You will need a cast-iron bladder. Manhattan is devoid of public bathrooms. You can walk around all day and never find a restroom. There are none at the subway stations and none in the parks and if you do find a bathroom it will be out of order or locked. Someone told me there are some bathrooms at Central Park but I visited there twice and never found them.
Your best hopes are with Starbucks and McDonalds but the bathroom I went to at Starbucks was out of order and the bathroom at the McDonalds I went to was on an upstairs level and they weren’t allowing anyone to go up the stairs.
I did find a bathroom at a Whole Foods Market. It was on the upstairs level where they have a dining area. However, if you want to use the bathroom you have to make a purchase and your receipt will have a series of numbers on it that you punch into a lock on the door and only then will it open for you. That’s if you have enough patience to endure the lengthy queue of customers clutching their receipts trying not to look desperate.
Department stores are another option. I found the restroom at Macys; yet again, the queue was so long it was like being at a concert where during the interval, all the females swarm the bathroom.
If you’re at Central Park, you can join the other hundreds of people crossing over Fifth Avenue to find the bathrooms in the Todd English Food Court of the Plaza Hotel.
The locals are very aware of the ‘public bathroom crisis’ and they all have their own personal list of where in Manhattan you can find an unlocked bathroom.
The women of New York appear effortlessly stylish. They are very noticeable as they walk along with an oversized, overpriced designer handbag supported on one of their shoulders. My sister told me that in New York you need a big handbag because it’s your boot (trunk). Commonly they will also be sipping a green juice and have a leash in one hand hand leading to a well-groomed fluffy dog.
If you come from a culture unaccustomed to tipping, the tipping scene in the US can be confusing. I forgot to tip the man who drove us around Central Park in a horse and cart. Then I tipped the doorman for hailing us a cab but then sat in the taxi not really sure if he was supposed to be tipped. When it comes to dining out, I remember years ago the amount to tip was always 10%. These days it’s a lot more than that, probably because wages haven’t kept up with the rising cost of living. We were at one restaurant where the check (bill) arrived and written on it were calculations for tipping 18%, 20% or 25%. I asked others how to work out what’s right and the general consensus is to look at the amount of tax charged (around 8.5%) then double that figure and you’ll have worked out the tip.
It’s very easy to get around New York especially if you have a good pair of walking shoes. Walking is the best way to see and experience New York so wear the right shoes. Obviously Manhattan is too big for a pair of legs so the best thing to do is to go down into the subways and get a map and purchase a Metro Card. We paid around $30.00 for a card that gave us unlimited travel for a week. It’s so affordable.
And it’s safe. Everyone in New York catches the subway so there are always people riding the trains.
The subway system can seem overwhelming but don’t be intimidated. If you can’t work it out, just ask for help. We found the people of New York were overly-keen to be of assistance. When we wanted to go to Tom’s Restaurant we asked someone how we would get there from W4 Station. The man said, ‘You want to take the Blue Line, then you’re gonna take the A, C or E train uptown. You’re gonna get off at Columbus Circle and take the Red Line. You want the 1, 2 0r 3 Trains and you’re gonna take them uptown to 116 Street’. At first this sort of ‘speak’ had our heads spinning but after a few days we were managing the subway quite well.
Everything you want to see or more importantly, everything you want to photograph will be covered in scaffolding. Clearly New York is a city constantly being rebuilt and so entire building blocks like the Flatiron Building are hidden behind scaffolding. We had dinner in a restaurant where the owners knew the scaffolding would be covering their building for quite a few months so they hired a landscape architect to cover the metal bars in vines and fairy lights.
America prides itself on customer service and they do it very well. All the stores have someone to greet you as you walk in and they will also wish you a nice day as you leave. There are staff all over the stores to help you and they wear headsets so if they’re helping you in the change room they can radio another sales assistant to bring you garments in a size up or a size down. You never have to seek out help; help arrives almost before you need it.
And often it goes beyond just help with clothing sizes. We were in Anthropology and they even had staff serving snacks and drinks in the change room area.
We had a great shopping experience in Macys where Arabella was buying some shoes. She was being served by a very good looking African-American man who was full of rhythm and dancing to the in-store music. She fell in love with a pair of shoes and told him she just needed to find me (was in the queue for the bathroom!) so I could pay for them. As he danced around he said, ‘Take all the time you need; nobody’s gonna buy those shoes; I’ve got those shoes; those are your shoes; ain’t nobody gonna buy those shoes’. When it came time to buy the shoes I didn’t even have to take them to the counter. Right where I was standing he put my credit card into a mobile device and the transaction was done then and there. Shopping in New York is great not only for the variety and the prices but also because of the warm and attentive service.
I found the people of New York to be approachable, helpful and friendly. They’re only too happy to talk to you. And you can have the funniest conversations. An African-American lady who was about 60 was serving me in Macys. She commented on my earrings and told me how lovely they were. Then she looked at me curiously and asked, ‘Where are you from?’ I told her, ‘Sydney, Australia’.
‘Really? You’re so elegant I just knew you had to be from somewhere elegant’.
‘Oh, thank you very much’.
‘Do they have kings and queens in your country?’
‘Well actually, yes we do’.
‘Who’s your king?’
‘It’s Queen Elizabeth the Second, actually; we’re part of the British Empire’.
‘Really? That’s so elegant; I just knew you had to be from somewhere elegant’. And from then on she treated me like royalty!
Another day Arabella and I were down at the subway trying to work out how to get to 42nd Street Station. I asked a woman if the train that had just arrived was going uptown or downtown. She told me uptown and so we all got on. She was a retiree who had migrated many years ago from El Salvador. She asked, ‘Where are you from?’ And I told her, ‘Sydney, Australia’.
She said, ‘Oh, that’s nice; how lovely. Is that close to Argentina?’
I said, ‘Well not really. Argentina’s in South America and we’re quite a long way from South America’.
And so…if you have good bladder control, an over-sized designer handbag, can remember to tip, own a good pair of walking shoes, are not afraid to try the subway, don’t mind buildings hidden with scaffolding and enjoy talking to the locals, you will have a fabulous time in New York.
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