New York: water, wallets and museums

“Stay hydrated. Drink some New York City water.”

Perhaps only in America could the drinking of water on a vaguely sunny morning be dressed up as patriotic at and, further, one which could be considered part of your civic duties. I almost felt guilty when I slipped on by, passing without response the smile she flashed.

I had landed the night before. If high terminal numbers make you excited, and make you think of modern efficiency, JFK will disappoint. Terminal 7 is little more than a shed. The line for immigration quickly swells to overflowing. The queue snakes back, out of the immigration hall and out of the corridor leading to the immigration hall. We moved quickly enough, and the actual officer was (amazingly) pleasant and relaxed. He even struck up a little badinage as he brought his little rubber stamp down. Past immigration things slowed considerably. Perhaps the baggage handlers were working to time as part of some industrial action. Whatever the cause, I cannot remember ever waiting so long for bag to appear. All the while the tannoy stammered through lists of names, presumably lost passengers. If JFK were to lose luggage as easily as it appeared to lose passengers then it was not going to auger well. Eventually may bag appeared, buried in a pile and not easily extricated. I left the airport over an hour and a half after landing. It was getting late by the time I entered the hotel’s 1930s lobby.

Size is what most struck me after I ducked my civic hydration responsibilities. It isn’t just that the buildings are tall. They carry a weight with them as well. The wide roads and grid structure of the city reinforce this sense of weight and presence. The buildings seem to tower over one, reducing the man on the street from any significance until he is nothing more than an ant in the formicating crowds. It isn’t unfriendly, but it isn’t friendly. It is impassive. The New York that delights and excites eluded me. I was offered one access route to it, but it is a city that parties too late for me. I didn’t quite have the energy to start the evening at eleven o’clock, not when I had landed so late the night before and had work the morning after. Feeble excuses I know… Strike one.

So if you cannot carouse, what can you do in New York? Shop and see the museums. Despite its reputation as a shopping centre par excellence, I failed to find the one thing I was looking for. My distress at the prices of wallets in China was at least partly prompted by the partial disintegration of my own wallet. I thus set to looking for a replacement. New York is awash with wallets, but ask for one with a coin purse and the options dwindle. More than once I was told “Yes, we have one.” One. That at least was better than when they had none. New Yorkers don’t use coins, and there was more than one sales assistant who couldn’t really understand why I should want a coin compartment, or indeed coins to put in it. My search was not entirely fruitless. I did find a few, but somehow I couldn’t quite bring myself to stump up the hundreds of dollars the price tag called for. Strike two.

It was just as well that I hadn’t emptied my bank account on a wallet because museums in New York are not cheap. One is spoilt in England: the museums are free. So too in China, and where not, the prices are low, as they are throughout Asia. At least at the Metropolitan an elaborate ticketing system with tiered prices and stickers that must be worn as proof of purchase disguises that fact that the $25 admission fee is a suggested donation. This is slightly curious when one considers the museum’s membership scheme. Designed for people who really value the museum and who want to support it (one assumes financially as well as in boosting visitor numbers), membership reduces the required donation.

Entrance policy inconsistencies aside, I did visit the Metropolitan and I had a walk through Central Park. I didn’t fail on the third strike as well. One out of three is what I will have to be happy with. I suspect it is better than what my strike rate would be in a real game of baseball.