‘On the ground, doing some damage’ became a catchphrase for whole trip, as we had both firmly decided there was no way we were going to waste any days lounging around the hotel or idly doing things we could do at home (cinema visits notwithstanding ;). We awoke to a phone call from Steve “Get up, you lazy brits!” at 7am EDT, but since this was 12pm BST it wasn’t so bad. We organised ourselves as quickly as possible and splurged on pancakes and syrup at Lindy’s, which was perfect from the Americana point of view. However accounting for coffee, drinks, state tax and tips, the whole deal was more than twenty dollars each. We decided that we would have to find somewhere else to breakfast at least some of the days, as neither of us could afford to blow over 100 dollars purely on pancakes.
We left the hotel and headed across to Penn Station, a labyrinthine honeycomb of platforms taking you to other places on Manhattan, off the island to the rest of New York State and even interstate to the likes of Washington D.C. and Boston. I was shocked to see a good number of soldiers on guard toting M16 assault rifles, but as a security precaution and deterrent I suppose there are few more effective things than a soldier with a loaded gun. We quickly bought the 20 dollar Metrocard we had decided upon previously, as we knew this would save us a lot of money in the long run and also be more convenient. Our destination was the most iconic American tourist attraction of them all, the Statue of Liberty, although Dave wanted to take the opportunity to cross Wall Street first. Wandering through the financial district we were in the shade, but as we meandered out onto Battery Park and the harbour, it became apparent that the leather jackets maybe weren’t such a good idea. The sky was a uniform Mediterranean blue and the sun was beating down as though we were a good few lines of latitude further south. We quickly bought tickets for the ferry ride out to the statue and onto Ellis Island, and after getting through airport-grade security we boarded the small but comfortable Circle Line ferry.
The weather made the ferry trip all the more pleasant, and allowed for unrivalled panoramic views of the south of the city. Catching sight of the Empire State Building – only a block from our hotel – in the distance, I was amazed to see how far we’d already travelled. Also on view during our trip across were the Verrazano and Brooklyn Bridges as well as Ellis Island, before arriving at Liberty Island proper around twenty minutes later. We declined to purchase one of the top ten tackiest items I think I’ve ever seen: an green foam crown you can put on your head so ostensibly, you can think you look like the Statue of Liberty, when in actual fact, you look like an idiot. We realised to our horror that there were a goodly proportion of school trips dogging our footsteps, and many small American children ended up running about in these green foam crowns. It made them a lot happier than it made me. (It’s an evil man who cannot abide small children having innocent fun).
The statue itself and the grassland surrounding it were surprisingly peaceful, and the statue itself majestic if a little understated after the dizzy heights of the Manhattan skyscrapers. Interestingly enough, the distinctive green colour of the statue is not paint, but rather intentional oxidation of the metal; the statue is constructed and treated in a way to encourage this rapid oxidation, which turned it from its original metallic grey and gold. In this way rust is prevented from ever taking hold, as the coating of the statue has already oxidised as far as it is going to. Once again I was struck by the level of security – watching the crowds keenly from the base of the monument was yet another soldier, this time armed with a long-range rifle, and the interior of the statue was closed to visitors. As before I was initially shocked, then dimly gratified, and I realised that the precautions would act as a significant and highly visible deterrent against any terrorist threat.
After taking a decent amount of snaps we got ourselves a badly needed cold drink and headed on over to Ellis Island. What was once a centre for immigration is now a restored national heritage centre and museum, and makes for a fascinating attraction. There are a lot of exhibits detailing the processes potential immigrants had to go through, and some statistical information detailing the influx of immigrants during America’s “Open Door Policy” years. There are some fairly chilling sights to see, including the dormitory around ten feet by twelve – smaller than our hotel room – occupied by twelve people for months at a time while their applications were processed. We continued to wander around the Ellis Island museum until the realisation dawned that we should really be heading back to the mainland for lunch, and more importantly to make our Matrix Reloaded screening at Loews. Once again the transport proved to be superbly well timed, and it was on this ferry ride that I successfully folded my subway map until it showed the most important section, Manhattan proper. We jumped off the ferry and with my new found mastery of the subway system rapidly made it back to our hotel, grabbing the first of many snacks from street vendors en route. Dave was partial to hot dogs with mustard, while I was a fan of the pretzels. It tasted like the worst kind of junk food, but also felt not only encouraged but downright compulsory.
As it turned out, we were a little early for the film by about forty-five minutes, but it gave us an opportunity to catch our breath in the cinema foyer and call home, since it was early evening in the UK. After an interminable wait Matrix Hour finally rolled around and we got perfect seats, slap bang in the centre, two thirds of the way up. The film itself blew me away, being as its predecessor was an “intelligent blockbuster”. We also had the novelty of an American audience, far more responsive and less inhibited than its British counterpart. These boys and girls laughed out loud, cheered, clapped, yelled advice at screen characters, and generally made the experience a lot more enjoyable.
The Matrix Reloaded done and dusted, we took Steve up on a late-breaking offer to come across to the East Village and have a curry at a place he recommended, Haveli’s Indian Restaurant. We were given the choice of having “the best curry money can buy but no beer” in Queens, or “a damn good curry and beer” in the East Village. We decided on the latter after considering the choices for a second or two. On Steve’s advice, we took two buses across to Haveli’s, since it was a good six blocks east and another 30 blocks south. The buses were prompt and clean, and our subway passes worked here as well – a boon since we were in a fair hurry and didn’t have time to be fiddling with small change. Although we got off a little further south than intended, it made for a nice unintentional walk through Lower Manhattan as dusk fell, and by the time we arrived at the restaurant we were ready for lots of high quality food and drink. Haveli’s did not disappoint, being a curry house to duke it out with the best of the UK’s Midlands or north-west, and it was interesting to meet the friendly couple of Steve and Marilyn Matzura. While Steve is Dave’s friend rather than mine, both Steve and Marilyn made us both very welcome from the outset, and beer and conversation were soon flowing easily and rapidly. In the end the restaurant was cleaning up around us by the time we finally upped and left. Steve and Marilyn were heading off home to bed, but Dave and I were ready to see some more of the bar scene. As we were down in the East Village we decided to wander into an inviting-looking student-packed Irish bar, where we once again drank the double act of stout and lager. Conspicuous here was the recently-implemented smoking ban, as the bar felt like it should have been smoky as hell, but the air was as clean as that outside. OK, the air in Central Park.
While Dave was being propositioned by attractive student type lasses before I’d even gotten to the bar, at the back of our minds was our favourite little watering hole, the place with the wondrous spirit rack, Niles. We tried a couple of other places but our wanderings eventually took us back to the bar we’d gratefully patronised on the first night. More, much more beer was consumed, followed by tumblers full of Maker’s Mark whisky. These were New York measures and, by god, they had teeth. We gamely did our best to keep on doing the damage, but eventually we left at some ridiculous hour feeling damaged ourselves. Our hotel was a block north, and it took us a good ten minutes to make it there, whereupon we stumbled past the concierge who was beginning to look like he was wondering who his glorious hotel had admitted, and spent the second night on the 17th floor in our respective beds, feeling like we’d given a good account of ourselves on our first full day.