New York, USA

1-8 September 2016

My first destination on my second half of the trip.

I thought I would be dying for this moment to come. Instead, I find myself upset at leaving a great job in London and being able to continue experiencing London like a tourist having never done that before. On top of that, there are now such high expectations for myself as to what travelling is like after such an amazing first half that I’m apprehensive as to whether this trip will meet them.

After what felt like a long nine-hour flight (though the local time has only gone from 6pm to 10pm) I arrive in New York. Worried about my visa, gun problems and generally mean Donald-Trump-esque people it all goes surprisingly smoothly. I get on the Jamaica train and buy a metro card which was all fairly cheap and very seamless.

Big Apple New York

My first night is booked at the Q4 ho(s)tel. The first thing I notice is the awesome artwork, which I point out to the receptionist. We’re off to a good start because the artwork was recently done by him and his brother so suddenly the languished introduction gets a lot more energy-infused and I’m being told about the best things to do in the hostel.

I get to my room and the first thing I notice here is that the bed’s mattress is covered in plastic. Odd. Are they cleaned after used and covered in plastic? Or is this an insurance policy in case the business doesn’t work as a hostel and they can sell the mattresses after? Or just an elaborate prank? Who knows? The guy I meet the following day when my AirBnB has the exact same thing does. Apparently it’s more hygienic. I can tell you what else it is. It’s a lot more uncomfortable and a lot noisier than a normal bed!

> I can tell you what else it is. It’s a lot more uncomfortable and a lot noisier than a normal bed!

The next day I go exploring and first stop is Denny’s recommended to me by my Standad (step Grandad, you see) which is heaven on a plate.

Dennys Breakfast

Later on the Subway I, ever eager to be a gentleman, get up to give my seat to a heavily pregnant lady. Just as I do another lady squeezes up so there’s space for me next to her. How kind. We get chatting and she is one of those exceptional people you sometimes meet. She offers me a spare ticket to the US Open tennis and join them for the day. I hesitate. I’ve already spent $12 buying a double-billing at the cinema. One’s by Tim Burton and I really want to see it. But, the US Open. I can’t miss that. I explain my plans and say I will try to come along after.

The cinema billing was very good. It was a film noire production on Ed Wood, the world acclaimed worst director of all time followed by Tim Burton’s take on his life. Every cinema goer was at least twice my age but I found it fantastic none the less.

Forum New York Movie

It’s 5.30pm and Mary thinks I only have until 6pm to get into the US Open. I try my best but get lost on route with the somewhat confusing subway system. It’s 6.30pm and there’s lots of people around. Turns out Djokovic is playing. Even I know who he is so it’s a pretty big deal. I get through the bag check, up to the entry post. I show my ticket and get told “thank you”.

Phew.

“Excuse me, Sir. Can I check your ticket again?”

Naw, shucks.

The lady explains that I needed to enter before 6pm to get through. I try the whole tourist naivety play but it doesn’t get me anywhere. Before too long I’m on the website trying to get an evening ticket. They start at $100. Maybe not. I message Mary to thank her for her kindness but explain the situation.

Feeling a bit stupid for missing out I walk away with my head in my hands. When I look up I see the baseball stadium. Why not? I saunter over and find out that the tickets are only $8 and the night starts to get a lot better. The home runs don’t come frequently, but it’s fun to be caught up in the moment, get given a free tees-shirt and drink some beer which cost more than the ticket ($12!).

The next day I find myself up in a helicopter looking down at the statue of liberty.

Helicopter New York View

Wow.

I spent the rest of the day just wandering around. NYC is THE best city I’ve been to for just walking around. You find so much. The 9/11 memorial site is the first place I’ve found that a photo just doesn’t do it justice.

911 Memorial New York

I tried. You have to see it to appreciate the scale, the motion and the emotion trapped within the waterfall. With all this walking it’s time to hop on a bike though.

Before too long I’m at Madison Square Garden getting all set up to watch a Women’s NBA match. Somehow, I’ve been upgraded to the best seats in the house and it was a blast. The intervals have music, games and tee-shirt-guns to boot. NYC has it all!

Madison Square Basketball

When I arrive back at the AirBnB another guest, Chee Yan, asks if I’m going out tonight. “Sure, if you don’t mind me tagging along” and with that I’ve changed and ready to hit the town. Unsure of where to go (Chee Yan’s idea for a bar turns out to be “permanently closed”) it seems we need a miracle.

>Ahhh! He he he

And the miracle arrives. In the form of a pretty woman, walking down the street. Tripping over slightly and then giggling to her lovely self. This is it. “I’m hoping you’re alright there, Madame. I assume you are, seeing as you’re giggling to yourself?”. Then a quick smile. It worked, conversation flows and we get a recommendation for a night club. She turn and says “I’m going there myself, so you’re welcome to join me”. A miracle.

With that, a perfect night out in NYC ensues.

New York night out

The next day in need of some American breakfast to gives us the morning relief from the night before, Chee Yan took us to a typical American homely diner. It was amazing.

Typical New York Dinner

Just look at that!

Next stop is the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) with Chee and Z (the lady who hosts us at the AirBnB). It’s an odd one. Everyone’s raved about it so I had high expectations. I didn’t quite expect an entire room to just be partitions of cardboard. That’s exactly what happened though.

MOMA Art

The floors got better each level though, eventually allowing us to see Vincent Can Gogh’s Starry Nights and Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup amongst others.

Warhol New York

Worth going but don’t visit NYC just for this by any stretch.

We head outside and have a wander down 5th Avenue. There’s Brazilian wood-fired pizza at a stall. Seems a bit odd. It’s supposed to be Brazil day but I didn’t think it was here. We keep walking. There’s more stalls. More people. Then a big screen. Then a stage. Then loads of people.

