Scroll down to “Leaving England” post 8th Aug for the story from the start!

 

New York City – one of, if not THE most famous place on earth. A place of wealth, tall buildings, movie scenes, busy people in suits walking ignorantly past homeless people wrapped in dirty sleeping bags and most of all, tourists sporting I <3 NYC t-shirts. People travel from all around the world to stay in New York City, some flying for hours just for a day trip – we would be here for just under one hour.

The bus pulled up outside of Port Authority bus station, which was a relief for Ben and I as without a map or working smartphone we would have had a job of finding it in this densely constructed and populated place. We got out of the bus and grabbed our bags from the under bus storage, put them on our backs and looked upwards. I’ve never had to look so high to see blue sky before. Towers of thousands upon thousands of rectangular glass panes, tinted slightly orange by the morning light. Down the street, above the sea of cars with a yellow ridge of taxis, were more obscure geometric designs – like looking into the minds of 100 architects, all naive in believing that they’re making something different and more interesting than the last mega structure. One of them stood out, a building again made out of glass but with a strong tint of gold and a strange central overhang like an unnerving cliff face. I never found out what that building was, nor did we realise just how close to Times Square we actually were. Our gazing was interrupted by the approach of the black shirted man, I turned as he confronted me with an unexpected friendly hand shake and a Russian accented ‘Hello’. He introduced himself – a Russian name that I never managed to pronounce. He asked us what our plans were in the USA and we told him of the up and coming Metallica Festival in Atlantic city. Metallica – he laughed, and we laughed too realising that we didn’t look like typical Metallica fans, and we aren’t big Metallica fans! We questioned his stay in the USA and it turned out that he had just got here from Russia, by himself, with only a school bag, a few hundred dollars and a working VISA. “Im backpacking!” He excitedly announced. I thought I was ‘backpacking’ but this guy took the expression to a whole new level. He had arrived in NYC because he had heard of it and didn’t know what to do now or where to go next, so we invited him to get some food with us, and he gladly accepted. We didn’t want to venture too far from the bus terminal to avoid getting lost, so looking down the street we saw an ugly familiar sign protruding from great wall – it would be Burger King for breakfast on our first day in America.

The three of us walked down the street just absorbing and trying to comprehend the sheer size of this place – completely alien to all of us. Calculations were whirling, unsolved and incomprehensible around my head – how much material must have been used for each building? How much metal was taken from the Earth to make all of the high signs, yellow traffic lights, curved lampposts, red fire hydrants, dirty drain covers, patriotic number plates with ‘Empire State’ embossed at the bottom edge? Unbelievable. We stopped at the crossing where a group of people were already impatiently waiting, staring down the line of people on the other side, picking a gap, a route, planning their dominance over their opponent on the other side that would soon be blocking their most important path. The red LED hand turned into a white LED walking man (disproving my expectation that it would be a green ‘go’ sign or a green walking man – the white man gives the order… I start to wonder if this is purposefully portraying white supremacy, a past until very recently of exclusively white leaders, or if white has simply been proven to be the most visible colour. Im thinking too much again, focus on not being run over by a hasty car or an impatient New Yorker.) We walk into a reasonably empty Burger king, greeted with the smell of fries and the sound of American news reporters making an over dramatic story out of the recent heat wave – “Record high temperatures around the east coast! A number of people have been rushed to hospital to be treated for heat exhaustion!” Cut scene to a sweaty man on the street somewhere reaffirming the reporters point, just incase we had the slightest amount of doubt in our minds. We ordered our food, an obvious burger and chips (i mean fries!) Ben and I following the standard routine of giving just over the correct amount of money and receiving change. The Russian however, was somewhat less prepared for this situation and whipped a hundred dollar bill out of his wallet and handed it to the cashier. “Well i don’t know what you expect me to to with this at 7am!” she exclaimed! I don’t think the Russian dude quite understood, at the end of the day it was, as it states on the bill, ‘Legal tender for all debts, public and private’. I bailed him out and payed for his burger then exchanged with him 5 $20’s for the $100 incase he had to make any other small purchases. For this gesture he was unbelievably thankful and came with us back to the bus stop after the Americanly oversized meal.

