Although it has been over a decade since I visited New York, I was compelled to blog about that trip having written several posts about my visit to Iceland in 2017 (Parts 1, 2 and 3). Not only did I enjoy writing it, but secretly, I want to remind myself of just how great my journey was, to convince me to return and travel more. I feel I need one last kick up the backside before making the investment.
In March 2008, South Downs College offered students the opportunity to go on a trip to New York City. It was going to be freezing, and expensive, but how was one meant to turn this down? I spent most of my time with fellow BTEC Music Technology students Dan, Kelly, Jess and Helen. I would also meet some new friends there, as students from various courses in the entertainment department were on the trip too.
We had to catch a stupid o’clock flight from Heathrow, meaning that we had to catch a coach from the college at even stupider o’clock, which of course meant that I wasn’t going to get a wink of sleep from then, until the following night in New York City. I was sat in front of a female student who unfortunately was terrified of flying.
We dropped our luggage at the YMCA hostel (inevitably, I started singing Village People on the way in) and our day began. We had a relatively early dinner at the Jekyll & Hyde Club – a restaurant themed around camp horror, orbiting around the sentiment of The Rocky Horror Picture show, to the point that at one point, two fellow students danced the Timewarp with a female entertainer. The room was dingy, and had animatronic features on the walls such as portraits with moving eyes, talking mummies and a sphinx head. There was also a band of robotic skeletons (called The Microscopic Techno Spiders), which moved a bit as music was played. There were also actors in the room, who more than anything were very irritating. The best example comes from a shrill-sounding woman, with a wine glass in her hand, and constantly repeated that she was drinking “liquid sunshine”. I was under the assumption that this was a reference to something that I had never seen. I realise now, that it is not, and was just odd gibberish.
Most memorable was the fact that she kept singing. At least the odd blast of four high-pitched ascending operatic notes. “Ah-ah-ah-AAH!”, which admittedly did make us laugh a lot. Helen repeated it, and the liquid sunshine lady did it again, having heard Helen from across the room. I don’t remember how the food itself was, but a conversation between a mummy and one of the actors (a butler) was hardly ideal as we ate – “Side effects may include headaches, diarrhoea and death.”.
We then had a wander around Times Square, and were inevitably overwhelmed by the scale of everything. The tall buildings, the screens and huge stores (even a multi-storey M&Ms store). I had a photo taken with, someone dressed as Elmo. In retrospect, I am under the assumption that I was meant to give them money for that. Sorry.
By the evening, Times Square was really not the place how my head to be. The lights and screens were mesmerising to the point that it was almost sickening. That is quite a statement to come from a strobe light and laser addict, but it was inevitable having been awake for so long. Time for bed.
Also, a bonus (sad) fact: A 200ft crane fell over that evening, killing seven people.
Today was tourism-geddon, as we visited a lot of the city’s tourist traps, beginning with a coach tour around the city (during which we had to listen to lecturer Claire and the coach driver (the latter of whom could actually sing very well!) sing ‘New York, New York’, before visiting the John Lennon memorial, at the location of his assassination. Although it had been twenty-seven years since Lennon’s death, and people still put flowers there (arranged like a peace symbol). There was even a guitar there, with a photo of him and Yoko beside it. However iconic he is, I won’t lie – this baffled me a little.
Later on, we also took the Staten Island Ferry for a good view of the Statue of Liberty (though to be honest, two comedic dancing buskers, one of whom was amazing acrobatic, and kept telling off his silly partner. “Watcha doin’! That’s not part of the routine!”.
We took several taxis during our time in New York, but we upped our game entirely by accident when we were ushered over by several students who had called over a limo. We dived in and made our way to tonight’s unusual concert. We visited the The Knitting Factory – a multi-storey music venue in Manhattan, which unfortunately closed later in 2008. Downstairs was the ‘Tap Bar’, the venue’s smallest stage, which with a thicker fog of cigarette smoke, might have resembled somewhere tailor-made for jazzy and artsier types.
That night there were short sets by small folk acts whose names escape me, but some of their screeches never will, especially those of on guy who had an uncanny resemblance with Napoleon Dynamite. Lecturer Ellie recommended the Tap Bar as the kind of thing the students might like. What the hell was so wonderful about that?
Then Ape Fight arrived. They are a hilarious masked rock band from New Jersey, who stopped at nothing to drive home filth on the subjects such as sex (‘Free Mustache Rides’), drink and drugs (‘Yea!’), sex (‘Mail Order Bride’) and sex (‘Texarkana’). Some times all of the above, as defined by ‘Bonghits, Handjobs and Food’, its lyrics stating the universally accepted realisation that “these three things cure anything”. Besides them was a tiny project screen featuring the lyrics, Weebl badgers and boobs.
