As usual, preparation for a New York trip begins way ahead of time, not with packing lists but by reading the right books, playing the right music and watching the right movies. My travel buddy for this trip is my amazing Auntie Dee. Dee got me into Woody Allen and Steely Dan, we share a love of history, Dorothy Parker, old movies, African American culture, food, cocktails and New York City. Having dinner at her house one night, Dee mentions the Martin Scorsese documentary Public Speaking about the amazing Fran Lebowitz. So we watch this to whet our appetites, and it’s fantastic. The scenes filmed at the Waverly Inn are inspirational. Lebowitz is kind of like the last cigarette-smoke gasp of Old New York. Maybe the bite has gone out of the Big Apple somewhat, Fran will tell you why, but it’s a funeral worth attending.
Soon it’s time to fly and the flight is typically po-mo: coffee, curry, Kanye West and Bach on the headphones, and Manchester’s own journo and muso John Robb sitting a few seats ahead of us. We watch True Grit and Little Miss Sunshine and arrive feeling great.
Cab from Newark to our apartment way downtown on East 3rd Street at 1st and 2nd Avenue. It’s the first time I’ve had an apartment instead of a hotel and really it’s essential if you want to stay this far downtown, there is a dearth of budget hotels below midtown. Our apartment is in a basement right next door to the New York branch of the Hell’s Angels, and it’s perfect.
Oversized suitcases dumped, we hotfoot it across town to Washington Square where I had my final red hot and blue moments when I last left New York.
Three dollar pizza and deli coffees constitute lunch, taken on a bench in the sunshine of Washington Square. WE ARE HERE. A man of possibly no fixed abode asks if we’d like to hear a song. The perennially amiable Dee says yes whilst I gripe under my breath and look in the other direction. But soon enough the three of us are having a decent bash at ‘Under The Boardwalk’ with the guy playing his battered acoustic guitar. We are joined by a kindly old lady who is walking, or rather wheeling, her dog through the park in a basket. ‘I know every tree in this city,’ she explains. ‘A five minute walk takes two hours with him!’ She asks if we would like to take doggy’s picture, which of course we do.
Sunny walk up Fifth Avenue to the Chelsea Hotel and a brief shady beer in a sports bar adjacent. Then we cab it to St Mark’s Place where we count the tattoo parlours and take photos of the virtually unchanged tenements that adorn the cover of Led Zep’s Physical Graffiti. More beer in Bar St Mark’s with the loveliest barmen in the world before a quick change and a flit to Brooklyn Bridge in time to watch the sun set over the Big Apple. It’s like a dream.
A hungry dream. At City Hall we ask a security guard for directions to Chatham Square in search of Chinese food. He turns out to be an incredibly personable ex-cop. We tell him we’re here in part for the St Patrick’s Day Parade (Dee is a Dubliner, me half-Irish). He regales us with stories of Paddy’s Day festivities of yore where the entire NYPD and Fire Department would turn out for a good-natured booze-fest. Now it doesn’t do for a servant of the city to be seen drunk in public. It’s not the first or last time I hear New Yorkers bemoaning the relentless clean-up of the city, from drinking to smoking to late clubs to music to park events to just plain old missing the edge. But then I guess everyone thinks their New York was a heyday. At least it was easier to actually live on the island then without selling a kidney.
A late Chinese banquet follows, the doggy bags from which last us a further two meals, and then its home for blissful unbroken sleep to the sirens and motorbikes and drunken hollers of Third Street.