Surviving the Cold in NYC

As native Sydneysiders, we have no concept of what real cold feels like. An 8 degree day is enough to start the complaints rolling. Everything is just a little more difficult, a little less enjoyable. We like stepping out in single layers, shoes without socks, jackets not required.
After just 5 days in sub zero temperatures, I’ve pieced together a cold weather survival plan – things I would do if I had to endure this cold as a resident and not just get through for novelty’s sake as a tourist. I’ve been checking out everyone on the subways and the streets, seeing what is available to alleviate all manner of chills.
Let’s go from the top down.
Head Cold: It’s an oft spouted fact that you lose a lot of heat from the top of your head. Headwear is big here. Beanies, fur-lined hoods, berets and flat-caps. Street labourers wear open faced balaclavas – some pulled up over the nose so that only a small oval of the eye area is visible. If balaclavas were more common I might choose that as part of my survival kit, as the cold, red nose is a common side effect of icy winds. Phoebs and I have been discussing the merits of furry ear muffs. They come in bright colours and they are basically just fluffy circles held in place by a clear plastic headband. Again, cold ears are a common complaint when the wind picks up. Phoebs says that her ears feel hard in the cold.
Neck Wraps: Just down from the head is the neck – in fact they’re connected ; ). Keeping the neck area warm and tightly wrapped keeps the rest of the body warm as no draughts can get in through jacket tops or shirt necks. Good jackets and coats button high at the neck, so you can keep your chin nuzzled in and woollen scarves have the added benefit of being able to be wrapped halfway up the face…maybe even up to the tip of an icy nose.
The Midsection: The torso or trunk is the least of your worries. Like a river delta or a busy intersection, your midsection is the starting point and meeting point for most layers. A singlet tucked into some leggings or thermal underwear. Long sleeved undershirt, T-shirt, shirt, jacket, coat. It doesn’t take much to become roly-poly in the middle. I have never once thought – Jeez my chest is cold. It’s the extremities that threaten to snap off like icicles. In fact, if you don’t get a chance to strip off a few of the outer layers when indoors for brief transitions, you can actually get a bit sweaty with all that puff around the chest.
Hands: Who knew cold thumbs could hurt so much? I have gone gloveless most of the time because I’m a phone addict and it’s annoying to be constantly taking gloves on and off so you can text or post on Instagram. Also, I lost a pair of fingerless gloves that I bought on the first day and I’m loathe to pay for another pair. I’ve found that pulling the sleeves of your shirt or jacket over your hands or keeping your hands in your coat pockets works pretty well. But when it gets really cold and you’ve been doing too much with your hands – like trying to take a photo or extract a credit card from your wallet – the icy weather can render your digits useless – frozen butter fingers. Raw and frozen thumbs need to be massaged back to health. Street vendors selling polar fleece gloves, mittens and convertible mittens can be found on most street corners.
Legs Eleven: Keeping legs warm can be tricky as it’s difficult to work up a lot of layers. Phoebe has taken to wearing three pairs of stockings at a time. For the guys, a pair of long johns under jeans is a good idea as denim doesn’t block out the icy wind. If all else fails, it’s best to keep coats long, boots high and exposed leg to a minimum.
Tootsies: Frozen toes can really cramp your style. Mattie said his toes felt like ice cubes that would shatter if you hit them with a hammer. After tramping around in the snow for a while it feels as if there are a row of marbles in your boots. Problem is that you can’t layer your socks up too much or your shoes don’t fit anymore. The trick would be to buy your winter shoes a size too big to make room for some thick, thermal socks. Alternatively you can go down the Ugg route and have sheep-skinned warmth in a bogan boot. Actually, I have seen way more Uggs in America than I’ve ever seen in Australia…possibly our most lucrative export.

It’s hard to imagine that there is ever a combination of cold weather gear that could make you feel like normal. Unless you are in a fully enclosed suit, there is always going to be a little bit of discomfort, a need to brace, to huddle, to burrow against the elements. It isn’t easy going about your business with stiff arms, raw fingers and knocking knees. We’re only here for two weeks, but to endure an entire winter in the city must be tough. A couple of times we’ve chatted to locals who have given us advice about the neighbourhood and the relative dangers. I was amused to hear them say that things got “louder” or “crazier” in the summer. The implication was that the natives turn a little wild in the hot weather. But on reflection, it makes sense. It’s just to goddamn cold to be out on the streets running amok in winter. Snow and ice – natural crime stoppers.


