Country bumpkins in New York

View from the Empire State Building, 1962. Photo by Tony Eppstein.

The friends we were traveling with chose the hotel, the cheapest they could find. It was on W. 46th Street, just off Times Square. Only one thin hand towel in the grungy bathroom. What to do? We called the desk. A maid appeared, to tell us the towels were not yet back from the laundry. In hindsight, a tip might have made towels magically appear. But we knew nothing about tipping; it wasn’t a part of the culture we knew.

 Breaking our 1962 journey from New Zealand to England as young married couple off to see the world, Tony and I had disembarked in New York to visit my sister Evelyn, who was completing her doctorate at Syracuse University in upstate New York. From there the three of us traveled by Greyhound bus to Baltimore to spend a few days with her friends Brian and Jennifer Wybourne and visit Washington, DC.

 Driving with the Wybournes back to New York, where we were to board another ship bound for England, we were wide-eyed at our first glimpse of the New Jersey turnpike. In a letter to parents I wrote: “…one of the most famous of the turnpikes – 150 miles of unhindered 6-lane highway. Then navigating the streets of the city – practically all are one-way, which makes it complicated, and you can imagine the traffic.”

 The letter continues: “The next morning we went up to the top of the Empire State building – early, before the mist got up. The view from the top is terrific – you can see the whole extent of New York city – which is saying something.” I look back in memory and see the young woman I was, neck stiff from craning upward at rows of skyscrapers that made deep canyons of the streets, mind agog at the level of luxury displayed in store windows. I remember wandering through several of the huge department stores, feeling lost and out of place.

Map of Manhattan

Map of Manhattan

One day we walked to the tip of Manhattan and back, excited to see Wall St. and Greenwich Village, and to walk on Broadway. I wrote: “We were really footsore by the time we reached the hotel, but then we had the big experience of our trip – riding the New York subway during rush hour. That was some experience. We held each other tightly, and shoved with the rest. Sardines in a can had nothing on the train – but you had to make sure you weren’t pulled out with the rush at each station.” Evelyn, who was taking us out to the Bronx to dinner with the family she was staying with, wrote in her letter home: “I deliberately engineered it to be at Grand Central Station about 5 past 5 at night. It was quite an eye-opener for them…”

 On each of the other nights we had the new experience of dining in a restaurant of a different nationality, all quite cheap by New York standards, and all in the same block as the hotel – Greek, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, as well as American – hamburgers and doughnuts.

An automat

An automat

For lunch Evelyn introduced us to automats. I commented: “We found foreign food much more interesting than American – they process it and vitaminise it, and goodness knows what – the result is rather tasteless.”

 In future weeks I’ll talk about other aspect of our first visit to New York: the art, the music, the experience of visiting the heart of the United Nations secretariat.

 And yes, a few more threadbare towels did eventually show up in our hotel room.


8 Responses to “Country bumpkins in New York”

  • Imogen Wybourne:

    …very surprised to find mention of my parents, Brian and Jennifer Wybourne. Interestingly their Grandaughter, Emily Mwila, will be going to New York in June to take part in the International Academy of Vocal Arts summer school in Opera and is hoping to study Opera at Mannes in New York next year

  • From Don Roberts:
    Your blog piece on your arrival in NYC brought back a wash of memories of my own arrival there – off a bus from Salt Lake City – in the autumn of 1961. Many memories, but one that jumps out is how the three of us (my room mate, Van Lindsay, and a close friend Judd Perry, and I, were all too cowed by the threat of incredible expense to take a taxi without knowing how much it would cost from mid-town Manhatten up to 116th street (Columbia). Alas, we could not find a cab driver who would give us even a rough estimate. Ultimately we caved in and took a cab. Our reward was our first tour through Central Park, which added about five extra bucks to our fare (and tnat was when a buck was a buck)!.

  • Alice Richards:

    Alan and I visited NY together and stayed in a hotel, that wasn’t particularly cheap but small enough to fit the king size mattress from wall to wall. I had them dry clean a dress/coat new outfit that I found out later they had shrunk. What a disappointment. We did see many artist’s work, including Picasso’s etchings, we had to sign up to be permitted to see.
    Some experience!
    Since I grew up in a big city, I enjoyed seeing skyscrapers and busy streets.
    We have lived in smallish communities all our married life and I miss the excitement of the “City”.
    Very good story, Maureen

  • Donna:

    Something to only when you are young…you are definitely a good story teller

  • Jeanette Boyer:

    Reminds me of a visit to New York to see a friend. I, indeed, felt like the country mouse there to visit the city mouse. I gawked and craned my neck staring up at the tall buildings. I would have been an easy mark for a pickpocket!

  • Judi:

    How I love those young New Zealand newlyweds!

  • Kate:

    Wonderful! Can’t wait to read more of your adventures!

  • Linda Foote:

    What a great travel memory you have to treasure

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