Manhattan Story – November 2012 – Uptown Tour
“We’re visiting from Hawaii. How about you?”
We’re perched on a bench on the 3rd sightseeing coach I’ve waited for. It’s 1 Celsius, pissing rain outside. Too cold and wet for wandering, I thought, a good day to take a tour.
The first bus had room for 10 or so inside, but the bubble covering half of the double of the decker was full. “You can sit in the open area,” I’m informed, “but it would be better to wait for the next bus in 20 minutes or so.” No kidding. A little more than 20 minutes later the next downtown tour does arrive and I am again faced with the same option. A family of 4 is demanding a refund and I ask my options. “Go around the corner off 8th for the Uptown Tour, they’ll have room.”
“You know you can’t sit there, you’ll have to go upstairs.” we’re told after we’ve been joking about the non-existent view from our hard bench seats. Oh, it’s not a bench, it really is just a ledge. We disembark for the next tour bus to arrive. It’s been well more than an hour that I’ve been trying to board a tour bus now, I’m already wet and cold waiting for lucky number 4.
“In Northern Thailand she tried to pet a baby water musk-ox,” he tells me, “but the mother was not far off. I saw the mother crouch down to charge and I yelled for her to run.” (This story launched from me asking them if they had had any crazy travel adventures after having told them one of mine. I don’t remember what story I told.)
“I looked behind me and he was already far away,” she adds, “so I backed away too. The mother didn’t charge after all, I guess I was lucky.” No kidding. This nice couple, they seem far more sensible than to approach and pet a wild water musk ox.
I suppose our live lives are so safe compared to our evolutionary ancestors that precautionary behaviour needs to be learned. I see this with dogs all the time. People will approach a tied-up stranger dog (a threatening position for the dog, they are tied-up, can’t get away from you and could panic if they misread you as threatening), then they approach the dog from above (an aggressive, threatening stance from the dog’s perspective) and reach right for the dogs face to pet his head. Parents will even sometimes let their kids run up to the dog, which can be frightening and threatening, to the dog it is the same as what an attack looks like and they don’t have time to assess. Most dogs are trusting and kind and will accept this threatening behaviour with a wagging tail and hope for the best, but if a dog is fearful at all this scenario can turn out poorly. It would not be the dog’s fault if he bit the stranger, it would be a predictable outcome. People can be thoughtlessly stupid and very often are.
Tour bus number 4 arrives and we climb the stairs (there are no seats that even exist on the main level of this one, it’s “not open to the public”) The top of this coach is open-covered. A canopy of semi-transparent very-worn plexiglass covers the roof and sides just enough to obscure the view. We all peer out the front, a 20-or-so inch concave opening that creates a wind-tunnel of the elements.
One block from home we set off through the Theatre District. I learn that a Broadway Show has 500 or more seats, Off Broadway has less than 500. The term does not identify specific location or the type of show.
Passing Columbus Circle we learn that the city stopped celebrating Columbus Day when it was brought to light that Columbus murdered at least 2 dozen indigenous people (Native Americans) in cold blood. (Cold blood meaning without provocation, for no reason.) NYC still has the day off to make it a long weekend, but it is no longer in honour of Columbus since discovering he wasn’t honourable.
We travel alongside Central Park and the guide jokes about any of us wanting off for a wee stroll through Strawberry Fields, the place so famous from the Beatles Song. After being pelted by rain flying straight at us, we’re now enjoying icy winds, accentuated by driving in our wind tunnel, and snow. By this point I am now wearing a plastic bag rain coat over my soaked usually-warm overcoat. I empty my shopping into my satchel and tie the plastic shopping bags over my now-soaked gloves. I am freezing, we all are.
At the top of the park we head West to Amsterdam Avenue where we pass the Ivy League school of Columbia intermingled, it seems, with student dorms and public housing. A story about Eisenhower, he didn’t teach here but he did research here. There are 79 Nobel laureates in Science alone, from Columbia.
Towards the Hudson River we pass an enormous Cathedral (Riverside church?). Heading more centrally into Harlem we pass the famous Apollo Theatre, home to Jazz greats. We learn that the Clintons have domicile nearby. With this neighbourhood’s short domicile requirement Hillary could more quickly follow her vocation from here than most anywhere else after her husband’s Presidency.
Harlem has been cleaned-up with technology. Camera’s everywhere, one cannot snipe a chocolate bar or graffiti a mailbox without being made famous by cameras. It worked too, this is now a walkable area whereas 20 years ago we would have stayed well-away.
Not a great photo of the Apollo Theatre, but this was all I could see, the rest of our vision was completely obscured by the weather screen, ineffective as it was, it was also not transparent in this weather.
Returning to Central Park, now on the East Side, we pass the only natural body of water in NYC, the Harlem Reservoir. Now driving along Museum Row, the are of 5th Avenue alongside the park that houses the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and others, I now find myself alone on the tour. The others have all jumped-ship for warmth. I would too, but I just want to get home and a taxi would be no quicker, we’re slugging along with the traffic. Fire trucks now behind us take minutes to be able to make any headway, the sirens fill the air for minutes as there is no space for anyone to give way. Eventually they come to an intersection and are able to turn off. Traffic-wise, it’s an odd place for a fire station, but I’m sure they were located here to protect the museums.
I learn that Mark, our mid-forties guide with a strong Jewish accent, is from New Jersey. He has been narrating these tours for a decade now. You’d think after a decade he’d come up with some fun banter that extended beyond the memorised facts. I ask him, as a local, where would he suggest I should go exploring on my bicycle. I guess he’s not a cyclist because he has no interesting suggestions, just the usual, obvious places. It could be that there are no hidden gems, no rocks unturned in this populous city, what you see is what you get. No, I don’t think so. I often stumble upon interesting places off the beaten path; he’s probably just dull.
The weather being what it is and the service being inadequate (not enough buses for tickets sold), I miss the Downtown segment, that I had already attempted twice, during my 24 hour window. Maybe another time.
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