Saturday, March 31, 2007

Hit Me Baby One More Time

Bars in New York are great places.

I'm used to regulated drinking hours in London. After many years of practice my body is perfectly tuned to the booze stopping at 11pm. New York's bars are typically open until 4am. On a school night. This has already led to a few errors of judgement regarding intake.

Beer costs about the same as London, and cocktails are about half price. You also have to factor in the dollar-per-drink tipping culture. It's coming a lot more naturally to me now, and they make it much easier for you by giving your $10 change as $5 and five $1 bills. Easy.

There is also the almost industry standard acceptance of the "tab". It's so much more civilised to pay for your evening's entertainment at the end of the night without having to leave a credit card as security. It leads to a much more social experience - that extra level of trust making you feel more welcome, perhaps.

We popped into the bar at a local restaurant last night on the way home from dinner. We had a glass of champagne and a few oysters, followed by a cocktail. Just as we were thinking about getting the bill the barman presented us with a round of drinks "on the house". We hadn't been there that long, and we certainly hadn't spent that much money.

Whilst not exactly commonplace, it seems to happen reasonably regularly. If you invest in a place, the tips seem to come back as free drinks. And it's precisely that kind of relationship with an establishment that makes you leave feeling that you had a great time, and already planning your next trip back.

I could get used to this.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bang Bang

I've always been a fan of a well cooked sausage.

America does not appear to take the humble banger too seriously. The hot-dog is an abomination.

I bought half a dozen chipolatas from Myers of Keswick in the West Village yesterday and have been looking forward to them all day. I just cooked them to a pleasant sticky-burnt finish and wolfed them down with some well-dressed salad and a spot of cous-cous.

There is a corner of New York that is forever England.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Keep on Running

Some of you may remember that I took up jogging for a few months last year. It felt good whilst I kept it up, it's just that it got cold in London, and I lost the willpower.

It was quite temperate in New York today, and I decided to dust off the running shoes once again.

I took it particularly easy, so as not to scare my body too much, and ended up taking a relatively straightforward two mile jog alongside the Hudson River. Two miles of uninterrupted running with a stunning view of Manhattan's skyline. Quite inspiring.

I had New York's finest runners for company - someone simultaneously giving their dog a workout, old people barely moving yet dressed in head to toe sports equipment, and a lady noticeable for her outsized Coco Chanel sunglasses.

I've clearly got some way to go.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Fixing a Hole

I went to bed last night at the slightly embarrassing hour of 10pm. I wasn't feeling so good, and it had already been quite a long week at work.

As I finished with the current issue of Timeout New York and switched off the light, a tremendous noise started from the street below. I put up with it for a few minutes, hoping it would go away, before I padded over to the window to see what was going on.

Turns out that someone had decided that the middle of the night on a Thursday was the best time to dig up a major part of the street. Obviously this makes some kind of sense it terms of traffic density, but makes absolutely no sense in terms of people who need sleep!

They moved in the serious heavy lifting equipment a little later on, before finally taking a perverse delight in dropping large iron plates over the holes they had dug, from what seemed to be a great height.

It was all over by about 4am, but by then the night was pretty much at a loss.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Licence to Ill

When I first arrived in New York City I got pretty sick. It was just like being back at university and it took my puny little body a month or two to get the hang of all those new foreign germs. My second bout of illness was particularly fierce, with a cough that seemed to last about three weeks.

I thought I was over it, immune to all the city had to offer.


I'm currently nursing another bout of congestion and it's all getting rather tedious.

I guess if I move a few more times I'll be so resilient I'll live for ever.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

I Wish I was A Little Bit Taller

I was taken to Madison Square Garden last night to see my first basketball game. This was no ordinary basketball game mind, this was a New York Knicks game.

We had some cheap seats at the top of the arena, affording us the opportunity to leave part way through without feeling that we'd wasted $15. The view was actually pretty reasonable from up there.

What I noticed first was that people were pretty laissez faire about turning up on time. There were spectators dribbling in throughout the game. We ourselves turned up part way through the first period, having prioritised a quick margarita a few blocks away. In the UK I think most people are in place for the start of the game they've gone to watch. And they stay determinedly focused on the game throughout.

Not quite so at the basketball.

The action was noticeably stop-start. Fouls, timeouts, TV timeouts, advertising opportunities and general attention deficit made the whole experience a little bewildering. The noise was constant, from the music system playing riffs and jingles, to the clattering and cat calling from the crowd. Something of a sensory overload.

