NYC walk


David Whitley puts his guidebook away and prepares for a sensual bombardment as he ambles through the parks and streets of Manhattan.


There are many cities where attempting to drive is an extremely bad idea. And, providing that the public transport is vaguely decent, the usual advice will be to stick to the buses and the train network.


This is especially the case with New York. You’d have to be a complete mentalist to think about getting behind the wheel here, and the Subway system is both generally excellent and available 24 hours a day. But is it the best way to get around? Heck no – providing you’ve got a bit of time on your hands and don’t mind waiting at the odd pedestrian crossing on a fairly regular basis, by far the best way to explore New York is on foot.


With a rigid grid system, it is virtually impossible to get lost in Manhattan. And, if you’ve got the free time, you’d be well advised to stick your guidebook/ map/ iPhone app in your bag and just see where you end up. There’s so much going on here that it doesn’t really matter if you skirt within ten blocks of a popular sight – you’ll spot plenty that intrigues or makes you try to suppress a belly laugh.


Central Park is a fabulous place to start, as it is rammed to the gills with New York stereotypes. Joggers really do pound around the Reservoir, people continually try to sell you hot dawgs from shabby-looking carts and there’s a crazy man who seems to think he’s Michael Jackson and likes dancing in the road. The park really is something special – the skyscrapers ring it, but it seems far removed. Squirrels scamper about, people pootle around the lake in boats and self-parodic personal trainers make middle-aged women leap about like kangaroos with flailing arms. Interestingly, there are also signs warning people to leave the wildlife alone. Apparently a few Central Park raccoons have been diagnosed with rabies. I think the Michael Jackson man has been consorting with the raccoons.


Once the relative peace of the park has been abandoned, it’s time to embrace the madness. Personally, I could happily spend hours looking up, cooing at skyscrapers, although I do concede that this would probably lead to me being called an “asshole” by a taxi driver. Yes, that stereotype’s true. And there is a deli on just about every corner too. Most of them sell bagels. And their owners probably like Woody Allen films.


Encounters range from the poignant – the gaping hole where the World Trade Center once stood, now filled with all manner of construction vehicles – to the comic. Within a period of twenty minutes, I managed to walk past a vociferous man selling ‘Barack Obama’ condoms, a busker trying to earn money by hammering away on a drum kit next to a deserted car park and a shop staffed entirely by men wearing just jeans and no shirts.


A particular highlight was watching a chap clad in streetwear finally conceding defeat. His trousers were hanging so low beneath his arse (at least 85% of boxer shorts on display) that he had to pull them up because he was tripping over. At last, a victory for moral rectitude and common sense. 


It’s a non-stop bombardment in which the little details (ice cream stands with calorie counts displayed as prominently as the prices) hit home as much as the stirring set-pieces (armies of suits pouring across Broadway as rush hour strikes). And it’s a reel or memories that you’ll not get by shutting yourself away for quick flits between sights on the Subway.



Disclosure: David was a guest of He stayed at the Hilton Gardens Staten Island ( and the Affinia Dumont ( in Manhattan.