I’ve always been fascinated by New York City.
As a young kid I thought it was the most famous place in the world thanks to it being the backdrop to so many films and TV shows. Hell, it even was the setting for one of my favourite cartoons – Top Cat – while there was no mistaking that my favourite comic book hero’s home of Gotham City was the just a different name for NYC.
It was, in my young eyes, everything that America stood for where everything was bigger and better than you could wish for while growing up amidst the monochrome or at best faded-beige UK of the mid 70s. If someone had asked me, as an 11 or 12 year old why I wanted to see New York they would have got the 11 or 12 year old’s classic answer…….just because!
If pushed I would say it was all to do with the fact it seemed to be the best place for sport with the best known names such as the Jets, the Yankees and the Harlem Globetrotters (little did I realise the last of these was showbiz and not sport!). In ‘soccer’ you had the phenomenon of the New York Cosmos and I was desperate to be given the chance of seeing Pele and Franz Beckenbauer take to the field amidst pomp, pageantry and cheerleaders.
Boxing was another sport I watched – particularly the exploits of Muhammad Ali – and it seemed that every other month there was a world championship fight taking place in NYC at Madison Square Gardens. I wanted to be part of such a loud and raucous crowd (albeit years later my first experience of a live boxing match put me off for life)
Oh and then there was the fact that I was fascinated by the idea of hot dogs, hamburgers and milk shakes, none of which you could get in Glasgow at the time (well you could, but you knew that they were all fifth-rate and not a patch on the real things).
Then I got slightly older and began to fall in love with pop music. NYC began to loom even larger as all the best bands in the world constantly talked about how it was the greatest city to play in and how the energy and vitality of the place brought so much to the performances. It also appeared to be where some of the best new music was coming from. And it seemed as if all the women were as gorgeous as Debbie Harry.
But the sheer cost involved meant that visiting NYC in my truly formative years was always going to be an unfulfilled dream. It was difficult enough finding the money to go and visit London far less get on a plane and cross the Atlantic. I didn’t even know how to go about obtaining a passport……
The idea of visiting in later years did come up – myself and Mrs Villain talked about going there for my 30th in 1993 but in the end we went for a beach holiday in the Caribbean. Her 40th in 1998 was another possibility but again the lure of the sand and the sun proved too much.
By now I was in a job that had me seeing a fair bit of the world as I was a senior aide to the equivalent of the Mayor of Glasgow and accompanied him on a number of occasions, especially when he was to deliver a keynote speech at a conference or event.
I had always hoped the opportunity to do so in NYC would occur and so when he received and accepted an invitation to be part of a conference on Waterfront Regeneration, taking place at the Brooklyn Marriott, the dream of so many years was set to some true.
I began to plan everything in terms of how I would spend my free time at the conference and before long I had arranged to stay on for a few extra days at my own expense. Greenwich Village, Central Park, Times Square, Madison Square Gardens, Yankee Stadium, the Chelsea Hotel, Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, the Guggenheim and the Statue of Liberty were all on the list as was a ride in a yellow cab. I’d find small and bohemian record and book stores and have the time of my life. I was counting down the days to the conference which was taking place from September 20-22 2001.
It’ll soon be 15 years to the day that the Twin Towers came down and changed everything we thought about the world in the proverbial blink of an eye. It’ll soon be 15 years to the day that I made my first ever visit to NYC as incredibly enough, the conference wasn’t postponed.
It’s true that more than half of the delegates cancelled, including I would reckon 90% of those scheduled to come from Europe as travel plans were predictably chaotic and uncertain.
As it turned out, I was a passenger on the first Glasgow-Newark flight after 9/11. What I experienced during my stay will stay with me for ever. There’s an entire book can be written about my experiences over the following seven days – understandably it wasn’t what I ever imagined NYC to be in my long-held dreams. But if anything, I fell in love deeper and harder than I thought possible.
I’ve returned a couple of times since and seen more of the ‘real’ New York and thoroughly enjoyed myself. But everywhere I look there seems to be a haunting and chilling memory of my first time…..
I was hopeful of returning to NYC this year, on my 53rd birthday no less, to fulfil the ambition of attending a gig at Madison Square Gardens as The Twilight Sad were supporting The Cure that day. But some months out I knew that events close to home would mean I had to be in Scotland for something important the day after my birthday and so the plan was shelved.
I almost set myself up to head over this past weekend with today being Labor Day at the end of a long holiday weekend in the USA with my beloved Toronto Blue Jays playing at Yankee Stadium. But I chose instead to head to Toronto later this month and enjoy an extended break of a week rather than a few days.
Maybe NYC will be on the agenda for next year. Or maybe I’ll wait a while longer and go over when I have as much time on my hands as possible and do things properly and not in a rushed way, hopefully with Mrs V in tow.
There’s a reason for these particular paragraphs appearing today which will reveal itself in 24 hours’ time. For now, here’s some music from UK and Irish bands just as equally fascinated with the city, including the song from which I stole the title of todays’ posting:-