New York Author Jodi Picoult once said, the only shift offered when you become a mother is one that goes twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Despite the many joys and rewarding aspects motherhood brings, there is an intuitive understanding within the mummy-clan, that it can at times be one of the most challenging and exhausting jobs. With three young children each, the challenges this relentless shift brought two Brisbane mums to recognise their need for some me time – precious down time to re-charge and re-focus. A four day leave pass, sans kids and children was planned, but not just at any close-enough-to-drive to coastal destination. We set our sights to go much further, to New York City.
We had both been to New York City a few decades earlier in our 20’s. As a university exchange student based near Boston,Massachusetts, trips to New York City were frequent. A brother of one of my university friends lived in the city. My other Mum friend visited New York as a tourist, when she was in her early 20’s. We both felt that inexplicable rush whenever New York City was mentioned. As women in our 40’s, we knew this would be the perfect getaway destination. The ideal locale for an indulgent long week-end filled with shopping; eating; drinking; a little sight-seeing; possibly some celebrity spotting and loads of girly laughs.
Meticulous planning went into this long week-end. My friend, the epitome of organisation, never leaves anything to chance. The complete opposite to me, who leaves everything to the last minute. She spent countless hours researching on-line, interrogating unsuspecting shop assistants and hotel front desk operators over the phone, to gather their local expertise on the best places to stay, where to eat and shop. The accommodation chosen was the Mercer Hotel in the heart of Soho, one of New York’s most exclusive neighbourhoods. The Mercer, Soho is a small luxury hotel, described by Vogue as the Hottest Hotel in New York. Thanks to Russel Crowe, the hotel has become more in-famously known for thatphone throwing incident. Soho in Lower Manhattan has a wide variety of stores and shops ranging from trendy boutiques to outlets of upscale national and international chain stores. Everything we two mums desired and all within a minute’s walking distance from the hotel’s front door. New York City (and our Hotel) was a hot spot for celeb-spotting to potentially occur. Previous guest comments suggest the appearance of a celebrity, or paparazzi waiting for one to appear, is a regular occurrence. Although the celebrity part wasn’t an influence on our final decision, it certainly added to the anticipated buzz about the week-end, as we joked about the celebrities we may run into at the Mercer.
Despite our twenty plus years absence from the Big Apple, we both felt the familiar adrenalin rush, as we landed at La Guardia Airport. Or was the absence of kids and husbands creating our buzz? As our New York cab hurtled down the backstreets of Soho, my friend began hyper-ventilating, spotting many of her favourite designer shops, “these are all my on-line shops in real life,” she shrieked. The cab pulled up in front of a large non-descript doorway, no signage announcing the Mercer Hotel. Earlier research, I’d read the Hotel described as a landmark Romanesque revival building. Stepping from the cobble-stoned road onto the footpath, I looked up and noted the building’s corner pieces were definitely Romanesque reminiscent. But you must never doubt a true New York cabbie. Our suspicions about our destination disappeared as a concierge emerged from a massive swing door and welcomed us to the Mercer Hotel. A few days into our stay, a little more New York savvy, we learned it is very New York to under-state the obvious.
The hotel foyer offered an interesting mix of cool and classy chic at the same time, signatures of the Mercer’s interior designer, Christian Liagre. It was after 1pm, when our rooms were meant to be ready, but our check-in lady told us in her distinctly nasal Queens’ accent, our room was not available. Sounding to our Australian ears, just like the Nanny’s Fran Fines, she suggested we fill in a few hours and come back later. Despite sensing a little New York attitude, we were not fazed, by the delay. We were eager to hit the New York pavement and fuelling up on food was more the priority.
Clearly, we were mums who don’t get out that often. My companion said I had to use the toilet in the café where we chose to have lunch. “So New York”, was all she would say. A clear glass door automatically slid shut as you entered and misted up for privacy as you went about your business. “How cool,” we both laughed as we returned to the Mercer Hotel. Concierge showed us to our room on the second floor and we immediately fell in love. It was large by New York standards. Two enormous single beds; a table you could easily seat six people at; a massive bathroom complete with substantial plunge bath; and finally two large cupboards to store future shopping purchases. We felt rewarded by the extra investment in our Hotel room. Doing a quick un-pack, we felt a strong vibration and a muffled drum-beat sound coming through the floor. We tried to ignore it, but the sound remained persistently loud and my friend’s face showed concern. Not one to leave anything to chance, she phoned reception and expressed unease about the musical sounds coming through the floorboards. Reception reassured her, it was some guests practising music and it would be over later in the afternoon. “That’s cool,” we both accepted her explanation.
That evening post-shopping, we were chilling in our luxurious room. Sampling our gourmet pre-dinner nibbles from the nearby Dean and Delucca on Broadway and sipping our Veuve Clicquot champagne, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to my last New York experience. Twenty-five years ago, my evening would begin with sipping southern comfort cocktails on the roof top of our friend’s brother’s building. In the shadows of the iconic ChryslerBuilding, we watched many a sunset over New York City. My youthful reflections were rudely interrupted with the vibrations coming from our floor. We realised it was getting louder, not ceasing as the girl at reception promised.
