A selection of photos from my summer 1989 trip to Manhattan with my parents, with comments and memories, where appropriate. Click on an image to get a larger version.
Left to right: The Empire State Building; My parents posing in front of the Statue of Liberty; the view from the Empire State Building; the view from the World Trade Centre, looking towards the Hudson River.
Left to right: The New York skyline; Me posing in front of the New York Skyline; the view from the Empire State Building, looking south towards the World Trade Centre.
In mid October, 2001, I decided to go home to Darlington for a long weekend. I was basically feeling run down and needed a brak from work. On the Sunday, there was a competition in the Mail on Sunday, in which the prize was 50 (??) sets of double tickets for "The Concert for New York City" (see the DVD sleeve to the left), the Paul McCartney instigated benefit performance in aid of the rescue workers who died during the WTC attacks on 9/11. So, I phoned up the premium rate phone number twice and left my details.
I had an instinct, as soon as the concert was announced at the end of September, that I might be going. And when the call came from the paper on the Monday morning congratulating me, I wasn't really that suprised. My mum and dad were in town, and when they returned I told them and said that there was a spare ticket. My mum had a job at a local supermarket and didn't think she could get time off (in fact, my parents had only been back from a holiday to California for about a month!).
I was returning home to New Malden that evening (Monday), and the flight was leaving Heathrow on Friday lunchtime. My dad agreed, and organised a flight from Teesside to Heathrow. All other perks (hotel room, flights, tickets etc.) were included in the prize. I remember being very anxious that week because my flight details etc. were late in arriving due to the poor post in the London area, but arrive they did, and I managed to rendezvous with my dad at Heathrow ready for the Virgin flight early on Friday morning. We were presented with commemorative T-shirts from the competition desk, and after a few drinks, and a nice photo opportunity on the steps of the 747, we were off.
Sadly, my scan of the original photograph didn't turn out too well, but you can see it here anyway.
We arrived in New York in the early evening, and could see the lights of Manhattan clearly. The drive from Newark to our hotel (the "W", opposite the Waldorf-Astoria) was nice, and we could see the skyscrapers at the tip of New York, and the gap where we knew the World Trade Centre used to be. After checking in, and resolving not to take anything from the mini bar (extortionate prices!), my dad and I went for a walk in the direction of Times' Square. A few things impressed themself upon my memory. The first was the patriotism. Every single shop was flying the Stars and Stripes, with banners such as "United We Stand" proudly displayed. The next thing were lamp-posts and walls near Times Square, covered with pictures of the missing, and pleading with people to contact relatives if they have seen their loved ones. In most cases, these pleas would never be answered. Very upsetting.
The other thing was how hard it was to get a drink in the area. Most bars were combined with restaurants, so you had to eat something to get a drink. We eventually found a reasonably cheap bar just off Times Square. When we returned to the hotel, I elected to stay drinking in the bar for a while (my dad had gone off to bed) and found the prices to be bloody extortionate!
The next day, we decided to have a wander round before heading off to the concert in the early evening. Again, there were examples of patriotism everywhere: one building was even covered with the Stars and Stripes (see accompanying picture)!
We went to Times Square (again! - see the pictures below), down 5th Avenue, taking in as much of the city as we could: we only had another day and a half before leaving home for the UK. We went to Macy's and the Manhattan Mall. One thing that we were both disappointed by was the lack of Christmas shopping in the city. None of us were big "clothes shoppers", and we couldn't buy any electrical items due to the different voltage system in use over there. And most of the shops were full of "flag flying" items, such as World Trade Centre (WTC) fridge magnets. Tacky stuff, hawked by unscrupulous vendors wanting to make a bit of cash out of a tragedy. Still, thats what The American Dream is, I suppose.
The Empire State Building (ESB) was closed, for security reasons, as was the Statue of Liberty, but I managed to get some good pictures of the ESB. The one showing the main entrance required me to crouch down, nearly on the road, to get all the building in. The ESB is now the tallest building in New York City.
Of course, we also had to indulge in the obligatory pilgrimage to the Ground Zero site. So, after a pleasant stroll through a park (where we watched two guys get into a fight over a damaged radio of all things!) and then through Greenwich village (on the west side of Manhattan), we started our way south. As we got closer to the site, we noticed the presence of thick yellow pipes in the road, carrying electricity cables, and concrete barriers. The sound of drilling, once a murmur in the background, became increasingly loud. But the biggest shock to the senses was the smell: a thick, dusty, smoky smell, mixed with water. Thick and unpleasant, it make you cough and choke back the miasma. Remember that at this stage, the site was full of debris, so we saw none of the large gaping pit that was depicted on television in 2002.
