We've all gone to look for America

27th July 2007 at 01:00
As we headed along the freeway from Newark Airport, music played in my head.

First off it was Simon and Garfunkel's "America". We were on the New Jersey Turnpike and, in homage, I began to count the cars. I got to about six when the Manhattan skyline hove into view and my personal sound system switched instantly to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue".

From then on, the iconic images kept on coming. Four lanes of yellow cabs sat in rows at junctions as if at some saloon car Grand Prix. Road signs flashed past: 42nd Street, 8th Avenue, Broadway. Skyscrapers soared with the Gershwin crescendos.

Though it was mid-afternoon, our eyes were stabbed by the flashes of the neon lights (more Simon and Garfunkel) and when we saw the signs to the subway, we knew that the words of the prophets would be written on the walls. Perhaps not. Former Mayor Giuliani's zero tolerance policy has probably reduced graffiti to an insignificant level. We never went below ground to find out.

There was enough to do on the surface. We wandered through Central Park and were pleasantly surprised to find statues of Burns and Scott. A trip to the crowded observation deck of the Empire State building proved to be briefly spectacular. (Tip from youngest member of Steele family: go up the Rockefeller Tower instead: you'll see just as much but won't have to queue for hours). The free Staten Island commuter ferry took us out past the Statue of Liberty, hazy in a heatwave that made the news. Ground Zero will get an article of its own.

So much for icons, but what about stereotypes? I had expected to find that a large proportion of New Yorkers would have, well, large proportions. This was not the case. My theory is that they do too much walking to get overweight. Someone had suggested they were the rudest people on earth or that, at best, their politeness was of the false "have a nice day" brand.

Again, this was untrue. We liked the people and their city that never sleeps. Frank Sinatra (also on the in-head entertainment system) got it right. Icons, not stereotypes. I will have to ponder the relevance of all this to physics when I return to the world of education.

Gregor Steele

will probably bang on about New York in at least two future columns

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