Goodbye London, Hello New York. From one big city to another big city.
The UK was great, but I was really looking forward to NYC. The city had left some great memories from previous visits, aged of 7 and 12. Not recent, a little faded, the main recollections being the size of the place, the skyscrapers, and the general bustle of it all. With a slightly heavy heart, I board the plane at London Heathrow, hoping that I will be back soon (it was only to be just over a year until I return…).
One transatlantic flight later, and the plane approaches at JFK Airport. I am a little frazzled, and I get my time zones mixed up. Did I fly back in time, or ahead? It’s light outside…is that going to stay like that for long? Was that breakfast or dinner they just served? Hopping off the plane, daylight slowly starts to slip away, and my brain clicks on to the fact that this is dusk, not dawn. I also realise I have made a fundamental mistake: I have no address, and no map. Where is my bed for the night? Being able to sleep in anything else than a damp rock shelter in central park, fighting of pigeons and serial killers, relies solely on my memory of the google maps page I glanced over a week prior. Not a great start to a big city. But it is my only hope.
Fully laden, bags in hand and backpack on back, I head to the subway. It is dark. A little dirty. Not many people around. No signs showing any impeding arrival of any trains. Ten minutes go by. I seriously hope that this is the right platform. Twenty minutes. This is ridiculous. Others are getting a little twitchy, at least I’m not alone. I just wish…
…shuddering and squealing, the dirty and worn silver NYC subway pulls in to the station. There are US flags on every carriage…yes, this is really a patriotic nation (more on that later). I board, take a seat, and soak up the atmosphere. Dull lighting, the interior tending towards scruffy, and noisy. It’s the subway, a New York City icon. And I’m on it…probably even heading in the right direction.
Now, just for clarifications sake: I’m no racist. I have no problems whatever pigmentation your skin has or hasn’t got. I’m not fussed what background you have. What I must admit though, is being human, and thus unfortunately being sometimes unconsciously led astray by biased TV shows & news reports. I’d like to know the percentage of white vs. non white crimes (real and fiction) shown on TV. Sitting amongst many a person of hispanic and african background made me look around my shoulder twice initially, until I realised what a silly thing I was doing. Sure, practice safe habits in a big, unknown city, but be aware that the threat can come from anywhere, from anyone. Familiarity breeds a sense of security. Sometimes a false sense of security, but security nonetheless. In Australia, the number of people with african background is quite low, and the number of those with hispanic backgrounds tends towards zero. Familiarity breeds security, and this wasn’t familiar to me.
Mind you, it didn’t help when gangsta-kid diagonally in front of me, cap pointing in a distinctively north-east direction, and his jeans crotch hanging distinctively south, pulls out a thick wad of 100$ bills, and starts counting them in front of everybody. I don’t even want to know where that money came from. Avert eyes and enjoy the landscape outside (nighttime nothingness).
So far, I’m travelling just right. I change subways, get off a a stop quite close to where I believe I need to be, find a public map, and walk off through the night. Straight through here, the map said. This isn’t a road, it is a wide footpath between buildings. Groups of people hanging around, talking in a hushed tone amongst themselves. It is raining slightly. The tiny drops form a mist, only visible against the streetlamps, and palpable on your cheeks, yet covering everything after only a few minutes. Yet more groups of people scattered around. I command some odd looks walking past them. They must pity me as a lost tourist or similar. Unless they see me as an easy target and are just planning their final move how to attack me. I’d be an easy target, with 20 kilos strapped to my back I ain’t running anywhere fast. Just keep telling yourself you’ll be fine. All is good. I am safe. NYC has as changed since the 80’s. It’s been cleaned up. AC/DC’s song comes to mind. But I’m not happy with the current situation. More groups of people. The walkway turns in to a deserted road. It is still raining. Now nobody is around. If I die here, it will be daylight until my corpse is found, exsanguinated, lifeless, damp, cold and pale. What a miserable…
LOOK, A POLICE STATION!
At least someone should hear my last scream before I die, and maybe my body shall be spared beginning its decomposition in the middle of the road. And what is that? A fata morgana? No…the Youth Hostel! I am saved! I will survive my first night in NYC!
I check in, I enter the room, my head hits the pillow, I sleep. Busy days ahead…