Monday, 23 June 2014

New York - Sunday

Despite the confusion our bodies must feel following the five hour jump we are up early on Sunday morning. Never wanting to lose complete touch with the outside world while on holiday I put the television on as we get ready to go out for breakfast. There's a man on ESPN called Steve Coburn complaining bitterly about his horse losing a race, and therefore the coveted triple crown. So coveted is the triple crown that I had not heard of it until Steve mentions it. Ordinarily and unless I have had a bet I find horse racing to be about as interesting as lettuce or bath plugs. But something Steve says gets my attention. He's upset because his horse has lost to horses which did not enter the other two races in his precious triple crown. There's a barmy moment when he announces that it is not fair to the horses, and then he tops that with a gem of a comparison;

"It's like me playing basketball against a kid in a wheelchair." he moans.

I'm startled by the crass and offensive nature of this comment, but my first thought is actually that in my many years in wheelchair basketball I reckon I have seen loads of kids who would thrash Steve one on one. He doesn't look the most mobile and I'll bet he hasn't got much of a shooting action. Nobody in America seems offended by the analogy as the clip is played over and over again to general nods of agreement from the presenters. Jim White would be sacked on the spot if he didn't offer a sharp intake of breath and demand a swift apology. And tutt a lot.

The plan is to visit Central Park this morning. Not the one in Wigan that is now a branch of Tesco. I refer of course to the more famous and somewhat larger park which is located about 10 or 15 blocks uptown from where we are staying. I can use words like blocks and uptown in a blog about America. As long as I don't say that anyone was like anything I'll be ok. Besides, using uptown in particular glides me safely over the fact that I have no clue which way is north, south, east or west around here. Or anywhere else for that matter.

First we have breakfast at a place called Applebees which is around 50th Street-ish. The ground floor, which you would think would be the most accessible to me, suffers from a Hard Rock-esque high table problem. In fact, as we go through the front door we are met by a member of staff advising us that we might be better off to go through the side entrance and to take the elevator (her word, not mine) up to the second floor where handicapped restrooms (again her words) are located. The use of the word 'handicapped' is everywhere in New York which makes it seem stuck in the past somehow. That word has been bludgeoned out of existence by the UK's disability terminology police and good riddance to it. I don't consider myself handicapped. The favourite in the 2.45 at Chepstow is handicapped. It doesn't seem right to refer to a human being that way.

I have pancakes, which again I can do because I'm all American. I'm like all American. Like. I hate to go on about pricing and money but I have to report that you can't get anything resembling a decent meal for less than about $15 per person, excluding any drinks. Not just here either. It had been the same for an evening meal in McHales last night. Fifteen dollars is roughly about £9.00. To put that into context I think the cafe around the corner from where I work are still doing full English breakfasts for about £3.00. Don't come to New York unless you have plenty of money and you aren't afraid to fritter it away.

Before we go to the park we make a few stops for essential supplies. Water, mainly. And I'm looking for a hat to protect my hairless head. I once got sunburned on a cold day at Old Trafford so I don't really want to take any chances. But I'm not having much luck finding anything. Since we are passing we stop off at the M & M store. It's not exactly Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory but it's not your standard sweet shop either. It's three floors high, two of which have walls which are literally lined with chocolate. Great tubes full of M & M's hang down along the walls of all kinds of weird and wonderful flavours. Yet at $13 a bag they are a little overpriced. If it's not sweets you are after there is pretty much everything else on sale here. M & M's have brached out into the world of merchandise in a manner that would make Manchester United blush. There's keyrings, mugs, fridge magnets, pens, pencils, soft toys, bottles and even board games featuring little coloured sweet characters. It's early in the week so we don't buy anything for now, but we'll be back I'm sure.

Central Park is a good 20-30 minutes push from the M & M store, all of it uphill. The blistering heat makes it even more difficult but it's worth the effort. It's a beautiful place on a day like this. We stop just inside the park for a rest and watch the horses trot by offering their carriage tours of the city. They all look knackered but happy enough. Those currently unemployed are tied up close to the entrance, and one has been positioned in such a way that he has to endure a face full of smoke from a nearby hot dog stand. He doesn't look too put out by it. Maybe he really likes the smell of hot dogs. Maybe he has just got used to it. Maybe he's just glad of a rest anywhere.

It's not that much easier to get around Central Park than it is to get to it from the middle of Manhattan if you use a wheelchair. There are lots of hills and slopes and the lack of signage means you can easily find yourself coming to an inaccessible dead end. My own chair hates the downhill slopes as much as my aching shoulders hate the uphill slopes. The right hand rear wheel is wobbling wildly on each descent but it feels fine uphill or on the flat. I don't remember it being buckled to buggery before we came to New York. My best guess is that it happened on the plane. It's not enough for American Airlines to try and humiliate me with a farcical toilet door episode, they want to damage my wheelchair aswell. At least they didn't lose it, I suppose. I'm waiting with mortified trepidation for that day and I'm sure that it is inevitably looming. I'll crawl before I get in an airport chair.

