NEW YORK – SPLASH OF PURPLE
Knox strained his neck from the aisle seat to catch an Arial view of some of New York’s famous landmarks but to no avail. It didn’t matter though, as our shuttle bus brought us across the Hudson and the bright lights of Manhattans skyline shone intently to raise the curtain on our final destination of the RTW.
Oh, please not again! Another hotel nightmare! Portland Square hotel on its own website looked positively gleaming with its fresh white linen in chic contemporary rooms. So why on earth were all the rooms, old-fashioned in tired brown and sickly green? The tatty look wasn’t just a bit mis-leading but completely false considering its advertising.
We were ready to lose it as we went immediately to reception in order to change rooms.
“You’ll not find any of the rooms like the pictures on the website” Jenny, the receptionist bluntly explained at the desk.
We were flabbergasted at the response.
“So why are the pictures on the website? Do you have any better rooms?” exhaustion washed through our mind and body as the time ticked towards 2am.
All we wanted to do was go to the hotel and crash out for the night yet now we were in limbo with the room.
“We’ve got nothing else available tonight, but I can get one of the girls to show you a different room tomorrow”, Jenny explained.
The heat in the room was sweltering when we returned so we went to turn on the air conditioning. Within a few minutes, to their dismay, the room was filled with a fusty, damp smell and little in the way of temperature change.
Knox called reception and explained another ridiculous situation. The maintenance guy was called but all he was able to do was confirm that the a/c was out of order and off course reception didn’t even have a fan. Reluctantly we had little choice, in the height of NY’s summer, but to sweat all night or what remained of it as time exceeded 3am.
The next day we were hit by the triple whammy of a night on the town in LA, a full day of travelling coast to coast, and the hassles of a suffocating room. We slept through till the afternoon.
It didn’t take long to realize that Jenny hadn’t bothered to communicate the problems of the night before, leaving us to go through the frustrating rigmarole of telling the story over again.
We were only in NY for a short stay and the last thing we wanted or expected was to be messing around with room troubles. We were shown another but it was worse than our origina, as we were greeted with a puddle under the a/c unit and when we turned it on the evidence pointed that this unit was also dodgy.
The space was cramped and the pokey bathroom didn’t match the original rooms ‘only’ plus point. We were then told that the other rooms of a supposedly better standard where not available.
“Can I speak with the manager?” We asked.
“He won’t be here until Monday” came the defensive response from the receptionist.
“This just isn’t good enough. It’s over 30 degrees out there and we’re sat sweating in a falsely advertised room!” We had had it up to here!
“You could always look for another hotel but it’s the weekend and I know most places will be fully booked”.
This, it transpired, was an accurate comment as later we tried a few other hotels on the first tentative steps around the famous city.
We knew, at this time, that options where limited and just grunted when the reception offered us a derisory 20 dollars discount and was asked to check with reception tomorrow for a different room.
We would speak with the manager on Monday morning and we looked forward to it! In the meantime we had been waiting around all afternoon for the front desk to organize us alternative accommodation but to no avail.
We refused to waste anymore of the trip to them. We decided ‘not think too much’, better just to get right into the life of a New Yorker.
This was not LA. NY was a big yellow taxi of pure unpretentious bedlam pleasure in its own down to earth style. Looking at parts of maps before we arrived, we felt it a bit confusing but the reality was different. The easy grid work of Manhattan and the simple numbered street names made it near impossible to get lost.
Portland Square hotel was in west 47th street between 6th and 7th Avenue as long as one could count it was that straight forward. Broadway cut through 7th avenue a couple of blocks from them and Time Square was only 5 blocks away. Even in the high summer heat were people sweated and fanned themselves as they took big strides to reach the shade or dived inside their cool a/c businesses, walking was the best mode of transport.
The roads were chock-a-block and it would be more stress to sit in the jam. If further distances had to be taken, the subway would rarely be far away from where you wanted to go.
Manhattan sure was tall but it wasn’t a pain to traverse the long wide blocks as it had been in haphazard Hong Kong. So many of the sights were familiar even though we had never been to New York and this give the impression of meeting up with an old friend.
Calling into Macy’s dept store with its well used wooden escalators was nothing special as far as shopping was concerned but the design of the entrances on the ground floor, where the street names were inlaid in gold, gave that unique impression. Time Square was jammed with tourists whose flashes burned in order to capture the moment in the famous landmark. Above and around were the multitude of famed neon boards flashing, scrolling and flickering bright advertisements and news items across their massive screens. Once again one felt like an ant against the back drop of this mega city. Getting lost here is not so much about losing ones bearings but much more about the inner self hiding within the huge occupied crowd.
