“WELCOME TO THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD” proclaims one of Times Square’s phosphorescent billboards and it isn’t wrong – it’s one thing to see those famous lights on television and quite another to be standing among those heaving crowds, craning your neck to match the point where the skyskrapers meet oblivion. It’s big, bright, loud and wondrous, and the spectacle is such that it’s only later you do a double-take and start to wonder what all that power consumption means for the climate change lobby.
Our first night in New York City we eat fried chicken and rice at a curiously ethnic restaurant on the Upper West Side (the menu and decor seem South American in nature, but the staff are all Chinese). I have the most amazing strawberry daiquiri, all rum and fruit sorbet, and my dad high-fives each of the waiting staff in turn. I’d been told the food in the city rarely disappointed, and it’s only a shame that the seven-hour flight and 5am start have robbed me of the energy I need to do my plate justice. Our mental clocks still several thousand miles to the east, it’s hard to convince your body that it isn’t actually approaching 2am, not here.
Trying to describe this city to end all cities seems a redundant task as it’s been written a thousand times before – all of my spiritual brethren have the same list of calling points; it is merely the order that changes. In that sense my re-reading of On The Road is fairly timely. I remember little of the book from my first reading, only that I loved it. My traveling companion on the flight home from London last night disagreed though, and I wonder whether his opinion has tarnished my own or if it’s just that I have changed. The lauded “beat” style actually reads stilted and nonsensical, and Dean Moriarty (not the monkey, I stress) loathsome, vulgar – for all his unnatural eloquence – and misogynist. I told my flight companion (we’d got talking because of a delay) that he should read Stone Junction instead if he was looking for that life-changing portrait of the road; and curiously enough he’d been given a copy in a pub some years previously and had merely not got around to reading it. I suppose the freedoms that Kerouac espouses are the book’s charm, and some point hopefully not too far in the future I want to take my brother and sister and a rental car that they at least could drive and cover the continent, calling at a shopping list’s worth of those romanticised towns and cities whose names seem to be ingrained even into those of us who never set foot on American soil until today at birth.
We flew into the US along the coast, the view from our side of the plane looking into the country itself. The first thing that strikes you about America is its vastness – land as far as the eye can see, fading into a haze at the horizon, and so little of it covered with lights and buildings and the other trappings of city life.
I took to New York within about ten seconds: its crazy mish-mash of humanity, even if they all seem to be out to make a quick buck and are lost in the face of a Scottish sense of humour (yet not as entirely humourless as the blank-faced Homeland Security officials who take your fingerprints and ask if you are now, or have ever been…) I see pretty, vacant girls; homeless pushing their possessions in little carts; barmen who chat with us freely. My dad speaks to them all slowly, Brit-abroad, and Margaret and I are mortified.
Saying that, we were barely on the runway before I heard my first Americanised butchered mispronunciation of my own city – from our pilot.
I’ll be very slow catching up this week I think, so pardon my rudeness at blogging rather than get in touch individually. Back at work tomorrow, with my sister’s pantomime tonight.
Until next time, the complete set of New York photos are here.