Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Stick and stones and ice.

Amherst during the day is an entirely different beast. Gone are the drunks, police and homeboys from Springfield. Replacing them; school kids, grandparents and students on their way out of town. The omnipresent Antonio's pizza shop seems impervious to the changes, with a constant line, both day and night.

Max and John thought better of this line, and with Elle getting a bit antsy we had a rushed walked to the train station. Now station is a very generous word for what is essentially an unmanned shed by some rail lines, but the place was packed to the point that elbows weren't enough to ensure we got seats together. The disappointment that there was no tea abroad the train hit nowhere harder than Springfield. It's the quintessential American city. Filled with equal amounts of tall buildings as there are derelict lots. On this day the place looked like The Great Depression; red bricks, broken windows and ineffective fences. Behind those were the towers of the city's industry. The trip through the city was short, and it wasn't long until we made it through Hartford, Connecticut, and it's strange castle like building in the middle of nowhere.

As we approached New York City the train passed through Brooklyn, offering a beautiful preview of the Manhattan skyline at night. The view momentarily left us before we were thrust directly into the scene as we exited Penn Station. Max and Elle went straight to 38th st to watch the cricket as John and I dropped our stuff off at the Hotel Carter, the only 1 star hotel in Times Square.

We didn't get much of a chance to appreciate the kind of value $120 a night in NYC gets you before we left, but I had stayed in far better and marginally worse establishments. The foyer  was like an RSL, the bath had been painted and the hallways were like a warzone, with food and rubbish outside the rooms waiting for the nonexistent cleaners to take care of it. I didn't care however, within minutes I received a text message saying England's captain, Andrew Strauss, was out for a duck. Brilliant. We then rushed to the Australian bar to catch the game. Inside the pub was packed. Australian ex-pats were around flat-screen tvs showing an Indian internet stream. It was so packed that we gave up a few overs to escape next door for some falafel. That it was significantly cheaper than kangaroo steak also helped.

On the return I realised how bad Australians abroad are. Two bogans next to me were quoting the Herald Sun before making crazy statements like Kevin Pietersen is the only English player who would make the Australian team. They were then kind enough to offer (to anyone in earshot) their opinions on New York, how it celebrates the police even though everyone jaywalks and how it is so different from the western suburbs of Melbourne. Still, they weren't the worst. That was reserved for the gentleman in the suit who wanted everyone to know he was from 'Down Under' by calling people cobber. Chances are he is from the suburbs and went to a decent university before heading on a work trip to NYC. He had probably said 'cobber' more here than he had in all his time back home. If it wasn't for the cricket and Max's expert commentary the bar would have been unbearable.

After a few of Brooklyn's finest brews Sam, John and I headed back. The night was interrupted by Dave's impressively monstrous snoring (think jet engine) and Josh locking himself out at god-knows-what-o'clock (he went for a drunken underpants wander around the hotel, which for the staff didn't seem that unusual). The early night was a wise move as by 8AM John and I had ventured 50 metres to the corner of 7th and 43rd to grab one of Time Squares best viewing spots for the Thanksgiving Parade.

Of course we weren't the only ones with this idea, so once we were in, it was harder to leave than to stay. The parade took its time getting to Times Square, and when the floats meandered by, as is common in the digital camera age, everyone raised their arms taking blind photos of anything that came by. It was annoying if you were trying to take a particular shot, but being a tourist is highly competitive. That photo of 2/3rds of Snoopy's paw is the one you want to keep for your album.

For some inexplicable reason Kylie Minogue went by on the back of a giant duck. Questlove played it cool with his band and Jimmy Fallon and Kanye West was met with more boos than cheers. Inflatable Shrek, Spongebob, pumpkins, Pikachu and Spiderman floated by before I realised I had seen enough.
Questlove: drummer, hero
Westlove: there wasn't much
After a quick breakfast, Sam Diego, Dicky Peach, Alex and I walked around the streets for a while. They were still closed to traffic so jaywalking up endless NYC avenues sans cars was a fantastic and rare experience. It did stop at The Rockefeller Center, where we were able to check out the xmas tree. While there, beautifully light snow began to fall. It was like a scene from Home Alone 2, but with good friends and no bandits. The moment was one of those perfect travel memories you read more about in books than get to realise first hand. It was all part of what was adding up to an amazing New York experience. We then stopped by Trump tower, a pillar that screams dollar signs, so Peach could attempt the most extravagant dump of his life.

It didn't happen for him, so the four of us climbed some rocks in Central Park before electing to go ice-skating. Between the parade, the snow and this, the day was turning out to be remarkably Hollywood. Having never ice-skated before, I was extremely excited to give it a go. Sam and  Dicky Peach took some convincing, but Dick eventually relented. After we laced up our skates we hit the slippery ice. I was more than willing to give the activity a real go, but in the back of my mind was a fear of either; smashing my teeth or falling onto the back of my head. I put those inhibitions aside, and after 10 minutes felt quite comfy on the ice. It turned out Alex was quite adept, but Peach was making all sorts of hilarious tumbles. Not long after we started, Sam, Jess and John joined in. Jess took my title of being 2nd best (or more appropriately, 5th worst), and John took Peach's of being the worst (6th best). We took a forced break as they cleaned the ice, opting to sit outside as frozen rain drops fell on us.

