Face world’s fakery
with a champion beside
— — —
Face world’s fakery
with a champion beside
— — —
Wowing, spine tingling
forth painstaking scrutiny
comes spine of buildings
— — —
Photo: The ceiling of the World Trade Center, New York City
“Well, you can’t miss state-n island!”
“The what now?”
That’s how I reacted when my colleague suggested the adventure. I had no idea what that was. As he repeated it, I frowned trying to remember. The more I thought about it, the more it felt like I’d heard the word somewhere. Where, however, I couldn’t figure out. And then it hit me.
“Oh! Isn’t it the stat-en island?”
I didn’t know a thing about it, but word sounded familiar.
I think he insisted it was the state-n island, and I didn’t persist. After all, he should know - he’d lived in Boston for five years travelling back and forth New York City. Besides, he was the one who suggested my Wall Street experience.
But that was the end of our conversation.
We were in New York City for three and a half days, for two of which we’d be working all day. Although I didn’t discount the ferry ride, I didn’t expect to make it either. I’ve never been much of a tourist, and if the ferry was such a favourite activity, I figured it’d be swarming with crowds and selfie sticks.
However, when I found myself toying with free time on my last evening in NYC, I decided to give it a shot. After all, I’d enjoyed Wall Street despite it being a tourist magnet. Perhaps the ferry wouldn’t be so bad. And it was free.
Walking out of a famous bakery in Manhattan, I headed for the bus that’d take me to the Whitehall Ferry Terminal. Shuffling this way and that on the street, asking for directions and still losing precious daylight, I determined to walk the distance instead. Awaiting the bus would’ve delayed me further, and besides, it wasn’t too far.
Nevertheless, when I reached the terminal, the doors had closed, and the ferry had just left the docks. The next one wasn’t for another half hour. Heaving a sigh, I looked at the large clock inside the terminal. It was 7 pm. Banking on luck, I could make it back to my hotel near Times Square by 10 pm. Satisfied with that prospect, I turned to the scene around me.
The white walls and the white floor tiles reminded me of hospitals. A handful of staff mopped the floors, while anxious New Yorkers queued up behind the great gates waiting to board the ferry as soon as it arrived. The more relaxed folk sat on the waiting chairs, deep in discussion, sharing a meal, or downing a beer. Little stores lined the walls selling food, beverages, and magazines.
There were hundreds of people, buzzing hum of conversation, and yet so few tourists.
I hadn’t expected that. Everywhere I looked, I saw ordinary people-in men wearing comfortable pants and shirts, women in long everyday gowns, college goers with backpacks, and office workers with laptops. Why the party that sat next to me were employees at the terminal! They discussed shift timings and how one of their colleagues who worked overtime and still didn’t get enough pay.
As I sat there, unpacking my cinnamon roll and washing it down with coffee, I realised that I was amidst the true locals.
It wasn’t as I’d imagined, because there were no silly tourists, pouting lips, the pointing of fingers, or feverish chatting in a foreign tongue.
And I savoured every moment I sat there-my vegan cinnamon roll as well as the atmosphere.
Then a horn blared. The ferry was ready for us. As the doors opened, we streamed into the ferry. There I was, an outsider feeling like I belonged there, taking each step with purpose as if it were the most natural thing for me to do.
Heading to the upper deck (there was another one above me), I found a great spot to stand. I held the railings, waiting to hit the waters. Soon another horn blared, and the captain’s voice echoed through the ferry: “Thank you for riding the Staten Island Ferry.”
A few more horns and we were off.
The next twenty minutes, I’d say, was the best I’d spent in New York City. Thanks to Daylight Savings, the sun had just begun to set, and I happened to have a pretty steady hand while the video on my camera ran.
By the time we docked at the St. George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island, the sun had set, and I’d seen one of the best of it I’d ever see.
The ferry back to Manhattan was due in another half hour. But it took me about 10 minutes to get down from the ferry on to the terminal. I stayed inside the terminal, walking around reading the signboards, strolling through the souvenir shops, and trying to make out the massive map on the floor - of the islands in the Lower Bay area, around Staten Island.
