11:19am local time, touch down JFK. NYC, it has been a while.
The very first person through US customs at Dublin airport on a brisk early October morning and I couldn't get on that plane quick enough. A bottle of special edition Hendricks and a giant bar of Cadbury's milk chocolate from duty free later and I am fully prepared to board my flight east-coast, state-side bound. The teenage dreamer in me refuses to look back or dwell on all I'm choosing to leave behind. This is no time for nostalgic laments. Winds have shifted and they're blowing me in the direction of the Empire State.
Jumping on the Airtrain to bring me to Howard Beach and the subway line, I ride the A train all the way to 59th and Columbus Circle. Stepping into the frenzied mid-town street, half blinded by the reflecting blaze of the afternoon sun on a glassy skyscraper I think if only happiness such as this could be bottled and bought. Out here, I sing, a fish can breathe.
Tacky tourists; eccentric 80s throwbacks; the power suited and booted; the chancers; the street loons; the beautiful; the not-so-beautiful; the meek; the bold; the dreamers; the young; the old. Suddenly it's a tribal gathering and we all belong despite the factors believed to segregate. New York has seen it all, played host to it all, in essence, started it all. If it hasn't happened here first, it needn't bother starting. Or so I believe.
I meet Jen outside her apartment block on W 56th St. where I am to reside until I locate my sea legs.
Inside the heat is palpable, static, thick. I feel the light brush of an imagined mosquito on my bare shoulder. Goodness knows what mid-july will bring when temperatures sky-rocket and our feet melt into the pavement. On her coffee table sits the latest editions of The New Yorker and Vogue, the September issue, a big deal or so I'm told. Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum and Steve Carrell eyeball us from the cover of New York Magazine. The American-sized fridge shelves an American-sized carton of Almond milk. Her windowless bathroom features the chunky, rounded, retro sink reminiscent of Carrie Bradshaw's. Her apartment, she tells me is rent-controlled. Everything is movie-speak. Foreign yet comfortably familiar. So American. Heck, I grew up devouring this stuff from my TV screen. I'm walking around my own personal film-set later as I wade through the west village and search out Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios on West 8th St. A boy is linked to this particular spot, of which more later, or maybe not, we'll see.
The night is positively balmy and expectations are blown wide open. Couples dine al fresco the dimly-lit, sickeningly romantic restaurants and the bars blend to create an intimate yet festive scene. Chess games play out on the night-time streets and spirited youths leap through the fountain. Washington Square is a spectacle. I eat it up. Men built like bricks walk small cartoon-like dogs of curious breed and women in gravity-defying stilettos make dives across the street. No time to stop. Don't think, just go. GO. Don't let the night leave you for dust. A pizza slice to make Michaelangelo weep in hand I saunter the streets my 14-year-old self studied and followed on the map on my bedroom wall an ocean and an era away from the here and now.
The buildings twinkle, splashing their own unique character against the inky sky. The city dazzles, bewitching and the feeling permeates that anything, absolutely anything, could happen at any given moment. And it does. But you know, more of that later. Give me your best New York, I'm ready.