At once a slight misfortune befell us. We thought we would walk slowly, looking around attentively in order to study, to observe, to take in, and so forth. But New York is not one of those cities where people move slowly. The people who passed us did not walk, they ran. And so we, too, ran. From that moment on we could not stop. We spent a whole month in New York, and throughout that time we were constantly racing somewhere at top-speed. Simultaneously, we acquired such a businesslike and preoccupied air that John Pierpont Morgan, Jr., himself might have envied us. At our rate of speed he would have earned approximately sixty million dollars during that month. We earned somewhat less.
In a word, we started off at a trot. We sped by signs on which in lights were outlined the words: “Cafeteria” or “United Cigars” or “Drugs – Soda” or something else equally enticing yet so far utterly incomprehensible. Thus we ran to Forty-second Street, and there we stopped.
In the store windows of Forty-second Street winter was in full swing. In one window stood seven elegant wax ladies with silver faces. They all wore wonderful astrakhan fur coats, and regarded each other quizzically. In another window stood twelve ladies in sports costumes, leaning on ski poles. Their eyes were blue, their lips red, their ears pink. In other windows stood young mannikins with grey hair, or dapper gentlemen in inexpensive, and hence suspiciously resplendent, suits. But we were really not impressed by all this store munificence. It was something else that astonished us.
In all the large cities of the world one can always find a place where people look at the moon through a telescope. Here, on Forty-second Street, we also found a telescope. But it was mounted on an automobile.The telescope pointed at the sky. In charge of it was an ordinary mortal, just like the men at the telescopes in Athens, in Naples, or in Odessa. And his was the joyless manner peculiar to all exploiters of street telescopes throughout the world.
The moon showed itself in the interstice between two sixty-storied buildings. However, the curious onlooker, applying himself to the tube, gazed not at the moon but considerably higher: he looked at the top of the Empire State Building and its hundred and two stories. In the light of the moon, the steel eminence of the Empire State seemed to be covered with snow. The heart turned cold at the sight of this chaste and noble building glistening like a sliver of artificial ice. We stood there long, silently gazing up. The skyscrapers of New York make one proud of all the people of science and of labour who build these splendid edifices.
The news vendors roared hoarsely. The earth trembled underfoot, and through the grates in the sidewalk came a sudden gust of heat as if from an engine-room. That was because down there passed a train of the New York metro – the subway, as it is called here.
Through vents, placed in the pavement and covered with round metallic covers, steam broke out. For a long time we could not understand where that steam came from. The red lights of the advertisements cast an operatic light upon it. Almost at any moment one expected (he vents to open, Mephistopheles spring out of one of them, and, after clearing his throat, begin to sing in deep bass, right out of Faust: “A sword at my side, on my hat a gay feather; a cloak o’er my shoulder – and altogether, why, got up quite in the fashion!”
We again rushed forward, deafened by the cries of the news vendors. They shout with such desperation that, to use Leskov’s expression, it is afterwards necessary for a whole week to dig the voice out with a shovel.
It cannot be said that the lighting of Forty-second Street was mediocre. And yet Broadway, lighted by millions and perhaps even by billions of electric lamps, filled with swirling and jumping advertisements constructed out of kilometres of coloured neon tubes, appeared before us just as unexpectedly as New York itself rears up out of the limitless vacancy of the Atlantic Ocean.
We stood at the most popular corner in the States, at the corner of Forty-second and Broadway. The “Great White Way,” as Americans call Broadway, stretched before us.
Here electricity has been brought down (or brought up, if you like) to the level of a trained circus animal. Here it has been forced to make faces, to hurdle over obstacles, to wink, to dance. Edison’s sedate electricity has been converted into Durov’s trained seal. It catches balls with its nose. It does sleight-of-hand tricks, plays dead, comes to life, does anything it is ordered to do. The electric parade never stops. The lights of the advertisements flare up, whirl around, go out, and then again light up: letters, large and small, white, red, and green, endlessly run away somewhere, only to return a second later and renew their frantic race.
On Broadway are concentrated the theatres, cinemas, and dance halls of the city. Tens of thousands of people move along the pavements. New York is one of the few cities of the world where the population promenades on a definite street. The approaches to the cinemas are so brightly lighted that, it seems, if anyone were to add one more little lamp the whole thing would blow up from excessive light, all of it would go to the devil. But it would be impossible to squeeze in another little lamp; there is no room for it. The newsvendors raise such a howl that digging the voice out of it would require more than a week, more likely years of persistent toil. High in the sky, on some uncounted story of the Paramount Building, flared the face of an electric clock. Neither star nor moon was visible. The light of the advertisements eclipsed everything else. In the display windows, among simple crisscross neckties, small illuminated price tags turn around and go into a balancing act. These are the micro-organisms in the cosmos of Broadway’s electricity. In the tumultuous uproar a calm beggar plays his saxophone. A gentleman in a top-hat walks into a theatre, and with him is the inevitable lady, whose evening-gown has a train. A blind man led by a dog moves like a sleep-walker. Certain young men walk without hats. That is fashionable. Their neatly combed hair glistens under the street lamps. The odour of cigars, nasty ones and expensive ones.
At that very moment, when it occurred to us that we were so far from Moscow, before us floated the lights of the Cameo motion-picture theatre. The Soviet film, The New Gulliver, was being exhibited there.
The surge of Broadway carried us several times back and forth, and flung us into a side street.
We knew nothing yet about the city. Therefore, we cannot mention the streets here. We remember only that we stood under the trestle of an elevated railway. An autobus passed, and without much ado we boarded it.
Even several days later, when we began to orient ourselves in the New York whirlpool, we could not remember where the autobus took us that first evening. It seems to us that it was the Chinese section, but it is quite possible that it was an Italian or a Jewish section.
We walked along narrow, smelly streets. No, the electricity here was ordinary, not like a trained animal. It shone rather dimly, and it did not indulge in any hurdles. A large policeman stood against the wall of a house. On the cap over his broad, imperious face gleamed the silver shield of the City of New York. Having noticed the uncertainty with which we walked down the street, he came to us; but, receiving no inquiry, again returned to his vantage-point at the wall, ever the stiff and stately minion of the law.
From one shabby little house came dull singing. The man who stood at the entrance to the house told us that this was the night lodging of the Salvation Army.
“Who may sleep here?”
“Anyone. No one is asked his name. No one is asked about his occupation or his past. Here