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Taxi to Manhattan

An excerpt from our New York City guide (print issue only)





Strategist editor Chris Middleton touches down at JFK in this excerpt from our 20-page New York City guide for business, which is available in full in print Issue #1 of Strategist magazine.

If the seven-and-a-half-hour flight has been bearable, break into a brisk stride down the ramps: it will save 25 minutes of queuing at passport control. On the way, you’ll pass a line of white wall carvings that each resembles a curtain being pulled back. But here the neighbours don’t care who you are; it’s more like the opening night of a show.

As the cab leaves JFK and hits the Van Wyck Expressway you may find how different New York taxi drivers are from their popular image. Mine was friendly but barely spoke English, had never heard of the Guggenheim nor of the hotel I was headed to, just a block away from it. “Googen Museum?” he said, “I phone my friend,” clicking his headset to start a long conversation in Hindi. He was always going to phone his friend – checking the address was just a ruse. Cab journeys from JFK are often soundtracked in this way.

New York at night

New York taxis at night, off Times Square

All your driver wants is a name and a grid reference – just saying “East 97 and Fifth” takes you to that place. But when Manhattan island is laid out like a giant Piet Mondrian, what more do you need? In England, every path, every cul de sac, every roundabout, is given a name that links it to history. But New Yorkers live in the present – although the city’s feel is increasingly 20th century, as Asian cities rise and bloom as New York did 100 years before.

Think of Manhattan itself as a well-managed big data project – apparently vast, but with a simple tagging system. Until you get downtown, where the proverbial Englishman or woman in New York suddenly feels at home among the warrens of narrow, named streets and the cafés and bars of the East or West Village.

The first 25 minutes of your journey is a time to check your networks and messages. After that, set your phone or tablet aside. Because once your cab has left JFK – fly into there and not into LaGuardia or Newark – you face a half-hour trawl through the suburbs before, quite suddenly, first-timers see the view that will stay with them for a lifetime: their first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline. Arriving in daylight is special, but the view by night is better.

On the grid

In Manhattan by day, you’ll see Gothic, Deco, Modernist, Beaux-Arts/Neo-classical, high-tech, brownstone, and more, stand shoulder to shoulder and accept each other. From the uptown castles to the Midtown skyscrapers and the downtown rowhouses and warehouses, the buildings of New York form a surprisingly close-knit family.

New York is a city where the mismatched look beautiful together if they stand with confidence. So walk in with the same confidence and you’ll grow to meet the city on its own terms. And if black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Arab, Jewish, gay, and other communities may not always stand shoulder to shoulder, they mix; they’re on the same grid – just a block or two apart. They’re all New Yorkers, and they know it.

New York stays with you and calls you back – but there are as many experiences here as people, from oppressive August afternoons in unbearable Midtown heat to the frozen trees of Central Park in midwinter; from autumn by the waterside in Brooklyn to Spring in Hurricane-ravaged Coney Island. And thousands, millions more. But all that lies ahead of you now…

Yellow taxis are comfortable with that slow, rubbery suspension that tells you you’re in America, but offer a lot less space than you might expect from New York. It’s a story you’ll find repeated in many hotels. In Manhattan, space comes at a premium. But once through the tunnel or over whichever bridge takes you to your destination, you’ll notice the taxi’s limitations as you crane your neck at the window to see the buildings. Just locate your grid reference and you’ll quickly find your bearings. The driver may not help you. TS


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