I finally got to see the great, great city of New York. Five previous visits to the USA but no time at all spent in the Big Apple. It was a very short stay, which was just as well, given how expensive everything was, and this is a recollection of some of my impressions, before the memories become too hazy.
Coming to America
Because I can be cheesy like that, and musical like that, planning for the trip meant that I remembered all the signature New York City songs – Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”, Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind”, Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind”. All great songs, which unfortunately don’t prepare you for the ugliness that is the JFK airport. Sheeeeesh! Heathrow Terminal 5, take a big bow!
Of course, it didn’t help that the immigration queue was over 2 hours long (after a 7 hour flight!) but the murals/relief sculptures we had to stare at the whole time got uglier and uglier with each passing minute.
This won’t be a whiny article however, fear not. The airport was the low-point of the trip. Everything else was exceptional. Oh, and like Akeem, I was in Queens, but only briefly.
In Nigeria, we have the running gag about first timers in Lagos counting bridges. In New York, they probably have one about first-timers spraining their necks , craning, looking at all the sky scrapers. And these aren’t hideous monstrosities, no. They all manage to be unique yet complement each other in the most, well, complementary way. Taking random walks, I’d inevitably come across something iconic or historic every few blocks. Transportation was however a little awkward.
Taxis are expensive. I don’t have Uber (which I saw really work for users in NYC). So I had to do the subway. In London, each subway line has a different colour and fairly distinct name – circle line (yellow), district line (green), central (red) line, etc. In New York, their lines have numbers and letters, many of which share colours. The 2 and 3 (both red), the 4 and 5 (both green), the P, Q and R (all yellow), very confusing especially when one has to switch lines. Native New Yorkers tell you how it’s all cool though.
Striking though, was how these buildings, the various iconic bridges across the Hudson and the subway system all started in the early 1900s. The technology isn’t new or esoteric. Yet back home in Naija…
Brotherhood of Man
One evening, my wanderings took me into Washington Square Park, at about 10 pm. This isn’t about me getting mugged, sorry to disappoint. I heard a guitar and some singing and, being a guitar boy, followed the sound. I found 2 guys playing, one with an acoustic bass, the other with a regular 6-string, with a cluster of about 5 or 6 people sitting or standing around them. They were singing “Jumping Jack Flash”, a song I only know because of the eponymous Whoopi Goldberg movie from way back. Suddenly, somebody joined the band, with a tambourine and another person brought out shakers. Now we had percussions.
Then we started doing Beatles songs and that was when things really got going. In the middle of “Love Me Do”, we had 5 people come up and join in with the vocals, harmonising like they’d all been in rehearsals all week. Next thing, somebody shows up with a harmonica and for me, it was simply the coolest thing ever. Random strangers, mostly, getting together under the clear night sky making fantastic music.
The next day, having lunch with Siddhartha Mitter and my cousin Seyi, I got a little history lesson about how Washington Square Park used to be the hub for artsy types and how if it was 40/50 years ago, I could have run into Bob Dylan or Buddy Holly before they became famous. With NYU buying up most of the neighbouring property and Manhattan becoming more expensive than the average struggling artist can afford, the park is no longer the talent incubator it used to be.
If Canon, Sony or Nikkon are being publicly traded, you should buy shares in those companies. The sheer magnitude of people carrying expensive photography equipment about was staggering. (*strokes own Sony DSLR lovingly*)
I won’t dwell too much on the airport security queues heading out but given that other countries do these same checks with the same amount of rigour and seriousness, the TSA could probably do a bit better. Yes, NYC bears the scars of 9/11 (I stumbled onto ground zero too, by the way) but the airport experience was very subpar.
On the flip side, I have never had a more expeditious exit from the Muritala Mohammed International Airport than I did on this trip. Nigerian Immigrations still employ 2 different officers to put the one stamp on it (*rolls eyes*) but baggage was out pronto and Customs were courteously on point. Change, eh?