Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Part 24 - The famous Wall Street

WTC memories

We were back in New Brunswick station in the morning; it looked a lot different during the day; a lot more comfortable! We headed back to New York and walked to Battery Park. If you want to see the Statue of Liberty then you surely have to make an online booking. There is no way you can go and get the ticket at the counter. The queue was huge and tickets for the day were sold out. It was the same on my prior trip as well; things had certainly not changed with regard to the Statue! After seeing the Statue from a distance we headed towards Wall Street. 

On the way, we crossed the World Trade Center area. I still remember the sight of the twin towers and still remember the elevator ride we took on an earlier trip to the observatory. That was the first time that I had gone up a 100 floor skyscraper. And now there stood nothing in Ground Zero except for some construction work that was happening.

It was already afternoon and we were quite hungry. The first eatery we saw was Dunkin Donuts, to my friend’s delight. There was no second thought - we jumped into Dunkin. The employee there was a friendly Pakistani youngster. He was cheerful and energetic. We placed our order while we chit chatted. He talked about his South Indian roommate who was a very strict vegetarian and he thought all South Indians were strict veggies. As a bonus he gave us a couple of extra donuts.
“It seems there is something written on our face. He guessed we’re from South India immediately,” my friend said as we took a window side seat.
World's most famous street

The financial district was pretty crowded even though today was a holiday; plenty of tourists. On the way, there was an old church that looked grand and an urban park with benches and a huge abstract structure in the middle (I say urban park because there was no greenery). I later learnt that the church is Trinity church built in the 19th century. And the park I guess is a tribute to Harry Hemsley - a billionaire who grew up in New York and created a real estate company that was one of the biggest property holders in the US. He is said to have made a lot of contributions to New York city. (The pic to the left is Trinity Church)
We crossed a couple of bank buildings before hitting the New York Stock Exchange. There was a barricade preventing people from going close to the entrance. Beside the NYSE was the J.P Morgan building (also called "The Corner" because it is in a corner!) J.P Morgan is credited with having reduced the impact of the “Panic of 1907” which could have ruined a number of US banks which were in need of funds and had lost credibility - it’s a situation that can arise even today if every one of us went to our banks and withdrew all our money... But it’s an event that is very rare and should ideally never happen. The Wall Street bombing that happened in 1920 caused damage to this building and even today you can see some of the scars of that blast on the building. (The pic above is not the best of picks to show the JP Morgan building but you can see how small it is when compared to the skyscrapers surrounding it; The Corner is the first building).

You kind of have goosebumps when you reflect on the amount of history associated with this street. The other place in US where I had this feeling was in Washington. After every couple of blocks or so you would find a few marble benches. We took a break in one such area where a youngster was practicing skate-boarding; we saw him skate, jump on to a bench and then continue skating as he jumped off the bench. (Pic to the right shows the NYSE which is at the beginning of Wall Street; I kind of like the way they display street signs on each corner).

The frantic rush

We sipped water and were planning on what next. We had a lot of time on hand but since there was nothing else on my friend's list I suggested, “We can take the bus back to Boston.”
“You think we’ll have time to catch it?”
Checking the watch we made a dash. I grabbed the map and headed towards Chinatown. We went in and out of a metro station - the metro wouldn’t get us too close and we’d anyway have to walk as well. As we crossed each street, I cross checked the street name on the map. My general feeling in New York, and maybe it’s the same in other places in US as well, is that most people walk really fast - and it is quite a challenge to keep up with their pace. Not the tourist who are ambling at leisure but the people who are working there. But today we were faster than most of them.
I had become quite comfortable with the streets and raced away cutting diagonals to reach our destination quickly. When we came close to the bridge we knew we were almost there but according to the bus schedule, we should have missed the bus. We still pushed along and were delighted to see a bus near their office. On enquiring we found that this was the next bus and the guy said it was full and that we need to come at least 30 minutes before departure. The next bus was in another 40 minutes or so  (it seems like they ran extra trips on weekends because we never remember seeing these extra two trips on their website).
“You ran like you were possessed,” my friend commented as we entered the office to buy tickets.
This was an interesting New York trip because we spent most of our time walking and the best way to soak in the culture of a city is by walking!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Part 23 - Night in New Jersey...

We were there upto almost closing time; we wound up after visiting the dinos section. We had a good walk across Central park. My friend bought a large Pretzel (it’s like a crispy salty biscuit in tubular shape) from a roadside vendor and he didn’t like it - many of the vendors seemed to be of Indian origin.

In the middle of the park, in an open space, there were 3 guys doing a public performance - a few small stunts along with some situational comedy. They were so well rehearsed that all 3 of them spoke the same words at exactly the same time; it sounded good to hear. At the end of the performance they came around collecting money and I’ll have to admit that they were pretty aggressive in money collection - fair enough because they did put up a good show (pic on right).
Times Square

The next stop on our list was Times Square (pic below). It was dark by the time we reached there and it was getting a little chilly. I still had my large leather jacket on but the problem was with my hands that were unprotected. Times Square at night is always filled with people and lights. We took snaps and had dinner at a Subways restaurant.
My friend ordered a foot long sandwich and I followed suit - a footlong is quite a heavy meal; as the name suggests it is a one foot long bun with veggies and sauce stuffed in.

“We are running short of quarters.”
“Yeah. Let’s ask the guy at the counter.”

Quarters (25 cents coins) are needed to make phone calls from public telephone booths. Back home it would be very hard to get change from shopkeepers unless you bought something from them. We weren’t sure of the protocol here but having bought sandwiches and a couple of drinks we were confident of getting quarters. The guy at the counter happened to be an Indian and he said, “If you want you can use my phone,” and pulled out his mobile.
We told him that we’ll need to make a call after an hour in New Jersey. He gave us quarters for two dollars.
“When you ask for quarters, everyone knows what you want it for!”
Night at the platform!
It was past 8 and we were on our way to take the train to New Jersey. We passed by Broadway and I remembered the show “Phantom of the Opera” that I saw a few years back - quite memorable it was; I lost my friend’s mobile in that show!

We took a PATH (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) train to New Brunswick after checking with my friend's friend on phone for direction. It was a long ride and we kept a close watch on the series of stops. It was late night when we reached New Brunswick - we took the steps down from the platform. Most of the people who got down with us were picked up by someone or the other. We were the only ones left - we saw a public telephone booth. The call got connected on the first try itself but the line wasn’t clear. We tried a few more times with no luck; we lost a few precious quarters! We hoped that he’d come soon. The place was deserted and we headed back up to the platform bench. There was a single guy loitering around who came over and asked for quarters. He said he wanted to call his girlfriend or something of the sort - I said I didn’t have any quarters. Then he went to the next bench where my friend was and tried his luck there. Whether he was genuine or not, I don’t know. On the opposite side of the platform, a young lady waiting for the train was dressed in a skirt. I was feeling pretty chill and there she was in a skirt with no signs of feeling cold!

After waiting for a long time my friend suggested, “Maybe he’s come to the front - I don’t think he’ll know we are up in the platform.”
“Let’s go and see.”
We went down the stairs and walked through a narrow tunnel to the front. This was facing what seemed like the main road. There were a couple of lights here and there was a door that appeared to lead into the station office. Maybe we could wait inside. But there was a lady trying to open it and found it locked - the office was closed; only the platform was open. We tried a public booth here but that wasn’t working as well. At 11 in the night in an unknown place, with very few people around it was a little scary. Fortunately my friend’s friend suddenly turned up at the main entrance.