Few things in life are as exciting as unforeseen travel. Fewer still when the destination is New York City, the unofficial capital of the world. The short notice meant I was not able to read up on my destination as I usually do, but that did not matter. A lifetime of reading books, watching movies and listening to rap music had prepared me for this moment.
New York City is everything you’ve heard and more. The places to visit and things to do read like something off a dream bucket list. I got to tick off quite a good number of these from the list.
1. Keep moving in the Manhattan maze
Manhattan is one of the five boroughs of New York and is considered the Central Business District of New York City. The avenues and streets are designed to run North-South and East-West respectively across the island, intersecting at right angles. Navigating around the streets of Manhattan and getting addresses proved rather easy, whether by tour bus, cab or on foot as streets are identified numerically. A constant breeze blows across the straight streets, funneled by the tall buildings.
Restaurants and shops abound in Manhattan’s streets, indicative of the city’s culinary and shopping culture. The best way to take in the energy and vibe of the streets was by walking, and I covered miles trekking, New York hip hop from the earphones making for the perfect soundtrack.
2. Touch the Sky at One World Trade Center
The best way to observe a city is from a vantage point and they don’t come no higher than the One World Trade Center. The magnificent building was constructed right next to the 9/11 memorial site in Lower Manhattan. It stands as the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the fourth tallest in the world.
From the observatory at the 100th floor, you get fantastic views of skyscrapers in mid- Manhattan, the East river, Hudson river, Brooklyn, the New York Harbor, Statue of Liberty and Jersey City.
There are many other iconic skyscrapers including the Empire State Building, the Chrysler building, the Bank of America building and 432 Park Avenue.
3. Times Square
The heartbeat of Manhattan and a mass of humanity day and night, Times Square is a mecca of capitalism. The sheer number of people, shops, and illuminated advertisements on every inch of building space was awe-inspiring. This is what Karl Marx might have imagined hell looks like.
Hustlers selling tickets for bus tours and stand-up comedy shows mingle with tourists at every corner. At night, a motley crew of painters, graffiti artists, dancers, wannabe rappers, drummers and all sorts of talented people wow eager crowds into emptying pockets. I spent a great deal of my evenings marveling at the creativity and genius of it all.
Check out this amazing video of an artist spray painting the NYC skyline
4. Walking the Highline
Creativity was not limited to Times Square. The Highline is a project fashioned off a disused section of an elevated rail track. The two and a half kilometer project is replete with artistic works and recreational parks.
The view along the highline might change from gentrified high rises to a cruise ship on the Hudson River in a matter of minutes.
5. Central Park and recreational spaces
I love cities that have recreational and public spaces. You’d hardly walk a few blocks without seeing some sort of park or recreational space with miniature basketball courts, football pitches and such. The visit to Central Park made me appreciate public spaces more. I walked for what seemed like an eternity in an attempt to cover the whole park but gave up after seeing a bunch of guys having a kick about. I ended playing football with a Brazilian, a Croat, a Bulgarian and a Yankee.
6. Meeting Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Speaking of parks, I was having one of those random walks in Manhattan when I saw a crowd at Bryant Park along 42nd street. Little did I know I had just stumbled into a book-signing by arguably the greatest basketballer in history. I was surprised to find out Kareem is an accomplished author with a keen interest in history. I got my autographed copy of his latest book ‘Mycroft Holmes’, a fictional account of the life Sherlock’s older brother. I also got copies of his previous works. Just like that, I had stumbled upon a new role model.
I also got to meet Dj Soko, owner of the hip-hop label Left of Center.
7. American TV
Watching American TV proved a weird experience. Coming from a country where advertisements for legal services are non-existent and medical ads are limited to pain relievers, the number and nature of legal and medical advertisements was shocking.
The medical advertisements were particularly shocking. You would watch an advertisement that lasted a minute and the first twenty seconds would paint a rosy picture of relief and happiness on the other side of taking the particular drug. The next forty or so seconds would be spent warning you about possible side effects which could be anything from blindness, stroke, cancer, seizures and often death.
There would be a handful of medical advertisements every hour and given the psychology behind marketing, it was no surprise to learn that America is the most heavily medicated country in the world. So much for the home of the war on drugs. A few weeks after arriving home, I read about how the American Medical Association proposed a ban advertisements for prescription drugs which have led to a surge in demand and consequently prices of drugs.
I childishly enjoyed watching episodes of TV shows I follow when they were debuting on their parent networks. I was also puzzled seeing adverts where a company would state how its product or service is say 10 times better than the competitor, whom they would mention by name.
New York in general was a fantastic place to visit. I tried as best to maximize on my time there but there was a lot more I would have liked to have done. I cursed the fact that no major hip-hop show was going down in New York while I was there nor was there any Carlos Santana concert or something like that. I did not visit as many museums nor did I tour Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx as thoroughly as I would have liked to. Luckily, I didn’t experience any of that racist or Islamophobic hate that we see in the news. I left knowing that I’d certainly be going back to that wonderful city that is at the apex of our civilization.