This city had become the stuff of legends in my head.
I knew that it was a real place, obviously. But while I’ve traveled all over the United States, been to Europe several times, been to Asia, been to Canada and Mexico (just do a search here on the “Travel” and “Photography” categories combined – there are A LOT of pictures, with many, many more to come), I had never been to New York City.
I had been near it a couple of times. In high school I took a trip from Boston to Baltimore via Amtrak. Heading south through New Jersey, I remember seeing the skyline waaaaay off on the horizon with a dot that must have been the Statue of Liberty. More recently, on a trip back to Vermont last year we changed planes in Newark. From the air there I could see the New York City skyline more clearly – but still way off in the distance.
When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, New York City got a reputation as a tough and not completely safe place for tourists. Times Square was full of porn shops, you could get mugged just about anywhere, the taxi drivers would screw you over at the drop of a hat, the streets were filthy, and the subways reeked of urine and worse.
When I was in high school in Vermont, having recently moved there from the Chicagoland area and not yet enamored with the charms of small town living (i.e., homesick for my friends back in Chicago and feeling smothered by the mores and lifestyle of people who had spent their entire lives in one spot), a movie came out that my parents loved and forced me to go see with them. It was “The Out Of Towners” and had Jack Lemon as an Ohio businessman who brought his wife to New York City for a job interview.
The “comedy” in the movie came from a series of disasters, starting with no hotel room being available, getting mugged, spending the night on the street, being chased through Central Park, having a manhole cover blow off next to them leaving him deaf, and so on. Being a smart ass teenager, I pointed out that NONE of that would have happened if he had bothered to make a guaranteed reservation at the hotel, which I knew about even at the age of 14. One simple act of common sense and the whole plot falls apart. But I digress.
The New York City of “The Out Of Towners” was what I grew up with in my worldview. Yes, it’s where they gave astronauts ticker tape parades, where the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was, where they dropped the big crystal ball on New Year’s Eve, and so on. But while Frank Sinatra thought if you could make it there you could make it anywhere, it still sounded like a hell hole.
My attitude as an adult has been far different. While New York City cleaned up its act in regards to crime, cleanliness, and rebuilt itself as a prime tourist destination, what dominated my thinking now was that it was a place where one would be tested every day. Between the crowded subways, the high cost of living, the stifling heat and humidity in the summer, and the cold and monstrous snow drifts after every storm in the winter, New York City in my mind was a place where you really had to be at your best to just get by.
As the years went by, more and more I wanted to go there in order to “face that test,” as it were. I wanted to go there and experience it, to taste everything it had to offer, and to prove that I had what it took.
Not necessarily an accurate worldview, but being absent any actual data, the “myth” of New York City grew down in the base of my fetid little brain.
Then, of course, there was 9/11, which just made everything more intense, more vivid. I wanted to go, but I never did.
While I was looking for a job, there were several that I applied for the NYC area. One actually looked great. I was perfect for what they wanted, they were perfect for what I was looking for. A small-ish startup with what looked to be a huge future (they deal in luxury cars), I ended up talking to the owners a couple of times on the phone and it looked very positive. I was asked if I could come by for an interview. Sure I can! Tomorrow? Um, I don’t think I can get a flight that fast, but I’ll check. Flight? It seems that somehow they had never noticed that I lived in Los Angeles. But of course, I had been to New York City and was completely familiar with the city, right? Actually, no, never been there.
And that was the deal killer. Part of the job involved occasionally dropping off or picking up the aforementioned luxury cars, usually in Manhattan, usually on short notice. If I had never even been to the city, let alone driven in it…
A side effect of this job opportunity and others was that I started studying the city. I checked it out on Google Maps, started to learn where things were in relation to one another, becoming familiar with the territory as best I could from afar so that when (if?) I got one of those job offers I could hit the ground running.
Yet through all of this, I had never been there.
As one might imagine, with all of this back and forth, there was a lot of sort of funky baggage being carried around in my head regarding New York City. The Long-Suffering Wife has wanted to go back there ever since we got married (fifteen years ago) since she was born there and had relatives still there.
This year, some CAF and work events conflicted with some of the things we might normally go to on a vacation, so I proposed going to New York City at last. We got a couple of breaks, got the time off work, so about a month ago we took off at Oh-Dark-Thirty for a cross country trip from LAX to JFK.
Now that I’ve set the stage, it’s about time for me to start sharing those pictures and that story. The next three or four days are going to be nightmare busy at work (we have a HUGE event this weekend) so I might not get started on the photos until next week. But they’re coming, soon.
It’s time for that psychotic stew formed from sixty years of images, mythos, and archetypes, all generated from television, movies, and news reports, to meet the reality of 2016 New York City.