For Part I of my adventures in the greatest city in the world, click here.
Thank you all for the overwhelming response to Part I. I never expected over 400 views within a week. I hope you enjoy Part II.
July 2, 2015
I stood there completely paralysed with awe, staring at one of the greatest architectural achievements of all time. I was so engrossed that I didn’t even notice what is on the left bottom corner of the following image until much later.
That was the view from Herald Square, at 34th Street and 6th Avenue, where I took a bit of a break and pondered my next move. It was actually getting dark now, and I really wanted to watch the sun set from the 86th floor of the Empire State, so I left it for the next day and turned my attention to the largest store on the planet, spanning almost an entire city block and rising 9 floors into the sky. Macy’s.
Honestly, I just went in there because I really, really had to pee. Turns out, that was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made. I got lost. Bladder bursting, legs killing me, the inability to think straight anymore weighing me down, I walked around aimlessly and well and truly lost for quite a while. There were floors with racks stacked till the ceiling of everything you can imagine under the sun, but I couldn’t care less. My quest for the elusive bathroom had begun. Somehow, I landed up on the 9th floor without realising it, and just as I was about to give up, give in to the brutal thoughts of a painful and slow death, there at the end of the hallway, surrounded in a halo of divine light, was the men’s room. I’d made it.
By the time I’d relieved myself and walked back down to the 1st floor, actually taking time to look around this time, I finally saw New York City in all its glory for the first time: in the Illumination of darkness.
It was time to make my way up to 42nd Street, to the legendary intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue, to the place where the world flocked to crane their necks to look up at the most famous screens in the world: Times Square. But before that, my phone decided that it was the perfect time to give up on me. I felt that dreaded vibration in my pocket and knew that it was all over. My faithful companion had left my side. I would have to undertake this last leg of the journey on my own. I wandered up 6th Avenue and that’s when hunger struck. I’d been eyeing the lamb gyro in the street food carts all day long, but didn’t have the time to indulge myself. I walked up to a stall and ordered. That’s when I noticed it, a little glint of hope as I saw a little spark out of the corner of my eye: a phone charging point inside the cart.
I hesitantly asked the guy if I could charge my phone while waiting for my food. Honestly, he looked a little scary because he was at least a foot taller than me and had probably spent the last 6 years in the gym, while downing cans of whey protein. But, just as NYC had surprised me time and again, he gave me this wide smile and plugged my phone in. Apparently my accent is fascinating to a lot of people here because he asked me about it too. Once I told him where I was from, he told me that he’d always wanted to visit India but was never able to get a visa. He told me about how he missed his family back home in Egypt and how NYC had saved his life, accepting him like she did to so many others.
This conversation took place while I munched on the most gorgeous lamb I’d eaten in a long time, with the buzz of Times Square in the air, under the skies of Manhattan. Some things just can’t be captured in a picture. This was one of those things. I licked my fingers, thanked him (Unfortunately, I was so tired that I actually forgot his name. Ugh. ), collected my phone, and was on my way. I continued walking until I ran into Batman. Literally.
It was exactly as I’d imagined it would be. The low humdrum of conversation and excitement from the thousands that wandered the place, every single person looking up in awe unable to fathom that they stood in the most “happening” place in the world. It was the epitome of what Chuck Palahniuk described as “the bureaucracy of anarchy” in his book ‘Fight Club’; it truly was the definition of “organised chaos”. Fancy-sounding oxymorons aside, it really was gorgeous, and again, these pictures don’t do justice to it in all its glory.
It just goes to show how it all comes down to perceptions. From a completely linear view point, TImes Square is nothing but a bunch of television screens on steroids, but it has become what it is today – the epicentre of entertainment for the world where millions of people flock to and keep on their bucket lists as a “must visit” – because of what we have made of it. It’s simple, really. Things are exactly what we make of them. That’s the power of the human mind: the ability to glorify the most seemingly mundane occurrences beyond recognition into something that ignites an unforeseen excitement.
