“It’s my first sense of the city — that smell, above all things — that welcomes me and tells me I’ve come home.”
Those lines from Shantaram struck me when I stepped on the Penn station platform and made my way out of the NJ transit terminal. These are words describing Bombay. But they more or less tell the same story. The story of two similar cities. The crowded streets and stations, the rush in every step, the hour long travels, the passion in every face and the never say die attitude of the citizens. Bombay and New York come across as sisters. The difference, strangely, is only their lineage.
The road trip was a new experience. Driving in America is not a tough task. With all cars automatic, good roads, helpful signboards, cruise control and all that, its very simple. And thats the best way to see America. By road!
We arrived at New Jersey pretty late in the evening and took the NJ Transit train to New York Penn station. Its this CST/Churchgate type of terminus where all the different rail networks meet. New York has a vast and impressive rail and subway network. You can get from one corner of the city to another in no time and its very easy too. The routes and maps are self explanatory which any novice can follow. All the more, its child’s play if you’ve lived in Bombay. It was good in a way, me and my two roommates were let loose. The city is more fun exploring all alone without a guide of sorts.
In my aunt’s own words, it’s a very clean and upscale Bombay. Thats how she described New York. The city, I am told, has a large population of Jews. And Indians of course. The city, basically, enjoys a lot of floating population.
We took the morning train from Mineola in Long Island to Penn Station. From Penn, we caught the subway to South Ferry station from where we boarded the ferry to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Islands. The Statue, we did visit, for its unmistakably the symbol of New York and sometimes, America. The ferry did take a lot of our time but the view of the bridges and the Manhattan skyline made up for it.
Our next stop was Wall Street, and we came across the charging Bull quite soon to our surprise. The area was crowded though it was a Sunday. I could only imagine how it would be on a Monday morning. We even got a glimpse of the Trump Building on Wall Street and a Christmas tree right outside the New York Stock Exchange.
We followed the map and turned left on Liberty Street to get to Ground Zero. The site where the twin towers of World Trade Center stood. The enormity of the 9/11 attacks strikes you when you look at the site and the surroundings. The WTC towers had stood right at the middle of Lower Manhattan. A few yards away is the American Stock Exchange. A few turns away is the Wall Street and the NYSE. The Millennium Hilton is right opposite the site. To have destroyed those towers right in the middle of Manhattan is unbelievable. No wonder, it was a blow to America’s might like never before. No one could have imagined this.
The streets and avenues of Manhattan have millions of stories stuffed inside them. I was reminded of the whole of South Bombay at every turn. The 72nd street, 32nd street, 7th avenue, 5th avenue, 42nd street. Every street echoes a pop culture reference. I do not think any other place in the world commands such a position.
Next up, we took the subway from Rector Street to 72nd street traveling uptown. Right across 72nd street is the famous Central Park. Central Park is huge and the part across 72nd street is Central Park West. I just chose that part because of guess what? Pop culture references again! One of them being, John Lennon’s famous apartment Dakota right across and his address once read Central Park West. They even have a small token of memory for him right at the entrance.
We headed back to Penn and walked on seventh avenue and fifth avenue visiting Empire State and other attractions around that place. There are over 150 Starbucks in Manhattan. And every shop is crowded! Madison Square Garden is right outside and part of the Penn station and it was a place I wanted to visit. They had a display of Greatest Moments at the Garden which was a treat to watch. I still remember the Bulls vs Knicks frenzy during those Jordan days. After that, some notable moments have been Patrick Ewing’s retirement, Steffi Graf’s retirement, some NHL stuff among others.
There was this ad long time back which went,” If you stand long enough on Times Square, you’ll meet everyone in the world”. Or something on those lines. I was tempted to believe those words. The place boils with people round the clock and untiringly busy. Much of those lights is dominated by Broadway plays as you make your way from 42nd street. I could catch ads of Broadway versions of Mary Poppins, Hairspray, Legally Blonde among other original currently running plays. This is another similarity with Bombay. The theater, the movies, the art etc. I managed to get hold of a New York magazine and all I could see were page 3 parties, page 3 people, movie reviews, art reviews, play reviews, news from the streets of Manhattan and so on.
We missed one important place. I had marked it on the map and all that. That was my next stop after Central Park. I have no idea how it went out of my mind. We missed the Rockefeller Centre!! I can’t believe it. Now please do not comment saying how costly my miss was and all that. I know its a big miss. I so badly wanted to see the statue of Atlas holding the heavens on his shoulders.
I love the city. The life on the fast lane is too tempting. My grandfather said, we did not do justice to New York by seeing it in one day. I strongly agree. Someday, I’ll do proper justice!