“Sometimes, from beyond the skyscrapers, the cry of a tugboat finds you in your insomnia, and you remember that this desert of iron and cement is an island.” Albert Camus
On landing in JFK I was greeted by snow and the blistering cold, having packed for the famous New York hot summer weather. My slight oversight was compensated by the thought that there’s probably no better place to go shopping than New York. After clearing customs I settled into my taxi ride into the city, armed with my Lonely Planet, already planning my weekend antics before starting work. I was lucky enough to glance up after about half an hour to see, with a sharp intake of breath, the Manhattan skyline. Nothing had quite prepared me for it, despite its evident familiarity through countless films and shows.
Our office is situated in the General Motors building at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 58th Street, on the south-east corner of Central Park. I was fortunate enough to be working in the restructuring department at a time when the firm was representing Lehman Brothers and General Motors in their chapter 11 cases. The work was one of a kind and while demanding at times, hugely rewarding.
One thing that can definitely be said of New Yorkers though is that while they work hard, they certainly know how to have a good time. While often brash and brutally honest, they are at the same time incredibly kind and welcoming.
How to begin describing this great city? I honestly have no idea. Meyer Berger, the famous reporter, once said “each man reads his own meaning into New York”. It’s not difficult to see why. Each part of the city has a different flavour. In Midtown and Wall Street you spend your time craning your neck at the endless wall of skyrises, or marveling at the mad rush of Times Square. Then there’s the quiet sophistication of the Lower West Side, the more edgy Lower East Side, the tranquility of central park (where you can row across the lake on a summer’s day or simply watch (or join) the steady stream of runners and bicyclists), not to mention the other boroughs of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. New York is a breath of fresh air - the variety is endless and the energy unlike any other city I have been to.
I have never experienced a city where you can leave a bar at five in the morning and still head to a diner to grab some breakfast, where you can walk through a square and half expect to catch a glimpse of famous naked cowboy, where you can have lunch at a three star Michelin star restaurant for $35 or queue around the block to grab a ‘gyro’ from a famous street cart, or encounter, whether in a square or in central park, people dancing on roller skates for hours or performing a break dancing street show. You can walk down famous 5th Avenue and shop until you drop, or the less famous fifth avenue in Brooklyn to appreciate how diverse the population of New York truly is.
You cannot help being swept along by the pace and vibrancy of the city. Enveloped in the present, it is very easy to forget that you are even on an island.
Alex Hasek qualified into the Corporate Department of Weil, Gotshal & Manges in September 2009.