“I love New York. You can pop out of the Underworld in Central Park, hail a taxi, head down Fifth Avenue with a giant hellhound loping along behind you, and nobody even looks at you funny.” – Rick Riordan
Before I set out from Lexington Avenue with the mission of conquering Central Park, I stop off at Hal’s Bagels, a small deli and cafe on the corner of 89th and Lex- New York works on a grid system which if you are not familiar with, sounds like a horrendously hard form of Algebra (is there any other kind?). However once you get a grip on the grid, you feel extremely smug and very much like a New Yorker when you can drop in locations into your sentences. For example “Oh where is the nearest Shake Shack? I believe that’s on 86th between Lexington and 3rd”. I mean, that just sounds cool.
The bagel place is crowded and not without a substantial queue, crammed with suited and booted New Yorkers grabbing their morning coffee fix and packed lunch. The sheer amount of people in this city still shocks me. Every Starbucks, Dunkin’ Doughnuts and Corrado Cafe (to name a few) are stuffed with crowds of ice coffee desirers, despite two of the same brand being across the road from each other. And this is just on the Upper East Side. When you hit downtown Manhattan, everywhere is packed 24/7. I start to understand where New York gets its reputation as the ‘city that never sleeps’. When I get to the counter I’m stumbling and stuttering as I am asked 21 questions; there were nine different types of cream cheese and seven different types of bagels. And I thought Subway was a difficult place to order food.
Central park is an attack on the senses. The smell of the beef and lamb gyros and $2 hot dogs fills your nostrils- I now realise why there is an obesity problem in America, the choice of food is incredible, the musicians fill your ears with everything from gospel tunes to French Jazz and your eyes are open to… everything.
There are the city housewives in their linen, knee skirts and nike ‘sneakers’ with their bottle of ‘Seltzer’, which I found out is just a fancier word for sparking water. The runners- Oh the runners.. the whole of Manhattan runs it appears, whether it’s on their todd, with their partners, their pram, their dogs or even their zimma frames. Tourists ponder around with their faces dug deeply in their NY guides and maps, their trusty fanny packs stuffed with dollars ready to purchase every aspect of the New York scene possible. People watching has literally never been more fun.
The park is by far my favourite part of this whirlwind city. Frankly the Time Square’s swarms of people sifting in and out of each other- and not always fluidly- is not as appealing as it appears in the movies. Central Park however, is massively underplayed and is about twenty times bigger than it appears in the American television we receive in the UK. Walking around the park I feel that it could be the inspiration of novels, poetry and even a column or too.
It’s been only two weeks and New York has already enveloped me into its sidewalks and its sense of hustle and bustle. When I first arrived, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to capture New York in the short period of four months and I would never be able to consider myself a true ‘New Yorker’. Yet, within a couple of days I’m pounding the streets and the subway with the same gusto I walk through the London and the tube. The city waits for no one and so you’re only option, is to keep walking and looking up at the Manhattan towers which almost wave a welcome to you every morning.