After about an hour I was getting very confidant on the skates. There were no pirouettes or stunts, but I was avoiding tumbling kids and beginning to pick up speed. I even offered to show John how good I was getting when I suddenly lost my balance. My skates wiggled underneath me as my arms flailed. I knew I was abut to fall, but with no balance couldn't prepare for it. My left hand found itself in front of my Americanized body as I fell face first. My wrist took the full force and offered a popping sound in return. John waddled by, offering a call of 'get up', only I couldn't. I couldn't move my left arm, and raised the other for assistance. I was escorted off the ice, with the pain beginning to kick in by this stage. The first aid officer removed my glove, and if the look of pain wasn't enough of a diagnosis, the shape of my wrist was. It was clearly broken, and I was sent on my way to find a hospital on my own with a budget sling that forced me to hold my hand up with the good one.
dislodged bone near the 'L'

I felt bad, everyone's trip to the rink had reached an abrupt end. Jess removed my skates as John and Sam organised my stuff. A gentleman across from me was out skating with his family for thanksgiving. He saw the sling and the amount of pain I was in. He offered to organise a ride to the hospital for me which I initially declined, I thought a taxi would suffice, given that the cost of an ambulance hurts more than most injuries. He persisted and made a few phone calls in the background as his associate got an ice pack for me. A young girl, still in the early stages of school, was with him and offered me some advice, explaining that she had fractured her wrist not long before. At the end of the phone call, the gentleman offered his name, Mark, and explained that he works for a volunteer ambulance service in Central Park. It was the end of the shift, but I would be able to travel in their ambulance to the nearest hospital.

Sam joined me as I was strapped in and had all my vitals taken. The adrenaline had gone and I was really feeling the pain, causing the occasional wince and terrible joke to take my mind off everything. Neither Sam nor I had been in an ambulance before, so we were both pretty excited when we waved good-bye to everyone (who were acting as paparazzi) and it finally took off. The sirens came on, we drove on the wrong side of the road and I was rolled into the back of St Luke's hospital. We were like five-year-olds getting to play with the visiting ambulance at a school fete, only it was a real adventure.

My vitals had risen, but I was still very aware of what was going on. Sam noted that I was remarkably cheerful for someone with a broken wrist, but I was enjoying all of the attention and service on offer. I could walk, but was wheeled around on a stretcher instead. Great times, and a rare bit of luxury.

I was offered some painkillers in a tiny cup. The nurse didn't find my joke about a shot and chaser funny, but it was me who was offended when I was called into x-ray. The tiny movements between images was agony.

The images confirmed the break and I was seen by the orthopaedic doctor promptly. He injected a local anaesthetic directly into my wrist, and almost instantly it felt great. The next few minutes involved my hand hand hanging from a rack to straighten it as the doctor told us all the good places to go out, and spoke of the Australian models he was helping out last week.

After five minutes it was decided that my arm was straight enough. Phew. only now it meant the orthopaedic doctor would be manhandling my hand and putting the bone back in place. Now, while the movements and hanging didn't hurt, there is no mistaking the weight of a full grown man squeezing your bone back to where it once came. I kicked out in pain, but it was all over within a minute. Next up was wrapping the arm and crafting the sugar tong shaped splint. I was told I had a nice bone, to which I replied that it was a lovely compliment, just not from a man. Once the splint was wrapped and set, the doctor left and I was sent for follow up x-rays, which turned out fine. Being thanksgiving, the printing place was shut, so instead Sam and I took pictures of the computer screen. Hooray for health care!

Success, within two hours I was restored and discharged with a prescription for some narcotic painkillers. We walked the 15 or so blocks back to the hotel, trying two pharmacies for medication, but both were shut. Only one in all of Manhattan was open, so the group of us went there, stopping for a bite along the way.

We met up with Essex, Josh, Dave and Ollie for his birthday at an Irish bar. Being banned from the drink, the best they had on offer was water. Again I opted for an early night, this time via Rockefeller at night (to be heckled by the ice-skaters there) and finally, some painkiller induced sleep. I found they would make me dream while remaining semi-conscious. It's fantastic, and allows for some sense of control over what you are dreaming about. That is until they knock you out for the next few hours.

That night I realised my arm no longer fit into any of the clothes I packed. No matter, the next morning was the Black Friday sales. I stopped by the Element store at Times Square and for under 100 kickflips I bought the kind of clothes that would fit my mate Bill Langston's old frame. I'd gone from peacoats and metro scarfs to oversized t-shirts and hoodies. Esquire magazine would be ashamed.
Still recovering after the Ghostbusters trashed the place

Oh well, I had bigger things to worry about. I couldn't carry my bag and tea at the same time, and a few strangers were helpful enough to put it back onto my shoulder for me. It was a short-lived problem though, as I met up with Max who was willing to help me. We walked up 42nd st, the living postcard, past Bryant Park, Grand Central and the Chrysler Building on our way to the U.N. The flags weren't up and there was loads of scaffold about, but it was still great to be off U.S. territory for a moment.

