Following the Big Bright Lights in NYC
Updated: May 15
It's 10:00pm on a Saturday night.
I just wrapped up my third day of watching films and capturing content at The Explorers Club Polar Film Festival. I'm feeling great—I'm not quite ready to go back to my hotel.
As I wander around, I get a vivid vision of how NYC looked like from the sky on the day I landed in LGA.
I remember seeing the city from a bird's eye view—no fields or soil in sight, just monuments of concrete. My eyes were fixed on the thick layer of brown smog painted on the horizon.
I admired the wonderful bodies of water acting as great natural resources. These waterways separate the city's boroughs. The Hudson River is a tidal estuary—where saltwater from the ocean meets fresh water running off the land. Essentially, where wildlife should be thriving. But mankind has other priorities.
I thought of how much waste the population of this megacity creates, and how industrial chemicals and sewage pollute these precious waters. My thoughts made it hard for me to swallow.
My taxi driver Patricia from Columbia put down my window to let me take photographs on our way into Manhattan. She thought I was going for all the landmarks—she kept pointing them out to me, telling me to sit on the other side. It's okay, she didn't get it.
"Do you like living here?" I asked.
"It's nice, it's different" said Patricia.
She smelled of cheap perfume, but I liked it. It suited her palette.
Patricia wouldn't understand, but I wanted to capture a different version of NYC than the one we always see.
My notebook reads:
3rd x in NYC, first in Manhattan
The estuary below doesn't look so big from here. The man sitting next to me bought Wi-Fi on a 60-minute flight. He isn't moved by the light coming through my window, more bothered by the reflection on his screen. Microsoft Excel.
"it's nice, it's different"
She smells like cheap perfume but I liked it. It suited her palette. Supplies aren't endless.
Thick layer of brown smog.
Patricia had an incredible amount of patience driving through these streets. She was even on the phone with her husband the whole time, not sharing many words. Just on the line. I always thought it was strange when people did that.
She charged me a flat rate of $65 USD plus tip, which came to about $90 CAD.
NYC is a playground for selfish people.
Residents are blinded by the fancy bright lights, logos, brand names—it's never enough. It screams "consumerism" and it's impossible to enjoy it for what people make it out to be, when you see it for what it is.
This city keeps you forever wanting more materials. Materials here justify your existence and importance. This is a place where starving souls come to starve. Everyone's little demons and disasters are celebrated here, they are prisoners of urban lifestyles.
But here I am, three days in—little me, walking on the concrete in Manhattan with a large camera bag on my back and blisters on my feet.
My shoulders are sore, and I've passed the point of feeling sharp pains from carrying my camera bag around. In it, I carry a DSLR, two lenses, a flash, two microphones, about 10 spare batteries, chargers, my laptop, hard drives, a notebook and my wallet. A second DSLR hangs from my neck, hidden under my coat.
I know I'm taking a huge risk, and the thought of leaving it all at my hotel crosses my mind— but I must follow the lights, even though I'm not in the right headspace for it yet. I must see the place. The one they say is in "all the movies".
I choose Nest as my soundtrack, and the sound of gentle ambient piano immediately entrances and enlightens me on my solo journey down to Times Square.
My soundtrack gives a satisfying cinematic feel to the madness surrounding me. I can still hear what's going on through my headphones; the emergency vehicles rushing and deafening car horns honking every few seconds. People screaming, music blasting. It sounds like an endless festival, except no one knows what they are celebrating.
I walk down 7th avenue and pass by an M&M store with three floors full of useless merchandise called M&M World. I could tell who bought something from here because they are walking around with yellow bags. I see them everywhere. People buying shit for the sake of buying.
Back on the streets, people are selling rip off brand-name purses and watches in front of gift shops. Their targets are women and wealthy-looking couples.
There's a Christmas store open 365 days a year, for no reason at all.
Unsure what to think of this new fashion trend by YSL. Is this man just covered in white paint?
The lights are getting brighter, and city sounds are getting louder. I have an urge to turn back and cross Times Square off my list of places I've visited but I get sucked in. It's just too big of a feeling, it's everything I despise. When the crowd walks in one direction, you naturally follow.
People are taking photos of everything with their phones (mostly of themselves), and no one seems quite sure what they're looking at. The blinding advertisements change every couple of seconds.
A preacher makes sure to catch everyone crossing a busy intersection.
I notice an older homeless man standing in the middle of a crowd of tourists.
Times Square characters are everywhere. They try to get you to take photos with them to make a few bucks.
I see many Sesame Street characters, particularly Elmo's. Looks like many people rely on this quirky job to pay their bills. It's interesting to see how many there are competing for attention. I wonder what their rules are to keep the peace.
This creepy-looking guy is wearing a shirt that says "I <3 SOMEONE WITH AUTISM"
I cross the street to get the hell out of this busy area and look down, only to see a reflection of an advertisement in a puddle at my feet.
I continue past the NYPD office, which almost looks like something out of a cartoon.
As I escape the lights, I follow the smoke—which is in fact steam, coming out of the middle of the street.
I learned that Manhattan has a network of steam pipes underground releasing steam from boilers. They use this steam for a tremendous amount of reasons, including: humidifying air, sterilizing hospital equipment, powering dishwashers in restaurants, and it even offsets a lot of electricity in the summer by providing cooling power to buildings.
I enter a small market that's open late, grab $30 CAD worth of things to eat. Some fruit, a meal for that evening, some kombucha to help my stomach and a bottle of water.
The clerk handed my food back to me in multiple plastic and paper bags. I guess that's just how it is here. I have no energy left, I take the bag and go.
I return to my hotel room, eat my shawarma and get comfortable. I eventually fall asleep to what is now white noise to me.
I wake up to honking and fall back asleep. Can't be bothered.
A thought wakes me right back up again...
"Shit, I went to Times Square and didn't even take a selfie!"