This is a city of popular culture icons and none said more about the city than Seinfeld (or did it say nothing about anything). Regardless of it being or not being about anything it had influence and it seeped into Australian popular culture just as much as it seems to have done here in New York. That’s why we followed Number Big Son’s lead to Tom’s Restaurant on the upper west-side for breakfast this morning. Tom’s being the Restaurant sign featured in the show whenever they met in the diner. Breakfast has been a concept on this holiday – starting point. It’s lucky to be underway by 11am, unless we’re having it at home when 10 seems to be the preferred time. Today, we made it to Tom’s by 12 and got our table by 12:30 and got our food by 1pm, so while breakfast was the aim, our orders were a mix enabled by Tom’s promise to serve breakfast all day and his extensive menu of items that were not in the breakfast chapter of the menu.
Tom’s time ended and we lurched out the door (Tom’s is almost surrounded by Columbia University) and set out for destination 2 on todays menu, Harlem. We chose a walk in the park, as you do, which we managed to turn into a 28 block hike through and across Central Park, which was beautiful, past the Mt Sinai Hospital, which was impressive, by the Graffiti Wall of Fame, which was locked in a school yard, and on up to 116th St, which was through housing projects. 116th Street was supposed to provide us with an African Market of wonder and exotic amazement – it did not. It provided us with an African/I Heart New York Souvenir experience.
We got to Malcolm X Boulevard and nipped into the subway to 125th Street, which was supposed to provide us with a lively, exciting street scape – now we may have been in the wrong bit, but we found a down-at-heel area with phone case vendors lining the streets and Maccas and Burger Kings in numbers hitherto unseen in New York (nice work junk food corporations – hit the low s.e.s parts and hit ’em hard!). We were intrigued by the number of street scent vendors with their stalls lines with hundreds of little bottles of mysterious oils, but we weren’t after perfume or $2 shops or McNuggets and we were a little unprepared for the number of, how can I put this… Baptist Churches, in the area. Oh, and the loud, maniacally gesturing, folk with kiddies named Isis and the like we had to snake through up the sidewalks. Harlem was an interesting place to visit, but as I said, we might have been a little under-researched and in the wrong part. We did see the famous facade of the Apollo Theatre, though.
The subway, our ever present Alice-Hole, presented itself and down we tumbled aiming to come up at 34th Street, which is a good 30 minute ride from 125th Street. Our next mission was to knock off a big thing. We surfaced at Herald Square, in the shadow of our target, the Empire State Building, this one we had researched enough to know that we should show disdain and ignore the legion of ticket touts outside the door and march purposefully into the building and head to the ticket office. Those who operate the building’s tourist attraction have laid out a circuitous route with huge numbers of velvet covered chains and stanchions largely devised to cram hundreds of people into the ticket queues, but also cunningly laid to lead you through the green screen photographers set, where they’ll pretend that having your photo taken and expertly manipulated to make it look as though you were standing with the Empire State Building behind you, is part of the process. You’re also led through a security check, where belts and jackets must be removed, but shoes are OK. I have real difficulty with the belt thing – it’s hard to get all your belongs into the tray; remove your wallet and phone, and check your pockets while holding your trousers up with one hand, then repeat the process backwards while trying to re-dress and load your stuff back in a space designed for not stopping. Back along the cattle crush and we finally made it to the elevators after being led through a half-hearted exhibition of old photos highlighting the complete lack of any workplace health and safety concerns during the building’s construction. The elevator took us to level 80, so we could be lead through another section of shiny deco flooring and a last minute rest-room stop, before another elevator took us the final 6 floors to the Observation Deck. Now here I admit that even a hardened, jaded cynic such as I was impressed. It was a clear afternoon, cold at about 4ºC and close to dusk. The views were spectacular with glimpses of Times Square and the Rockefeller Skating Rink through the buidings. The Flat Iron building in all it’s glory and those beautiful bridges all the way out Staten Island. Wow.
We spent about 45 minutes out in freeze before heading back down, with the exit path carefully set to pass through the green screen photographer’s finished product display, and the gift shop and the Walgreens on the second floor before the revolving doors spewed us out onto 5th Avenue into the blustery winds, where the circle is completed by the legion of ticket touts sets upon you again.
The subway delivered us home in crowded rush hour style – we always know we’re on the right train by the (large) number of gents in Homburgs in our carriage. Mr Piña provided sushi and gyoza for our dinner and some Ben & Jerry’s for our dessert.