Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big Apple; little world

It's now time to explore a different kind of jungle

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The camera picks up my trail when I'm flying high, 37,000 feet high, gawking out the window at the electric sea that is America's east coast. I haven't seen civilization like this in eight months; been galavanting around the big sur of course, and it comes as even more of a shock than those raw scenes from down south.

Getting to my aunt and uncle's Westchester digs is just as flooring: there's two oil drums in the garage, each the size of a mid-range SUV. The toilets flush with the power of Mike Tyson in the late 1980s -- it scared the bejesus out of me.

From their front door it's a 30-minute stretch to the train station, but only 20 if you've been putting in miles like me. And if you time it right, sprinting the last couple blocks if need be, you arrive in Grand Central exactly 35 minutes later, stepping out of the terminal's dingy bowels into the very nucleus of this little world.

It's a scene where serious people interweave like medieval knights, all wearing long black overcoats when it's cold out and Yankees hats galore. The camera sees a massive Stars and Stripes hanging from the ceiling and another beyond each of the 37 exits.

Now you're in the thick of it, the crawling mass of Manhattan, where chatting on the sidewalk is a no-go and the concrete seems to emit a palpable hum. Walk north and you're headed toward old money, toward the Upper East Side with its calm, almost timid mannerisms. Keep going and you'll hit The Bronx, the anti-calm home of Yankee Stadium, the busiest courthouse in the world, and yes, places to practise your Spanish.

On a different day, throw some west in with your north and you'll hit Central Park, a move highly recommended on the stifling summer afternoons when the little world's air supply seems to have died and started to rot. Past this is the Upper West Side, which means more money and Seinfeld's favourite diner. It also means the Hudson River, which an Airbus 320 had to use as an emergency runway after brown, black and white geese (Canadian terrorists I call them) delivered a convincing attack to its engines.

Keeping Grand Central as a starting point, if you were to walk in circles around the terminal, expanding your radius by one block each revolution, you'd get a damn good tour of Midtown. This is where the money is made. They've got the public library, Times Square, the theatre district and street vendors like you wouldn't believe in Midtown.

Moving south, things get more bizarre. NYU and Union Square give way to The Village, which today resembles a scene that was; too many pretenders have moved in and real estate prices have climbed too high. Many of the famous cafés ("Hemingway got smashed here") have shut down or changed hands so many times they inspire nothing but a faster pace. The stalls sell predictable items and the off-shops are overpriced in the name of vintage fashion.

But, despite all this, The Village still boasts some incredible (read: long) happy hours, places to escape the weather and meet a few of the little world's shady characters along the way. Just be cautious if heading into the West Village. Here the grid shifts and, despite how proficient you may think you are with navigation, you will get lost. The narrow streets ensure it.

South and east of all this jazz are Little Italy and Chinatown, a region which, reflecting current international economics, is slowly becoming just Chinatown. Then comes the Financial District, where the money is lost. Wall Street dives off Broadway like a glacier crevasse and, for some reason, whether it be prevailing winds or pure psychology, it's the coldest street in all the little world. I heard the icicles stayed 'til June this year.

Either way, if you've made it this far it's a damn good thing Brooklyn is only a bridge away, for here lies your chance to consume the best pizza on Earth, Grimaldi's Pizza.

I think the people who dislike the little world are ones who get annoyed seeing others work harder than them. It's a long way from the office to the station, ya hear? I gotta walk quick, those things leave Right on Time.

People will stare you right up and right down in the little world, knowing they'll probably never see you again.

This is your one shot, take a good long look. Then just keep walking.

Brett Logan chronicles his world adventures in a regular series in the Free Press Travel section.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2009 E3

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