Empire State Building from the sidewalk

The first time that I was in New York City I did not really like it. It was really hot and sunny and you had to spend most of the day dodging from air conditioned shop to air conditioned shop just to get a little respite from the boiling hot sun. That, and the fact that I had to push and carry and entertain a certain 1 and half year old daughter as well! Even at night, we took a walk down through Broadway and Times Square at 12 midnight to find a city very much buzzing and alive with life but also still stiflingly warm.

However, my responses to the city started to change when we got the ‘elevator’ up to the top of the Empire State Building and a whole new world was opened up to me. I know that there are now many different experiences where you can ride to the top of the city that never sleeps – but this was the one that I went on first and therefore the one that I liked the best. I’ve been to New York four times now and each time – I made sure that I made the trip to the top. I also realised lately that the best time to go was at dusk so that you get to experience the New York skyline by day and then gradually as the light fades, the lights of New York turn on and a very different city is revealed.

Looking towards the end of Manhatten island

The weird thing about being so high up is that the view makes New York appear as some sort of surreal playmat. The tiny yellow cabs, trash lorries and buses honk their way along the streets and avenues and look like tiny hot wheels cars. It is hard to believe that over 1.6 million people live in this small area of space. On a good day, the views continue for miles – across to New Jersey and across to the other 4 boroughs that make up the city of New York. You might be able to make out the small outline of the Statue of Liberty or across to JFK airport as the aeroplanes line up to land.

The safety fence sometimes gets in the way but sometimes helps to frame the shot

A security guard tells me that dusk is his least favourite time as this is when things can get crowded and tempers can get frayed as people push against each other to get the best shot. I’m armed with 2 different cameras and an iphone in an attempt to get some quality images of the before dark and after dark view of the city. The sun does not take its time in going down – the smug people who have timed their visit just right to coincide with the changing of the light are ready and are trying to pick out the iconic buildings. An American man beside me is pointing out buildings to his wife or girlfriend and getting them totally wrong – my son asks me to point some of the places out to him and I loudly make sure that he can tell the difference between Rockefellar Plaza/Comcast tower, the Met Life, Bank of America tower and the One World Trade Centre.

The view towards Central Park and Harlem

Someone near me reckons that Empire state must be the tallest. He has not been reading the wall displays – it was until 1971 and then briefly again after the events of September 11, 2001.

As the night continues to draw in, the lights of New York start to come on and its almost as if a different city is born in the darkness. The noises of the street, traffic and horns drift up towards the viewing area. Its time to try and change settings on the camera to get some nice night shots but sometimes the results are not quite what I want and a blurry picture is all that is found.

The lights of New York are twinkling

We move around all the four sides of the viewing gallery to make sure that we can see everything. It is a warm, balmy night but it is also mesmerising to see the city twinkling in all of its glory. We pick out the views towards Brooklyn and just about make out the Brooklyn bridge but the Chrysler building shines with its art deco arches – yet every time I try to get a good shot my camera struggles to cope and give me a sharp image.

New York is a city that slowly grows on you. It gets under your skin and as you learn to understand its ways and how it works – you gradually start to take real pleasure in all that it has to offer. You could go for a week every year of your life and still only find new things to do and experience. I can’t wait to return.

The views towards the Brooklyn bridge and the famous Chrysler building

(c) T Manson, 2021. All images copyright by the author

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