Thursday, 7 June 2007

Issue 1 - Loud

Another engine quietly exits onto 8th Avenue. Note the complete absence of threatening oncoming traffic....

The New York diaries of a flightless Apteryx haastii
Issue 1 – April 2005
Well here we are. Suffice it to say that via Christchurch, London and Zurich, this particular Apteryx haastii (Great Spotted Kiwi) has crash landed in Downtown New York.
Crash landed at 2 Gold Street, to be precise. Of course there is no way that you could know where this is, because it isn’t a helpfully numbered avenue or have informative numbered cross streets. We’re all the way down where only those with dark suits or fully fuelled hijacked aircraft ever go – Downtown. I’ll put you out of your misery – we live two short streets from the NYSE, and three minutes’ walk from the WTC site (now a Belgium-sized hole in the ground with the world’s most visited wire fence).
So here we are - Kim and I – like baby rabbits emerging timidly into the sunshine for the first time. There are hawks circling unseen in the sky, loud unfamiliar sounds, and there is not much to eat anywhere near the warren. What are our first impressions?
Loud. There you have it.
For our first month here, we were lucky enough to be put up in temporary accommodation in midtown at 48th and 8th. 30 seconds from the place that tourists call heaven – Times Square. So here I’ll make the same statement that everyone makes – it’s just not square. Now, I’ve been to a lot of famous squares in my short life: Trafalgar Square in London, the Palazzo San Marco in Venice, Paradeplatz in Zurich, Cathedral Square in Christchurch, etc, etc; but none of them are the intersection of two six-lane highways. And none of them have TV screens - a lot of TV screens (like a LOT, a lot). I’m a bloke like any other – show me a TV and I’m instantly paralysed - I just have to stop and look. Test my theory – look around a TV shop near the plasma screens. I’ll just bet most of the men standing like statues with their mouths open are just responding to the instinctive reflex to follow moving bright lights like puppies (or moths). TV shops only have sales people to break the spell and clear room for other men-puppy-moths to come in and see the pretty colours. The way I see it, New York taxi drivers must have compulsory anti-paralysis training just for Times Square, otherwise there would be all sorts of TV-screen induced road-kill at each intersection and crosswalk.
So back to loud – sorry, LOUD! You see, the problem with living on the 32nd floor of a building above the intersection of 48th and 8th in New York is that we had an excellent view of the fire station on the other side of the road at 48th and 8th. Now fire fighters are a good idea, and fire stations for them are also a good idea, and having one near where you live is an excellent idea. Putting sirens on NY fire engines is a very bad idea.
Don’t get me wrong – sometimes a siren is necessary, just like sometimes the use of force when arresting violent criminals is necessary. It’s just that the use of force can be excessive, and then it’s a whole new crime. In my opinion, pulling out at 3am on to a deserted 8th avenue in a great big red truck with flashing lights is not exactly dangerous. Unless you’re a fire fighter, who grew up as a kid with the sole purpose in life of driving a truck with a siren (which is turned on). Or perhaps they just feel that it really is dangerous to pull out on a deserted 8th avenue, so it’s important to have the entire neighbourhood as lookouts for oncoming traffic – hence the need to wake them all up so they can check the street from their windows. Just to make sure everyone is awake, fire trucks have a horn which is loud enough to shatter the tiles of passing space shuttles, which is used to terrify oncoming traffic in to submission, notwithstanding the absence of traffic at 3am. I’ve been to the Belgian Grand Prix where we discovered the bang of a formula one car changing down feels like a blow to the inside of your chest – the sound of these horns feels like the F1 car hitting the inside of your ribs. From 32 stories away. Through double-glazed windows. I think that’s loud – you tell me.
Kim has been under extreme pressure trying to meet assignment deadlines in between the instability of a move to a different continent, and was justifiably complaining about the noise in the apartment. I thought I had the solution when I bought her some noise-cancelling headphones, which were designed originally to allow you to still hear the movies on airplanes. They did an excellent job of cancelling the low hum of all the air conditioning units in the city, so that we could hear the higher-frequency sound of the sirens much better. It turns out that the dull roar at low frequencies in NY is just useful for covering all of the other noise.
I think this is the cause of the perception that Americans abroad are loud – they’re just hearing-impaired.

Events so far:
21 March 2005 - last decent night's sleep, induced by many, many, many beers and G&T's at Lady Hamilton's in Zurich. Can't member much except being serenaded out by everyone singing "New York, New York" to Kim and I.
22 March 2005 - arrived in NY, no Ellis Island experience, no feeling of momentous step, just a deserted immigation hall at Newark Airport
22 March 2005 - first night in temporary accommodation - beginning of the month of sleep deprivation.
25-27 March 2005 - Easter with the McKamey's at Lake Seneca, upstate NY.
12 April 2005 - Michael - drinks at Social Lounge on 8th Ave with Andrew Beattie and Simon Fisher.
1-15th April 2005 - first month-end for Michael with the new team from NY. The good thing about deadlines is that once they have passed there is no need to feel bad about the things not done yet. The numbers go from potentially misstated to just plain wrong. Not much else changes: the sun still comes up and goes down as before, and people still watch TV and get their hair cut.
14 April 2005 - out of temp accommodation to 2 Gold St. No excuses any more - we just have to like it!
15 April 2005 - dinner with Amit Shah at Pipa on 19th St, then party at Orchid on 6th Ave.

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