My 48 hours in New York coincide with a security lock-down. On the day before I arrive police shoot and detain a man suspected of planting bombs in the city. The FBI are busy. So too the Secret Service. On this day Barack Obama and Theresa May are addressing the UN General Assembly. It is his last appearance there as President, her first as Prime Minister.
It means gridlock for midtown Manhattan. My Bangladeshi taxi driver defers to his traffic app, which seems to be promoting the virtues of walking to my hotel. I take his advice and head out into the midday humidity, lugging my suitcase through the Brownian motion of sightseers, office workers, exercisers and traffic cops. My hotel is opposite the Argentine embassy, an elegant turn-of-the-last-century brownstone humbled, like every building on this block, by the skyscraper on the other side of Fifth Avenue – Trump Tower.
There’s no escaping The Donald. Cardboard face masks stare out from the shop window displays of tourist tat. At the Lincoln Center – where I’ve come to see if Sky News’s coverage of the migrant crisis can scoop an International Emmy – he is the butt of jokes of varying quality and viciousness.
There’s time to kill before the ceremony. I squeeze in a visit to St Patrick’s Cathedral. The Neo-Gothic architecture may be timeless but the building runs to a breathless timetable. Masses every 30 minutes in the morning. There is construction work going on somewhere in the vaulted vastness. An angle-grinder strikes up in the short gaps between services.
Time is precious in the city that never sleeps. And so to the 21 Club, for a lunch put on for Emmy nominees. Outside the club, a Prohibition-era speakeasy turned swanky watering hole, lighting rigs illuminate the building’s façade. In one of the dining rooms inside, Tom Selleck is being filmed for an episode of Blue Bloods.
At lunch I’m put next to Fred Cohen, a veteran television executive who’s seen it all – until Trump, that is. Fred thinks a Trump victory is possible, if unlikely. “For the first time in our history,” he says with a wink, “we’re going to have president who’s slept with another president.”
I see Fred later that evening at the awards ceremony. He looks unfazed, unlike a man who knows his instructions to nominees to keep acceptance speeches to 30 seconds will be routinely ignored, with all the ensuing scheduling chaos that entails. Sky News is up against broadcasters like Al Jazeera and Russia Today. The favourite seems to be a submission from a team of Brazilian journalists examining the Zika virus epidemic.
In the event, Sky edges it. My colleague Garwen McLuckie, a cameraman of rare talent, clutches the trophy with a smile that looks like it could illuminate the Brooklyn Bridge. Garwen, who’s based in Johannesburg, has – like me – been at Sky for 20 years. And yet, for all the miles on the clock, he still represents a bright new breed of photojournalist. He’s ever-willing to embrace cutting-edge technology, never given to carping and, unlike some of his predecessors, stunningly fit.
On assignment to Australia a few years ago I made the mistake of challenging him to a run around Sydney Harbour. This time we talk about doing a circuit of Central Park, but, given our diverging abilities, I elect to jog solo. It gives me time to eavesdrop on New Yorkers in all their unselfconscious glory. Many of them are running while speaking on their mobile phones. Some look and sound like Tom Wolfe’s Masters of the Universe, berating nannies or barking orders to trading floor subordinates in a diction that sounds more scripted than spontaneous, more cinematic than realistic.
It’s hard to know which came first here. Manhattan is the most filmed part of the world’s least camera-shy city. Do people who move here play a part straight from Central Casting? Or does the Big Apple just attract a certain personality type? Go figure, as somebody surely must have said as they swept by.
Heading back to the airport, the traffic is still terrible. This time my taxi driver hails from Colombia. His name is Guillermo and he wants to be a mechanic “in a shop” back in California, where the weather is better and his girlfriend grew up. He overcharges me for the fare, but a similar two-hour long journey in London would have cost twice the amount. As we pull up at Terminal 7, where BA is based, a Swat van is manoeuvring. Inside there are soldiers in combat fatigues carrying M16s. I’m reminded of a conversation with Sky’s New York producer at the awards dinner. “New York’s a lot of fun,” she said, before adding, “but not forever.”
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