Tarago Diaries #13 – Manhattan

Mark Seymour on being a tourist in Manhattan.

Author:  Mark Seymour.

Date: 15 July 2019.

Original URL: https://www.facebook.com/MarkSeymourOfficial/posts/2044756775630651?__tn__=K-R


Article Text


Cab from Newark airport. We roll over cracked asphalt and flat iron bridges. The skyline of New Jersey..

Hot air, and a cabbie who can’t understand us.

The long dive through Holland tunnel then surface into Manhattan traffic, monstrous buildings leaning in over the avenues. And the human roar. Dog howl sirens, the clash of steel and digital alarms, ironic cops directing the flow, exaggerated arm waving, speaking slowly to the chaos:

“No Sir. You may not turn here. Do I look like I’m kidding?”

and people in overwhelming numbers, spilling out of walls covered in peeling paint..

And signs that drip with cool irony:

‘Don’t even think about parking here.’

Woke to the sound of pre-dawn pigeons, tuned to the single street light directly outside the bedroom window..

There aren’t a lot of street lights in East Village but in the twilight the place lights up in the hot breeze. We wander down tree-lined streets, passed tiny bars and food co-ops. Hipsters on motorised skate boards, weave between the cabs down 4th Ave..

Full-throated girls in gym gear talk through bluetooth as they rush home.

“His timing was totally out. You know what I’m saying?”
“Yeah.. I know. Of course I told him.”
“Oh my god! No way! He did what?”

A NY thing. Volume up. Boundaries down. Full eye contact. Zero bling. No rip curl in sight. Everybody’s fit. And very friendly. Couldn’t be more helpful in fact. At the laundrette, in the convenience, table service, the full vegan/gluten free experience.

We speak plainly. Asking for things. Guidance. Understanding. And they go there, listening. Smiling too. Takes a while getting used to. Why you wonder? Are they serious?

On we go, holding hands, knocked sideways by the heat. A little beery and full, through a park I once woke up in thirty years before, chasing the rock carrot in a band with a shot.

NY was a vastly different creature then and this very neighbourhood was where you were told not to go, being a signed up protected species, owned by Atlantic Records.

Too dangerous they said. But you ended up there anyway. Basically a smack trap. Smack was rife. It felt like I hadn’t actually left St.Kilda..

Not now though. The village drips with ambition, heavily disguised in rough eco-friendly trade. Push bike lanes, skooters, people dressed down to dress up. Organic ice cream. Be-spoke hat shops.

Still managed to get nudged by a druggie though, almost in the same spot I passed out in way back. Had to nudge quickly back. No choice. Left him snarling in the dark. Never show fear. Made that mistake too many times before in my life. And paid for it.

NY went to hell and got spat out. Not long ago. Now, she’s humming with hope as they say. And they’ll tell you why, when asked. After the towers, NYers lifted their game. Also no choice.

The roar escalates in the daylight. We march north through the canyons, between concrete towers, pure and powerful, too big to knock over. Manhattan is jammed, full. Room to spare disappeared in an age only imagined. She was built when Americans dreamed of eternity and set out to prove to themselves and anyone looking to escape, Manhattan was the gateway to hope.

America the brave.

But there’s a heaviness to it all now. Not to be toyed with. Around here, they’re not joking. And haven’t been for a while.

We had to stop looking up eventually as the air grew hazy. The scale will make you spin out. Focus on the street. As everybody does. Even the locals. Otherwise you’d be maddened by the monster. NY is a city too big to contemplate. And so the small stuff takes over. Every block is local. Hence the close conversation. It’s the detail that matters most.

Time Square is filthy and raw, full of creaking mid-western tourists who shuffle at the lights. We weave north, escaping the rough trade, into the great utopian parkland, calm and full of promise. Black nannies push strollers on fifth and dog-pros lead groomed pure-bred spaniels.

And everywhere the all-consuming roar of human power.

What dying empire?