By Caitlin Kelly
You can always see the famous icons of New York City, on postcards and T-shirts and in movies and television.
It can make you feel like you know the city even if you’ve never been here.
But, like every major city, it’s a place of many facets, most of which tourists will never see.
One of the coolest aspects of New York — and one so easy for pedestrians, drivers and tourists to forget — is that it’s a busy, working harbor.
The East and Hudson Rivers are as crowded with marine traffic as there is vehicular madness on the FDR (highway on the East Side), the BQE (heading out to Brooklyn and Queens) and the West Side Highway.
Every day dozens of tug boats are pushing barges somewhere — or guiding enormous cruise ships through a harbor filled with treacherously narrow and shallow channels.
I spent one of the happiest days of my work life here aboard a tug boat and came away in awe of these workhorses, each worth a ton of money and able to keep the city moving in ways no other craft can.
What many people don’t know is how crucial tugboats were to us all on 9/11, a day of utter terror and chaos. Here’s a story about their amazing, unsung role.
One of my favorite sights is seeing a tugboat at night, its lights stacked high like a mini wedding cake as it chugs along the river.
Broadway is still a real treat.
Despite crazy-high prices and the impossibility of getting tickets for some shows like Hamilton, seeing a performance in one of these classic, small, intimate theaters is well worth doing and can create a lifetime memory.
My favorite? Attending, of all things, Mamma Mia, with my husband’s Buddhist lama (yes, really)…Namaste on Broadway!
And Lincoln Center; this is the David Koch Theater. What a pleasure to wait for the house lights and the jewel-shaped lamps fronting each balcony to dim, the hush as the curtain rises on another ballet.
The entire building is delicate and lovely and ethereal — very early 1960s with all that white marble and gold — and makes an event there feel, as it is, like a special occasion.
This is a classic! One of my favorite shopping streets, East Ninth.
There are, still, a very few streets left in Manhattan, (more in Brooklyn now), that are funky and filled with quirky independent shops.
Rents skyrocket daily, forcing many long-time renters and businesses to shut and leave, sometimes to close for good.
A gas station at Houston and Broadway, one of a very small handful of gas stations in Manhattan, is soon to be torn down and replaced with….what else?…more million-dollar condominiums.
Hey, who needs gas anyway? Just thousands of working cabbies, to start with.
One of my favorite cafes, Cafe Angelique, (now on Bleecker’s eastern end) had to vacate its spot in the West Village when the landlord jacked the rent to…$45,000 a month.
Find — and support — the indies while you can!
Never forget — this is a city of incredible, rising income inequality.
The photo above, of a space that dwarfs airplane hangars, is filled with food, all of it destined for the city’s poorest inhabitants, many of them elderly.
You can enjoy the High Line and Times Square, dear tourists, but it’s only one tiny sliver of New York City.
The film-maker of The Wolfpack literally found her documentary subject on the sidewalk — passing this group of handsome young men — and wondering who on earth they were.
Their story is almost unimaginable, raised inside their Manhattan apartment by a fiercely controlling father.
If you like shopping, you might enjoy a visit to Saks Fifth Avenue. I like eating lunch there, and enjoying this view.
Or, getting up to dance with 800 strangers at 7 in the morning.
Yes, I’ve done it, several times.
If you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll see all sorts of elegance and beauty in the least likely places. This is a lamp on a private college campus in Brooklyn.
And this tea and coffee shop, here since 1907, makes me happy. I stagger out every time laden with pounds of beans and tea.
The pattern of a metal plate on a Soho street…This is a city that still truly rewards a close look and sustained attention.
The back of a store on Spring Street in Soho. Speaking of quirky…
My birthday month…a facade in midtown Manhattan. Note the twins of Gemini.
A firehouse. How gorgeous is this?!
Nope, not Rome or Florence or Paris…Soho, Manhattan. The cast-iron facades downtown are a terrific reminder of the city’s past, not just the gleaming multi-million dollar condo towers.
And for those who still dream of becoming journalists…Columbia Journalism School.
I studied here in the 1990s — now I teach writing there!
How can you resist? The city is filled with delicious bakeries and temptations…
If you come, make time to walk sloooooowly and savor all these sights.
18 thoughts on “Some insider views of my New York…”
i love all of the attention to detail in your post. it’s the little things, the craftsmanship, the artistry, the caring, the quality, that make all of these things so special. thank you for sharing them. by the way,i saw “wolfpack” recently and was struck by the story and the kindness and creativity of the children.
I fear so many tourists just stagger around Times Square and eat at a chain restaurant…and leave with little feeling of some of these quieter details.
Wolfpack was amazing…
Yes, and as we both know, the magic is all in the details –
Although I’m not from there, I feel every word you said. Your great attention makes this post more well-written. And of course, thanks to share this feelings and to post it here. It was a pleasure, really. Follow me on blog: https://fatewallowers.wordpress.com/
What a lovely love story to New York City! I really enjoyed reading your post – and have to agree that I find it so sad that the independent shops are being pushed out of the city. Income inequality is such a huge issue here. But there are so many wonderful things to treasure as well!
Check out this amazing story — about the NYC Turtle society — I found later today. It’s amazing.
What a cool story! I had read an article a while back about the woman who rehabilitates turtles in her apartment, but had never heard about the society. These are the types of things that makes New York City what it is. Thanks for the link!
I loved it. Glad you enjoyed it!
I’ve been to a lot of different places but never New York, though I keep that trip near the top of my “Places to go” list. I spent the better part of a week in Portland, ME last summer and barely scratched the surface. I would imagine two weeks in NYC would have pretty much the same effect.
You teach writing at an interior design school? Presenting your ideas with words and not just boards? What a concept, it really makes you think.
Yet another great post. Thanks for putting it up here.
People who you need to persuade into buying your services can’t just look at pretty images. You need to attract them to your business in the first place — like marketing any small business — through articles, blog posts, web copy, etc. Plus all client-facing communication needs to be stellar, which is why one of my recent students came to the class, to improve hers.
You make me miss it! Have not visited since 2014 but that was a great trip. You’ve inspired me. I need a girls’ trip there to soak all of this in again!
When I visit NYC (not sure when that will be exactly, but it will be someday), I’ll make sure I ask you for insider tips on what to see and where to go. 🙂
Would you recommend finding somewhere to stay a short train ride from the city itself, to save $$$? While it would be nice to be right in the centre, accommodation is expensive.
The challenge will be..where? You could try Jersey City or Hoboken (a few minutes away by train) or Brooklyn….but I doubt anything will be much cheaper.
I guess I wouldn’t mind being a bit further away from the city, say, in one of the towns along your stretch of the commuter rail. But then I suppose you have to weigh up the costs of the train…
I was looking for budget places to stay and The Jane hotel in Greenwich Village seems to have a decent reputation. But I think I would prefer to stay in a private guesthouse/B&B rather than a hotel. And I’d definitely want to be in a relatively safe neighbourhood.
I’m not aware of any B and Bs in NYC so I would not focus on that. There are very few neighborhoods that are truly unsafe — and you won’t find lodging there anyway.
The trainfare to my town, return, is about $17 — then subway fare is $2.75 per trip.
This is one of the hotels in my town — price of $146 night (which is cheap for here) — you’d need a cab back and forth from the train station (unless they have a shutttle) bus. Taxi each way adds $5.