Koutoulas: Random observations from a week in New York

Published 10:09 am Thursday, July 25, 2019

I recently spent a week in the heart of New York City — mid-town Manhattan — for some work-related training. Other than an airport layover many years ago, this was my first time in the Big Apple.

I came away with quite a few thoughts about that great American city, which I posted to Facebook.

A friend suggested I work them into a column, and while I am not sure how many Winchesterites are all that interested, I decided to give it a shot.

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Life moves very fast in this city. It’s like controlled chaos. From the movement of cars and bikes on the streets to the throngs of pedestrians vying for position on the sidewalks, one can quickly get lost in the shuffle. Learning to navigate the crowded sidewalks of midtown took a bit of concentration, but this country boy got in the flow pretty quickly. And I can see why no one drives a car here unless they have to.

Everything is expensive in this city — and I do mean everything. I paid $10 for a Big Mac meal on my first day. And many times more than that for a nice dinner and a drink the next evening. Even the basics, such as forgotten mouthwash and melatonin tablets at Walgreens, cost me double what they would have here at home.

Times Square is exciting, and you don’t have to pretend not to be a tourist; pretty much everyone here is. I had this initial fear of sticking out like a sore thumb. But a quick glance around revealed that nearly everyone was alternating between taking selfies and just gawking at the scene. So I quickly ceased pretending to be a local. (With my southern drawl, I couldn’t have pulled it off anyway.)

New York is truly an international city. If you like diversity, this town is for you. The faces, the languages, the food — so much of what one can experience here from different cultures form a rich tapestry that makes it unlike any other American city.

I’m convinced one can buy anything or eat any food known to humanity within walking distance of anywhere in this city. My hotel was two blocks from my training center, but I actually got out and walked a lot beyond that area. I ate at several great restaurants and pubs, caught a movie, strolled through Central Park and Greenwich Village, visited the 86th-floor observatory on the Empire State Building, did some shopping, watched performance artists, and visited the piers on the Hudson River. All of that was accomplished on foot.

This is an ancient town, relative to the rest of the U.S. In lower Manhattan there are many buildings still standing that predate the founding of our country. Not log cabins, but impressive stone edifices.

The North-South avenues of Manhattan are quite spacious, except for Broadway, which isn’t so broad, south of Columbus Circle.

Speaking of Broadway, the theater district is fantastic. There are so many great shows playing right now. Because my wife is a fellow theater lover, I didn’t want to take in a show on this solo trip. But I’m vowing to take her there with me soon. For those of us who live way “off-Broadway” — where we wait for years to see shows like “Hamilton” and “The Book of Mormon” — it blows my mind to think I could have walked to those and many more great shows at any time.

I don’t know where New Yorkers got their reputation for being rude. Nearly everyone I encountered was pleasant and helpful. Maybe not quite as charming as the people of Kentucky — things really are different here in the south. But just as we are often misunderstood by New Yorkers, so I had some wrong ideas about them.

If I lived in Manhattan, I could get over 20.000 steps a day without even trying. I love to walk. I walk two miles around my neighborhood just about every morning, and often again in the evening. And as much as I enjoy that, in New York, I could walk twice a day every day for a year and still have places left to explore.

I’d like to linger for just a moment on that last point. Winchester is not New York and never will be — nor would I want it to be. But it surely would be nice if we were able to walk safely from neighborhood to neighborhood, and beyond to shopping and work destinations. As I wrote in this space recently, our town is quite disconnected when it comes to amenities for walking and biking from place to place.

On the other hand, driving from one side in Winchester to the other probably takes less time than driving four blocks in Manhattan.

Final thought: Traveling is so much fun, but there’s no place like home.

Pete Koutoulas is an IT professional working in Lexington. He and his wife have resided in Winchester since 2015. Pete can be reached at pete@koutoulas.me or follow him on Twitter @PeteKoutoulas.