I grew up watching America on my TV screen. I watched Hollywood movies and Independents. I saw Pacino hold up a restaurant in Dog Day Afternoon. I grimaced as HIV was perpetuated through repeated promiscuities on Kids. I learnt to recite every Butcher line from Gangs of New York and yet as familiar as I was with the city, nothing could have prepared me for the city itself.
If I hadn’t known otherwise, I would have suggested that New York was a city in decline. The maudlin cries of the subway buskers complimented wonderfully the destitute and fantastically foul subway system. Above our heads, pipes rusted and sagged and the trains screamed past in great sighs of distress. The rats were as resident as the New Yorkers themselves. We spent our nights in the surprisingly divided Upper West Side and mixed with the white middle classes and their doormen. Across Central Park and up towards the East Side we strayed into Harlem and were shocked at the literal geographical divide between white and black. The trains ran slower in The Bronx. The sped up in Manhattan. There was a clear division of priorities and interests.
Manhattan itself paraded itself with a crass availability, the sight of a street worker at the rises of dawn. All the lights in the world but no sparkle. Time Square was great if you enjoy a barrage of relentless of advertising; meaningless words with no ultimate purpose but in the exchange of goods. The crowds were present but in steady streams, working everywhere but nowhere. Lost and the crowd.
I loved it though. It took me back to my beloved London. I realised I could live here, perhaps not indefinitely but certainly to pass a period of time. I could run the 10km around Central Park daily, taking in the scenery that raised me. I could plan my trips across the great American plains or I could sit in the coffee shops with a faint sense of self-resentment and pretentiousness. I don’t know. I love America and New York but it is everything I have ever known and nothing I have ever experienced. I’ll head back soon but I’ll probably buy a return ticket.