People watcher's paradise
It’s the luck of the draw as KATHY SHERIDANjoins a group of 78 National Lottery scratchcard winners and guests on a trip to New York
FOR THE BLACK youth with the screaming blonde highlights, the excitement is too much to bear. “For my Fall hair, I wanna wear it down. Oh yessss. And for my summer look – oh my GAHD – my sawmmer look! Get. This. It’s gonna be liderally, lid-er-ally, SAWMMER!”, he squeaks. I peer over the top of my paper. His large, female companion is transfixed. Liderally.
The vignette is being played out in Bryant Park, 10 acres of parkland wrapped around the New York Public Library at the heart of Fifth Avenue. It’s around 5pm on a golden autumn day and a people-watcher’s paradise.
Hipster-ish backpackers snooze on the grass; svelte young couples in cashmere and Tod’s loafers nibble at take-away salads; Jacqui Kennedy lookalikes are squired by gallants with hooded eyes. In one corner, under falling leaves, an extraordinary racial and generational mix plays petanque. At another, intense, silent battles are being fought over custom-made chess and dice tables. A smart concession stand sells good quality drinks and sandwiches, and off to the side, there’s a pretty carousel.
But the most amazing feature of beautiful, thriving Bryant Park is the most mundane: the hundreds and hundreds of folding metal tables and chairs, spread randomly under the trees and across the park. Somewhere to sit – imagine that – while relaxing, eating, watching and listening and wondering idly how long the folding seats would last in ( . . . insert city/town). Comfort, beauty, safety and perpetual street theatre. And all free.
The point is that amid the fuss about New York’s shopping and tourist magnets, sometimes a dry day, a good coffee, somewhere to sit, and functioning ears are all you need. Because that’s the essential beauty of New York. Deeply familiar yet strangely foreign. A multiplicity of languages yet easily understood. A vast streetscape of skyscrapers and canyons yet easily negotiable. In short, a speeded-up, blazing Technicolor version of the heart-racing movie carried in our heads and hearts since childhood.
It’s why, after various permutations and market research, the organisers of the National Lottery Big Money TV gameshow settled on New York as the preferred destination for its annual, all-expenses-paid, feature trip – aka living the dream for 39 scratchcard winners and their guests. The cost of living the dream does not come cheap, of course. According to the NL’s public relations manager, Paula McEvoy, it comes in at around $9,000 – $10,000 a head, between flights, events and spending money. So they’ve worked hard to get it right.
Out of 78 people, inevitably, some will never have flown before. Many will never have been further than London or Spain. Ages range from 18 to 80, and they’re not all partnered couples. On this year’s trip, for example, several daughters took along their mothers, a brother took his sister, a nephew his aunt.