We took of from the people flood rising in this huge pool and flowed into Broadway for the first glimpse of the theatres. The bill-boards sang out the names of shows as critics print chorused how fabulous, inspiring, outrageous or hilarious each work was. We were determined to catch a production and, after looking at a few leaflets, we decided on the stage adaptation of Alice Walkers prize winning novel and Spielberg’s film starring Oprah Winfrey, ‘The Color Purple’.
Sunday morning saw more brush offs by reception as we were told to try back at 3.30pm when the rooms should be finished being cleaned. We rolled our eyes.
Knox stepped on to the street to take on his mission.
He crossed onto Broadway and walked the few blocks until he found the Broadway Theatre with its subsequent queue that stretched around the corner, incorporating camp chairs of people who looked to have been there since breakfast. He took his place at the back and waited his turn. When the box office opened at noon, the queue snaked to the doors where it was split into two, the matinee line and one for the evening performance. Knox joined the latter but, as he reached ten from the counter, the call came that no tickets were left or so he assumed as he’d only half heard the announcement amid the hustle and bustle.
Most in front of him left with glum faces, disappointed that they weren’t going to see the show. Knox felt an itch to stay as he hoped tickets would magically appear. It transpired that his dodgy hearing hadn’t heard correctly as it was the ‘RUSH’ tickets for the cheapest $20 seats that had been sold out.
“Umm, these were the kind that I wanted, now what shall I do?” The cheap skate Knox thought as he reached the ticket counter. The next available were at $66 and $88 but only one of each of these seats remained. Knox calculated quickly that we really wanted to catch this show, that there would be no more performances until Wednesday when we were leaving, that it wasn’t everyday one was in New York on Broadway, and what the hell lets live it up!
He proceeded to purchase two tickets at $111.50 each that would have us eight rows from the stage and right in the middle, Yeeha! Boy was he excited.
Miko gasped at the price when he told her but could hardly contain her thrill at the extravagance. Knox loved seeing her shocked happiness and it put New York truly on track.
On top of this, at 4pm, we were finally shown a different room where the aircon worked. It was styled the same but was at least bigger and brighter due to the street facing window. We could at last settle themselves.
In our finery, scrubbed and preened, wemade a beeline to the bright lights of Broadway. We felt like stars as we waltzed through the art deco entrance hall and into the plush lobby. All around people were dressed in their snazzy best and the electrified air tingled the skin while the ears chattered to the excited chat about the NO’1 entertainment in town.
Some moved straight through to their seats, frightened to miss even a second, while others, including ourselves, milled about the bar ordering a drink to celebrate the intoxicating atmosphere of just being there.
Amid the surrounding buzz, wild screaming erupted from within the theatre, the kind one usually hears on an American talk show, stopping everyone in their tracks as they lifted on their tip toes peering in to see who or what had got people so worked up.
“Maybe its Oprah Winfrey” Miko giggled to a woman who’d sat beside her while Knox went to have a nosey. The woman laughed.
“I’m dreaming” Miko said feeling her imagination was a tad absurd, knowing Oprah would have hired out the whole theatre and had her own private show to escape the yelling fans.
“Oh you never know” the woman replied optimistically having a wee daydream herself.
As the speaker announced for everyone to take their seats, we walked down the aisle towards the stage. We could see necks creek in the direction of the frantic fans flashing cameras and shoving paper and pens towards the unknown celebrity in row seven as a couple of big bouncers calmed things.
“Do you know who that is?” Miko and Knox asked one guy as they took their seats.
“Its Monique” He answered
“Who?” Miko questioned again as she caught Knox’s confused look.
“She’s a black comedian” he told her.
“I’ve never heard of her” We both whispered, as we sat and took in how close we were to the stage.
Excitement rocketed. All around murmurs hummed stirring up the passion in the air and one could nearly hear the audience’s hearts beat as the lights dimmed. While the fuzzy haired conductor rose out of the Orchestra, highlighted by a single spotlight, the music commenced and an animated hush washed through the arena.
Up came the curtain. The live show is special. Each performance is different, even if only by a single note, all specific to that moment in time. The opening number ‘Mysterious Ways’ burst into perfected song as eyes glued to the cast in their pretty costumes and stunning performances.
