I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. First impressions count. New York is notoriously known as being unfriendly and impersonal – and the stereotypes are reinforced on arrival at La Guardia airport.
“You stand DER and DEY’LL woik in an’ call your name.” I’m not sure if it’s a piece of helpful advice or an instruction, but the “Welcome Center” could do better in guiding passengers to the shuttle bus going downtown. When it does arrive, the carefree Jamaican driver seems to take an age checking people on board, but it’s fair enough. Most people are going to Manahatten, but it’s a big place and he has to work out the best route of getting everyone where they need to go.
The journey itself takes nearly two hours in the afternoon traffic, and our only accompaniment is CD of gospel music. This being a major city, nobody utters a word – and at first the music choice seems a little surreal. Yet, as we cross cross some of the biggest sights in the world – like Times Square and the Flatiron Building, songs such as “How Great Thou Art” seem strangely relevant to our surroundings.
Last time I was here I stayed near Central Park in a four star hotel that was over-rated and whose staff simply had too much attitude. It’s a stark contrast to the Washington Square Hotel in the heart of Greenwich Village. The streets here have a local feel to them, and I soon park myself in a neighbourhood bar – Fomerly Crows – chatting to the after work crowd.
Next, it’s a short hop to the West Village to see Jonathan. He’s a friend I met here in 2011, and he shares my love of travel. And other things. The Duplex on Christopher Street is one of the oldest and most mixed gay bars in this area of town. But one thing that never changes is the nightly piano show, where the host is more than happy to invite guest singers on stage. Your Song by Elton John, since you asked.
Mondays are fairly quiet in any city, and across in the East Village we stop off at the aptly named Eastern Bloc. It’s still fairly early and relatively empty. But it turns out that Lady Gaga has been in town, and some of her biggest fans stop by.
Having done the big tourist attractions on my last visit, this time is a chance to see more of the neighbourhoods that make up Manhatten. It’s one of the best ways of avoiding the overwhelming size of the place. And some of the best views are in Chelsea, courtesy of the High Line. This railway track used to haul animal carcasses to the numerous slaughterhouses in the Meatpacking District. Today it’s a narrow, lofty park.