First impressions of New York

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New York, it is nice to finally make your acquaintance. I have heard so much about you.

I’ve been in New York for nine days now. This is my first trip overseas, I’m embarrassed to say, but I’m glad I chose the Big Apple as my first non-Australian holiday. The first week was spent doing the essential sight-seeing and now we are looking for experiences off the beaten path. We’ve been based in Manhattan, at The New Yorker Hotel next to Penn Station, and it has been a perfectly central location from which to venture each day.

Here are my observations about New York – its differences from Australia. Some of these observations might sound a little critical, but I do want to stress that the pros of NYC far outweigh the cons. To quote Usher, “these are my impressions”:

There are lots of hustlers. Australia has its fair share of homeless and citizens just above the poverty line and, generally, they simply ask for spare change. But the poor in NYC have to be creative and clearly target people they perceive as tourists. We’ve had a number of people try to hustle money out of us since we arrived. I’m generally a trusting person, but in NYC it is best to assume you’re being hustled. One example, I was arriving at the Met and a young African American guy came up to me and said, “Hey man, where are you from?” When I told him I was from Australia he showered me with compliments about both my country and the attractiveness of my girlfriend. He then told me that he was an independent musician and was trying to get the word out about his debut record. From a bag he pulled a CD with no markings on it, which was placed inside a plastic slip that also had no markings on it. It essentially looked like a blank disc. He then asked me what my name was and signed the exterior of the plastic slip with a blue whiteboard marker. He explained that the record was a mix of “rock, pop, classical and jazz” and as someone who has spent the past 12 years assisting independent musicians, I felt compelled to listen to his music and promote it if I could. Then after I smiled and took the CD from him, he said, “Now I need a donation – most people pay $20.” I must admit, a small alarm bell went off in my mind. The disc, as far as I could tell, was potentially a blank CD. His autograph was not discernible as English. When I paused at paying him $20 he started bartering downward, clearly used to people walking away before he got so much as a sweet penny. “$10, $5… c’mon, man, $5.” It was a great scam, because there was no markings on the CD that could be traced back to him. I pulled four $1 bills from my wallet and gave them to him. The disc, despite almost certainly being blank, was a piece of bonafide NYC hustler memorabilia.

A few days earlier, we were at an ATM in the foyer of a Duane Reade (which is a chain of chemists that also sells candy and alcohol). As soon as we turned away from the cash machine, a white guy ran into the store with a look of desperation in his watery eyes. “What is wrong with this poor man,” I thought. Choking back tears, he said, “Somebody, please help me!” I thought someone might have stabbed him or kidnapped his firstborn child. He held up a small wad of money and a pink scribbled document and said, “They just impounded my car and it’s going to cost $700 to get it back! Please, I have nearly all the money, I just need $12.50! I’m $12.50 short!” He was very convincing. He offered to let us see the document which, to an Aussie tourist, could have been written in French and been just as convincing. My partner Amanda was wary and said no. As we left the foyer, he started the spiel on another person entering the store. Good luck to him.

Toilets are shallow. I wasn’t expecting this, but the standard American toilet – based on what I’ve observed in NYC – is unusually shallow. And I don’t mean that the toilets lack emotional depth. But Australia’s toilets have a reasonable physical bowl depth, but the toilets here are about 2cm from rim to water. I’m not sure why this is. In 30 years of Australian toilet visits, my hand has never accidentally grazed the water’s surface. Here it seems to come with the territory.

Toilet cubicle doors have large gaps on either side. Sorry to harp on about toilets, but they were the first unusual thing I observed after landing on US soil. Public toilet cubicle doors haven’t been fitted neatly. The gap on either side of the door seems consistent across most of the toilets I’ve visited – again, it’s not necessary. In Australia, in 94% of cases, when the cubicle door is closed you have privacy, unless someone sticks a sneaky mirror under the cubicle wall. This is not so in NYC. What can we deduce from this? A nation of peeping toms? Or a functioning honour system?

Beer is not purchased in small quantities. I thought we had a big drinking culture in Australia, but it is very hard in NYC to go for a casual beer. Every bar we’ve been to, and we’ve been to many, serves draught beer in two sizes – pints and pitchers. No schooners or midis to be seen. They like putting beer in jumbo cans here, many of them the size of my head. There are also hundreds of beers to try. Every bar has a totally different selection from the previous establishment. So for beer appreciators, there are oceans of tastings on offer. It is also very cheap.

Everything has a Starbucks. The coffee chain, famously owned by Dr Evil, never really exploded in Australia. I think this is because quality coffee was already so widely available. But most people here drink black brewed coffee and it is very cheap (about $2 for bottomless refills). Australians like to pay for quality coffee by talented baristas. Here folks seem to grab it on the go and drink the stuff like water. This has given rise to millions of Starbucks outlets. Everywhere you look there is a Starbucks outlet. In Midtown there is a Starbucks on every block. There’s one in Trump Tower, there’s one in Macy’s, there’s a Starbucks counter in our hotel room’s ensuite. There’s even a Starbucks in every restroom – when you’re having a sit down, you can sing out a coffee order and they’ll just pass it to you through one of the yawing gaps down either side of the cubicle door.

Burgers, hot dogs and pizza are superior to Australia. New Yorkers get these food stuffs right. No question. I’m going to attempt some food reviews on this website, so stay tuned.

It’s fuckin’ freezing. Seriously, New York. WTF. The conditions here are Arctic. My lips are chaffed. I’ve got this cold that has me coughing up a new shade of yellow. But the city of New York and its people can’t be blamed for global warming. Nobody wants to live in the heart of a polar vortex. But I know one thing – I won’t complain in 35 degrees Celcius weather again.

Revolving doors. NYC loves a revolving door. They look kind of cool, but the trajectory of their novelty value is brief. Every single building has one. They’re very inefficient in speeding human traffic flow. They’re pointless and indulgent.

Tax. We have tax in Australia too, but we include it the prices we advertise. That makes purchases less confusing. Every time you buy something you have to do a little mathematics in your head. If you’re a tourist you don’t even know what the mathematics are to find out the exact price. Very odd.

It’s hard to find healthy food. It might be a little different outside of Manhattan, which is mainly where I’ve been eating, but it’s difficult to find healthy eats. Most food is deep fried or very, very oily. The one supermarket we stumbled across was almost too crowded to shop in. The American Museum of Natural History doesn’t even sell bottles of still water. It has some great dinosaurs though. And even better dinosaur chicken nuggets.

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