Cold Ear_Muffs

Duck Sauce, All Dat

On our first night in Brooklyn we went exploring for a place to eat. It was around 8pm on a frigid Friday night and there was barely a soul on the street. Apart from a few head lolling dozes on the aeroplane, none of us had slept for a good 30 hours or more. My ears were slightly blocked, muffling not only the sound, but my general comprehension of the world around me. But it was still amazing. It felt like we were walking through an episode of Sesame Street after dark.
After walking aimlessly for 20 minutes, our toes were freezing inside our shoes, so we gave up searching for better options and piled into a tiny Chinese take-out joint. Inside the tiled foyer, the walls were plastered with hand written signs, randomly arranged. There were some laminated photographs of unappealing food, but mostly perusing the menu consisted of swivelling around and reading one bizarre sign after another. There appeared to be two price options: Pt or Qt. I had know idea what that meant, but later learnt that it stood for “Pint” or “Quarter”, an odd system for measuring food size? To place your order, you shouted loudly through the bulletproof Perspex, with little sound holes drilled through, and a small slit for passing money though. There was a double language barrier – not only was the harried chef a native Chinese speaker, he was also unaccustomed to our Australian accents. We struggled through with lots of repetition and pointing and hoped that we would at least get something approximating what we ordered. As we waited in the dingy, tiled foyer we were treated to a comedy of errors as the door swung continuously, admitting a cavalcade of hungry Brooklyn natives. We felt like meek little Australians, full of manners and superfluous “thank you’s” as we observed how it was done, Brooklyn style. Every customer apart from us was African-American. Black puffer jackets, jeans and sneakers (or ugg-boots) were the standard attire.
Enter the first lady customer. She strode purposefully up to the counter and rapped impatiently on the glass.
“Gimme 4 chicken wings and fries”
The man serving didn’t bat an eyelid. She’d obviously called the order in earlier and he had it ready. He shot back with his own barked question “Sauce?” (which in American sounds like “sorce” and Chinese American “soss”)
“Gimme Mambo sauce all over. Over everything”.
One after another, the customers came in, banged on the Perspex and demanded wings and chips. So popular was this choice, the handwritten sign was posted right in the front counter window. Wing prices – from 2 through to 10, every number combination. And every customer knew exactly how they wanted them
“Gimme four wings and cut those wings before you fry them with Hot sauce”
There was a cute little boy in a puffy Parker who was no older than twelve and had zero manners. Knock knock knock. Gimme wings. He left the restaurant with a swagger, rapping to himself.
We started to see a pattern emerging.  Most people had phoned their wing and fries order in and they were just coming in to pick up. One guy came in to pick up four serves, but there was some confusion – the order hadn’t been placed. We listened to customer and chef bicker with each other until the customer demanded “Gimme your phone”. There was a small passage through the Perspex where food could be handed. The chef passed the phone through to his customer. Every exchange was simple and to the point. Gimme your phone. Phone handed over. No time wasted with niceties. The guy phoned his friends, argued a little more and his ordered was placed. The next farcical interchange involved sauce.
The Chinese Chef held a canister of salt and demanded sharply
To which the impatient and frustrated customer replied
“No – sooorce”
This went on for a while until the two of them understood each other
“Duck Source, all dat”






Subway rides cost more than the fare

The subway in New York is not just a means of transportation, it’s a travelling show. Entertainment on Rails.

There is so much people watching to be done, conversations to be listened into, madness to avoid. And there is always someone asking for cash. The entire city of New York is one giant hustle. If there is a buck to be made, there’ll be an enterprising New Yorker on the case. The last time we travelled overseas it was to Phuket and we expected to be harassed for money. I didn’t anticipate that it would be the same – if not worse, in New York.

Subway passengers are a captive audience. Hurtling along in a tin can, no way to escape at least until the doors open. Three times in the last two days we were treated to a Subway Spiel. The first time a shabbily dressed woman walked into the carriage and projected her voice across the carriage  “Ladies and Gentleman, I am a struggling artist. If you can help me in anyway, if you have a dollar to spare. I am going to sing you a song by Sam Cooke”. She then took up position by the doors and belted out her tune with an impressive and soulful voice. It was an arresting performance. She had a lot of guts to get out there and sing from the heart. I gladly parted with a dollar bill.