The difference between being a 20 year old, where acceptance and going with the flow is the norm, is that when you are 40 something, you don’t settle for anything sub-standard. My friend said it was time to discuss this personally with reception and she stormed out the door. Showing her age, she said to Gemma on reception, “I feel as if our room is above a night club and you know what, I don’t want to be above a nightclub.” Her motherly don’t mess with me character trait came into play as she sought reassurance, the overwhelming noise in our room was going to stop. Her motivation, like those of a finely tuned athlete readying for a morning race, were simple: she wanted a good night’s sleep. The irony of her actions were not lost on me, here we were in New York, clichéd as the city that never sleeps and the only thing my friend wanted to do was sleep. Rewind 20 years, to the many nights spent bar hopping in the city until the early hours. As a mature aged mother, hadn’t my priorities altered?
Feeling a slight Veuve-induced buzz, I butted in over the top of my friend and asked, “who is silly enough to be trying to finish recording a song in a hotel suite anyway?”
“Actually its Kanye West and Jay-Z” said Gemma in hushed tones. Instantly, this piece of information transformed my perspective. My 12 year old son, a fan of Kanye West and Jay-Z, had introduced me to their music. “Wow,” I thought, we have rock star celebrities in our Hotel. But the shift in my attitude, had not altered my friend’s. She turned to me and asked, “Who are you talking about?”
Showing limited musical knowledge and increasing irritation at me ruining any chance of recompense she was working on, my friend turned to Gemma and said, “I don’t care if its f…ing Rod Stewart, its still too noisy.”
Gemma recognising the Hotel’s five star reputationwas in jeopardy, drew upon her customer service skills, suggesting to us, should the noise (my friend’s terminology, I now labelled it music), continue on our return, we could change rooms. My friend seemed placated with this offer and we headed out for dinner.
It is after midnight and Times Square is teeming with an assortment of people. Street vendors selling the I Love New
York t-shirts every tourist feels compelled to take home with them. We ignored the heckles of young guys calling for anyone keen to ride the busy streets around Times Square on the back of their rickshaw modes of transport. No matter your age, you feel the incredible vibe Times Square emits. It is a crazy night-to-day transformation, the massive towers of neon lights creating a frenetic open air nightclub atmosphere. We feel re-energised, excited, like little kids from the bush, stepping into the big-top of a gigantic circus for the first time. It’s probably like this every night in Times Square, but for us Brisbane suburban mums, it was yet another pinch me moment in New York City.
Any potential sighting of our rapping rock-star neighbours was doomed, as neither of us had any idea what Kanye West or Jay-Z actually looked like. We could neither confirm nor deny if the cool-looking dudes huddled in one of the intimate alcoves in the Mercer Hotel’s foyer was actually them or not. Gold chains and designer cool were in abundance; good lighting and facial recognition was not. The stretch hummer with the hip chauffer parked outside the hotel entrance indicated someone special was in the hotel and would be leaving soon. Truth was, Kanye West and Jay-Z celeb-spotting was not really high on our agenda, despite my son’s pleas.
On our second morning, returning to our Hotel Room after an early morning run in Central Park, as we entered our room, we were greeted by the now familiar sounds of thumping music. It was time to request a move. Even though I admired their music, I happily admitted we were paying too much for our Hotel Room’s ambience to be sullied by these repetitive riffs. The hotel staff shifted our belongings and our considerable shopping efforts to the 3rd floor, far from any noise and in another well appointed room, with a private balcony opening out to an enclosed courtyard.
Our days were filled with shopping downtown, uptown and in the Soho neighbourhood. We dined out in cafes and restaurants, each one a memorable food and décor experience. In my opinion the best bagels in the world are found in New York, (something in the water they say). We walked the Highline, a quiet public park built along a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. We people-watched, admiring the chic style and sassy attitudes of the New Yorkfashionistas, strolling the city’s streets.
Mothers learn a special skill on the job: how to prioritise. Despite my 12 year old son’s pleas to catch a photo or a recording (by laying my iphone on the floor, his idea), of our rapping rock celebrity neighbours, these few days were not about our kids. They were about my friend and I doing what we wanted to do whenever we wanted to do it. It was about the uninterrupted conversations, the gourmet shopping, meals being prepared by others, the constant laughter and companionship of a good friend. Many memories that long week-end will provide, including how we rejected a first hand celebrity experience over sleep.
In twenty years time we will be in our 60’s and our reasons for travel will be different again. It won’t be to have a short break away from the kids and husbands, but possibly to awaken our senses to new places and new frontiers as grey nomads. We feel very content as we clink our Veuve filled glasses and contemplate the silence.
Jennifer Johnston, June 2012