We spend a perfectly pleasant but uneventful few hours in Central Park without ever finding its mythical visitors centre. Is that a tourist information centre? Who knows? As I say, we never find out and instead exit the park around 81st street close to the American Museum Of Natural History. We toy with the idea of going in at that moment but decide to leave it for another day. I like to take my time with museums and by now it is already after 2.00 in the afternoon. And it's going to be a long journey back from here. We walk and push the 30-odd blocks back to Times Square, again often engulfed by the manic crowds. We head down 9th Avenue where our driver had told us to look for cheaper restaurants. Nothing stands out as somewhere we would be desperate to come back to. Maybe they are cheaper for a reason, and many of them look like wheelchair access is a concept they haven't yet considered.

After a brief collapse in the hotel room we are back out again early evening looking for some entertainment. Only we have a problem. A Hard Rock Cafe inspired problem. Every bar we go into seems to have high tables, which if you have ever tried to have a conversation with someone sat at a high table from your wheelchair you will know is bloody useless. The bar directly across the street from our hotel has high tables and a disabled toilet. Again they give and they take away when it comes to access in New York. Two more bars offer only high chairs for which one or two proprieters apologise with differing levels of sincerity. One asks us to wait 10 minutes until someone seated at their lower tables leaves. We decline. Not only am I outraged that they can't accommodate this hardly earth-shattering demand, but there is nowhere to wait. Except at the high tables and remind me again what the point of that would be? We move on.

To a place called Hurley's as it turns out. There is a girl standing outside the doorway trying to get people to call in. She asks how I am and since I am feeling a little stressed at our inability to find even a bar we can be comfortable in, I tell her I'm not doing that well and explain the situation. She consults her manager. Only high tables in here, except one booth which can be accessed from a door off to the side. The manager offers us what she probably thinks is a sensational, kind-hearted proposal. We can go into the booth and just have a drink, but we only have an hour because the area is booked up for a private function at that point. It's better than nothing and the only thing rivalling my disdain for these access problems is my thirst. At last we can have a pint in comfort. I'm not even going to moan about the price in the circumstances.

When our hour is up we go back out to look for low tables. It's becoming an almost comical, absurd quest. Our luck doesn't change but as it happens we are starting to get hungry. Access in bars and restaurants is excellent if you want to eat. Mostly. We spot a TGI Fridays and reason, quite understandably, that we will be able to go in there for food. Yet we are told that they 'don't have the elevator', seemingly implying that they had it and misplaced or damaged it in some way. Not to worry, they say, they will bring a smaller table to the ground floor. Like Applebees, TGI's ground floor needs a few adjustments to be considered truly accessible. Adjustments, it turns out, that they are unable to make. First of all they bring a low table out to us but the only space available on the ground floor is too small to comfortably sit at the table together. When we explain this to the somewhat dumbfounded staff (heck, what do we want?) they go on the look for an even smaller table. Which after several minutes of what can only be described as fannying around they fail to find. Even had they been successful it is difficult to see how a table small enough to fit into the space available would have been suitable for two people to eat at. Miffed and not a little exasperated we finish our drinks that I now feel duped into buying, and leave.

We find a place called Rosie O'Grady's and although there is a little wait for a table we decide we can handle one drink at different heights because we know they are going to get the seating arrangements right once we settle down to eat. It says something about my frustration that I'm impressed by a small shelf which flips out of the bar giving me a lower surface to lean on while we wait. We chat to the barman about the World Cup. He's Indian so is not supporting anybody in particular but says that he thinks England will do well. He doesn't define doing well. I tell him I don't think much of the USA's chances, an opinion which their coach, Jurgen Klinsmann has been widely crticised for expressing. But I can say it because I'm not the coach. And it's true, they won't win the World Cup. It's not like winning the soccer send-off series.

What else are you going to eat while you are in a New York restaurant pretending to be Irish but fish and chips? With that and a few more beers the night has not been a total washout, but much of the conversation is around how to go about solving the ongoing high seating problem that threatens to plague our holiday evenings. We decide we'll think of something, but we're not exactly sure what. What we do know is that we have a night at the baseball and one at the theatre already planned. Two nights sorted then, only another six to consider.

We get back to the hotel to find Steve Coburn still complaining about those nasty, cheating horses, still proclaiming his dominance on the basketball court over 'kids in wheelchairs' and still generally being a total arse. And still getting away with it.

It's an odd sort of place, this, in many ways.

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