I turn 54 today. It’s a bit weird. My birthday at home is over and I’ll spend the best part of today traveling west, which means by the time today is over it’ll last 27 hours. And they say you can’t travel through time. By the end of the trip Monday 9 December won’t exist for me.

We wake up reasonably early, finish the last bit of packing and head out for a quick brunch. Nothing special, eggs, breakfast burrito and tea. A little forgettable café on 18th street. We head back to Times Square for the last time.

Mardi pops into Sephora for the last time.

I wander to the reds steps at Times Square above the TKTS booth. It’s become a tradition for me. The steps elevate you above the throng of Times Square at 47th street looking downtown. Broadway on my right, 7th Avenue of my left. They criss cross in front of me at 45th St as Broadway snakes it’s way eastward down town.

I walk to the top and turnaround facing downtown. The steps are packed with selfie snapping tourists. People rush to the top, take a selfie with Times Square behind them, then trot back down again. The moment gone. I stand and take in the mayhem for ten minutes. The symphony of the city as they say. The beautiful catastrophe that is New York plays out before me. The naked cowboy, weird old lady (she proposed to me today), oddly dressed cartoon characters, Frozen, Mickey Mouse, Marvel, they’re all on show. The first time tourists, eyes wide open skyward, the locals, eyes downcast weaving expertly through the crowd. I think about my first visit to Times Square, 2010. Wide eyed, looking up as so many continue to do. Times Square is the fluorescent light attracting us moths. It still grabs me today, much like a great white shark grabs you. As Quint said in Jaws

A little shaking

A little tenderising

And down you go.

But after nine years I’ve been down that hatch a few times, so am a little wiser, more street savvy as they say. I’ve avoided the cartoon characters, the red shirted bus tour guide sellers, the new age rock stars handing out free CDs. Today Times Square is the main artery we use to explore this city. It’s a bit like the Coliseum in Rome. All roads lead to it. But then the converse is also true, all roads lead away.

I think of our journeys this time. Up town: the Park, museums, galleries, high end shopping, exquisite homes and architecture. Downtown, SoHo, Greenwich, the financial district, gorgeous architecture from a time building design meant everything.  I think of my brother and his first trip to New York. His fascination and Mardi and I sharing our New York with him. Little secrets we know, tips, time savers, stuff we’ve learned in the last nine years. I think of Mardi, the way she plans to make our trips memorable, her frustration at being so sick and her drive to squeeze as much as possible out of this wonderful city. She does so much, from planning long and interesting walks, to making sure the toothpaste is where I can find it. I think of my team at work, doing great things while I’m away. Mick, my boss for giving me the time off. Karen our house sitter, giving us the freedom we so much enjoy away from our fur babies.

In those ten minutes all alone, I feel surrounded, supported, by so many people who play a part in this time away for us. How fortunate we are, how thankful we are for that support.

I’m happy and sad at the same time. My dichotomy is much like the city. The sweet smell of the pine of the freshly cut Christmas trees gives way to the stench of the trash. The wealth and finery of the Rockefeller centre gives shelter to the poor as they huddle to stay warm. The cold of the streets melts away as you venture inside.  The architectural beauty high above is destroyed by graffiti at your knees. The peaceful memories of yesteryear at Central Park are erased by the boom boxes of the hawkers scamming tourists. Fine food served inside vaulted ceilinged restaurants is as satisfying as a hot dog from a street seller. New York is both ugly and beautiful at the same time. New York is both the same every visit and vastly different every visit.

It is this dichotomy that is the attraction. It’s almost undefinable. You can simultaneously love it and hate it and that’s ok. That’s New York.

I’m happy for this experience. For every minute in this insanely gorgeous place. I’m sad to be leaving. The tea, the buildings, the walking, the friendships, the madness.

I walk down the steps, link arms with Mardi and like a couple of locals weave our way back to our hotel. A few minutes later we are in a cab, the 59th bridge is our pathway home.  The city shrinks behind us as we crawl off the island before hitting the highway to the airport.

I take a photo of Mardi in the cab as the city fades behind us.

Thanks New York. See you in 2020!

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