When I wait in line at JFK airport to clear customs, I know that my brother is waiting for me on the other side. I have not seen him in 6 months and I can’t wait to see that familiar face. I get agitated by the fact that the queue to see an immigration officer zigzags for ages, but then again, it is better in some ways because as I clear customs my baggage is already off the carousel. There are big smiles as we hug and give each other a brotherly punch on the shoulder. “ How long have you waited for me?” I ask. “ Four hours you bastard!” We leave the airport and my head is spinning after the 48-hour trip to get here. The network of highways and off ramps confuses me even more and I ask him if he knows his way. “Yip its only 20 minutes from here, no worries, I know how to get home”. Three hours later we arrive at his place after getting lost in places that he claim to have been to before. Nothings changed.
Time Square, busy any time of the day
The quiet area in Long Island where he stays reminds me of my digs in London when I was living there. The only way to get over the jet lag is to crack into the case of beers he has waiting. “ Tomorrow is going to be a big day in the Big Apple, you better be ready” are the words that send me off to sleep.
We jump on the 10:30 am train from Locust Valley and change at Jamaica station to catch the connection to Penn station. My ears pop as we go under water, and when the train exit the under water tunnel my eyes go wild when I first see the New York skyline. When we get above ground at Penn station my senses are completely overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the surroundings. Yellow cabs honk their horns, men and woman in suits are rushing around, a vendor selling bagels speak in Arab and a NYPD cop pose next to his horse while a tourist takes a photo. The buildings reach for the sky like trees in the Amazon smother each other to get sunrays. I don’t know where I am and I like it.
We walk towards Time Square and the activities of my fellow human beings blow me away. Artists perform incredible pieces, rappers give away free music for a $10 donation, cyclists dodge traffic and good-looking people are just doing their good looking thing, looking good. There are shops and food joints of all kinds but the one that stands out to me is Five Guys. After an epic burger there, we make our way to Central Park. My brother points out where some celebrities live and tells me of time he saw Brad Pitt make the girls cry. When I see the John Lennon memorial in the Strawberry Fields section of the park I feel nostalgic, and wonder why the legends always die too soon. The park is massive, and it feels good to be trapped in here for a little while. We exit on 5th avenue and walk all the way down to Madison Square Park. We walk up Madison Avenue and down Park Avenue. There are so many people walking and around every corner there is something interesting happening. I see so many faces and I feel completely absorbed by the city. When we go to the top of the Empire State building I get a clear view of this ginormous city, the sun sets in the distance and the lights start to flicker in an array of beautiful colors.
View from the top of the Empire State Building
The time goes by as quick as the tread on my slip slops are wearing out. I should not have worn the slops, my feet are aching and swollen from the long flights and the walking is taking its toll. We cross over to lower Manhattan and stumble upon a bar that keeps us cool and hydrated. It is still hot in New York, at least 30 degrees Celsius. So we stay inside for a while. After a couple of brews we set out for round two; find one more bar then start making our way back home. The last train we can catch back to Locust Valley leaves Penn station at 01:01 am.
At the corner of 8th avenue and 34st we find a pub. We are literally 5 minutes away from Penn station and we still have 2 hours before the last train leaves. I think it was the shot with bourbon and pickle juice that made us loose complete track of time. We run to the station and anxiously scan the screen for our train platform. Shit. We missed the train. To catch a cab back to Long Island will cost at least $100.
The only thing you can do in this situation is to carry on exploring the city that never sleeps. We walk all over Chelsea, staying away from the bars with rainbow colored entrances. We sit in front of the Flatiron Building and talk philosophy. We walk the streets of New York City with tired eyes and feet, but it feels good. We stay out until 8:30 the next morning before catching our train back home.
Central Park viewed from the top of The Rock
We sleep the day away and I dream of all the sights and funny moments. I love the time with my brother and I am proud of what he has achieved. The next mission, he promises me, will not make us miss any trains.
After we walk through the financial district and get a photo of Wall Street for my mother, we cross over to the Brooklyn Bridge. The architecture is a magnificent feat. Watching the skyline from there while the clouds move swiftly across the sky makes for awesome time lapse photography, so we spend at least an hour on the bridge just taking photos and watching people. We cross the bridge all the way to Brooklyn and back. The new World Trade Center is still under construction, but already casts a monstrous shadow. When we visit the 9/11-memorial site I get shivers down my spine. Where the Twin Towers use to stand there are only two deep pools with water cascading down the sides. All the names of the people who lost their lives on that day are engraved around the edges of the pools; some names have fresh white roses placed on them. I walk away when I see an elderly lady crying while touching one of the names.
It starts to rain as we enter Greenwich Village. The village is filled with awesome buildings and the iconic fire escape staircases on the side of the buildings make me feel like I am walking in on a FRIENDS episode. At Wicked Willy’s Pub we find $1 beers and celebrate this rare find.
Grand Central Station and the iconic Yellow Cabs
The five days I spent in the city went by faster than the escalators take to get up and down in the Rockefeller Building. The sights and sounds, the music and the food, the friendly cop we had a beer with at 2am and the walk-until-we-find-something-cool missions was worth every minute I had to wait for during my 20 hour layover in Qatar. There is so much left to explore in New York, so many corners we did not turn down, thousands of interesting people I did not get to converse with, whether on a subway or in a trendy bar downtown. I did however find that the millions of lights in New York could, most definitely, inspire you.
Skyline from Brooklyn Bridge
New World Trade Centre
Statue of Liberty
NY Stock Exchange Building on Wall st
Thanks for a memorable time brother