New York will remembered as the North American city with unrivalled griminess. Streets were filthy. General practices were disgusting.
Regardless of whether we found ourselves in Brooklyn or Manhattan, the same situation prevailed.
- Rats were apparently spotted on our first night in Brooklyn.
- Access/egress paths to subway stations possessed rusted gates and the undeniable whiff of urine.
- Concrete blocks bearing an immeasurable count of black blobs were found around heavily populated districts in Brooklyn. The same was seen in less commercialized neighbourhoods in Manhattan.
- Streetside "patios" in SoHo were directly exposed to the fumes of sewer systems, regardless of whether they were located nearby or not. The stench travelled.
New York weather didn't differ too greatly from Toronto: the vibe was the same, hence an absence of a sense of travelling somewhere "new and exciting".
With the added factor of smog and pollution, the humid air quickly became repulsive to be immersed in.
Even upon returning to a destination equipped with sufficient ventilation and air conditioning, the unbearable feelings of stickiness remained. Vivid in my memory is showering twice every night to rid myself of the vile New York air. I wasn't successful, and my complexion and overall well-being suffered severely.
Appending to the theme of gross, unsanitary conditions witnessed throughout the city, public bathrooms are definitely not exempted. While expectations for restaurant bathrooms had already plummeted beyond normal levels of comprehension, it was shocking to discover that the facilities found in hotel lobbies were of a similar status.
Cleaning staff hardly fulfilled their responsibilities; a member of janitorial staff at the Hilton at 53rd St and 6th Ave was observed to shift all of her weight onto a mop before lazily shoving the tool into a closed stall, then retrieving it. This pattern continued for a few more stalls before a sigh of exhaustion escaped her and she, and the mop, trailed out of the bathroom in a slug-like fashion.
On this topic, I cannot forego the mention of toilet paper quality. Thin and rough sheets reminscient of crude sandpaper were placed in every single establishment visited, including hotel lobbies and guest rooms. The city seemed unwilling to spare customers the pain of low-quality toilet paper and reluctantly exfoliated bottoms.
Water pressure was also insufficient in older neighbourhoods, meaning that trickling streams and/or rapidly cooling faucets were frequent.
Hand soaps were utterly unacceptable: with a strength on par with corrosive cleaning agents, the detergents installed in public bathrooms were anything but epidermis-friendly. In under 24 hours, the surrounding edges of my fingertips began to shrivel and peel, resulting in a week's worth of excruciating pain. Hand-washing frequency hadn't increased on the trip - shockingly enough - and neither did the intervals at which moisturizing lotion was applied. It wasn't me; it was the soap.
Number locks were also seen on almost every public bathroom. Whether it was to discourage the use of customer restrooms as public washrooms or keep in line with the nationwide concept of consumerism, it was an unnecessary add-on in districts where homeless residents were minimal.
Given that temperature conditions in New York were comparable to the circumstances back home, I hadn't expected a drastic difference in the variety of food items offered. I was, however, looking forward to the American rendition of dishes already beknownst to me and particular items that couldn't be located in the GTA.
Our first meal at Chau Down was a vivid indication that Asian-inspired cuisines were best had elsewhere, namely the West Coast (be it Vancouver, San Francisco, or Los Angeles). Of course, this is not to say that all our meals measured up to Chau Down's arrant atrocity.
Brooklyn was home to extremely casual diners - and by this I mean franchises, McDonald's, tiny pizza joints, and an overflow of convenience stores.
Manhattan's standing of restaurants varied by neighbourhood. It was undeniable that the surrounding demographic of an eatery played a gigantic role in determining the overall quality of food. Ramen and poke-centric eateries were more common once the bridge was crossed, and increasingly more popular near educational establishments (NYU) or tourist traps. Witnessed on a very regular basis were Halal street meat stalls; they were just as prominent as fruit vendors in California.
I had wanted to steer clear of ramen whilst in New York, for my return on investment would be uncertain. New York was not known to specialize in ramen, nor particularly intricate desserts. On our last day, we ultimately ate ramen after a tour of St. Marks. While it did not come up short, one cannot deny the differences in ingredient selection and attention to detail versus common names in Vancouver.