I walked past Broadway, saw the massive poster of ‘The Lion King’ and thought to myself, “Hmm, some day..”
By this point, I was running on fumes. I had nothing left in the tank, and it is a grotesque understatement to say that I was dying. But I had one final thing to cross off my list. The Hard Rock Cafe museum. Let the pictures do the talking…
And on a totally contrasting note…
If I was a little less tired, I’d have enjoyed the place so much more! But now, it was time to go home. Phew…
I don’t remember much of what happened after that, but I think I blacked out on the train back to 1500, Bedford Avenue. Thankfully, I made it back safe and fell asleep almost instantaneously.
If it wasn’t for the anticipation of experiencing another day in that little slice of heaven, I wouldn’t have ever bothered getting out of bed. But I could faintly hear Manhattan calling out to me, gently cajoling me to roll out of bed and make some more ever-lasting memories. It was hard to believe I’d been there for just over a day because honestly, it felt as though I’d been there forever. It felt like home.
Disclaimer: I have a feeling I set the bar a little too high with my Day 1 adventures. On hindsight, it was practically inhuman – what I accomplished. So, cut my Day 2 and 3 a little bit of slack because they aren’t as mental as my first.
Anyway, here goes…
July 3, 2015
I was guilty of having a bit of a late start. I woke up early enough, having been still running nine and a half hours ahead on India time, but I just didn’t have the heart to relay to my feet that they’d have to go through a similar experience as the previous day again. Soon, however, I realised that I’d risked missing out on something that I didn’t even know existed until that very morning. But unfortunately, just like many things in life, this too had a time limit. I would have to get to 34th Street and 9th Avenue by 1:30 pm if I wanted to spend an hour in B&H: THE place for a photography geek. And yes, I woke up that late. Don’t judge.
I grabbed my backpack and hurried to the Franklin Avenue subway station. A depressingly slow ride later, I found myself at Penn Station on 34th Street, nestling right below the famous Madison Square Gardens which, interestingly, is nowhere near Madison Avenue. It was a gorgeous place, but I didn’t have the time for pictures as I was on a tight schedule. I pretty much sprinted the avenues until I reached the 9th. And there she was… B&H.
Normally, I’d have a dramatic picture here, but honestly, I was too excited to go in to bother taking a picture of the exterior. I walked in and – if this was one of those typical kids’ fiction novels – I “gasped”. I never really understood what a “gasp” of surprise was. It’s one of those weird words that only seem appropriate in books.
Anyway, I had the time of my life there! I won’t bore you with the details, but I joined in a conversation with a couple of semi-professional photographers about stuff like APS-C sensors on dSLRs. Honestly, I have no idea how and since when I knew about stuff like that, but the words just flowed from my lips as if they were destined to. There were racks stacked to bursting point with every piece of photography/videography equipment you could possibly imagine.
To summarise my experience in there, here’s something I did. I walked over to the Canon counter and picked up an EOS 1D MK III – yes, they have those babes just lying around – and pulled the trigger. The burst mode of 12 fps made me feel like John Rambo with one of his impossible machine guns that just never ran out of ammunition. I just stood there in the middle of photography heaven, firing an insane number of shots per second, feeling like an all-powerful Greek God.
I was one of the last to leave the place at closing time; it was time to move on. My next stop would have to be Rockefeller Centre. My legs already starting to feel numb after the previous day’s exploits, I walked it up to 48th Street.
Having completed my long-time dream of saying “Good morning, Officer!” with a straight face, resisting the urge to offer them donuts and having walked around the place for a while, I began the long walk to my next destination. On the way, something pleasantly strange happened. Apparently I looked like a seasoned New Yorker, because some random woman walked up to me and asked me where Lexington Avenue was. I felt exactly like Carrie Bradshaw in the last scene of one of the episodes of ‘The Carrie Diaries’ after showing the woman which way to go: this had become “my city”, so to speak. Of course, I didn’t have to run after the woman as Carrie had, because unlike my latest actress-crush, I had sent her the right way. (Yes, I am currently undergoing an unhealthy obsession with that show. God damn it, Netflix!)
