Thursday, 19 June 2008

New York, Saturday 5 June 2004

Weather: cloudy but fair.

Sitting in a branch of Wetherspoons at Heathrow's Terminal 4 eating a £5.99 'traditional breakfast' - trying to relax, with a cup of Tetley's tea. This will be my last taste of British culture for five weeks - quite literally.

There is something reassuringly grim about British airports - the staff working in the bars, cafes and overpriced designer shops are no more friendly or personable than anywhere else. Terminal 4 is the newest of all the Heathrow Airport termini but it's style seems refreshingly bland and quite unlike its European or American counterparts. No glamour, no frills, no inspiring architecture. But, you bet you can find an absurdly expensive perfurmery or a Sunglass Hut that boasts of tax-free prices.

I feel ridiculously nervous and tense, because I hardly got a wink of sleep last night. My erstwhile housemate had been out drinking until the early hours, and upon stumbling back home with his new 'companion', continued his hedonistic pleasure with my supplies of Irish whiskey and Bombay Sapphire. I woke up late for my flight, with my Dad on the doorstep, ready to drive me to the airport, wondering why I haven't showered or dressed yet. The bathroom graphically displays the regurgitated evidence of last night's partying, so I decide against it and opt for a quick bath instead. So, after my panicked start to the day, you can see why I'm not exactly in the best frame of mind, and I don't even look back to wave goodbye to Dad, Molly and Mary as I go through security in to the departures area. This is the first time I've flown by myself - I'm 21 and looking forward to another 'liberating' experience, which I'm supposed to enjoy. Perhaps it's the coldness and systematic procedure of the airport that makes me feel so close to 'the edge'.

Ah well, give it a few more gins once I get on the plane and I'll be fine...

10:00 PM - Gershwin Hotel, 7 East 27th Street, New York. Weather, cloudy but fair. Rained this evening.

Well, here I am. Arrived in John F Kennedy airport at 4:00pm, surprisingly earlier than I expected. Went through the usual bureaucracy you have to go through when coming to the US, so that I can check I'm not a terrorist, communist, or a homosexual (oh, hold on...). Headed straight to the SuperShuttle, which is somewhat more low-key than its brandname suggests, being more of a glorified Ford Transit. But they're full, and a typically upfront taxi driver quotes me $19 for the ride into town. He actually charges me $33 in the end, but I'm so keen to get to the hotel I don't quibble with him. The ride does include an interesting trip through downtown Manhattan though, so we get a good view of the skyline, Time Square etc.

My hotel, the Gershwin, is quite a funky sort of place, with a retro, Sixties feel and lots of abstract art adorning the walls, and it plays house music in the entrance lobby. I can't imagine anywhere like this in London. We're just a stone's throw from the Empire State Building here, and Macy's department store, the biggest in the world. At ground level it all feels a bit unimposing now that the World Trade Centre is gone.

I meet Dave early in the evening, who joins me on the trip. Dave is from South Wales, and staying in a different hotel prior to beginning the tour proper tomorrow. later, who's closer look at Time Square later - it has an amazing vibe about it, absolutely bustling with life and very exciting. Weaving our way back to my hotel, I'm struck by how filthy the streets are here - perhaps it's because it's the weekend? Or is it that these giant overflowing trash cans still aren't capacious enough to serve the hearty appetites of Americans? I do give London a hard time, but for a supposedly world-class city there's litter strewn all over the streets and a general smell of decay. I suppose that's a sign that this is a living, breathing city which, like London, is a bit rough around the edges. In any case, New Yorkers are wonderfully friendly and seem to go out of their way to help you.

Back at the Gershwin, I am sleeping in a shared domitory, and I arrive to find evidence that it's definitely lived in. I shower and settle down for the night about 10:45pm, only briefly woken by a girl who sneaks in during the night, realises I'm in bed, and then scampers off - "Sorry!". I didn't realise I had the place to myself, though I wake up constantly throughout the night worrying that I'm going to oversleep - again - and miss my tour departure!

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