Miko’s eyes were on actress Jeanette I Boyardelle, who played the starring role of Celie, an abused woman who finds her voice by faith and the power she has within. She was breath taking from the start as were all the cast. Many giggles were had for Felicia P Fields, who played the excellent part of Sofia, the large lady, who took shit off nobody until an event happens in her life testing her human spirit.
The cast lived the emotion as they acted out on the boards above, breathing their characters and driving the vibrations out into the auditorium where the scenes took on a life of their own. It all struck a cord with the audience relating to the tale as it ghosted through the collective spirit. “Ohoh’s”, “um hum’s”, “go girl’s” and such mutterings under loud breaths enriched the atmosphere as the theatre became one. Tears were shed, feet tapped and hands clapped to the touching energy all soaked in the sounds of gospel, jazz, rag-time or the blues that echoed from the stage. Miko had to wipe her eyes as sobs from all quarters were violined by the exhilarating end. As the cast took their bow, the audience rose with joy putting their hands together, whistling and shouting, as they gave high applause to the soul stirring performers.
It was one of those beaming moments for us as we joined in with bleary eyes and purely satisfied smiles. The experience was a thrilling masterpiece and well worth the expense.
Coming back out to Broadway on a wave of happiness, we decided that the night was still young so took a stroll down to Times Square and the BB King Blues bar. Spiralling down the stairs we entered the near empty lounge but decided to take a big comfy seat near the stage where George Kilby Jr and his band greeted them with some live blues.
We got the kicks from a mix of originals and lesser known copies as we still radiated a happy glow from the success of the night.
It was a pity the cool tunes stopped when they did as it seemed contrary to the ‘saying’ that ‘New York never sleeps’. 1am felt too early for the club to shut as us night owls could have listened on and on. We chatted to the band as they packed their gear, picking up a CD before calling time on the night.
A chat with the manager in the morning had him on the back foot, retreating amidst excuses of how the linen hadn’t arrived, how the a/c units needed replacing because they were old and kept breaking down, and how the new website was running before their refurbishments had been completed.
We didn’t buy it much but the up shot of the discussion was a half price stay for the five nights. The manager was left in no doubt about the disgraceful impression his hotel had left with us. We stepped into the strength zapping humidity on the street. Within minutes Knox was dripping and ducking into the subway station brought little rest bite. We rode the antiquated train, surprised by its real old fashion feel after the modern modes of transport that had whisked us across other cities.
Our destination was the site of the World Trade Centre. This was always going to be a sombre visit, a time of reflection with thoughts of peace.
It was basically a construction site with the foundations of a new tower waiting to be solidified and used. Fencing allowed one to look in while boards described the events of that fateful day, the progress made since towards building anew, and remembering the heroes. A plaque acknowledged the names of all murdered while the Star Spangled Banner flapped gently in the breeze. Many times we had heard how people were frustrated by the lack of upward movement and that there was no remembrance structure set up for the dead yet, but we developed our own personal perspective.
When we looked at the great big hole we saw much more than rubble and machinery, much more than the barriers or flags, we saw the worlds thoughts focused on this multi-dimensional portal. We saw strands like a fibre optic cable stretching invisibly in all directions and through the core into unimaginable universes. What words would suffice?
We remembered were we were that horrific day as we watched in disbelief at the unfolding tragedy and tears trickled over the mounds of our cheeks.
We would never forget, and rightly so, the victims should be remembered forever. Even if one didn’t lose a family member, a friend or a colleague one was still deeply affected.
It was an atrocity, an evil and most definitely not an act of God.
Around, some tourists clicked on their cameras but for us this seemed somehow wrong and we kept ours in the bag. We said a prayer for the lost, their families and friends as well as for concord.
We walked down to the recently opened subway station to silently read the prints of paintings now lining the walls drawn by kids of the hero’s. Most went along the lines of “We miss you dad/mum” or “we love you” and this was a simple but powerful message that hit the heart hard.
From the quayside, we looked out over the Hudson estuary and viewed a symbol of why New York survived the shock of September 11th, the green lady herself.
We took the liberty of giving the boat ride to the statue a miss. We couldn’t believe the length of the horrendous queues that wavered under the fierce early afternoon sun and said “bugger that” to a wait of a couple of hours. We enjoyed the scope of the camera’s zoom by the side of the big tour ferries at the waters edge. We squinted out to the universal symbol of freedom and democracy. Its tall figure with out stretched torch carrying arm was proud and determined. Taking the photos, we were glad to exit the park and find some shade. Then it was off for a spot of shopping.
