So I made a recent short visit to New York City, which meant I could see my wife (who has been away on business and on family business most of the time for the last few months, and who happened to be there), and my son who lives in New Jersey these days and of course his daughter.
I've spent a fair amount of time in New York over the last dozen or so years, so I thought it was time I told my readers a little about the City That Never Sleeps...
New York was the first city I visited after my initial sortie. We came here in April 2006 to scout out the possibility of moving to the U.S. - my wife had been offered a job in Manhattan and it looked like a good deal. We brought our kids over for a look at their potential new homeland - they were 9 years old (almost 10) and 8 years old (and a coupla months). We were put up at a posh hotel on the umpteenth floor, with a great view.
One of the things about going to NYC not as a tourist is that you tend not to get those amazing views, unless your business takes you up a few floors somewhere that isn't faced by another building a few feet away. On this last trip I was quite pleased that we were to be on the 24th floor - I was hoping for a view. But all we could see out the window was the building opposite.
Back in the day
We obviously used NYC as our base back in 2006, but we quickly decided that living in the city itself was not for us, and especially not for the kids. We were used to having a certain amount of greenery around - although we lived just outside London before this, we could walk to farmland within a few minutes, and we were between the London Loop walk and the North Downs trail. Each day when I was walking the kids to or from school, we would pass horses. So a city setting almost free of greenery didn't seem good.
We had to be within commuting distance of 42nd Street, so there were constraints. We looked at Long Island, at Westchester County, at Connecticut and at New Jersey. We didn't have time for a huge amount of tourism in our few days there, though we did manage to take in the Central Park Zoo.
The kids decided that they were in favour of the move, , though I think the thing that most impressed them was that they wouldn't have to wear school uniforms.
On that first visit the thing one thing I noticed was the incredible variation in the weather - we were there for less than a week, and we saw rain that was so heavy you couldn't see across the street, thick snow, and icy winds. Then on our last day it was hot and sunny, so much so that people were sunbathing around an outdoor pool. This we've since found is not particularly unusual. Winter can start early or late, and linger or not. It can also appear, run away, and then jump out at you again when you thought you were safe. It can be warm in the middle of winter, sometimes just for a day or two - it is at about the same latitude as the Algarve, where people in Europe go to escape the nastiness of winter - and when conditions are right this is totally believable. At other times (such as recently) it's hard to believe that your not at the same latitude as the North Pole. New Jersey has the same weather pretty much - I often regale folks with the tale of our first springtime there.... the boy tried out for a local football ("soccer") team in March, it was horribly hot, well in the 80's when we got home (Yes, I reverted to Fahrenheit again as a part of Going Native). Then the whole of April was snowed off.
After the family visit, decision made, we returned without the kids for a five-day trip to choose a new place. We saw a bunch of towns and a bunch of houses in these towns. In the end we put an offer down on (if i recall) two possibilities in Maplewood, and one somewhere in Connecticut. The Euclid Avenue house in Maplewood won out.
New York with kids...
I haven't seen a whole lot of the touristy bits of New York - when you live or work somewhere, you seem to imagine you'll get around to it someday. I worked in London for quite a few years, but it was before that time and after it that I did most of the "sights". Same in NYC. We did the bus tour once, and the boat tour another time, when we had visitors to entertain.
On my latest visit, with the small girl in tow, we looked for kid-friendly stuff. It seemed odd to be doing this, it doesn't seem long since we were doing the same for the previous generation.
It was bloody cold, historically-record-settingly so, most of the time I was there so we were looking for indoor attractions. We took her to the "Believe it or Not" exhibition, which is full of interesting stuff, some of it pretty grisly, but young Blake wasn't old enough to appreciate how grim some of the stuff was. She hugely enjoyed a life-size game of "Operation", taking bits out of the "patient" with tweezers. The sound of "ouch!" was much in evidence. She also liked the mirror-image Empire State Building, enjoying the angled mirror to look at herself, but we couldn't get her to lie down on it in the appropriate position to make her look like King Kong scaling it.
I would have liked to take her to the Central Park Zoo, and wander around the park in general, but it was far too cold for that.
So our other big outing was across the border in New Jersey to the Liberty Science Center. We took our kids there many years ago, to much acclaim from both generations and enjoyed it just as much this time around. The displays are always changing, and there's something appropriate for just about any age too. The small girl's favourite bit (quite hard to get her to move on once she put on the Doc's lab coat!) was the "Doc McStuffin" area. If you're not familiar, Doc McStuffin is a Disney TV character who is a vet for toys.
