollar will take you ‘Back to the Future’. It’s New York city on a Sunday evening so naturally there’s a flying DeLorean parked in the street, Marty McFly’s hoverboard balanced on two black cans and the umpteenth tourist sidling up to a Doc impersonator slurring:
“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
Casually stumbling upon a makeshift scene from your favourite childhood movie is par for the course. It’s just one of the ways New York flirts and feels instantly familiar as yellow cabs wink in the thick city traffic, opera singers belt Puccini in muggy, crowded subways and the Manhattan skyline transforms from the cinematic to the staring you in the face in flashes of steel, silver, glass and glamour.
As celebrated metropolises all over the world inevitably come up a little short, New York is a city that lives up to the hype.
It never sleeps.
There are more shops, bars, bookstores, restaurants, nightclubs and attractions than you can visit in a lifetime and the energy is something singular. Electric. Charged by its 8 million residents and 61 million annual tourists walking. Traversing the city in tight, colourful, oddly organized throngs colliding and dispersing in an incomparable rhythm celebrated in songs by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Jay-Z.
The mood is eternal occasion.
The feeling of an unspoken somewhere everyone is incessantly rushing towards but the route is whichever way you please.
Through Chelsea, its verdant Highline, bustling market and endless array of galleries beckoning from Manhattan’s West Side. Via SoHo’s cobblestone streets lining everything Prada, Chanel, Mango, UNIQLO and worth devouring. Past trendy Greenwich Village, home to NYU, Washington Square Park, myriad bookstores, jazz clubs and comedy joints or beelining to Brooklyn, alighting in Williamsburg, and making the most its late night bars, eat-in cinemas and cute cafes while writing, producing, artisanal-something -making creatives redefine the term hip(ster).
As everyone chooses a neighbourhood, a place and a party, the secret is that you can blend in.
With the 3.2 million people born outside the United States who call the city home. The astonishing array of immigrants who lend New York their culture and cuisine concentrated in places like Chinatown and Little Italy but which seep into the mainstream in the city’s countless Mexican, Korean, Japanese, French, Thai and kosher restaurants, ubiquitous falafel stands, kebab stops and late night pizza places welcoming the early morning inebriates so desperately seeking pepperoni.
The beat goes on.
Starbucks does a roaring insomniac trade and the mentally ill chat enthusiastically to themselves in doorways. Lucid sometimes when the thought occurs to request a dollar, furious other times when called back into the cloud.
Broadway beckons in a boast of lights and excerpts from glowing reviews.
Times Square shines and Cookie Monster rips off his own head for the man beneath the costume to get some air while a giant Will, Grace, Karen and Jack beam at you from a bubble bath.
The billboards move, the lights inspire, the Church of Scientology advertises free personality tests and the love letters are well-earned.
There’s nowhere like it and you don’t quite get it until you see what you’ve already seen on screen.
The Empire State Building, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Hell’s Kitchen, the Hudson River, the Brooklyn Bridge, the brownstones, the bagels, the bodegas and the copycat Carrie Bradshaws.
Then and beyond the bright lights, New York, is just a small matter of walking.
Getting lost in the grid, ducking into Havana in Times Square and taking a big, fat bite of the apple.