New York, as frequent readers will be aware, is my favourite city to visit. Unlike Boston or Washington DC, New York is a city I know pretty well, having worked for a company based on 5th Avenue. When I stepped off the train at Penn Station yesterday, I was unprepared for the heat. It was 90F, and the humidity was intense. It felt like if you poked the air with your finger it might rain. Due to a lack of technological assistance, I forgot to check where exactly onLexington Avenue my hotel was, and without a cross-street to cross-reference with it, the one taxi driver I managed to hail down was rather uncooperative in wanting to deliver me to a hotel he didn’t know. He got cross.
Well, it can’t be far, it’s only 4 blocks over to Lexington, then gamble on it being further uptown from 33rd Street, where Penn grumbles below the iconic Madison Square Garden. It was another fifteen sodding blocks north, on 48th. By the time I arrived in the reception lobby I looked an extra from It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum – without the giggles. I had a meeting within half an hour of arrival, so headed to my room, which had a huge bed that had obviously done a deal with the bathroom for size. The ‘bed’ was Arnie to Danny DeVito’s ‘bathroom’ in the hotel room version of Twins – without the giggles.
Having showered and put on dry clothes, walking the three blocks round the corner to my meeting resulted in equally saturating conditions. It was after 6pm, the sun had long gone, but the damp blanket of humidity remained. It is difficult to remain professional during conversation when your glands decide to secrete enough liquid to fill a bucket, and almost need to wring out the tee-shirt I was wearing. InEngland, I can hear people saying it was probably a bit ‘muggy’. It was a long way beyond ‘muggy’. At this point I brought our meeting to an end, as I was close to making a bigger puddle than the one I left on the hotel floor in Boston (having got out of the shower to answer the phone, you filthy lot). Time for a pint.
Back at the hotel I didn’t find the imaginatively titled Cuban themed bar, Habana, quite what I was after. I cheerfully asked the barman “is there another bar in the hotel I can get a beer in?” whilst still sweating like Neil Lennon’s postman.
He pointed, lethargically, over my shoulder: “tru dare….” he offered. “But it be closed….”
“So I can’t actually get a beer in it then, can I?”
Ah, the helpfulness of New Yorkers. Famed for their brashness and lack of time, the people of New York just need to be understood. You need to move at their pace, and remember that as you gawp at the living movie set that Manhattan is, you’re getting in their way. If you work in London, and are ready for the Invicta Invasion every summer – little European schoolkid arseholes standing on the WRONG SIDE OF THE ESCALATAORS!!! GRRR!!! AAAARRRGGGHHH!!! – remember, they don’t know any better. They aren’t trying to do it on purpose. Well, apart from that twat in ’98 that I nearly threw down Angel escalators for deliberately stopping me getting past.
After a beer with an old friend, I went to eat alone at one of my favourite places to eat on the planet: Blue Smoke is one of the restaurants at the heart of the New York BBQ revival, which is particularly of note as Jamie ‘Bigtongue’ Oliver has recently decided to open his first foray into this territory of carnivorous activity. Barbecoa has opened in partnership with chef Adam Perry Lang, owner of Daisy May’s BBQ, which is regarded as a standard in NYC. However, Blue Smoke is where an ex-boss and I celebrated everything that was good about the oinker, having been released fromKuwaitfor a business trip. Ribs, pulled pork, smoked sausage, a side order of sweet potato chips, collared greens – all washed down with cold pints of American ale – it was a meal of the Gods. The red-brick, raised ceiling, silent screens with the relevant sport of that evening, and a queue to get in, it is a loft apartment with a grill to die for. Come swine with me….
This morning the humidity had been blown away overnight, not least by a tornado that tore through Massachusettes, killing at least 4 people. The sun tipped the top of the buildings that can be built so high due to the granite base they’re built on, but it was back to a very comfortable level of warmth. Back to business, and a meeting on the other side of the Hudson. If the island is the possible heartbeat of modern culture in the Western World, then Newark – a dyslexic’s nightmare, by the way – is its arsehole. Industry long gone, square miles of train yards with virtually no trains moving stock ever slower, the skyline punctuated with the three and a half mile Pulaski Skyway bridge, it wants to give up and die. Everything feels twenty years old, whereas only a few miles away, the streets hum with the possible birth of the next scene.
If you’ve never been to New York, I cannot recommend it highly enough. You might not like it, but you need to feel it at least once in your life. The scale, the smells, the sights, the lights, the sheer energy of the place makes it infectious. Intriguingly, an American correspondent (@audreybeatle) has recommended Washington DC as her favourite city in this vast country. As I approach the city limits, the tiredness is kicking in but the curiosity grows. I’ll let you know how I get on.
Follow me on twitter @benopause