With this said, I'd like to remind readers that not a single item on this journey was capable of being deemed "economic", other than The Halal Guys' enormous platter. Most meals were subjected to an average markup of 50% after the U.S. to Canadian dollar conversion. We weren't pleased in the slightest, especially when the primary constituents of our gustatory expedition were the ones that disappointed.
The businesses that were hyped were concluded to be merely average, with not a single one earning themselves a lasting impression.
The subway system is ridiculously outdated and trailing behind technological advances appropriate for a city of New York's size and density.
- Card-scanning equipment was laggy and faulty. Moving the magnetic strip of the MetroCard too "quickly" generated a "Swipe again" message, while scanning too "slowly" prompted a "Swipe quickly" message. At times, a "Swipe again at this turnstile" message was received and my MetroCard was doubly charged. These consistent errors not only resulted in delayed access to the subway, but fares being wrongfully deducted twice (or even thrice) on several occasions. Turnstiles and card scanners speeds were not in sync either.
- User profiles were not linked to MetroCards. As such, users have no way of accessing transaction history, reporting lost or misplaced cards, or calling a help desk for wrongfully deducted fares. No matter our PRESTO card, Vancouver's Compass card, or Metro LA's TAP Card, each enabled users to checking their card balances online and access their tap history in real time.
- Two to three reloading machines were present in each subway system, along with the occasional balance checker. Station attendants were usually available to assist with customer inquiries as well, but many proved difficult to comprehend and unwilling to help. Riders were generally directed to laggy reloading machines should they wish to make payments with credit or debit instead of cash.
- The bus system was barely used during this trip, but it was observed that additional fees were incurred when travelling from: subway to bus, bus to subway, and subway to subway
- For first-time users, or those with poor navigation skills, difficulties may be experienced when attempting to travel/transfer.
- Minimal signage was present within the subway station, and neither were the cardinal directions were not clearly defined.
- Exits retained a decent amount of information - similar to TTC where major attractions are identified.
- Unlike the TTC though, one could not easily board the subway from the most convenient ground-level access. Entrances were classified into westbound-only and eastbound-only directions, meaning that one would need to retrace his or her steps above ground, cross the street, and enter again should their direction of travel be different from the one intended by the access path.
- Some subway cars (of specific routes) did not have route maps mounted on their interior. Thus, it is a good idea to download a high-resolution of the map beforehand for reference.
- During weekday evenings and off-peak hours, subway service proved infrequent and tardy. A thirty-minute route ultimately became a whopping fifty minutes with delays and obstructions.
The MTA website provides a clear breakdown on MetroCard prices and sheds light on the situations where transit users should opt for timed unlimited passes or Pay-Per-Ride.
Purchasing a MetroCard is relatively simple. Reloading machines are present at all subway stations (except when under repair) and offer a range of services (purchasing and reloading). The machinese sport large text and a straightforward user interface, although the processor is on the slow-moving side.
The subway system is complex, yet not particularly difficult to maneouver with a limited understanding of the area and a working knowledge of the cardinal directions. The key to transiting without issues is to remember the name of the terminal station of the direction in which the car is travelling. Transferring between lines isn't particularly challenging either.
Subway cars are equipped with adequate air-conditioning - dissimilar to the SkyTrain and Line 1/Line 2 on humid days.
In spite of receiving downright despicable attitude in a handful of establishments, the demand to be efficient remains. Urban New York - aka Manhattan - consists of a fast-paced community that values swiftness and accuracy. Though LA service staff were friendly and helpful, they definitely weren't the fastest or sharpest. Perhaps this lies in the core differences of the East Coast versus West Coast, for Vancouver is slow and Toronto is speedy.
- Seeing GOT7 live for their last show of the North American leg of Eyes on You
- Giddily exploring the LINE Friends store in Times Square
- Forever being blessed by efficient, air-conditioned subway routes
- Witnessing the wonder of the 9/11 Memorial
- Ippodo's Iribancha
- Boba Guys' Thai Tea
I shall hold each and every memory of this excursion close to my heart, regardless of the feelings they evoke. That said, I must be frank: I am in no rush to return to New York whatsoever, if at all.
The food, on an overall note, was ridiculously pricey with not a whole lot of variety in comparison to past travel destinations. The stench-filled air and environment are elements I could gladly do without while on vacation.
Should I be to travel again, it would be for the brief sake of being a tourist and nothing more. (That is, of course, with the exception that the city becomes another stop for a future world tour...)