Dan bought a copy of their album at the end of the show (there’s a beaver on the cover, for a reason), and we spoke briefly to a couple of the band members, one of whom was frontman ‘Don Ape’. I can recall that back at college, upon reading the lyrics of ‘Mail Order Bride’ that known of us knew what a ‘hummer’ was in the line “gives me a hummer, and then climbs up on my dick”.
I had been baffled already by the sheer scale of the structures there. Every so often, I would look up and suddenly notice “holy crap, that’s tall”, especially next to the most striking buildings. This was especially the case with Trump’s skyscrapers (the Trump Tower and Trump World Tower) which are entirely black and gold coloured. It seemed highly obnoxious and arrogant. Who’d have thought it?
We were taken to the Rockefeller Plaza, to visit its summit – the ‘Top of the Rock’, and I was blown away once again by the incredible view of New York City. However, something happened here that was far more important regarding our full trip, as we made some new friends, with whom we would spend the rest of the holiday – Emma, Emma (yes, there were two of them), Joe, Alex and David. Later on, we would visit the Times Square Planet Hollywood together, all of us leaving with a stupid ceramic globe head cup… thing.
This was the last day that we had to ourselves to explore the city, and we squeezed quite a lot in. While everybody had been led to the ice rink at the start of the day, and abandoned by the lecturers to do as they pleased, only a few of us actually decided to skate. Continuing my tradition of poor decisions, I decided to do so. There is a humorously dismal photo of me snapped at the precise moment that I collided with the barrier. Thanks Emma…
It was also St Patrick’s Day, and so came the parade through the city streets. The parade was as chaotic as you can imagine, but the memory I take away best from it was a conversation that I had with a man who was in a very small protest group. He handed me a placard and I stayed there for a couple of minutes for my own amusement. Upon looking at the photos of me afterwards, I then realised that I had no idea what I’d just been complaining about, or what side of the argument I was on. Upon researching this years on, I realise that it was in favour of gay rights, after upset surrounding the exclusion of LGBT groups from the parade. Phew!
After the smoke cleared, we walked to Toys R Us. At the time, this branch was the largest toy store in the world, and it even had a ferris wheel in the middle, which of course we had a ride on. We also got to meet the cast of Peter Pan. We also visited the Times Square Virgin Megastore, which was also inevitably huge. I am very glad that I made this choice, because I would buy a vinyl copy of Gorillaz’ Demon Days for the equivalent of about £10. Years later, I sold it for about half of the cost of this entire trip.
This was a very unusual way to end the trip. A regular activity arranged by the college was to get students into the audience for TV show recording. The year before was The Montel Williams Show. What did they have for us? MTV’s flagship show Total Request Live. To add to the hilarious novelty, limos were ordered for us to travel from the hostel to the studio. One of the lecturers was especially disappointed by our lack of enthusiasm having already caught a limo earlier in the trip. Memorably, one of the students decided to scream out of the window to give passersby a fright. As hilarious as we found it, in retrospect, I don’t think he succeeded. The city is sprawling enough that a weird squawk wasn’t going to make a whole lot of difference. There were also some spirits in the back and sneakily, a few took a sip. Shhh…
The TRL recording was unusual and somewhat disappointing as we hadn’t even heard of the guests. They were Day26 apparently. The US girls in the audience certainly knew though, so the deafening screech suggest. I also remember that there was ongoing competition for VIP tickets to a Jonas Brothers concert. The girl who was eliminated in this round broke down in tears during the commercial break.
The feminine squeaks were all we had to keep us awake at the end of a tiring few days, as can be seen from this photograph. That’s Joe and I looking especially fed up on the far left. Sadly, I’ve never recovered a video recording of the show, nor do I know whether one even exists. If so, I’d love to see it.
We then visited the Empire State Building and realised something. Having already visited the Rockefeller Plaza, it really didn’t seem all that great. We had seen the view, and of course when you are on the Empire State Building… you can’t see the Empire State Building! It was also really expensive too. If I visit New York again, I don’t think I’ll bother going up there again.
And that was that! As I said, I do fancy going again but I would have to be more adventurous and evade the tourist attractions that we were so conveniently booked in for. If I do travel anywhere abroad on my own, I assume that it will be there, since Manhattan, if the simplest city to get around on the planet. Fingers crossed I’ll put that to practice one day!