 We walked down the giant staircase with its golden handrails then a 180 turn and down further on an escalator, slowly being revealed to the tramps hideout as we were lowered down. It was cooler down here, the floor was hard and cold as we sat and waited for our bus, keeping an eye out for the many homeless people who were walking around muttering to themselves. The Russian dude decided on going to another state where he had heard of a job opportunity somehow – from what I gathered through his thick accent! So he ran back upstairs and came and found us again clutching and looking very confused at a series of Greyhound bus tickets. “I got the ticket” he told us, “But they gave me 6, i don’t need 6 right?”. We stopped him from ripping off the other 5 tickets explaining to him that his 3 day bus journey would involve swapping busses and therefore the need for more tickets… I don’t hold up much hope that he made it to wherever he was going but his sense of adventure was defiantly an inspiration! All aboard the bus to Atlantic city! Said farewell to the Russian and wished him much needed good luck. Dumped my baggage and quickly donned my headphones to block out the sound of the token black girl ranting about how the guys on the back seat should have known that she wanted to lie down and shouldn’t have sat there – I didn’t want her to hear my English accent so kept myself to myself and half slept the journey to ‘Casino Town’, wondering what would await us.

The view from the morning bus with the mound of buildings that make up New York City in the hazy background.

Scroll down to “Leaving England” post 8th Aug for the story from the start!

 

After an uncomfortable non-sleep, 5.30 am finally came around and Ben and I finally decided that enough was enough and we’d go find the bus stop – maybe this would occupy us for some time. We asked some one who looked like he worked in the airport, the only person sat with a red waistcoat and name badge, and he told us to go out the door, down the stairs ‘underground’, across the road and stop number 2. We walked out the big double door exit of the airport and were suddenly hit full body by intense heat and humidity. Wow. This place is hot, and its only 5.30 am, I couldn’t even begin to think what it’d be like with direct sunlight on our pasty English skin.

For me, being on an aeroplane is a strange experience – stuck in a ginormous and heavy vehicle with hundreds of other people, breathing recycled air miles above the earth, travelling at hundreds of miles an hour strictly separated from almost all your belongings. Something that heavy should never leave the ground. I fantasise of hi-tech TV screens on each window and emulators moving the aircraft, giving us nervous shocks of ‘turbulence’, calculated at random by a super computer on the massive lorry that was moving us to somewhere else in Britain that we would all perceive as America. The biggest hoax of the century. Then I think of the very rare but very real events of a plane crash, 9/11 – a phrase not to be mentioned inside at least a 1 mile perimeter of any airport. I remember looking around suspiciously at the few people I could see, then wondering if they were suspicious of me looking suspicious. For me the combination of the American accent of the airport worker and the new climate really drilled it into my head that I WAS somewhere else, far from home, far from what I know. So much to experience.

It took us 2 minutes to find out where the bus stop was, 3 minutes to use the bathroom and 3 minutes to walk to said bus stop. 5.38 am – that didn’t kill much time and I felt worse now that I was outside of the cool air conditioning. Sat on the warm metal bus stop chair conversation turned to just how different it was here, even though the language and culture is pretty much the same there’s just a completely different feel about the place. Every vehicle that went past was big, in the car park to the super mall opposite we struggled to see a car through the sea of shiny pick-ups and the busses had massive chrome hubs. Occasionally a bus would pull over to pick us up, offering a ride into NYC but not the one we wanted. I noticed a young looking guy sat on the bench next to us with a black short sleeve shirt, short brown hair, pale skin and a schoolbag sized backpack. He was looking back at us quite often, and I had heard that Newark airport was one of the roughest in the US so cautiously moved my bag between my legs. I decided to pull out the baby acoustic that I had been nurturing through the flight process luckily able to carry it as hand luggage avoiding the extra baggage costs. It was perfect, no bumps, scratches or holes – completely detuned to minimise stress on the neck while in transit, but other than that perfect. We had about an hour to kill so I tuned her up and started playing, drawing further unwanted attention to myself from the black shirted man but it was a small price to pay for a less tedious wait.

