Day One – Tuesday 15th September

We set off for the airport at about 10am. On the way Richard said comforting things like "I think I can remember the way…" Sure enough, we turned up at Terminal 3 in plenty of time. I checked in, and we wandered round the airport where I bought some magazines to read on the plane including a week out of date copy of Time Out New York. We had burgers in Burger King and then it was time to go to the gate. I was flying on Air India flight 101, and it was gate 28 as I remember. I said goodbye to Richard and started on my way.

The plane as seen from the long queue at Gate 28Gate 28 was a very long way away. I knew I had found it because there was a long queue of about two hundred mostly Indian people standing there looking impatient. I got in line and waited some more. My stuff was X-rayed, and I sat down in the boarding lounge. The announcer said "Would first and executive class passengers board at their leisure. Economy class passengers will do what they’re damn well told!" I talked to an English couple to my left. They asked why I had chosen Air India. I told them it was because it was the cheapest one and they said "us too." It turned out that we were sitting in adjacent rows on the plane and I wondered if, in an effort to further the cause of race relations, the airline had put all the white people in their own little section of the plane!

Soon it was time to board, and my stuff got X-rayed again before I was finally allowed onto the plane. I sat down in the wrong seat and made myself very comfortable and spread my stuff around me and took a photo out of the plane window. Then the guy whose seat I was in alerted me to my error and I promptly got up, moved to the next seat along and repeated the whole process. I had a nice window seat because I had especially booked it in advance. A coloured American girl sat down in the aisle seat next to me and announced that as her husband was stuck in London on business the middle seat would be empty. She was very friendly and chatty and it turned out she was a New Yorker so she told me about all the places I should definitely go and see.

The Flight

Before long the plane was taking off. On the screen where the in-flight movies are shown they put up a display of where we were and how fast we are were going and how high we were. The altimeter read 58 feet. As we were still on the ground I hoped that the pilot had noticed this and that we weren’t going to try and land the plane 58 feet underground when we got to the other side. I looked out the window and waited for a spectacular view of the Great British Countryside. When the plane got to roughly 22 feet and six inches above the ground the Great British Countryside was completely shrouded in cloud, so I settled down and waited for the food.

The food came about an hour in, and it was pretty good. Being Air India we were, of course, served curry. I had a very nice lamb curry with some sort of delicious raspberry mousse type stuff for dessert. After that they put the movie Dr Dolittle with Eddie Murphy on. This was a film I had no intention of going to see in the cinema, but as the American girl pointed out it was exactly the kind of film you wanted to watch on a plane. (As opposed to say, Air Force One or Die Hard 2.) Next they put some bizarre Indian film on involving a girl who tried to make out she had a twin sister. It was all very surreal.

At some point I got up to stretch my legs. The British guy (of the British couple) from the airport suggested I drink some beer as it was "…a good muscle relaxant. I’ve got MS I know all about muscle relaxants," he said. "I’ve had MS for ten years." I didn’t quite know why he was telling me this so I just said "Oh good idea I’ll have some beer, then," and went and sat down. I didn’t have any beer, even though it was free, I didn’t feel like it.

Welcome to America

By the time we were flying over land again I spent some time looking out of the window trying to decide whether I was looking down at the American Countryside or just some clouds that looked a bit like the American Countryside. Finally we landed. The plane taxied along to wherever it had to go. I looked out of the window and was struck by how normal everything looked. The grass was the same, the tarmac was the same, the sky was the same. I guess I just expected to think "whoa, I’m in America" but for all I knew we could have turned right round and landed back at Heathrow.

The first thing after getting off the plane was immigration. This was no "Welcome to America." We were herded through a series of small sterile halls into one great big sterile hall. A few people walked quickly to the other side of the hall through a gate marked "American Citizens" but the other three hundred or so of us had to wait to have our papers checked by one of about three customs officers. When I got to the front of the queue the notice told me to stand "Behind The White Line." A couple of people strayed over the white line and were instantly shot. They weren’t really, but that’s what I thought might happen to me so I stayed right where I was. The Indian woman in front of me was being asked for the address of where she was staying in the US. She didn’t seem to understand the question so rather than trying to explain or fetch someone who could interpret the customs officer just repeated in a much sterner voice "I need the address where you’ll be staying in the US, madam." The woman rummaged around in her bag in a blind panic and eventually handed over the right piece of paper. Next it was my turn. I had filled in the green card properly and was only asked how long my stay was. My card was stamped, stapled into my passport and handed back to me. I said "thank-you" and the customs officer grunted at me. So much for "have a nice day."

