Friday 26 September
After a final night with Lara it was time to head state-side. This time we took a mini-cab back to Terminal Five with all our bags. Dave amused Charlie with stunt stroller driving around the seats (in a deserted part of the giant building). The flight to New York was peaceful and we were surprised to receive express treatment at immigration in JFK when they realised we had an infant. Coming out through customs we were greeted enthusiastically by Emma, Ben and Karen who had generously driven a good 60km to pick us up. The sat nav system in their Q7 was extremely useful negotiating the route to their home of the last 18 months (since Roger transferred from Sydney with UBS) in hedge fund central, Greenwich, Connecticut.
On Saturday Roger drove us and the kids to the Woodbury Common Outlet Mall, home to 220 designer brands, where even Dave managed to maintain his interest in shopping for a record five hours. We had sore feet, bored children and somewhat depleted credit card balances by the time we returned. It was only that evening that we realised how far the Aussi dollar had fallen since our departure - luckily most of our purchases were still bargains by domestic standards.
The next day Karen led Dave on a refreshing bike ride around a pretty nearby wilderness area, warning him to check carefully for ticks carried by the local deer population, which spread Lyme disease. Meanwhile Flick and Charlie went with Roger, Ben and Emma to the local playground, getting rather "wowed out" by the size of the houses. In the afternoon, however, we discovered that we were in the "poor" part of Greenwich when Roger and the kids took us for a tour. Reputedly one of the wealthiest parts of the USA on a per-capita basis, there was certainly plenty of conspicuous consumption on display. "Mansion" was a word that came up frequently as we toured the leafy suburbs and water-side areas facing Long Island Sound.
Then we went to the street with the car yards. Conspicuous by their absence (bearing in mind this was before the calls for an auto industry bailout) were the mainstays like GM, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota. VW/Audi was about the most affordable dealership, followed by BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, a large Aston Martin collection with about 30 Bond-worthy vehicles in the open yard (priced from US$135,000), Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini. We appreciated the incongruity of a Dunkin' Donuts store next to the Bentley dealership. The main shopping street showed a similar lack of discount and even regular cost outlets, with exclusive designer brands predominating. Since we left the town's economy has been hit particularly hard by the economic crisis given that 17.5 percent of its labour force were employed in finance, real estate and insurance.
Monday morning we took the train in to the iconic Grand Central terminal and headed down 42nd Street towards the East River to meet Dave's former classmate Crispin, pausing to admire the stunning art deco lobby of the Chrysler Building. Crispin works on an anti-land mining programme at the UN. We were lucky to catch him as he was getting married the following Saturday and will be based in Afghanistan for much of 2009. Unfortunately due to the heads of government forum he was unable to get us into the UN building for a tour, but we did have a morning tea stop with him.
Next we headed over to Times Square to pick up a double decker bus tour, which Charlie thoroughly enjoyed. New York deserves its reputation as one of the world's great cities. It's almost a city-state, with many heartland Americans claiming it's not part of the USA. It has a cosmopolitan buzz and an energy to it that you don't find anywhere else. The skyline is majestic and unmistakeable and it's the sort of place you can get anything you want at any time of the day or night. But enough hyperbole…
On the bus, Dave finally got through to Bret, who turned out to be on location on the Lower East Side, filming a sequence for the second series of Flight of the Conchords. We worked out that our route would take us fairly close and eventually (after a toilet and directions stop at a local police station) found the action. Flick used to attend ballet classes with Bret at his mother's studio, while Dave went to the same school as the three McKenzie brothers and at one time looked after Bret and his younger brother for a couple of weeks while Deirdre was on an RAD trip abroad, and later lived in a flat underneath their house for about six months.
Unfortunately Bret could only chat for a few minutes before he was called away to shoot the scene. We watched a number of takes of a sequence where Jemaine has just been dumped (yes, again) and launches into a song recounting the reasons he is unlucky in love, joined by Bret with both sporting absurd guitar-like instruments made out of old video editing equipment. We particularly liked the line "Felicity, said there was no electricity." Stand by for the season premier on HBO, 18 January 2009.
The next day we headed back into Manhattan, starting with a wander around the Rockerfeller Centre including the discovery of our favourite store for the whole trip: Anthropologie. A mixture of women's wear, beautiful home wares and some lovely books and kids stuff, the combination of product and environment was extremely seductive. Back on the street we picked up the remainder of our sight seeing tour, noting as we went past that the extensive digital signage on the Lehman Brothers headquarters near Times Square had been rebadged as Barclays Capital only two weeks after the bail out acquisition. 15 love to the Brits, but in a losing game for all of us.
We did a spot more maternity shopping (and Flick can also recommend a Pea in a Pod in the giant Macy's branch on 34th) before taking the subway downtown to meet Karen and the kids for a trip to the Statue of Liberty. Talk about security - some of the tightest on the trip including a puffer machine that creates a 3D image of your body to make sure you don't have any concealed weapons. They don't let people ascend right to the head of the statue anymore either - only the top of the plinth. Still, it's a great view and a fascinating historical site.
In the evening Karen had organised a sitter meaning we were able to head for a delightful adults only meal at the Beach House Café in Old Greenwich.
On Wednesday David headed to downtown Manhattan to catch up for lunch with Blados, aka Alex, who was in his year at Wellington College. Lawyer turned banker, he has been based in NYC for some time. Lunch was very pleasant at St Maggie's, a restaurant situated in a heritage building at the east end of Wall St. The Street itself was still buzzing with news crews, assorted protestors and plenty of security.
Then it was off to Wicked, the Broadway musical that explains what had gone in on the Land of Oz prior to and following Dorothy's arrival. Karen had kindly volunteered to look after Charlie for the afternoon (the second and final time we were separated from him for the whole trip). But back in midtown Dave was running late for his rendezvous with Flick at Grand Central, and guess who had left her mobile phone behind… Luckily we had previously sussed out the location of the Gershwin Theatre and separately determined that it would be a sensible alternate meeting point.
Now we're sure some of it was down to the Broadway buzz and the fantastic (read expensive) seats that were all that were available when we had booked a few days before), but Wicked was (wicked, that is). A classic tale of misinterpreted morals, woven around and turning on its head the classic Wizard of Oz story. Or to quote Wikipedia's description of the novel it is based on, "a political, social, and ethical commentary on what good and evil really are." Throw in great sets and costumes, a happy ending and some uplifting songs and you have everything you could want in a musical.