And when it was time, I did it all over again. This time, however, instead of the sunset, I saw the infamous New York City skyline illuminated by millions of lights and lives that call it home.
It was an evening that lingered in my mind throughout the subway ride back and still does to this day.
Find out more about the ferry: https://www.siferry.com/
One of the most disappointing aspects of travelling for work is that despite being in a new city, a new country, you still spend the entire day inside a closed air-conditioned room. It makes no difference whatsoever whether you’re at an exotic tourist spot, your hometown, or the Big Apple.
And so it was for me at the Big Apple. I’d already strolled through the heart of the city, stopping at the Grand Central, but I still had so much more to see. And so, taking the subway after work one day, at about 6 pm, my colleague and I arrived at the industrial part of the city—Wall Street.
What did we expect? Fancy suit-sporters strutting about, proud of a day of good business. After all, that’s how it was in the movies. Home of the NY Stock Exchange, the Federal Hall, and The Charging Bull, Wall Street over-promised glory. And as one of my colleagues pointed out, no matter how much you hate being touristy, you can’t leave New York City without seeing those iconic sights—petty though they are.
I’m glad I heeded his advice. Even though business had died down by the time we reached Wall Street, we walked down the street, stared at the buildings, and made valiant attempts to capture them all on camera.
Thanking Daylight Savings Time for the lingering light, we approached the looming Stock Exchange building, my eyes popping at the minute architectural details. Construction was in progress all along the street as well as on one side of the building as well. Noticing a sign that directed people to the entrance further down the road, we followed the path to encounter only closed doors and shut windows. A security guard stood by behind a mahogany desk and, cautious of crossing the work-in-progress lines, I approached him.
“Are visitors allowed inside?”
“No.” A good-natured man, he shook his head smiling.
Perhaps it’s because we’re late, the voice in my head echoed.
“Are visitors ever allowed inside?”
His smile reached his eyes. “No, I’m sorry.”
Oh, well. That was new. For all the popularity of the stock exchange, commoners will never know how it looks on the inside. We’ll have to make do with all that DiCaprio showed us.
Walking further down the road, we realised we were so close to another famous spot. Not one that I was curious or interested in at all, but we were just a few steps away. Would’ve been a shame not to stop by. And so we did.
I never understood what all the hoopla was about. Sure, it’s a magnificent beast, and yes, the sculpture is beautiful. And, of course, the defiant girl has always been an inspiration, more so in recent times. But beyond that, I wasn’t sure what brought the monument such significance. I waited a while to try and capture the Bull alone, but he was busy entertaining visitors who wanted to pose with him. People queued up for a photograph and, try though I did, I couldn’t get a proper portrait of the bull.
Shrugging—it wasn’t a big deal anyway—I returned to the map. The World Trade Centre and the 9/11 memorial seemed minutes away.
In hindsight, it seems silly to admit, but as I walked towards the World Trade Centre building, I realised I never knew what it was. All I had ever heard of it was its massive grandeur. And so when we came upon the building, I was awe-struck at how huge and welcome it was. For the second time that day, I tried, failing again to capture its entirety in one photograph. Regardless, though, relentless, I kept clicking until my colleague reminded me we should go inside. When we did, my eyes first set on the ceiling and the spine-like architecture. It’d looked like a bird’s wings from the outside, and here I stood looking at the spine that held both wings together. Calling it beautiful would be an in injustice. However, as I stood there pondering my next move, I realised I was in a shopping mall. Sure, the name is so popular that the entire world wants to be there, but when I did, although it mesmerised me, the place didn’t feel newer than the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, or Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles.
The last thing on our list of the Wall Street journal was the most important one. Walking towards the massive hollow hole in the ground where the twin towers once stood, I couldn’t help but reminisce the behemoth that terrorism has been in our lives. Of course, it’s not a sad, empty hole now—it’s instead a memorial fountain with names of all the victims carved in stone. It’s a glorious tribute to the dead, and yet a wrenching reminder of the horrors of the past.
With that moment of reflection, we turned away. It was time to go back to the hotel. It was a work trip, after all, and we had work to do.
P.S: Click images for full resolution.