10 November 2023

New York: A (28-Year) Love Story

Today, I’m New York bound once more on a long-awaited family trip to mark a milestone birthday for me. It will be my 33rd visit to the Big Apple since my first in 1995. Feeling nostalgic, I dove into my NYC archives, trawling through my old diaries (until 2006), blog posts (from 2007) and photo albums (digital and predigital — a big thank you to my parents for their help with the earlier years).

22 July has often been an eventful day for me, as my childhood diaries attest. Take 1994, for example. “Brought games into school. Played Spin the Bottle. Kissed JR twice,” I wrote. Maybe the latter wasn’t actually that important a moment for me given that I immediately went on to add, “Got Quiz Kids from Asda. Went to Guide camp. Went to bed at 11:00 pm.” Kids are fickle.

Exactly one year later, I arrived in New York City for the very first time. And in this case, the memory did stand the test of time. “Dear Al,” I wrote in my diary. “Flew from LHR to JFK, NY. The journey took 6 hours 30 mins. Got SVT [Sweet Valley Twins] no 3 and Junior [????] Wonderland. Met up with Paul & Jane. Rated 5/5.”

My 10-year-old self's other highlights of this first trip include a boat trip to “Stat Lib” and “the museum on Ellis Island,” a visit to the Empire State Building, a photo opp at the Plaza Hotel, the purchase of many more Sweet Valley books and a ride on the subway. The latter proved stressful for my mum, who was trying to wrangle two young children while figuring out the system. We almost ended up in the Bronx but made it back to the Hard Rock Café to meet my dad. Other memories include the stifling July heat, giant stacks of cream- and syrup-laden pancakes for breakfast, the limo ride from the airport and the bathtubs at our hotel that really did fill up in under a minute.

I was hooked instantly. So much so that by my second trip, in the dying days of 1997, I declared it “the coolest city in the world.” This trip saw us braving the queues to ascend to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, going up the World Trade Center and watching Titanic (“brilliant, but really sad at the end”). 

By visit number five, for Twixmas and New Year’s Eve in 2000, I had declared: “There is definitely something magic about this place. That’s why as soon as I’m out of university, I’m planning on applying for a job in New York City and I’m going to live there forever and ever. Unfortunately, an apartment (studio) costs $500 per month even in Brooklyn. Molto caro!" That’s still a dream of mine.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many incredible experiences in New York and made countless happy memories. I’ve travelled with family, friends, work colleagues and on my own. I’ve melted in the heatwaves of July and August, frozen in epic snowstorms, delighted in the fall foliage and found joy in the spring blooms. I’ve celebrated Christmas and New Year (watching The Producers — with a cameo from Mel Brooks — and then a walking tour on Brooklyn Bridge with Dr Phil made for a particularly memorable New Year’s Eve) and all of my immediate family’s birthdays there.

I’ve eaten far more delicious meals than I can possibly remember. Bagels, burgers and pizza were the highlights in the early years — Fanelli Café and P.J. Clarke's are still among my favourites — but trying out different cuisines and styles has been a more recent focus. I went to my first secret speakeasy (Employees Only) and NYC and I have both been on a speciality coffee journey too. I first went to Jack’s Stir Brew in 2003 and a New York friend introduced me to Joe’s original Greenwich Village location in 2007. It’s still a favourite of mine, along with almost 100 other coffee spots in my NYC speciality coffee guide.

I’ve seen dozens of plays and musicals, on and off Broadway, including Joshua Jackson performing in Children of a Lesser God. I've also spotted Clive Owen and Matt Damon filming on location and other celebrities including Zoë Ball (she asked me the time in Urban Outfitters), Sienna Miller at Vesuvio Bakery, Liv Tyler in Barneys and Tom Cruise getting into a limo outside our hotel (according to my diary). And I've made pilgrimages to the filming locations of Friends (RIP Matthew Perry), Mad Men and Cruel Intentions.

I’ve been to NYC often enough that each visit feels like I’m returning home. My spiritual home, if not my actual home. I take comfort in the familiarities of my usual routine. There will be a walk or run over Brooklyn Bridge, a wander along the High Line, shopping in SoHo, a burger somewhere and coffee-shop-hopping all over the city. Probably a show and maybe a museum or two. From the first trip, our family has played the state license plate game, trying to spot as many as possible each time. We’ve still never seen all 50 in one trip; getting more than 40 is really good on a short trip, especially if they include Alaska, Hawaii and/or a Dakota or two.

As I wrote in a very early diary entry, “I want to absorb everything about this city — all the scents, sights and sounds — and experience it over and over again.” That’s still true now. The sweet smell of caramelised peanuts, the steam rising from the vents, the ever-changing colours of the Empire State Building lights and the terse honks of taxi horns. There’s so much history here, so much culture and always new neighbourhoods to explore, new restaurants to check out and new places to visit each time I come. I am sometimes asked: "Don't you get bored of going to the same place so often?" Well, when you’re bored of New York, for sure, you are bored of life.

Here’s to many more trips to the Big Apple. And maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll fulfil my 20-year-old wish of moving here. If only the rent for a studio apartment were still $500 per month!

No comments:

Post a Comment