New York. Two words that define excitement, vitality and the ‘next big thing’.
Being here in a week that includes the Mercedes Benz Fashion Show as well as the US Open at Flushing Meadow in Queens, the place is buzzing even more than usual. To paraphrase the eponymous song made famous by Frank Sinatra, if you can’t find it here, you won’t find it anywhere.
But as visitors become seduced by New York’s charms, the locals get on with their very New York way of life - of which there are four key aspects.
Central to everything is the subway. It is the lifeline of a city that includes five boroughs – of Manhattan, Queens, The Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island – and whose larger metropolitan area, which also includes the Jersey Shore, is home to approximately 22 million people in total. It is efficient, easy to use, mostly very clean (though old) and serves as the stage for some of the best buskers you could hear anywhere: from a motley but fantastic post middle-aged foursome doing the Beatles, through to a chic black American jazz duo, a solo artist just playing simple but melodious soft blues and a hip-hop performance from a young Puerto Rican who serenaded the crowd by referencing his fellow passengers.
The subway is something to be embraced, not avoided. You may sometimes get delayed. You are more than likely to get one religious or political group proselytising in your carriage – so far, I’ve experienced a returned soldier imploring us all to vote for Barak Obama; two young American Muslim men who thought American women with names like “Jill”, “Christine” and “Candy” were loose and responsible for all the wrongs in the world; and an unknown Christian group who promised that the Lord Jesus Christ would save us if only we joined them.
Do what the locals do: ignore them and show neither fear nor interest.
New Yorkers love their pets, and especially their dogs. Walk around the streets of the Upper East Side or the Upper West Side on Manhattan and a dog is more common than a handbag. It doesn’t matter what time of day or night it is, someone will be out walking their dog. Sometimes, you will see someone walking maybe six, ten or up to 12 dogs: this is a professional dog walker and companion who can earn up to $1,000 per week if they are liked by the right dog from the right family.
But, in case you’re thinking of packing your bags and moving to New York to become a dog walker/companion yourself, there is a downside. The streets and parks of Manhattan are very clean; and dog walkers – or owners for those who do it themselves – are required to clean up after their beloved companion on the spot or face a $1,000 fine. That’s quite a responsibility for someone walking 12 dogs at once! And because of the elevated status given to some of these best friends of man and woman, some of these dogs have no sense of where and when to go: I saw one crossing a four lane road who simply had the urge in the middle of the crossing, stopped, and did its business.
When New Yorkers are not looking after their pampered pooch, they’re pampering themselves – getting their nails done. Salons that do manicures, pedicures and facials are almost as common as dogs. If you want your hands, feet or face tended Thai style, Japanese style, Finnish style, Swedish style, Israeli style, Russian style – or countless others – you can find an outlet which does that exclusively also. Some of these places have been part of their local area for decades, such as one I spoke to who arrived in Manhattan 30 years ago from Uzbekistan, set up shop and who hasn’t looked back.
The manicure du jour is French nails which transcends gender, age, ethnic and cultural groups; while there is not a local Manhattan woman – and sometimes dog – who does not have a regular pedicure.
Finally, although the locals try to tell you that they’re used to the celebrities in their midst, they can teach us a thing or two about how to check whether it’s really who you think it is.
At the New York Yankees baseball game, actor Kevin Costner was shown on the big screen in the stadium sheepishly waving to us as he was ‘discovered’ amongst the crowd. In a queue, I wondered why everyone was staring at me, turned around and realised that they were probably actually staring at Kevin Spacey who was behind me.
But, for true New York celebrity-spotting style, I take my cue from 26 year old Manhattan born and bred Ivy who, when she spotted Roberta Flack, hunched over, with a hat and very loose clothing on, waiting for a taxi yelled out: “We love you!”
Roberta – ever the wondrous singer happy to acknowledge an audience – turned her head, looked at Ivy, gave a brief wave and kept moving towards her car. Win-win.
Ivy was triumphant in spotting a fair dinkum celebrity; and it occurred to me also, while standing at the entrance to the subway, across the road from Svetlana’s Beauty Salon, watching a young woman expertly handle eight dogs, and Roberta Flack’s and Ivy’s shared joy that, yes, New York - it's no wonder that “We love you!”