I kept reminding myself to look up in Manhattan. Even a tourist is quick to forget just how blessedly high and mighty and vertical and vertiginous everything is.
But sometimes, even in New York City, it pays to look down instead. Or perhaps not. You decide.
As my daughters and I made our way up 5th Avenue from 42nd Street a woman screamed and kicked a rat into the road.
We had been minding our own business. Most likely we had been looking up. So we didn’t see where the rat came from or what it had done to trigger the kick, other than having the misfortune to exist in the same moment in the same square yard of sidewalk as this lady with the lightning leg reflexes.
I don’t know much about rats. I’ve seen but one or two at a distance in Tube stations in London. So I have no idea whether this rat was big or small, young or old. In my ignorance, however, I expect any rat, regardless of age or size, to be sly, streetwise and possessed of a formidable survival instinct. They are for sure the most ornery of critters.
So, as a crowd quickly gathered, effectively ruling out retreat to the sidewalk whence it came as an option, I fully expected the rat to improvise a cunning escape through the four lanes of weaving yellow cabs and honking Mack trucks.
But it didn’t.
It froze. In its terror it hunkered down, made itself as small as it could and hoped for the best. Or, more likely, it feared and expected the worst.
It struck me then as the most unamerican of things. A loser rodent. Silver medal vermin. The sewer rat that choked.
I couldn’t bear to watch. So I turned away and walked on up 5th.
There was a sound like a bursting paper bag, or someone exploding an empty crisp packet. Pop goes the weasel-like rodent. This was quickly followed by excited cheers and disgusted groans from the rat-induced flash-mob on the sidewalk. I didn’t look back.
Three of my daughters could barely contain themselves at what they had just witnessed, their true emotions masked by mild hysteria and sibling bravado. My youngest, a budding animal rights activist if ever there was, was in tears to the point of being inconsolable.
The next few blocks were difficult. Three zealously practising apprentice rat-pop impersonators and one nine year old Saint Francis with her hands over her ears.
Fortunately the 5th Avenue rodenticide was temporarily forgotten as we ascended the 71 floors and 850 feet of the Rockefeller Centre and took in the towering views over Manhattan.
Once more we were looking down rather than up in New York. And the people looked like ants from up there.
Or maybe rats.