I’ll tell my grandkids I was first in line to go through U.S. Customs at Dublin airport on a brisk October morning in 2014. I was starting my 12 month adventure with a J-1 work visa and moving to New York.
So yes, you could say I was a tad eager to board that first flight out of Ireland, New York City bound. Growing up I had a map of New York pinned to my bedroom wall alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Rick Alessi from Neighbours (remember him?).
My aunt used to joke that I spoke about Manhattan before they even knew what Manhattan was. It was a million miles away, both figuratively and geographically, from anything I ever knew growing up on a Donegal peninsula, yet it was the one place I wanted to be.
Shows like “Friends” and “Sex and the City” did little to dispel the romantic notions of NYC, yet New York always signified more than just a bunch of friends lounging in fancy settings sipping coffee or swigging posh cocktails, as enticing as such things may be.
For me it was strumming guitars in Washington Square in the grand tradition of Bob Dylan, it was the heady days when the Rat Pack ruled the theaters and Cary Grant dazzled in “An Affair to Remember,” and the fanciful idea of jogging through Central Park and eating humongous slices of pizza on-the-go. I felt life would truly start if I was in New York.
And here I am, at long long last amidst the glitz, the glamour, the big and the bold, and happily, I find it all as it should be. Phew!
My fears that I might somehow find this city lacking in any shape or form were instantly crushed as soon as I emerged from the subway at Columbus Circle. It was all happening – the noise, the smell, the reflection of the morning sun of a mirrored skyscraper, the street vendors, tourists, the power suited and booted and the beeping frenzied motion of the iconic yellow cab. The excitement was intoxicating and I had to stop myself from belting out a verse of “The Streets of New York.”
Making my way to 56th Street and 9th Avenue, where I would be staying with a friend until I found my NY sea-legs, my bottle of Deep River Rock water – the last of any Irish produce I would be purchasing for a while – escaped from my bag.
Looking more travel-frazzled tortoise with my backpack and bags of duty-free than Carrie Bradshaw, I debated how best to pick it up. I needn't have worried for a guy swiftly picked it up and handed it to me with a courteous “Here you go ma'am.”
Being my first re-introduction to New Yorkers, this interaction appears to have set the scene, for all I have experienced so far is friendliness, kindness and genuine interest from anyone I have spoken to. Truth be told I think the Irish accent goes a long way in easing social situations. People hear the lilt and immediately feel a sense of ease and interest; they inquire about your life. It makes me feel connected.
What strikes me most about the city is the feeling that you are walking around one giant movie set and that anything, absolutely anything, could happen at any given moment in time. And it does.
Attending the Irish Consulate breakfast meeting the morning after I arrived, I learned about an Irish art exhibition that was taking place in DUMBO – how impressed the folks at home were to hear the cultured activities I was engaging in!
Rumor had it that Ireland's latest rising-star, Hozier, would be in attendance and sure enough, there he was, as gracious and entertaining as you could wish any musician hitting the big time could be. Playing to a friendly crowd of about 60 people, he expressed his pride in being among such talented Irish artists and the welcoming reception he had received since arriving in the U.S.
Appearing on "SNL" a couple of evenings later, the guy is surely destined for amazing things. A couple of weeks ago I was reading about him in Hot Press and here I am shaking his hand and wishing him all the best. Only in New York, kids, only in New York.
It's Columbus Day as I’m writing this, and I have been here for eleven days. In that time I have walked the many paths in Central Park marveling at its quiet; familiarized myself with Greenwich Village; treated myself to an expertly-mixed Manhattan (eat your heart out Carrie); had brunch in and fell in love with Williamsburg; got invited to a premiere at the New Yorker hotel (don't ask!); been blinded by the Times Square daily spectacle; made peace with the subway system; conversed with waiters, cashiers and strangers like old friends; sampled various pumpkin-flavored delights and have almost certainly convinced my family to come visit for St. Patrick's Day
My to-do list is growing by the day and although I have every intention of visiting other American states and cities while I am here on my 12-month visa, I have every reason to believe that NYC, its five boroughs and its big-hearted, characterful people will be more than enough to keep me inspired and entertained.
As one guy on the New York Daily News float said earlier in the Columbus Day Parade: “You're in New York City, how could you not be having a good day?” Wise words to remember.