Overview and History
New York was invented by time-traveling punks from across the galaxy so they could show up there in 1977, smash some guitars and then overdose on heroin to die in the East Village, according to prophecy.
The historic origins of the city go back to long before the American Revolution. Let's take a quick look at what it is before we look at what it looks like in panoramas.
New York City sits on the island of Manhattan. Manhattan, you will notice, is not only an island situated between two rivers perfect for easy transportation to the Atlantic Ocean -- it's also an Indian word!
Like lots of New England states and towns, its lineage comes from the "Indians" who lived there first. White people learned those names and kept them, for example Massachusetts, Connecticut, Manhattan, Chesapeake. Go out to the small towns in the greater New York or Tri-State area and you'll find even more names like Massapequa, Hammonasset, Ronkonkoma, Montauk, Quinnipiac, etc. And of course Mohawk, which comes into play later around 1977.
So, let's keep it sanitized for posterity. The white people came and the Indians left. How do you like that? Legend has it that white settlers bought the island of Manhattan for $26; obviously the contracting party on the other end had no idea what real estate connections were all about. Early pilgrims cited the Bible as their mandate for taking over what lands they found in "the new world". (They decided that, since "the Indians" had not subdued the land, it was free for the taking. File this away in the "karmic repurcussions" folder.)
The point is, New York City sits on a bunch of islands. An archipelago, if you will. An island just off the coast of Europe, if you want to comment on how different NYC is from the rest of the United States. Bird's eye view: you've got Manhattan, Staten Island and Long Island, which hosts both Brooklyn and Queens.
The south end of Manhattan is where New York City started. Once upon a time there were deer, owls, hawks and trees covering the entire island. Gradually it filled in with farms and, much later, low-income apartment buildings. Manhattan is now bridged to the western end of Long Island by the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, the Williamsburg bridge and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Take the Williamsburg bridge across from the east village to find where the artists went after the East Village got to be too. friggin. expensive. for. anybody. to. really. live. here. dammit. Go ahead!, check out the cost of living in New York yourself if you want.
Anyway, as European settlers filled in the space, New York City grew up and took over the entire Hudson Bay area including Connecticut and New Jersey (Tri-State area).
Contrary to intuitive belief, NYC is not the capital of New York State. Albany is the capital but nobody ever goes there except to do realllly big deals, so don't worry about it. New York's nickname is "The Empire State" and for all purposes, NYC is the jewel in the Empire's crown.
Back to downtown in Tribeca (Triangle Below Canal Street) -- you will find two distinctly different layouts. One side of this southern tip of the island was built by the Dutch, the other half by the English.
The Dutch side has twisting streets with lots of triangular central, um, squares that are hell on the novice bike messenger to find. The English side sports long avenues connecting evenly spaced parallel streets, a grid like what you see in midtown among the "number streets." What does that say about the worldview of these two groups at the time? See, already New York is intriguing. What else is going on there?
Here are the essential neighborhoods to cover, if you want to have even the most awkwardly cursory view of the city. This is going from south to north. For scale, it's about five miles from the southern tip to the south edge of Central Park at 59th street.
The financial district (Wall Street, etc), Tribeca, Chinatown.
SoHo, Greenwich Village, East Village, Meat Packing District.
Flatiron and Murray Hill merge upwards into Hell's Kitchen (best food in midtown), and Times Square and then Central Park.
From there it's all Upper East Side and Upper West Side until you get to Spanish Harlem, Harlem, and The Bronx.
Off to the East of Manhattan there's Brooklyn and Queens, both of which could take up a thousand pictures, and to the west side there's New Jersey. The East River and Hudson River border Manhattan to either side and if you can't figure out which side the Hudson is on, I can't help you.
If you just go to New York City and eat one meal in each of the above neighborhoods, you will have done an excellent job of seeing what this megalopolis has to offer. Many people make the mistake of going to NYC for a week and spending five days in Times Square. Don't let this be you. You can find food from anywhere in the world in New York and it's a crime against modern civilization not to do so.
Oh boy. Three airports, which are all connected to a greater or lesser degree by taxi drivers who are completely cool and professional on the inside, and you can't tell that by looking. It's a yellow river of taxis but you are not at their mercy if you can afford a helicopter ride to where you're going! Ha ha! You can't! And get used to it!!!
Everything about NYC is either a celebration of your wealth, or a celebration of not having any. Not to worry, there's an equal amount of fun to be had regardless of which end of the spectrum you're on. (That amount=MORE THAN YOU HAVE TIME FOR...)
Okay, the airports are JFK (John F. Kennedy International), LaGuardia and Newark International. Getting between Manhattan and JFK airport usually means a private limousine or a taxi, because the public transportation is not so hot there. There is the Airtrain on the subway line that goes there, just make sure you get on the right train.
LaGuardia airport is closer to the city center and you can get there on a bus without much trouble, if you have learned how to move around on the subway system and you don't mind standing on the street up in Harlem with all your stuff.
Newark International Airport is the easiest to get to because you can take a train right from the subway system at 34th Street in Manhattan and get off inside the airport at your departure terminal, and it looks high-tech the whole way. Check here for prices and schedules.
The subway (MTA) is a great way to get around New York when you're on foot for day trips, commuting, whatever.
The only caution is to remember that you can walk ten blocks a lot more easily than waiting underground. One ride costs $2 with the mandatory Metrocard. Tokens are in the museum now, next to the dinosaur teeth. No more tokens. Here's a subway map, have fun!
People and Culture
Are you kidding? People and Culture in New York might as well be "People and Culture of Planet Earth". Somebody from everywhere lives here and they all keep their native languages and recipes, then learn English so they can open a restaurant, all to YOUR benefit as soon as you figure out which neighborhood you want to go explore tonight.
There are a few sayings about people in NYC. First, "people in new york are either 100% real or 100% fake." This might be true, depending who you ask.
Second, "New Yorkers are the nicest people in the world.. you just have to force them to be nice." (because they're always in a hurry). This is definitely true.
Culture here? You've got film, fashion, music, food, fine art, dance, theater, you name it. Every art form you can think of, including the art of making lots of money, is flaunted on the city streets. Also fun stuff like sex, drugs, arson, murder and stealing are thriving here at the apex of their popularity. Think class division and you'll be standing tip-toe on the ice berg's lurking point.
Things to do & Recommendations
No swimming buddy, not in the rivers. Check out the beaches on Long Island for that, get there by train LIRR. Robert Moses State Park is my recommendation.
A great "new yorky" thing to do is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and get an amazing view of the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan skyline and Brooklyn.
There's really no way to encapsulate the life of this city in a few recommendations but I'll try.
Grimaldi's Pizza in Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood: Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Go there. Eat pizza. Die happy.
3rd Ward Art Space for Brooklyn wareouse type parties and also studio space.
In Times Square, take a bicycle taxi to get around, see things and hear a real insider's report on where to go not to get ripped off.
Meat Packing District for nightlife, start here.
It's abominable how much I am leaving out. Please forgive me, New York!!!
Text by Steve Smith.