In the next hall I underwent the fiasco of trying to get my luggage back. People were just standing haphazardly all over the place with luggage trolleys and everyone was generally pretty stressed. After about half an hour I saw my bags and just about managed to clamber over everyone in time to get them. By this time I was dying for a pee and there were no signs at all saying "Restrooms" so I headed for the airport exit. In the arrivals hall I found a restroom but no reference to where I should go for Carey Buses – my chosen transport to Manhattan. I walked out of the most hopeful looking exit along the road that ran in front of the terminal building. I knew I was in America now – huge cars and buses were driving past and everything just looked, well, American. I found a place where there were some buses but there was no sign of Carey buses. I turned round and decided to see what was in the other direction. I had walked a rather long way and buy the time I was back at the entrance from which I had just left I was boiling hot and sticky. The air was so hot and humid. I asked at the information desk where Carey Buses were and was told that they had changed their name to "Airport Connection Buses" or something. That explained a lot – so back I trudged to the buses and paid my $13. Before long the bus arrived.

A loud American woman got on the bus behind me. She asked the guy collecting tickets "Excuse me, what city am I in?"

"What city are you in?" he was understandably bemused. "This is Noo Yawk City!"

"Oh no," she laughed. "I meant what part, what borough?"

"You’re in Queens."

One of my first views of New York - Queens from the airport busThe bus drove on. It stopped at various other terminals. There seemed to be an awful lot of them. The woman behind told her friend about how she kept in touch with all her children and grandchildren on the "innernet". She also, apparently, bought books from a book club on the innernet. I looked out the window at all the big American looking cars and trucks going past and listened to the loud American woman behind me. Her friend was very quiet so I only got one half of the conversation. We had been driving for about twenty minutes and every time I thought we must now be out of the airport I saw a sign or some other clue indicating that no, we were still on our way from Terminal 63 or whatever. JFK airport is a big place!

Noo Yawk City

The bus drove through the "burrow" of Queens. There seemed to be far too many lanes in the road and everyone (including the bus) weaved in and out of different lanes in an alarming, random way. My first view of the Manhattan skyline was just before we disappeared under a tunnel. The woman behind had read all about this tunnel on the "innernet." Apparently hundreds of people had died during its construction or something. Personally, I would have preferred to have gone over one of the bridges.

Before long we were speeding through Manhattan traffic and soon after the bus pulled up outside Port Authority bus terminal. I quickly found an entrance and went inside. Port Authority is an awful place. Its bustling and everyone is in a hurry and there are almost no signs at all telling you where to go for the subway. I gazed around and must have looked obviously lost because a mad homeless person came up and started talking to me. I ignored him and chose a direction at random and just walked that way briskly and tried to at least look as if I knew where I was going. I found the subway, and got ten subway tokens for $15. I somehow managed to find a platform for trains going in my direction, and after standing around for about eight minutes near a group of the least crazy looking people I could find a train finally showed up. The train, in stark contrast to the subway itself was nice and cool and air conditioned. The journey to 103rd street took about twenty minutes. I was slightly unnerved to find that it was completely dark when I emerged from the subway – but it was still hot and sticky. I set off in the wrong direction and when I discovered my error I decided that rather than turn around in the middle of the street I would go round the block. I was of course going round the block the wrong way – and past groups of scary looking people sitting about on street corners. Having walked about three times as far as I should have, I finally, sweatily arrived at the Hostelling International Youth Hostel.

I stood in line for twenty minutes, but I was just glad to be able to put my bags down in a place where someone wouldn’t go running off with them. When I got to the counter I gave the guy my name and he took an extremely long time tapping away at the keyboard leaving me worried that something was wrong. If I got sent away I would have no idea what to do! I was in the middle of New York with a limited supply of cash, I had to stay here! Finally he just said "Seventy-five dollars," and I handed over my card and passport and after some more tapping at keys he gave me a gold key card and two slips of paper. I wandered in the direction that everyone before me seemed to have gone and enquired of the security guy where I should go. He told me the way and what to do with the pink slip of paper and off I went.

Yoof Hostel

Even the street signs look just like they do on TVI got to the room (number 405) and there were a couple of other guys there. One was from Norway and the other was from Argentina and didn’t speak much English. Before long the Norwegian was talking to the Argentinean in Spanish or something and I decided to go for a shower, what with being all hot and sweaty and all. The bathroom facilities were pretty good for $25 a night. There were decent sized cubicles with shower cubicles inside them, and I never once had to wait in line for a shower or sink. I went downstairs and bought a large ham sandwich and a banana and a cup of disgusting coffee from the canteen. I sat down and read my guidebook amongst a load of other people doing much the same thing. Then I went outside and leant against the railing looking out over the street. I drank some spring water (when I asked for mineral water I just got a funny look) and sat there watching New York go by. I was struck with how everything looked just like it does on TV. Beat up Chevrolet vans would periodically drive down the street covered with graffiti and throbbing with the bass drum of rap music. Sirens could be heard in the distance (these were always ambulances, hardly ever police cars, and the drivers of them seemed to have picked up the annoying habit of tapping on the siren button to produce a sort of whoop-whoop-whoop noise that was especially suited to the purpose of waking people up at three in the morning). Before long I became tired and went to bed. It was 11pm and I had been awake for 19 hours. I fell asleep listening to a New York City music station on my portable Sony radio.


This page was last updated on October 20, 1998

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