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AT LARGE: Mean streets

AT LARGE: Mean streets

New York, New York, so good they named it twice. Or, possibly, so bleedin' big that two syllables didn't seem to quite capture it. Certainly, if you put it alongside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, even four syllables is absurdly brief.

Waking up in the city that never sleeps gives one a sensation of guilt - as if, having slept, you've let the side down. Certainly you feel you've probably missed something. New York proceeds at a pace not like that of Sydney or Melbourne (Brisbane need not apply). Even the locals seem to notice it - cab drivers act as if the world will end if they wait even a few extra seconds until the road ahead seems safe.

Everything is built to a scale not quite human - you feel like this playset was built for somewhat larger action figures. It's overwhelming, deliberately so, and not diminished by the terrorist attack. If anything, the 22-acre hole six storeys deep in lower Manhattan where the World Trade Centre once stood is a source of pride for the people who live and work around it - there's an unspoken "check out this scar" attitude. Every piece of debris, every dent in a neighbouring building, has been turned into a flag-draped monument to New Yorkers' remarkable ability to survive.

And survive they do. At one point I schlepped into a camera shop called "B and H" (can't remember the address) where the very latest technologies were on display - digital video and still cameras and accessories, some of which won't hit the market for months. Definitely the leading edge. When you decide to buy something, you approach one of the sales staff (unless they get you first - they seemed to be able to smell a purchasing decision) who rings up the sale and hands you a bit of paper - not, you will note, your goods. Your purchase is placed in a box, and hooked on to the system of tracks overhead. Linking every part of the store, these complex runners look like something out of a 1930s vision of the not-too-distant future. Green boxes dash back and forth, somehow finding the correct route to the checkouts. Meanwhile you're free to continue shopping, unburdened by what you've already bought. When you're ready to go, you hand your paper in at the front of the store, and your boxes are waiting. It's worth buying something just to watch it fly.

The point is, even though photography now means CCDs and D/A converters and computers, this store does business like it did a century ago. It has adapted, without changing.

And when you've got it right, why should you?

Matthew JC. Powell's little-town blues are melting away. Welcome him home on mjcp@optushome.com.au


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