New York - A Very Different Experience!
by Kate Lockhart
(Edinburgh, Scotland, GB)
Several years ago, as a third year Fine Art student in Edinburgh, some of my work was accepted for exhibition in a New York gallery. I got together with some of the other students, all women, in my year who had also been selected and within our excited conversation, I jokingly said we should all pop over for the opening.
So what started out as a bit of a laugh ended up coming to fruition as thirteen girls spent the next few months planning and preparing for our trip. We arrived at Newark Airport on a bitterly cold January morning and, we congregated in our groups of threes and four and checked the taxi fare with the driver before taking a yellow cab into town to our hotel.
We dumped our bags off at our hotel, deposited our passports and excess cash in the room safes and headed out with our various group plans and a back-up plan already in place. All phone numbers were saved to each phone, a daily Meet Here By time arranged and a general compromise was reached so nobody was ever bored or alone. For the next few days we visited our carefully organised locations; sightseeing, shopping, eating, galleries and parks and, of course, our exhibition. We were careful not to stray too far, kept to the main streets, never visited parks unless broad daylight and the park was busy, never got a taxi alone or a taxi that wasn't an official yellow cab and we wore packs around our waists for cash etc.
We were armed with a selection of safety items; pepper spray and a whistle to attract attention and a rubber door stop to prevent anyone pushing in if we opened our hotel room door. Before setting off on our trip, we also consulted a self-defence tutor who, fortuitously, happened to be a friend of ours and she kindly gave us a few pointers on what not to do as well as a few essential combat manoeuvres we could use if any of us were taken by surprise!
We all returned home intact after a week having had a great time. It was only on returning a few years later with my husband that I realised my second trip was a very different experience. I was much more relaxed and didn't give a second thought to my whistle and pepper spray and my rubber door stop remained safely tucked away in a box in the attic. We bypassed most of the landmarks which is not our scene anyway and instead nonchalantly meandered through the back streets discovering all sorts of weird and wonderful things that, for me, summed up the real people and the real city; amazing little Italian sandwich delis, street vendors, markets, bars, kids playing basketball in the streets and skateboarders sliding over rails and running down steps, We ate and drank and chatted to the locals who were helpful, some even friendly.
Here was real life taking place behind the tourist scenery and it reminded me a bit of the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal a little old man pedalling furiously to keep up a facade.
New York for me was a bit like this on my first trip that presented this image of a city that is hard, austere and more than just a little bit scary and having gone on this second trip under the protection of a man it highlighted the fear and vulnerability for women travelling alone which clearly makes for a very different experience to one spent in the safety and security of the opposite gender and coming from a small, sane city with a low crime rate where, as a woman, you can walk the streets alone in the evenings with little fear.
It would be interesting to ask a group of New York women travelling to Edinburgh if they felt the same fears we did and whether it is the unknown or our imaginations that scare us more and I wonder what they would arm themselves with on a trip to Scotland, maybe just macs and umbrellas to fight off the rain!
(Ed note: Kate runs www.thepadpod.com, which helps people find accommodation in Edinburgh.)