We went on a guided tour, appropriately with people from a number of backgrounds. The stand-out being the hot Latvian host, followed by the brattish Chinese child and his overly sceptical father. We went through the The General Assembly Hall and Security Council Chamber as the Chinese boy ran amok, even stopping the guide at one point. His father, a man of many cynical questions, seemed properly embarrassed by his son's behaviour. He had lost his power struggle to a precocious child who had annoyed everyone.

My arm began to ache during the tour, and at its completion I took two painkillers. Outside Max had to help me zip up my hoodie before we walked around 20 blocks on our way to lunch. By the time I had sat down to eat a palatable cannoli, the painkillers had kicked in. I was beginning to slur my words, but I was no longer in pain.

After lunch we met Matt and Elle before splitting off. Matt and I went to the Whitney Gallery to check out the Hopper exhibit. I had been real excited to see it and the America by Car exhibit for weeks. The gallery was fantastic, but after one floor, I had to take a seat. For the whole America by Car exhibit I had to look at the photos via the big platform in the middle of the room, as the constant battle to keep my eyes open waged on. The painkillers were too good, but I was missing something I had longed to see.

The actual exhibit was great, juxtaposing scenes from all over this country. My longview provided a different approach, where I could see how the images were organised and displayed, even if I couldn't see the finer points. The in between floors were rushed, as I began falling asleep while standing. I was losing my footing, afraid of falling onto the works and generally struggling in the crowds. I didn't fully appreciate all the Paul Thek or George Tooker works, but the Hopper exhibit was fantastic as expected. I was blown away by the size of the actual works, having only seen them in book before. They were truly beautiful, putting to shame any impressions I had before.

Matt and I left, and after getting some fresh air I felt human again. I ended the night with another cricket session with Max and Elle, only this time (day 3) Max's English heart was being hit for 6.
NYC, ugly
Looking for Woody and Diane

I spent the next morning on my own, taking photos of the city and visiting sites I had previously missed. I stopped by the Queensboro Bridge, where despite the ugliness it shares with the surrounding islands, has an endearing quality - even if it is from a Woody Allen film. I then met up with Jess, Peach, Sam and Alex for a wander through Central Park. Having not learnt from my lesson, Peach had done his best to hurt himself, first by nearly falling off rocks, being scared by dogs and his failed cartwheel. We then met up with John and all rode the subway to Brooklyn. We were initially in the middle of nowhere before stopping for a bite at a diner.
before & after

legitimate Peach footage via Sam Diego
Beautiful and tragic. Like the film Big Daddy.

The temperature had plummeted and was not far above zero. Worse still, our proposed walk across the Brooklyn Bridge would leave us open to the elements. We spent an hour crossing the icon, stopping for photos and Sam's general entertainment along the way. The cold seemed insignificant, I was loving taking photos and giggling at Sam as we crossed the river. The view was extraordinary, even with the tourists, beams and scaffold. If my hands weren't freezing, I would have stayed longer. Alas, as a group we planned to visit Union Square for late night hipster shopping.

It was late when I finished my purchases, and poor Jess had to escort me as both a consultant and bag carrier. We dropped our gear off, turned around and headed to Little Italy for dinner. We were a little lost, but given it was 11PM, we settled for the first place that was open for dinner, Lombardi's pizza. Even though I only had one capable hand and was at a pizza restaurant, I still managed to order a dish that needed two hands, a calzone. I interrupted, John, Jess and Sam's meal to have mine cut, and the friendliness on offer made it the most enjoyable meal of the trip...that and all the ricotta.

For the thrid straight night, I called into bed early, offering myself a nice walk in the morning before the bedlam of the return bus trip dominated the final day. The line seemed to snake forever, but we met up with the German girls and all returned back together. The bus ride took us past a burnt out car on the highway before passing New Haven, Connecticut. The sun was beginning to set and was reflecting as gold on the windows of the buildings. One side of the bus offered a beautiful view of Yale's home city, while the other ran parallel to the neighbouring river.
John St John school of architecture

It was a long holiday and a memorable thanksgiving. I bypassed the turkey, cranberry and pumpkin pie, but replaced them with another American experience. It was by far the most fun I had had in NYC, thanks wholely to the company I kept. Not even a broken wrist could wipe the grin from my face.

Notes: This post was not possible without percacet and ibuprofen. I also hope you realise the difficulty in writing in a cast, as I certainly do now. More important, please take time to look at Central Park Medical Unit. They were so great in helping make my ordeal not ruin my holiday. I'd strongly encourage you to donate either money, or spread their name as best you can. A free ambulance in America is rarer than Bigfoot, so what these guys are doing is absolutely remarkable. Thanks.

*** Song
Bright Eyes - Easy/Lucky/Free
I just bought tickets to their comeback show in NYC on March 8 next year. I'm sure it's lame to still listen to them, but a trip to Radio City Music Hall and a return bus ticket for $2.50 is amazing.

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