We alighted from the subway at 14th Street in the Chelsea district and headed for 5th Avenue. A 40 block walk followed as we traced one of the world’s most famous streets that boasts posh stores, fancy boutiques, famed hair salons, along with its fair share of ritzy hotels and prices to match.
Of course it wasn’t just a straight walk as we indulged in some controlled retail therapy and a much needed late lunch that refreshed the palate while giving our feet a breather.
Later we flopped on the bed in their now A/C room, kicked the shoes off, and relaxed to the onset of evening. What a marathon!
The remaining sands of the our Round the World trip were slipping away at what felt like the speed of light so we celebrated our Big Apple getaway with an extravagant cork popping on a bottle of champers.
We chatted excitedly about seeing our friends in London and were even more ecstatic that we would be back to India in just over a week.
Life was all go, just the way we liked it. Our glass clinking continued with a romantic dinner in a quiet corner of a quaint little Italian. The meal was rich and delicious and the wine cool and crisp.
Afterwards we strolled the busy sidewalks oblivious to the hectic world around us and dived into BB Kings to give it another go after the success of the night before. Monday night’s band, unfortunately, wasn’t up to much playing only poor quality covers. They were also pretentious enough not wanting to be caught on film by tourists with their camera’s out.
While finishing our last drinks, we started chatting to another couple, an English guy and his Aussie wife, who were doing a tour of the States for a couple of weeks. An uncanny relationship was discovered when the topic of Birthdays came up. Miko and the girl shared the exact same date of birth with only a couple of hours separating them. This coincidence kept the conversation alive as we chatted more, and when kicking out time came, us quartet went in search of another watering hole.
This is how we came to Jimmy’s Bar. Jimmy was a large black, older guy with a big appetite for the world of boxing. He was a gentle giant to the group and laughed at our loud behaviour. Memorabilia of fights dressed every available space of wall but his pride and joy was an enlarged framed photograph of Jimmy with an aged Ali.
It was good craic in this narrow, dingily lit bar as an ambient atmosphere was enhanced by the good blues and rock ‘n’ roll music blending its rhythm to the vibe. We all boogied into the early hours. Blurry eyed but still remembering, we crossed the quiet streets. Miko skipped her heels off and padded barefoot, stumbling back to the hotel around 5am.
Oh My Goodness, What a hangover! Not the best of examples but better to have the celebration over with on the night before the last.
It was evening when we managed to leave the hotel to take a tour up the Empire State building. Built in 1931, this once world’s tallest structure is a New York icon at 1454 feet tall and 120 stories, it has a rich history. Its grand art deco lobby really impressed on the mind that this was a building of note.
There were some queues to, but our determination to see NY from the top of its world drove us on. Eighty Six floors up was the highest we both had ever gone up in a man-made tower and as we stepped out onto the exterior observatory, holding on to the iron railings, we lapped up the stunning views of the not so tall buildings all around acting like the shoulders of this King Kong.
It’s said that on a clear day one can see up to eighty miles away but this evening, as a few lights started to flicker on in the fading day, foggy clouds closed in to bring a few drops of rain. It was no big sparkly Christmas tree affair as only a few lights subtly twinkled from the squares of office windows indicating that someone was still hard at it. Below, the big yellow taxis were still visible as the bumper to bumper traffic obscured the grey roads. In the distance an orange squiggly cloud faded into the midnight blue as the few drops turned into a blustery light rain.
We really had made it just in time because back at the bottom the heat wave finally flashed its energy as the sky loaded up. By the time we were a couple of blocks from 47th Street, the heavens opened up with huge droplets in a terrific thunderstorm that had everyone dashing for cover.
We dived into the ‘Pig and Whistle’, dripping from head to foot, laughing from the heart. This was the end of living like a New Yorker as we supped a pint to round off our NY stint and ultimately the Round The World Journey. What a Blast! What a downer more like!
We both were numb to an extent and not relishing the UK. Fuck it, we hated the thought of flying into London after being away so long. The anti-climax of completion smacked our cheeks as we wished the lifestyle to continue forever. In the end there was simply nothing else for it but to lift our heads and spirits and have faith.
The Big Bird 747 proudly stood on the tarmac at JFK. This was it; this flying machine would cross us over the Atlantic and return our butts to London.
We didn’t allow sadness to seep into the dream as this was only the next step to the rest of our lives. It is intriguing to discover what is around the next corner.
Our minds were already buzzing with the other places we’d like to visit. Another itinerary was developing as we worked on the details.
We had thrived and grown during this experience and the next six months in India would help us relive it while sparking new ideas.