Empire State of Mind

“I was about to send out a search party…” I said to Michaela, remarking on the amount of time I had to wait for her at a restaurant/bar at Coney Island. As the day was warm, and there was a lengthy queue for tables, she suggested I went inside to grab a table while she waited for our orders. “The waitress dropped them, and they had to start all over again”, was the explanation offered as to why we had to wait to so long.

Really? Yes, really. I know America has a reputation for good customer service. The rationale offered is that with a “tips” system you’re supposed to get better service, but I have encountered some pretty average customer service on this trip. “Why don’t they just pay them properly…” I have been saying throughout this trip, probably reflecting my deep misunderstanding of US culture.

Was the food worth the wait? To be honest, it was, possibly, the most expensive, worst food I’ve ever had in my life. Nine dollars for four deep-fried prawns failed to satisfy my lunch-time yearnings. “Maybe we should have waited around the hot-dog eating contest”, I joked, referring to the annual contest at Coney Island.

Coney Island is massive. Really massive. Much larger than I expected. Impressive, too. Though for the day, Coney Island (the fun park) wasn’t our destination. Neither of us had much interest in roller-coasters. We were there for a swim, and a visit to the nearby Russian area known as Little Odessa (which I absolutely loved).

As it was a warm day, and I have fair skin, I took a seat at a nearby bar while Michaela went into the water. “Do you want to go on that ride…?” I heard the woman seated next to me at the bar ask her husband. They were on their honeymoon. For a moment, he paused and then said “No”. A few minutes later, she pointed to another ride and asked the same question. He paused. Looked up, pointed to a ride, and said, “You mean that one…?”. Once again, he paused and said “No. How about we go on the ride that involves sitting at a bar, moving slowly, and importantly staying close to the ground…?”

“OMG, he’s afraid of heights”, I thought to myself. “He wouldn’t like the Empire State Building”, I thought to myself, which was my other big adventure for the day.

As I was escorted to the very front of the lengthy queue to the first lift of the building, I felt a slight sense of guilt. “Come this way Sir”, I was told, which involved walking past literally hundreds of people, as the only person in a single “VIP Queue”. Fearing there WOULD be lengthy queues, I paid an extra $20 for such entrance. It’s definitely worth paying extra if you can afford to, as the sense of guilt disappeared pretty quickly though, as within less than fifteen minutes from arriving at the Empire State Building I was on the outside balcony looking over New York.

And what a view it offers in all directions, though it’s probably the view towards Central Park that offers the most. I arrived before sunset, which seemed to be a reasonably quiet time, actually, and spent about two hours wandering around the viewing deck. By around 8.30, though, the crowds had begun to build again (presumably parents had taken their children home for dinner), and by that time I’d probably also had “enough”.

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