Sunday, June 1, 2014

BLIZZARD OF OZ: New York City in Winter

I was totally unprepared for New York City in winter.

The moment I stepped onto the icy-slick pavement just beyond the warm lobby of the Hotel Beacon on Broadway at 75th Street, a deep chill worked its way through the soles of my completely inappropriate shoes.

There wasn’t much I could do about it. I was wearing the warmest things in my suitcase. But the prospect of zig-zagging stroll through sparkling New York streets to Times Square was irresistible. So, dismissing the cold, I set off like the Cowardly Lion across Oz's snow-dusted poppy fields...‘Unusual weather we’re having, ain’t it?’

It was relentless, the cold. And even before I’d passed Gray’s Papaya I could feel it crawling through the neck of my meagre sweater. My chin was cramping, my socks were soon wet and my ears would have shattered had you given them a flick.

I don’t visit cold places much. And standing here, I had to wonder why anyone would build a city in a place clearly as inhospitable as this. This was not the New York I expected. And when I left the colour of city streets and entered a Central Park buried under snow, it felt like stepping back from Munchkinland into Dorothy’s black and white Kansas. Only colder.

For most of the year, Central Park is a colourful haven of respite from life in the city. The park’s fields, cycle ways, lakes and meadows buzz with folk seeking refuge from the straight lines of their workaday lives. But in winter, the roles are reversed. Save for the odd dog-walker, I seemed to be the only person in the park. All the clever folk were, no doubt, holed up in cosy diners, coffee houses, bakeries or refusing to leave their office cubicles because Have you seen it outside, Buddy?!

With hypothermia setting in, I reasoned that the only way I’d reach the technicolour wonderment of Times Square was to approach as a mountaineer would, establishing camps and resting between short, manageable climbs.

So I set off, taking refuge in the shopfronts of purveyors of New York’s tastiest savoury treats. This was not some indulgence in a childhood obsession with American delis, diners and fast food. No, sir. This was a matter of survival, pure and simple.

Sure, it took a while, but I eventually found my Times Square summit on the mezzanine level of a popular family restaurant. The ascent had been delicious and fulfilling but not without its dangers. In fact, it’s fair to say that I owe my life to a particularly well-timed slice of pepperoni pizza and an enormous cup of coffee.

With the clarity of mind that comes from viewing the world through a giant golden arch, I realised then that I probably should have just taken the subway from 72nd Street.

Feeling cold, stiff and rusty like the Tin Man rattling along underground returning to The Beacon with the eclectic cast of folk that inhabit this incredible Emerald City,  it occurred to me that never again would I trust my packing to the Scarecrow.

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