Also at the Liberty Center, and of interest to the older generation of Joneseys (Blake went back into the Doc McStuffin bit while we went round... she must have been one of the last there, because this was the last day and the day was drawing to a close) was a Sherlock Holmes special exhibition. I've been a big Holmes fan for many years, as has Mrs me, and we were intrigued by the idea that there'd be a genuine mystery to solve. The whole thing was set out in an interesting way, but I'm afraid that neither of us got anywhere near solving it. Afterwards, re-examining the whole thing in my mind, I found the whole thing a little dubious. I don't want to put any spoilers out in case any of you visit - but for some while I was muttering things like "Why would he go to so much trouble to cover the evidence and then leave ****** lying around?" and "Why would you use a daily newspaper like that to *******, it would be easier to write a note, surely?". Mrs me found my dark mutterings to be tedious after a while. "It was a game, let it go!" "Yes, but why did he burn that seed?"
Jonesey's New York experiences
So a while back, for most of a year i went into the city every day, to do a course with the American Comedy Institute,.. After that, I appeared from time to time in a large number of clubs and "open mics" - even being paid occasionally (though it's not a well-paid thing for most people - if you managed to cover the cost of the travel and buy a beer too, you considered yourself well ahead). The most famous venues i appeared at were the Gotham, the New York Comedy Club, the Broadway Comedy Club (where I was also in a play for a while), the PIT and the Manhattan Lounge. There were a lot of others, too. At the PIT I also appeared at the storytelling gigs a few times, and we put on an ACI sketch show there.
I also did several Shakespeare plays in the city with the Oxford Shakespeare Co. Two of them we also took to the UK. There was "As you like it", which I took several minor parts in - and also performed the same roles in the All-Female version... There was Hamlet, and finally Richard III. That one I had to miss in the UK due to family tragedies while I was there.
I also did a fair amount of filming in New York, several short movies (most never
completed, some got as far as YouTube but no further), a full-length movie (still not completed), and one TV ad. For that last one, I was a zombie (the idea was that the zombies would turn away from a human victim in order to munch on Doritos). We filmed in Central park one November in freezing temperatures, and as always the whole thing took several hours longer than planned. At 1 am we were still in Central Park, and my last train back to New Jersey from Penn Station was in twenty minutes. In a desperate hurry, we found me a cab and I dashed off. I had not time to remove the make-up so I was rushing down the moving stairs, at a major lick, wiping blood out of my eyes and covered in much more of it. A bag lady still, in typical New York style, asked for money for a coffee quite calmly. If i hadn't been in a tearing hurry I'd have given her coffee money and a medal too - would you approach a blood-spattered maniac running as though all the devils of hell were after him?
When you first arrive in New York, it's an odd experience - we've all seen so much of it in movies and on TV that large parts of it are very familiar to us - Times Square, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty (which is actually in New Jersey btw), the Empire State and the Chrysler building, the unending stream of yellow cabs, the Brooklyn Bridge, and on and on. So while it's all new, it looks hauntingly familiar. After a while this sort of double image fades, but I think everyone experiences it at first. I'm sure it's the same to some extent for a first visit to London or Rome, but it struck me very forcefully in New York.
People sometimes tend to think that New Yorkers are rude. They aren't, really - they are just always, for some reason, in a tearing hurry. When they say "Whaddayawant?" they do truly want to know what you want. But they only have about two nanoseconds for you to tell them before they have to move onto something else.
My son had the idea ( he was 8 at the time) that he might see Spiderman, or Daredevil, swinging through the streets. To be honest at some level so did I - my vision of the city was hugely influenced by the many scenes in Marvel comics which I devoured as a kid and to a lesser extent as an adult. One of the iconic images of NYC for me is the water butts atop the skyscrapers which always got busted in the hero-villain fights...
But as I came to know New York and New Yorkers, I realised that the locals wouldn't even look up as the heroes passed - they are so blase. One day, I was walking up 8th Avenue, just past 42nd Street, where there was at the time a Horror House. Death himself was walking toward me, skull-faced, scythe-carrying, and wearing a long dark hooded cloak. Nobody else blinked an eye. I thought "God, I hope they're all just ignoring it. If I'm the only one who can even see it, I'm in real trouble!"
They say that New York has no soul, but I personally came into contact with the living spirit of the city. Whenever I was walking up 7th or 8th Avenue and (as they always are) there were slower people in your way, dawdling or even for God's sake stopping to take a picture in a touristy fashion, I would repeat the Manhattan Mantra, with appropriate arm movements. "Get outta the ****ing way! Get outta the ****ing way!" is how it goes.
And why is it that people who are slower than you are also wider?
A major gripe of mine in NYC was umbrellas. I'm sure people are only allowed to have them because of the Second Amendment - those things are lethal, especially when they're the right height to poke your eye out. Also, why is it that the people with the umbrellas stand under the awnings outside the shops, waiting for it to stop, when us brolly-challenged types have to walk in the full fury of a New York cloudburst?
Wherever you're walking in the city, you are bound to need to cross the street at regular intervals - the block pattern of the city forces you to do so. My tip for novice pedestrians in the Big Apple - ignore the lights, follow the other walkers (preferably with several of them in between you and the oncoming traffic) - even cab drivers are reluctant to run over more than two people at a time, there's too much paperwork.
Incidentally, I still don't have the answer to "why two-and-eight".