“The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be,
in some sense, kidding.” ― John Updike
The city is Shanghai on steroids. The renewal of downtown and uptown west has begun in earnest and the only magic in the air is the death-defying acts pedestrians have to take to avoid scaffolding.
Cars that flowed along the once wide Avenue of Americas from 31st to Union Square are narrowed to a crawl as shiny orange traffic safety cones and barriers cordon off no-go zones. The Department of Transport, better known as DOT, is cleaning up Manhattan’s act to ease congestion, improve safety for deliveries and when it is done it will be sensational but right now the best way to get around is via subway www.mta.info/metrocard, rickshaw www.nycpedicabs.com or the latest transportation option: citi bikes http://citibikenyc.com, officially launched on May 27.
Mayor Bloomberg and his gun control advocacy group may have escaped a ricin attack this past week but nothing is going to stop DOT’s assault on the streets of NYC. My advice if you’re wanting to take in shows on Broadway is to come back next year.
That said if the high-octane buzz of the city that never sleeps is what you’re craving, you’ll certainly get your fix. For everyone else there’s other areas to visit. Be warned though, prices have gone through the roof. The near-depression is over. The locals say it’s now a user-pay system that is not only designed to put a dent in tourists’ purses but also to punish small business thanks to higher operating taxes.
While some things change
others remain the same
At least there are still bargains in stores. Macy’s off 34th Street, Manhattan Mall, and shops along Broadway all the way to Soho are offloading items at huge discounts. Retail therapy American-style is revived and thriving. When I was last here in September 2008, Lehman’s had just failed. I remember being in a 5th Avenue internet cafe early that morning some six hours after the company announced bankruptcy when a man rushed in screaming down the phone to his broker to dump stock. As he scrambled to log on he yelled even louder “just dump the lot, it’s gonna be a bloodbath out there”.
As I left and walked towards 7th Avenue at West 50th Street to witness Lehman Brothers’ employees, clutching cardboard boxes, being escorted from the premises, I couldn’t have guessed at what was to follow, though the mood in NYC after the collapse was anything but exuberant.
Yet down 5th Avenue where the street campaign for Barack Obama for President was warming up, things felt more positive. I left NYC wondering whether US folks were in the mood to put a black president in power to bring this city and the country back from the financial abyss.
So to witness the city thriving as if the crisis never happened is quite an experience. The mood isn’t sombre as I remembered … NYC is moving on at a cracking pace, and most locals put that down to the vision of Mayor Bloomberg, others to President Obama, but one thing that has lightened the mood is the north and south pools and park at Ground Zero.
In 2008 it didn’t feel right for folks to visit. They were still clearing the area and there wasn’t much to see only to feel … an overwhelming sense of sadness.
On my return, the financial district is swarming with visitors, albeit also surrounded by scaffolding. Wall Street is pumping, the infamous Vault restaurant at Trinity Place www.trinityplacenyc.com hasn’t a spare seat in the house and you have to queue for the fitting room in discount designer store Century 21. Monks roam the area for reasons unknown unless they too are just curious to see how things are shaping up.
From the East River to the Hudson and all the villages in between, uptown and downtown, west side and east, New Yorkers are out and about spending up big while their tourist counterparts help things along by unloading their dollars anywhere and everywhere. Summer is here and NYC feels like this is where the action is meant to be.
Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist who, after spending six weeks in Central America, was beckoned by the bright neon lights of Broadway to take a six-day break.