I had never doubted myself until a fruit salesman in Ohio confidently informed me that that I hadn't lived till until I had visited New York. With my whole world shattered by uncertainty I decided to flee Toledo, heading east at breakneck speed in search of enlightenment as well as a life-changing dollop of reassurance. And I am pleased to report that I have never regretted anything less, for the moment I first set my eyes on the famous Manhattan skyline seven hours later I giddily conceded that the Big Apple had got me by throat. Life was suddenly worth living again.
But it is an odd place to be, as New York is a celebrity city that is defined by its infamy and manifested in a way that is both entirely alien yet somehow completely familiar. There are the countless songs, the innumerable cultural references, the famous places and those yellow cabs; so much Americana all at once that you are almost sick of it before you arrive. Yet nothing could have prepared me for the raw, full-blooded reality that comes with stepping into the heart of downtown. The buildings are taller, chunkier, more solid and more defined in their appearance than any media form can ever hope to encapsulate. It is imperious and grand, but also mischievous and untamed. The city bustles the way every 1980s movie would have you believe. It is loud and it is energetic, with a constant purr from some unseen and unidentified engine. The people look as New Yorkers as should look; an alternative collection of self-made caricatures proudly existing as physical manifestations of the city that envelops them.
Seeking a logical starting point, I headed to Time Square Metro Station to take the IRT Lexington Avenue Line south; at least this way I would be able to zip about until I got an idea of where I wanted to go. Which suited me just fine, for the iconic New York Metro is a standalone experience in itself, a baffling network of interwoven lines patrolled by a haphazard fleet of polished metal caravans. Austere, devoid of colour yet full of edgy charm, these rattling cuboids are the public transport equivalent of a fairground ride. So happy I was to be travelling on the Metro that I fell asleep, only to be awoken several hours later by a mechanic in the Bronx. Evidently I had gone all the way up and down Manhattan. Twice. All that remained for me to do now was get out somewhere in the depths of the city's northern end and wander around until I located my car.