Today is the day. I don’t mean the election. My postal vote was in the greasy mits of John Snow a week ago. Today is the long awaited day I set out on a journey to unravel a myth.
There is a popular belief perpetrated by the media and backed up by a series of eye-witnesses of varying credibility that New York actually exists. It never occurred to me that this might be true – the facts as they are presented are a little hard to swallow, a bit like the moon landings – but 6 months ago I sat in bed with porridge and tea and booked today’s excursion via my netbook. I struggle with the notion that I can reserve a flight and hotel on the other side of the Atlantic from my bed (even with the aid of porridge) so I guess I’m starting to sound like a cynic but here I am writing this journal from a train on the same netbook and soon the truth will reveal itself. Of course if it turns out that there is no booking or no New York I then have to consider whether this is solely due to this morning’s absence of porridge. Is porridge the enabling factor?
I’m rambling. It’s what happens when you have 18 hours of travel time to try and mentally occupy. I love travel. It’s a place in itself. I don’t mean the head-down-got-to-get-to-work variety. I’m talking about the kind of expedition where you resign yourself to the pre-ordained schedule and drink in the surroundings. It’s a tune I will doubtless change once I’m 6 hours into a dull flight sat next to somebody I wish was in the baggage hold.
My pan-continental voyage started with a leisurely taxi ride to the train station. My driver was a charming middle aged Indian gentleman who spoke intelligently about today’s general election until he veered off into conspiracy theories, as demanded by his licence. Apparently the election result has already been decided by the CIA, FBI and (surprisingly) the FIA. It seems Bernie Ecclestone has a long reach indeed.
Plenty of time for a cappucino at the station. I’m served by Barry who hands me a weightless carton of milky froth – no liquid – with a misplaced smile of a job well done. Things will be different in Manhattan where they don’t stand for this kind of thing. My train arrives and that wonderfully English panorama of misty fields rolls by with calm certainty. I discover yet another compartment in my labyrinthine new rucsac. It’s a cross between Hogwarts and the Tardis and I can’t help wondering what other secrets it may yield in the coming week.
The flight – well it’s unremarkable. It amounts to a 7 hours cinema sitting with Virgin Atlantic’s video on demand. Sherlock Holmes turned out better than expected although the back-of-seat screen doesn’t exactly make for ideal viewing. On entry to the US the flight attendant issues a stern warning that any food brought into the country can result in a $10k fine. “Define food” I muse. The queue to customs is full of people stuffing their faces in order to avoid prosecution. Myself no exception. A gorgeous sunny day lifts my mood on the rail journey to Penn Station and I’m checked into my Upper West Side hotel overlooking the top corner of Central Park. It’s the culmination of a 16 hour journey and while my body clock tells me it’s midnight the clock says differently so I walk a few blocks in the warm darkening night air. People seem to just hang out on the street.
There’s a community basketball game, late night hairdressers and Korean takeaways every hundred yards. It’s sometimes loud and in your face but it feels safe.
That’s it. I’m dead beat. But it’s still too “early” to sleep so I find a channel with the BBC election coverage and try and stay entertained for another hour. Then a wonderful deep slumber, interrupted at 1:30pm by a lady who is trying to dial out from the hotel. The area code is 212 and my room number? You’ve guessed it. Is this what they mean by “The city that never sleeps”?