New York, New York

t isn’t Fall without trees changing color, birds flying south for the Winter, and being in New York to speak at the Internet World conference — this time as part of the Webmaster Forum.

However, this time, I stayed in New York for a few days. What an adventure.

New York Cabbies

The cab that took me from Penn Station to my hotel was driven by a gentleman from Haiti who happened to have strong religious beliefs. I know he was religious because he kept playing religious tapes, and would slam on the brakes occasionally in order to jot something down in a notebook he kept by his seat. I knew he was Haitian as he would alternate this behavior with Haitian utterances under his breath as he literally tore through that town, determined to get me to my hotel at all due speed.

I didn’t know one could drive between cars in car lanes in New York. I also didn’t know that one could drive 60MPH down Park Avenue in the middle of the day. I do now. I also received a lesson in the finer points of car horn blasting in New York.

There’s the light tatoo on the horn that says “Yo!”. There’s the more emphatic tatooing that seems to say “Yo! Stupid!”.

There’s the single tap that just lets folks know you’re in the vicinity and to watch out. Compare this with the heavy hand on the horn that will get even the most diehard New Yorker’s attention. If the horn blower is a cab driver, people seem to understand that the cabby is just letting someone know that they are invading the driver’s personal territory, whatever that may be.

I also know that pedestrians in New York don’t walk in front of the cabs without looking at the driver’s face, first. How does this driver define territory…

Cab rides are a way to experience New York, but I can’t experience a new town or city from a car — I just don’t like cars. So, I decided to walk to Central Park. On foot. No cabs.

Walking to Central Park

I started my walk on Madison Avenue — established home of advertising agencies everywhere.

Madison Avenue doesn’t have the crowds other streets do in New York, thought there are a large number of gray and black suited people, all with cellphones glued to their ears (call them New York earrings).

The buildings along the way reminded me of some of the canyons I used to explore in Arizona, except those canyons were created by water flows over a millenium of time. New York canyons are built on man’s desire to one up nature. I did notice, though, when I crossed over to Fifth Avenue that the human tide is remarkably similar to a moving river. Woe to you going against that tide of affluent and determined shoppers.

(I particularly treasure a moment when two older, well dressed women walking behind me suddenly stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and murmured “Armani” in one breath. I consider this to be a quintessential New York moment.)

The Park

Central Park is a surpise after all the opulence of the surrounding stores and the shadows cast by the towering buildings elsewhere in downtown New York.

Part of the Park was closed off for renovation, but I walked every last bit of those sections that were open. And it was a long walk.

First, let me state categorically that I cannot BELIEVE that anyone would jog in the Park after dark. The place is full of nooks and crannies, dark corners, and bushes. Charming by day, sinister by night. A horse carriage ride, yes — but not a lonely stroll through the footpaths. I’d rather play tag with a grizzley. It would be safer.

Central Park is pretty, but the trees look a little tired, and more than a bit dusty. However, the bushes and lawns were very pretty, as were the little specialized areas such as the Dairy farm.

I found an old fashioned carrousel and thought about taking a ride, but dignity intruded — dammit.

My favorite sections of the Park were rocky outcroppings with bits of mica scattered about, sparkling in the noon day sun. Something like the windows at Tiffany’s and Cartiers I passed on the way, only I could touch the rocks at Central Park and not get arrested.

I actually saw a black squirrel; I’ve not seen one of that coloration before. I don’t have my books to check to see if this is a natural variation, or a protective adaption based on New York city smog. (I know, meow, meow — but Boston is a whole lot greener.)

I walked through some bushes at one point and found a group of people silently standing around a mosaic embedded in the cement. All the mosaic had on it was the single word “imagine” — I was in Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon memorial.

One word, and I stopped dead in my tracks. One moment, with a lifetime of memories, flooding in, all because of that one word.

Back from the Park

I was getting tired at this point, so back to the hotel.

Towards the end of my walk, I stood out in from of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, an incredible edifice of which New Yorkers take considerable pride. If you’ve been to New York, you know what it’s like to come upon the Cathedral after blocks and blocks of modern glass and steel.

I have to admit that when I first looked at St. Patrick’s, I thought of how much further we would be as a people if only we expended as much energy and resources on education as we did and still do on religion.

We could have cured cancer by now, eliminated all smog and pollution, perhaps be walking on some distant planet around some distant sun.

Then I walked into St. Patrick’s. I literally stopped in the middle of the Vestibule, overwhelmed by the absolute rightness of the interior of the church. The vaulted ceilings, the stained glass windows, the slight smoky air from thousands of votive candles lit by the faithful.

It then came to me that without faith — or perhaps human spirit — we wouldn’t even try to cure cancer, or walk on the moon, much less planets surrounding distant stars. And we wouldn’t have beauty such as that.

Maybe we didn’t do so bad with our time and our resources in the past, after all.

New York, New York

My last stop on my walk was Rockerfeller Center, located a couple of blocks from the hotel. As I approached the Center, I could hear the strains of the Sinatra song, “New York, New York” filling the air. I kid you not — there had just been an ice show at the center, which finished by playing New York’s anthem song.

I couldn’t end my walking tour of New York on a better note than that.

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