A rather uneventful, yet painful, walk later, I found myself staring at the building in which some of the most important diplomatic decisions, albeit unfairly and somewhat inefficiently some may argue, are made: the headquarters of the United Nations.
It didn’t look like much, but the aura of its significance was palpable despite the slightly disappointing fact that all the flags weren’t up.
Squinting down at this picture, I figured that it was approximately about time that I headed off to the main event of the day. I still hadn’t completely figured out how to tell the time of day by looking at the sun; it was impossible because the fiery beast just refused to set. But I still couldn’t help but run into things I’d just seen in movies or read about in books. That’s the thing about Manhattan that will never cease to amaze me: you can walk down a completely random street and bump into something comfortingly familiar, as if you’ve known it forever like the back of your hand, despite the fact that you’ve never actually been to the place before.
The Chrysler building peeped out shyly at me from a distance. The first, and only, time I’d seen that architectural wonder before was in this little 3D puzzle I’d completed as a kid. I have no idea why I remember that; my memory of my childhood is grotesquely pitiful. Oh wait, no! I read about the Chrysler in ‘Percy Jackson’ too! Something about a giant ripping it out of its foundations and swinging it like a bat… Aah, fiction. The possibilities are endless. Just like in New York City.
It was time to experience another landmark of a place in the form of the legendary Grand Central Station. But before that, I couldn’t help but notice how the new seamlessly blended in with the old everywhere I looked. Not only that, they truly complemented each other in a way I’d never seen before.
By this time, I realised that I was doing exactly what the little baby in the movie ‘Baby’s Day out’ had done, except minus a lot of unnecessary, yet hilarious, pain caused to a trio of intellectually-challenged kidnappers. I was fulfilling all my dreams by doing everything I’d ever wanted to do in the ‘Big City’, albeit in a far less entertaining and less chaotic manner. His ride in the “blue bus” was mine in a train out of Grand Central Station.
A relatively short ride later, I found myself once again being awed by the structure on West 34th Street. But this time, I was planning to ascend the elevator to heaven and watch the sun set from 86 floors above the ground. I have this soft-spot for sunsets and sunset photography. Some may call it an unhealthy obsession because I literally don’t stop shooting whenever I witness one that’s worth it, so much so that Dad says I have enough to write a comprehensive thesis deserving of a doctorate. Dr. Adit Ganguly, PhD in sunset photography. I like the sound of that.
Honestly, I just enjoy it because it’s the easiest kind of photography and I’m just really lazy, contrary to the light this travelogue portrays me in. Like seriously, I’d rather just sit in one place and switch to my zoom lens and shoot rather than walk closer to my subject and shoot.
I grabbed one of those 99-cent pizza slices and made my way through the crowd to the Empire State Building. I walked in, and after a slight mix-up at the e-ticket redemption counter and a small wait in a meandering queue, I found myself in an elevator up to the 80th floor. I cracked up inside my head because I couldn’t help but notice that even in one of the greatest buildings in the world, elevator music was still pathetically awkward!
Once on the 80th, I settled down for a long wait to take the more elusive elevator to the 86th. But through some stroke of good luck, a few of us were offered the stairs if we wanted to skip the waiting. I was desperately close at this point and there was no way I was going to give in and wait longer. Legs threatening to give out under me after two days of nearly continuous walking, I jogged up the 12 flights of stairs trying to distract myself from the pain, dreaming of the view from the top, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ playing in my head. “This better be worth it”, I kept thinking to myself.
It was more than worth it. The view that awaited me made me forget about the pain instantaneously.
I was speechless. Well, it was a different matter that I didn’t have anyone to talk to, but…
I was on top of the world.
End of Part II.
Stick around for Part III in which I stand witness to the most gorgeous transition from day into night, eat some interesting food at an international food festival with a view of the Manhattan Skyline, walk the legendary High Line… and eventually find myself watching the 4th of July fireworks.
For Part III, click here.