It perhaps speaks to my general apathy for sport that I found the half time entertainment the most enjoyable part of the experience. There were the Irish dancers (bidding an early welcome to St Patrick's Day), the Knicks City Dancers (an energetic, spangly-dressed crew who flick-flacked around the court and launched T-shirts into the crowd from slingshots), and a professional "Simon Says" caller, who proceeded to work his way through a crowd of about 50 children to finally crown a winner. No, really.

We sloped off part way through the third quarter to scarf down some cheap Korean food in a local 24 hour restaurant. Not bad for a Friday in mid March.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sign Your Name

I was in a wonderful establishment last weekend - a place that's half wine bar, and half wine shop. Both parts of the equation keep the same business hours, so it's possible to taste and buy bottles of wine way past one in the morning. However, I was there a little earlier in the evening for a quick pre-prandial.

When it came time to pay I found myself doing something I detest: I caught the waitress's attention from across the room and then signed an invisible signature in the air to indicate that I wanted the bill.

Gah! What's happening to me?

I realise that this international standard hand movement has its benefits: it can be discreet (if done correctly), and it prevents the waitstaff from an unnecessary journey to the table and back.

I still think it looks pretty stupid. There's got to be a better way.

Monday, March 12, 2007

If I Could Turn Back Time

Last weekend saw much of Wall Street's technology function hunched over their keyboards, peering at screens, and fiddling with their mice to ensure that the computer systems they operate knew what time of day it was. To the nearest hour, that is.

Two years ago the United States decided to change when Daylight Savings Time would begin. They moved it three weeks forward in an effort to "save energy".

It actuality all it seems to have done is create a lot of unnecessary work for the software industry; and alternately frustrate and confuse people who want to get on with their jobs without the threat of impending computer meltdown looming over them.

It actually passed without much of a fanfare. There were a few minor glitches where I work, but nothing leading to aeroplanes falling out the sky, lifts plummeting down their shafts, or even the failure of a coffee machine.

It was summed up pretty well when I walked onto the trading floor this morning and noticed the patch that had been applied to the big global clocks dotted around the place. The patch was literally that: a folded piece of paper to cover up the local (incorrect) time.

I guess they'll be "uninstalling" it again in three weeks' time.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Everybody's Talkin'

People in New York seem to talk to one another more than Londoners.

I've been spoken to on the subway, in cafes, in lifts and in the street much more than any other place I've ever been. They're either asking for directions (which I'm proud to say I can usually help with to some degree), they're mad, or they're drunk.

Bars are great places to strike up conversations. New York's booze scene is normally arranged with stools set at the bar just asking to be sat upon. That way you get to converse with the barperson and your neighbour.

Once, someone walked with me the entire length of the Brooklyn Bridge telling me the history of its construction and other strange stories from its history, only to vanish at the other side with nary a word.

All quite unexpected for an introverted Englishman.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Radio Free Europe

I'm starting to enjoy listening to NPR in America. It's a little like Radio 4, and is basically a collection of non-profit radio stations that broadcast about half their programming centrally, and syndicate their own homegrown shows to the rest of the network to account for the other half.

"Car Talk" is an amusing show hosted by two genial Bostonian mechanics who give general life advice to callers under the thin veil of helping them with their motor vehicle problems.

"This American Life" is a documentary programme exploring normal people's lives and stories: it's a bit like Blighty's own "Home Truths". They recently ran a fascinating story about a group of puzzle solving geeks at MIT that make even the worst computer nerds I know look positively effervescent.

I do miss the BBC's output, though, and thank my lucky stars that some of their shows are available online. This allows me to keep up to date with favourites such as "The Now Show", "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue" and "The News Quiz" from the other side of The Pond.

I've even ventured into the realm of the podcast; a wonderful invention that allows me to take my favourite broadcasts with me as I stroll along the Hudson River of a Sunday afternoon.


Friday, March 02, 2007

I'm Only Happy When It Rains

It started raining last night.

It was really raining this morning.

There is a common conception that the UK is a generally rainy place. Whilst I'd agree that it can be damp and foggy for prolonged periods, it never really rains that hard. You can at least walk quickly through it for a short time without being totally drenched.

Not so in New York. Even the rain is bigger here.

I put on my raincoat this morning and ran to the subway, only to find the service I needed had been cancelled due to partial flooding. So I worked out a different route that required a change or two and ended up walking a little further at the other end than I had planned.

I dried out by about lunchtime.