Back in the day, New York had lots of El trains. That’s not Spanish for train, but shorthand for ‘elevated.’ Think of the famous car chase in ‘The French Connection’ where Gene Hackman swerved back and forth under the El. In Manhattan, almost all the El tracks have been removed. Except the High Line, that is, which runs between Greenwich Village and 30th Street. About two kilometers of rusty track has been lying there waiting for someone to fix it up. And presto, someone just has, turning it into a garden walkway that runs through the new Standard Hotel – the way it once used to run through apartment buildings – with lots of wooden benches, sunbeds, a little amphitheater where you can picnic and watch the traffic pass below, great views of the Hudson River, and flowerbeds and grasses that intentionally look wild rather than tended. Entrances are at Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District and on 16th Street.
Few things surprise me in N.Y. Maybe the guy in the subway last week who, unlike the normal beggars, claimed to have been tortured by the CIA. But last night a thunderstorm hit upper Manhattan that devastated half of Central Park. Dozens, maybe scores, of trees six- and seven-stories high were lying across the road. Cyclists and runners on their morning ritual were standing next to these 100-year-old giants just gaping. This isn’t the kind of thing that happens in New York. New York is orderly (except for the odd shooting, robbery, mugging and siren every five minutes). Roads were closed off, park employees were scrambling to cut up the trees and clean up the branches. I thought of Africa, then, and how this kind of thing happens all the time. Nice to see Mother Nature hasn’t forgotten Manhattan.
Spring is the best time in New York, but summer is great because the pool in Central Park opens. It’s a skating rink in winter, 65 metres across, but July it open for laps in the morning and at night. And it’s free! Summer is free time in New York. Couple years ago, there was only Bryant Park, which has a free movie once a week. Now there are countless venues for flicks, on the river, under the Brooklyn Bridge. There’s even a couple on rooftops. Then there are free dances to watch or to join (swing at Lincoln Center), concerts at Summerstage, opera in Central Park. Don’t be fooled into thinking New York has to cost lots of money. Rent a bike — it’s probably cheapest from the guys hanging out at Columbus Circle — and circumnavigate the island, which, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg, is getting greener and more bike lanes. Kayak on the Hudson, also free. Museums aren’t free, but check the fineprint at the bottom of the sign. If it says ‘Suggested entrance,’ it means you can pay anything. Even a dime! Remember that when you go to the Metropolitan. I will update free things in the city as they come up, and maybe I will add a couple cheap hotels. Yes, they do exist!