What do you think of when someone mentions New York? Chances are,that even if you’ve never been there, you still have an instant picture in your head, probably featuring Manhattan; maybe Times Square, or the Financial District, or perhaps the high rise apartments of the Upper East side with a view of Central Park. The streets of New York have worked their way into the background of our culture in a way that no other city can match. Sure, London, Paris, San Francisco and many other cities have their iconic images that are familiar to most people, but I can’t think of another place where a first time visitor can arrive and immediately get the sense that they’ve been there before.
There’s a reason for that, of course. It’s because we have all been there before. Okay, there may be a few people out there who’ve never turned on a television or watched movies, but chances are your introduction to New York was much like mine. It started in my early years with the familiar song of. “Su—-nny day, chasin’ the clo—-uds away” which always led to those comfortable rows of brownstones and welcoming front stoops of Sesame Street. Sure, there were little clips here and there that were supposed to give the show a “Canadian” feel, but we all knew that Sesame Street was like no other neighbourhood in my part of the world. As I grew, it seemed like every second show on television was set in New York; Diff’rent Strokes, Taxi, Fame, The Cosby Show, Kate and Allie, Night Court, even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, each introduced me to a new part of town. As I got older, the influence of the city only grew. Friends, Seinfeld, Spin City, Mad About You, Will and Grace, the list goes on and on. And is it even possible that a series called Sex and the City could be set anywhere else?
Going to the movies only reinforced this image of New York being at the centre of the world. Every show that had the cliche of the small town person arriving in the big city seemed to involve a wide eyed wander through Times Square. Every era of it’s history has been explored, every neighbourhood has been featured. We know what it looked like in midtown Manhatten in the 1930’s (King Kong), the Upper East Side in the 1940’s (Miracle on 34th St.) and Lexington Avenue in the 1950’s (Seven Year Itch). In every genre, from comedy to horror to drama, Hollywood has reinforced the idea that “New York” and “the City” are synonymous.
So, does all this familiarity mean that the first time visitor will be disappointed; left with a feeling that they’ve seen it all before they even get there? Not for a New York minute. (Sorry, couldn’t resist) Somehow, the sense of having seen it all before just adds to the first impression of this amazing city. And that first impression never really goes away. Well, maybe if you lived there for 20 years or so you’d eventually stop looking around in wonder and marvelling that you’re really in New York. But I don’t see how a visitor could ever get tired of the place.
So, why do I have New York on my mind these days? Well, it looks like our next family trip will be to the big city for the first few days of January, thanks to some Alaska Air points and a great deal on a Times Square hotel. And every time I hear the first notes of “Sunny Days….” I know where my mind will wander.