Having just arrived by train, New York City greeted my son, Jake, and I like a hot, wet slap in the face.
Inching our way across the platform under Grand Central Station, we felt like broccoli stalks steaming in a pot. But that brief stay in a Turkish bath was worth it, because once we entered the grand concourse, it was like walking into a dream — polished marble staircases and a high blue ceiling encrusted with illuminated constellations. I immediately thought of all the great movie scenes shot in this iconic landmark, and especially Cary Grant, elbowing his way through the throng to begin his strange journey as a hunted man in Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest.”
Once outside the station, we got our first full whiff of New York, and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. There’s a commingling of so many different smells, including carbon monoxide, curry and sidewalk vendor grease. The thick air of a tropical July weekend added to a fascinating mix that can’t be found anywhere else.
Jake and I only had about a full day and a half to soak in as much of New York as possible. We took a three-hour boat tour around Manhattan. We were served breakfast by singing waiters and waitresses. But Jake really wanted to “see” New York, and our midtown location allowed us easy access to some of the best people-watching in the world.
A short walk from our hotel brought us to Broadway and into the heart of Times Square. Early-morning shots of this part of the city during network news programs don’t do it justice. The flashing, high-definition electronic billboards assault the senses. What might a tourist from Nebraska think of that two-stories tall Hershey’s Kiss dancing before their eyes?
Jake didn’t have to say anything; his expression clearly said it all when we observed three of Time Square’s most famous residents. The Naked Cowboy has been around for years, strumming his guitar in nothing but his Stetson, boots and BVDs. But now he’s got competition.
A Naked Indian in flowing headdress, moccasins and tightie whities bangs a drum and howls like a long-suffering bovine. When a crowd gathers to gawk, he strikes a Mr. Universe pose and accepts donations. I guess it’s a nice gig if you can get it.
This family newspaper will not allow a complete description of the third colorful character Jake and I encountered in Times Square. Suffice it to say that this mid-sixties-ish cowgirl should have known better than to stand on a corner in little more than her birthday suit, or at least have the requisite shame to hold a much larger guitar.
A trip to New York isn’t complete without a visit to Central Park, its vastness unappreciated until Jake and I walked it. It’s truly an oasis in the middle of honking horns, bus engines and neck-cramping skyscrapers. And it didn’t take long for us to experience another quintessential New York moment.
On a bench, right outside the entrance to Central Park South, amid the horse-drawn carriages and hot-pretzel vendors, sat a New York City crazy, hurling incomprehensible invective at the world. Toto, we’re not in Londonderry anymore.
During our walk back to Grand Central Station to begin our journey home, Jake and I witnessed a one-man flash mob, a performance that elicited hoots and whistles from cab drivers and construction workers. Just another random moment to tuck away and savor later as we think about our visit to that not-so-distant planet called New York City.
John Edmondson is a teacher in Hampstead.