We travelled as far south as we could, until we reached the police "crash" barriers to prevent sightseers from entering the Ground Zero site. There was nothing to see: the whole area had been barricaded for many city blocks around the disaster site. The police were only letting a few people through the barriers, presumably, people who lived in appartment blocks in the zone. Many of the buildings beyond were drapped in red plastic netting to prevent any injuries from falling masonry. In the background, you could see thick walls of smoke rising above the striken buildings. If you looked carefully, you could make out something of the structure of the WTC.
The rabble of tourists were now in abundance. Most people took pictures, some posed for pictures, many simply stared at .... well, nothing. I felt a bit self-conscious taking photographs, but in the end I dismissed my conscience and took the following pictures (see below). And I bought a souvenir pin from a street vendor - it showed the US Flag, on a spiral ribbon of red and blue stripes.
The atmosphere was so cloying, my dad and I went for a drink and a sandwich. We found a snack bar, and I was shocked at the scrum outside. Not for sandwiches or coke, but the opportunists and patriots. One man was playing "The Star Spangled Banner" very badly on a violin. One lady had applied green paint to her body and was dressed as The Statue of Liberty (no, I am not kidding), and people were having their picture taken with her. Nearby, one of the many hoardings that used to display "missing - please call with information" posters had, now tattered, children's poems of commiseration plastered over the top. My dad didn't seem too perturbed but I was extremely upset by the whole event, which now seemed so real. You almost felt guilty for going to New York for a good time when there was so much tangible suffering.
We were running late for the concert, so, after brief study of local landmarks (we got lost), we got the subway to our hotel and got changed, and then on to the bus to Madison Square Garden, the concert venue. We had apparently got special clearance to park the bus outside. Once back at the hotel, we got our tickets (\A3500 each!), had photos taken for the Monday newspapers, and then off to the concert. I don't recall seeing any ticket touts, but they were there. Security was intense. Sniffer dogs, metal detectors and a body search was applied to everyone before you went into the auditorium. We got talking to a few NY citizens, who had noticed our competition prize winner T-shirts. One gentleman thanked the UK for being such good support in the last 5 weeks.
Sadly, there were no photos allowed that night, and a brief description in these pages can't do the event justice. It was a marvellous night, and (of course!) the British acts shone, especially The Who, whose arrival on stage was marked by a spectacular light show and a seemingly ten fold increase in volume. Most of the US acts were soppy, and gushing in their praise of the rescue and emergency services.
The event went on for an hour longer than it should have and was punctuated by tributes to the fallen, by comrades or children of the deceased, and each tribute was introduced by a Hollywood luminary (though sadly, Reese Witherspoon didn't turn up). Jim Carrey was a prick, Harrison Ford seemed drunk, D.J. Howard Stern was outrageous (an orange boiler suit with the buttocks cut out!), and Hilary Clinton got booed, as did Susan Sarandon and Richard Gere (because of his pro-peace stance). Someone should tell Macy Gray that she can't sing.
The British gang of course were well behaved: perhaps too well behaved. There was a young couple sat in front of us. For the whole duration of the show, they sat, arms folded, not saying a word. What a waste of a pair of tickets! My dad and myself called them "The Zombies"!
I knew that the evening would finish with The Beatles "Let It Be". It had been predicted in some NY newspapers, but I knew that the hymn-like quality would fit the occasion well. I was just about crying when it was played. Eric Clapton played the guitar solo, and I remember being a bit upset, and more than a little angry that George Harrison didn't come along to play it. Little did I know that George had barely 5 weeks left to live......
I was also a bit angry that Clapton didn't play his signature tune "Layla". Instead he played some crappy blues/jazz song. And I hate jazz!
Drink was flowing continually: waiters were wandering round the auditorium selling champagne, and beer was available from the snack vendors in the corridor outside (where I got asked for ID - bloody cheek!). In fact, the bars got drunk dry, probably by the police and fire services, who were drinking beer through straws! It was an odd feeling going to the toilet and being surrounded by men in dark blue uniforms (unless you're George Michael that is). Five weeks before, they were unknown, and now here they were, heroes. Very humbling.
The next day, we had half a day to see the rest of the city, but my dad and myself elected to just wander around. The very last thing we saw was Strawberry Field, the John Lennon memorial in Central Park. I took a picture, but I had run out of film at this point. Central Park is nice and peaceful, but I wouldn't want to go there at night! And then it was off to the hotel to get the coach back to the airport.....and some people had got stung by the hugely inflated telephone levvies in their hotel room, when they phoned home on the Friday evening to tell friends and relatives that they had arrived safely! After a bit of negotation with the holiday rep., the charges were cancelled because the hotel hadn't advertised that such charges would be applied. Silly sods!
And then home......
I can thoroughly recommend the CD and/or (edited) DVD of the Concert. An edited version was broadcast on VH1. If you could merge the broadcast and DVD version together, you'd get the full event. One day I may do this...