The first thing I smell is bread.
The first thing I hear is a horrible, screechy, ear-splitting … security alarm.
Welcome to New York. LaGuardia Airport, to be exact.
It’s the afternoon of November 13 and it’s raining.
My friend C and I have just gotten off the Air Canada flight from Toronto, almost ready to start our four-day trip in New York City. It’s our first time here. We just have to get our luggage and meet our friend P, who is also coming to NYC, but is arriving on an American Airlines flight just after ours.
Shortly after getting our luggage off the carousel, we’re almost immediately accosted by a man trying to convince us that taking his cab would be cheaper than the yellow New York cabs pulling up just outside, about 50 metres from where we’re standing.
We decline his offer. I immediately think he’s one of those illegal cab drivers I’ve read about in one of the guide books about New York, and I become annoyed.
We then try to figure out where P might be getting her luggage when she arrives. We pace back and forth between directory maps of the terminal, trying to read them. The annoying cab driver returns for a second shot at getting a fare.
My friend says, “No thanks,” as I say, “We’re meeting a friend,” and I look at him. Hard.
After the little weasel disappears, we find airport staff who helpfully direct us to the next building over. We get there just as our friend has collected her luggage. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
In a matter of minutes, we’re zipping along in a big yellow taxi towards Manhattan and Murray Hill, the residential area where we’re rented an apartment for the next several days.
By the time we get out of the cab on 3rd, it’s pouring rain. C calls the guy we’re renting the apartment from. He says he’ll be in the area in about 40 minutes, so we head to a nearby diner to kill time.
We finally meet our contact – named J – who helps us with our things up four flights of stairs, and then shows us the basics of his small apartment.
After we rifle through his things get settled, we decided to make the most of our afternoon – starting with a peek at Grand Central Station. We enter the building and take a quick look around the main hall of the central terminal, and then up at the ceiling, which in itself is a work of art – all the stars, and the constellations painted on by hand … wow.
It was then onwards to the Museum of Modern Art (or the MoMA), opting to walk instead of tackling the subway system during our first day in town. The rain continued as we weave our way around other pedestrians, across busy intersections and under scaffolding.
“Umbrellas, umbrellas, umbrellas,” sings a vendor we pass on the sidewalk. “No need to get wet, umbrellas …”
We arrive at the MoMA around 3:30 – and find out the museum closes at 5:30. No matter – we tackle three, maybe four floors.
There are installations, paintings, sculptures, multimedia works and industrial design pieces as far as the eye can see. Even though we cover a lot of ground in just under two hours, I’m sure we don’t see everything. You just can’t. Even as we’re in the museum, they’re putting the finishing touches on a multimedia installation which, as it turns out, is by a Swiss artist, Pipilotti Rist.
The highlights for me are:
(1) A Henri Rousseau painting called The Dream. Don’t ask me why, but it resonates with me. I buy a poster version, which I hope to mount one day.
(2) Seeing the Picassos. But not just any Picassos. I had poster versions of Girl Before A Mirror and Three Musicians (pictured here) when I was a kid. The posters have since been taken down, but seeing the real thing is pretty cool.
We leave the MoMA in search of our next quest: dinner.
We walk up and down the streets in search of a pub or anything with decent food. Of course, it being a Thursday in New York, we’re trying to find a restaurant in the middle of happy hour. Which means almost anywhere we go is packed to the gills with drinking young – and not-so-young – professionals and other types.
We finally settle on a pub around E 43rd Street. I can’t speak for either C or P, but I’m so tired by this point, I’m feeling drowsy halfway through my mediocre fish-and-chips dinner, and am ready to faceplant shortly thereafter.
When we leave the pub, it’s around 11:30 and practically empty, save for the staff, a couple of stragglers and the middle-aged couple canoodling in the booth right next to ours.
When we return to the apartment, I am gladly looking forward to the good night’s sleep that awaits -probably the best in ages.