The last time we spent any length of time here was over 20 years ago when we stayed with a friend in Greenwich Village. I have been many times in between but always on work trips which involves lots of shopping, eating at the latest hip restaurants and staying in nice hotels (it's a hard job, but someones got to do it!) which is all very lovely, but not very real. So coming back as a tourist this time was a great chance to get to know the city again. Also coming back as a parent with two teens in tow, gives another perspective altogether. Nothing passes the teens discerning eyes and they are not afraid to say what they think!
On our first trip to New York we were also quite new to London, therefore new to big cities in general. We tentatively made our way around the city, painfully aware of the 'dangers' of New York and were warned not to cross the Bowery into Alphabet city, now known as the ultra hip lower East side. Brooklyn, the Bronx and Harlem were virtually no-go areas.
One of the highlights of our holiday involved a trip to a small shop in a basement in the lower East side, owned by an edgy relatively unknown designer Patricia Field, where MAD bought a long black wig in preparation for the annual gay festival in Tompkins Square park, Wigstock. While I had a few gay friends in London, they were nothing like the fabulous screaming queens we encountered in New York that hot August day. Dressed to the nines in homemade creations, there were drag queens, transvestites, decorated cars and trucks, even a whole family dresses as trees. New York was edgy, creative, dirty and a little bit dangerous.
The New York we encountered on this trip was completely different. Ok so, we weren't hanging out at quite the same places, but teen son was keen to check out all the latest underground shops and areas. A trip to Brooklyn and Williamsburg were the closest we got to feeling there was something new going on, but even then friends told us (similar to London) as soon as a new area is considered hip, the landlords put the rents up and new condos are built. A friend told us Bushwick is where the artists are moving to, but we were too middleaged to explore further!!
Back in Manhattan we loved the seemingly easy going vibe (ok admittedly we were on holiday, but still) and after we'd calmed down and started to walk at a tourist pace, we tuned into talking to old ladies on buses, chatting in shops and being told to have a great evening. People seemed hard working and pleasant, things are efficient and standards are high. But most of all there doesn't seem to be the anger and aggression that is constantly simmering in London.
Maybe it's because we are older and these things matter more, but the small things like courtesy and efficiency, air conditioned public transport, excellent food at reasonable prices, clean streets, no street drinking and aggressive behavior, may not make it the most edgy place to live anymore, but they certainly do make it more pleasant!
The teens were sold and both are convinced they want to live here one day. Unlike MAD and I they had none of the fear and wonderment that we had on our first trip. At least living in London gives you the confidence to go anywhere in the world.