We came in on the George Washington Bridge on the Interstate, but you could see the city long before that, from deep inside New Jersey somewhere, the jagged line of skyscrapers flashing between the hills and trees, shimmering in the bright autumn sunlight like some giant bejewelled crown abandoned on the shore by a long-forgotten god. Manhattan Island. Was there ever a more iconic – or instantly recognisable – skyline?
And then we were sweeping in off the freeway along the slow arc of the ramp and down into the bustle of traffic along the highway, making for the Upper West Side.
What is it about New York? Even that phrase “the Upper West Side” is iconic – despite the fact that is no more than a geographical description – sending a spurt of adrenaline into the blood and making the heart beat a little faster. And now there we were amongst the snarling traffic, the mean yellow taxis, the lumbering behemoths of those great American lorries, the limousines, the big-wheel trucks, nudging forward from traffic light to traffic light amidst the blare of horns, the dust and confusion, edging slowly forward in the contending traffic like Darwinian creatures in an evolutionary struggle for survival.
Yes, that’s exactly what New York feels like. It’s like you’ve accidentally wandering into some accelerated version of evolution, like the city is urging you from behind – nudging you, pressing you – the whole weight of the city pushing you forward whether you like it or not.
As soon as you step out you can sense it: a kind of hormonal electricity in the air, humanity on a knife edge, an urgency, a drive, crazy, egotistical, vain, but marvellously exciting, as if anything can happen here, and often does, in the grand canyon avenues with the constant blare of traffic and the echoed wailing of police sirens, and people moving to and fro with such a mighty sense of purpose. The hustle. The noise. The constant movement, like a tidal surge of humanity welling up along the straight square streets laid out like graph paper and buzzing with life.
We parked the car, my brother and I, dropped our bags in the hotel, and went out to join the throng….
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