Next we had a charitable cause. A man with a big tote bag announced his request “Ladies and Gentleman – most of you probably know me. I am here to feed the homeless and keep them warm. Any money you can spare – even a dime. Or if you have any food or warm clothes, I’ll take them with me and give them to those who need them. And if any of you are hungry or cold, let me know and I can help you out”. I was carrying a box of Dunkin Donuts. I thought about contributing a couple, but I wasn’t sure how well they’d fare in the tote bag. Phoebs wanted to give away the pink gloves that she’d bought from a street vendor yesterday, but missed her chance. However, we all had a few dollar bills that we wanted to give. As the man walked through the subway car shaking his cup, we all made a contribution.

But our favourite hustlers would have to be the dance crew. In direct defiance of the no ghetto blaster sign, a group of cool young guys hopped on the subway, briefly announced that they would be performing for cash, turned on the music – loud – and proceeded to cavort up and down the corridors. We loved it. Of course we’d pay for that! Especially when their sidekick holding out the hat was a gorgeous little kid. Three dollar bills. I need to make sure I always have change on the subway, there’s always more to pay for than your ride alone.


The Moral of the Neck Pillow

I am writing this post to alleviate guilt. I need to get $20 worth of ideas out of one soft, bean-shaped purple folly.
Straddling my clothes rack at home is a perfectly serviceable bargain-shop neck pillow. Purchased in 2011 for our Thailand trip, it has sat patiently gathering dust, waiting for our next trip.
And of course I forgot to bring it.
I wondered aloud how much a neck pillow would cost at the airport and Mattie quipped “As expensive as a neck pillow could be”. Of course he was right. If there’s anywhere that a consumer is ever going to pay a premium for a neck pillow, it’s at the airport: “Last Neck Pillows for 3000 Miles”. I deliberated over colours, baulked at the price – but in the end happily shelled out $20 for a purple neck pillow. That isn’t so bad in itself, but it was just one more over-inflated, impulse purchase in a string of over-inflated impulse purchases. All up I think I dropped $200 in various shops around Sydney airport. $16 watery laksa, $8 rancid fruit salad, $40 on plug adapters. The list goes on.
My first pang of buyers remorse came when I saw better neck pillows, trendier neck pillows that were two for twenty dollars. Two for twenty. Read it and weep, sucker.
I began to resent the neck pillow slightly when it became just another awkward thing to hold while juggling passports and boarding passes. My shame blossomed when I barely used it on the first 13 hour leg of our journey.
But the real kick in the guts came when I lost the neck pillow during our connection at LAX. Gone. $20 vaporised.
I’m finding it hard to let go of. There’s a special kind of stress that comes with wasting money. It’s some kind of psychic calculation that divides time spent working to earn the money, multiplied by all the other things you could have bought with the money, carry the guilt of being complicit in a culture of rampant consumerism and add $2.50 ATM charge. It messes with my mind. I have to write it out of my system.
So, the moral of the neck pillow?

Don’t buy one.


5am Panic

We all complain that there are not enough hours in the day. Everybody wishes that they could squeeze in a 25th hour every now and then. And it is also true that we all have a preferred time of day. Morning People and Night Owls, there is a sweet spot in the day where you’re firing on all cylinders, feeling most like your true self.
I panic about time. Not the sort of panic that fuels me to be on time for things, but a generalised panic about those sands through the hourglass. Like trying to hold an armful of balloons, it’s a comic struggle. The more rushed I am, the more stupid accidents I have. My hands become mittens (as an aside – do not google “Mitten Hands”, it’s disturbing), I start needing shin and elbow pads. I have a tendency to rush out the door holding all of the items that should be in my handbag separately.
But there is nothing as ridiculous as the 5am panic. So counter-productive. I set my alarm to wake me while it’s still dark, I want to mould time in my favour. Pat, pat, pat with the clay….a few more hours here…pat, pat, pat, shave a little time off here…
But to find myself still squinting, sitting in front of a computer with my nose twitching like a little rodent, panicking about What am I going to start? What am I gonna do? What should I write? What should I do? is actually a little insane.
So the 5am Panic has passed. I have written a blog entry, exorcised a little time-guilt, slapped that 5am hyperventilating panic sharply on the cheek.
Time to be late for work.
A Clip-Art Medley – illustrating the very human emotions around time panic in such an authentic way