Here we are! It’s Brazil Day and we’ve accidentally stumbled upon the festival! Brilliant!

Brazil Day

Tonight we decide to go out again. Z is differing but it’s clear she wants to come; she just needs a bit of “persistence” from us. Which she duly receives. Iz from the AirBnB also joins us and we go back to Bowery Electric where we were the other night. It’s Sunday and tomorrow is Labour Day Monday so it’s still pretty busy.

Bowery Electric

The next day’s a bit more relaxed. A wander around Central Park, a trip to the natural history museum (fantastic by the way) before ending up at my first Broadway show.

Broadway

I’m seeing Holiday Inn by Billy Irving. Never heard of it. Apparently he wrote I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. There’s a pre-theatre educational talk which I attend. It’s set in a 60’s style bar in the basement. Well worth it (it was free, anyway!). Then the show begins. It’s mid-week so it’s not entirely packed and the gentleman kindly upgrades our tickets for us.

On my return, I meet up with Iz, a Peruvian girl and Max. We head out to the big Caribbean festival but we only caught the end of it and decide it’ll be best to buy some alcohol and head back to my hostel. An Israeli guy injects himself into our group and before too long we’re heading out for another night. Iz has a private room, the Peruvian girl is super-hot. Something needs to happen. Eventually, there’s the three of us left on the dance floor and I decide that’s my moment to leave the night to them two. I make my excuses and head back. I get home close to 2 maybe 3am and sleep peacefully feeling, as silly as it is, like I did a good deed. Even if every train just outside the window makes the entire hostel shake.

The time has flown and it’s already my last full day in New York. The gang we’ve developed is really starting to click now and although we take the day easy, myself and Chee are having dinner and wine together and then meeting Iz and Max for drinks after. Iz has promised us all the “night of our lives”.

It starts off well. A rooftop bar called Mr Purple. From here, we buy some Fireball (cinnamon flavoured whiskey which takes just like the sweets of the same name). Next door is a “Bar-Cade”. Why not? We load up on quarters and play everything from pinball to Street Fighter. Then we do one of those strength machines with the punching ball.

$1 a go. It’s expensive. We do one round each. Then, of course, everyone wants to be #1 so everyone goes again. It’s between Chee and Iz. Chee sets the new score so the once laissez-faire attitude to this game from Iz is gone and it’s serious. He loads up another dollar. Chee tells him to see the punch through and swing from the hips. Iz does just that.

Pow

The ball goes flying off its hinges and hits the floor. It didn’t beat the record but it captured all of our imaginations and adulations. Iz is the boxing king.

Arcade New York

Another night out on the town for the “best night of our lives”. Like I say, it started well. Club #1 was Output. Turns out it was outputting anything, the club was closed. Pub #2 was lifeless but we were gone with Fireball and weren’t drinking anymore. We got chastised for only drinking water and semi-voluntarily left. Club #3 was Woody’s and it was heaving. It’s ladies’ night. Fantastic. Not quite. There’s no guys around on ladies’ night? That’s odd. Right. It’s Lesbian Ladies’ night. Club #4 was TBA. Cool and quirky but totally lifeless with a comfy couch that only made us lifeless too! Bar #5 is a small, little salsa place. This is cool. Not quite feeling it after all this time now though and I’m ready to go.

Max found a cleaning instrument at some point.

Cleaning New York

One of the guys could’ve used that a lot earlier! The guys are in their cabs now and I’m heading back. I come across a place called Checkers and I have $5 in my pocket. Great! I went in wanting a drink and I left with this.

I wake up feeling better than I should be. I’ve got a new roommate and a handful of hours before I need to get my bus to Toronto, Canada. It’s community day at the US Open so we can get in for free. Given my missed opportunity earlier in the week I’m glad we get the chance today. I invite my new roomie, Felipe, along and he happily accepts. Then we’re off to my old AirBnB to meet Z and drop my bags off. The bus never seems to come and an eager bird drops it’s luck on my shirt. We pop into Telco and I leave with a watermelon print shirt and we hop on the subway.

At Z’s we invite along the others and wait for Iz. A girl from Hong Kong and another girl from Taiwan come join us. It’s always fun meeting people who are from places I’ve been because I can contribute a little bit but find out so much more about a place I already slightly know.

It’s later than planned but we’re on our way. We arrive and walk on in. It’s incredibly big and we get court side seats to matches like the semi-finals of the womens-doubles.

Court side

Serena Williams turns up and suddenly the place is packed.

Serena Williams

Almost time to go.

New York Tennis

These guys are amazing. We all agree to have a reunion in France in December and I do hope it materialises. When we got back we went for one final meal at the American Diner (best burger ever) and parted ways. Sad moment ensued.

What a fantastic start to the trip and has put me back in traveller’s mode about the amazingness and the wonder of the world. Thank you, World.

Just before I get on the bus to Toronto, a fantastically American movie-like scene happened. Everyone’s queuing up with extra chaos for the bus. There’s multiple lines and no direction. A bus conductor comes out and he’s a well-built coloured gentleman. “Alright guys. Now I need you to listen up. ‘Cause Y’all don’t seem to know what to do here. Y’all queuing up like you want a potential lwsuit or somethin’. Now, I need y’all to calm the hell down and take a seat.” One or two people nervously take a seat. “See. Y’all aint listening to me. I’ma tryin’ to get y’all on this bus, but y’all aint helpin’ me here. Now, I’ll say it again: y’all need to take a seat. Like, on a chair folks”. People start to laugh. “See, Y’all looking at me so I know y’all can hear me. You. You. You. Y’all need to chill out and take a seat y’all see”. Slowly, people start to seat down. “Jeez. Takes a big ol’ black dude to get y’all to chill. But we got there folks. We got there, alright”.

Best ending moment to a place. Ever.

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