Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Newark, Manhatten, Greenwich Village

My brother met me at the airport. He was wearing a lime green short sleeve shirt which made him look more English than Canadian. Tall, muscular,  with red hair and freckles he was a sight to behold. He stood by the side of his SUV with the green Kevlar canoe on the roof.  The awkwardness of hugs and bags and getting out of the airport pick up zone passed then we were driving on Ottawa's freeways to Kanata.
Because of severe weather, my flight the night before had been cancelled so I'd had a stay over in Newark New Jersey.  I got a shuttle to the Best Western Robert Treat Hotel.  It was 15 minutes away in downtown Newark. A grand old establishment of a Hotel with delightful amusing helpful staff. Great rooms and service. And once I dropped my bags in my room I walked out of the hotel and saw the famous Jazz establishment next door, hearing riffs of saxophones sliding out into the streets, walked by the park and really enjoyed the 'blackness' of the street corner.  Lots of coloured folk congregated waiting for the bus and me the only 'white honky' about.  On my quest to pick up some additional toiletries and fresh socks and underwear and shirt for the unexpected stayover I met wonderful people manning their stations, doing their jobs, making the best of work and relationships.
And Newark to my surprise had a fast train to Manhatten. So next I knew I was in Times Square where a continuous raucous tourist bash seemed to be in perpetual motion.  I watch it each year on New Years, had been here some 20 years before but here without an 'event' there was wall to wall people in festive mood and seemingly at a mardi gras.  25 years ago there were not all these people. I had that same realization when I returned to London years after I'd been there in my youth. The density of people is a truly palpable explosion. Here the tall buildings with dozens of huge futuristic television screens showing continuous advertisements for movies and merchandise was as stimulating to the eyes as the loudness of the place with wall to wall people, taxis, work crews and New York Police Department. The NYPD presence was strongly evidenct with an onsite "NYPD Command Centre".  All that was missing was coverage of the landing of the Mars Mission Curiosity Rover.  I just walked and gawked like the thousands of others.
There is a poster of the galaxy with as quip 'you are here' . It's a pointer to a speck off from the centre and somewhat forlorn. I realized long ago it wasn't the place but the people and that really there is no party but the one you bring with you. I'd long stopped being the 'party guy' I'd been. Yet here I was walking by shops with the 'latest' and the 'culture' and the 'new ideas' and the 'chic restaurants' . I loved it all. The dreams and fantasies of art and imagination.  All about me there was creation as well as work and scaffolding and repair. People are thoroughly amazing.
 Then with sore feet and rain I caught a taxi to Greenwich Village.  A wholly different late night experience with clubs and fashionable people.  I had waves of nostalgia waft by me as I walked along the streets remembering other times in my life that I lived and worked in cities.  I remembered thinking I was 'in' in San Francisco at the opening of a restaurant with a Gourmet Magazine friend or another night in Toronto where I met the then reigning journalist Barbara Amiel nee Black, in my 20's thought by extension I was one of the 'beautiful people' I'd just identified with in Leonard Cohen's rambling. Leonard Cohen's face was on a big screen advertisement in New York tool  Beautiful People, his  book was a favourite of mine when I lived in California.
Here in Greenwhich Village was the latest in fashion, the centre of the 'chic' world of culture. I couldn't help but think how years past I'd have been more moved but today I'm more moved by fishing rods and reels than fashion which is really neither here or there. I was glad it was midnight and the stores closed so all I could do is window shop. The price of one hat I saw was more than the price of a new bow and arrow. Imagine!
It was 2 am and I happened on the Stonewall  Inn.  The Stonewall Riots happened here.   A brawl between police and drag queens resulted in the repeal of laws against adult sexuality. A Dolly Parton look alike was dancing on stage in the Stonewall Inn. I laughed with the hilarity of a set of her act before  buying  a tshirt and catching a cab back  outside to the Train Station.  In Newark the 3 block  walk back to the Robert Treat Hotel all but did me in.   A hot shower followed by  2 hours of sleep I was back at the airport ready to board my United Airlines jet back to Canada.
New York seemed  tame though compared to Los Angeles and San Francisco or even Vancouver.  There was a uniformness to the crowds, a conservatism that wasn't present when last I was in New York.  Not that so much diversity as once there was .   A photographer site "Humans of New York' records the individuality of the city but tonight I saw mostly sameness.  It's the economic crisis and verge of war. Uniforms come out when the fear crescendos and here there was that adolescent flight from the outer edges.  The horse for the carriages were at least happy and contented.  The Times Square Hysteria hadn't spread to them.
I stopped in at a camera shop I'd gone to 25 years ago or more ago and had the same experience I'd had in Hong Kong only a few years ago. I remember distinctly that first experience with New York technology and how a camera I saw there a quarter century ago was a year or more before it's appearance in Canada and sold for half the price.  Yet when I looked at the latest palm pilots in Hong Kong they were only 10 % less money and they arrived in Canada a month later.  Now I saw nothing "newer' than what I'd just seen in Vancouver Broadway cameras, showing that universal distribution and availability was here.  The global corporation of main stream players had their dazzling products everywhere at once and the prices weren't that much different.  In addition there was on line shopping which made 'going to the market' rather antequated as a notion.  Shopping by catalogue had come full circle.  It was the "in' place to be and the new 'catologue' was the internet.  Local was back watered but a place to 'gawk'  as I gawked at the 'environment of Time Square' and felt the mass gathering.
In the last few years I've been in London, Rome, LA and Mexico City all great cities but each with it's out 'vibe'.  New York had a sort of 'frenzy' , Times Square like the Hitchhiker Guide to the Galazy, "restaurant at the end of the Universe. London had a bit of that perpetual party whereas Rome and Mexico City were more subdued, like Hemmingway's "Moveable Feast' places.  Vancouver is a little city in comparison and I do all I can to get off the grid out into the ocean and away from people in the wilderness.  I felt the density of human expression as loud, raucous and yet more lie a 'cheer' than a cry. I was reminded of the Walt Whitman  poem "I sing the body electric" and the Sandberg Poem "Chicago". I met the photographer for "Humans of New York' and loved his web page presentation of the city. It was true to my brief experience of the 'individuality' behind the 'crowds'.
Thanks to a weather glych and an airline stayover I got to walk about Newark New Jersey, visit Times Square and  walk in Greenwich Village. Not bad for a late evening, early morning jaunt. I've not been up that late in years having long ago become a morning person.  Yet there I was in the 'city that never sleeps"  New York. New York!.
Everyone I talked to was 'friendly'.  The taxi drivers were, the shop keepers were, the people IMG 1386on the streets were. I don't kIMG 1396now where the NewIMG 1405IMG 1393 YorkerIMG 1388s were but who ever was 'IMG 1395IMG 1404manning' IMG 1410the city while these proverbial 'rude people' were away did a really fine job.
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