While I was playing, a girl arrived from behind us, put her bag down on the bench and pulled out her iPhone. I stopped playing and acknowledged her with a smile, my reserved English nature preventing me from starting conversation. She said hi in the yet familiar but expected American accent, and we got talking. She was called Monica with a last name I couldn’t pronounce at the time let alone remember or spell, and was making a pilgrimage to Israel from California. There was nothing Jewish looking about her at all with her tanned brown skin, short shorts and Vans but I figured she was from California and didn’t question it. Anything goes. She pulled out a little video camera and asked if she could video me playing for her video journal of her trip – video journal, what a good idea! I uncomfortably accepted in a sleepy hangover to sing and play guitar on video – what a terrible idea! But I was in the mind set of ‘fuck it’ Im thousands of miles away from anyone I know to feel embarrassed in front of and Ben was used to my terrible singing from the past half hour of playing so I went for it. The last song I had played, still fresh in my mind from band practise was a little blues song written by a great friend of mine and master of creativity Simon Riordan – Eyes of Lurid Jade. So I played it through, probably quite poorly, but Monica seemed entertained while videoing – enjoying the song or just my British accent, I don’t know! Shortly after I finished, her bus pulled up and a short spanish man wearing his NJ transit bus uniform proudly, jumped out and opened the luggage compartment under the bus for Monica’s big travel bag.

“Ey, nice little guitar”

“Do you play??” I responded holding it out for him to come and examine.

He took up the offer and grabbed my guitar, studied it for a moment then started playing an incredible flamenco guitar part.

“You know spanish music?” He rhetorically asked before breaking out an amazing vocal part over his fast finger work. I have no idea what he was singing about but I was completely enticed. Ben was sat next to me chuckling in disbelief and Monica was frantically digging the video camera back out of her bag. All three of us applauded and complemented when he had finished the intense piece before he hurried Monica and himself onto the bus, after returning my guitar, and carried along on his now 4 minute delayed route to wherever their destination may have been. So sorry Simon, there’s a video somewhere of me playing a mediocre rendition of your song then being completely upstaged by a spanish bus driver.

Finally our bus came along and took us on a surprisingly scenic journey into New York City. We went past views that seemed almost alien to us, reaffirming me of the fact that I was in a foreign country. There was a hundred train tracks below the overpass that we were on and a thousand giant containers next to them, being sorted and transported. A massive iron structure bridge in the background, unmaintained and brown with rust and further in the distance, through the morning haze and mess of electricity pylons, was a mound of grand buildings scraping the sky that had changed from a deep navy to a watercolour scene – a perfect and gradual transition from nectarine-flesh-orange to paraffin blue. Ben and I both gazed out the windows absorbing as much as humanly possible. The black shirted man was also on the bus gazing at the scene in wonderment, maybe he wasn’t a local looking for an easy steal from some naive tourists; however, I was conflicted by his sketchiness and judging by the size of his bag I made the conclusion that he couldn’t have come far and kept my wits about me. Compared to my experiences of journeys into another big city – London suburbs, with the ever lingering overcast weather, burned out kebab shops and plethora of tracky bottoms – this was a place of urban beauty.

The guitar has become major distraction from actually sitting myself down and writing about my travels and experiences in America. It always seems to relocate itself right next to my laptop so rather than have to think about writing, it becomes much easier to pick up the baby acoustic and play some music instead. Right now I’m sat on the edge of the balcony of a beautiful little house, made by the Armish some years ago with a few added ‘Wild Bill’ extras – like the railings of the staircase made with raw branches of a tree that I only wish I knew the name of. My bare feet rest on the refreshingly cool green metal roof of the porch below and the slight breeze relieves the rest of my body from the incredible evening temperature. Im wearing just my boxers and still hot outside at 11pm. If it were day time, I would be looking over a garden to the near woods of Pollywogg Holler that join straight onto state land that extends beyond the hills; however its night and instead I feel secured by the quiet and complete darkness of my surroundings. Listening to the crickets and occasionally gazing up at the clear sky to study the brightest stars I’ve ever seen. Here’s how I’ve ended up (for the time being) in one of the most amazing places, with the most amazing people… Ill give this to you in sections so good job if you’ve started here!

Leaving England.

I’d been planning to travel for years, after finishing studying Music at college and not knowing what to do with my life. Although living in Cornwall was awesome – surfing, Pastys, scuba diving, playing loads of music and really good friends and family – even the most beautiful places become stale after a while and plus I had watched ‘Into The Wild’ too many times not to feel the urge to get out in the world before it was too late. So I picked The USA for destination number one because its such a vast place with so many different climates and cultures packed into one country of ‘United’ states. Also the language barrier is zero and the Arctic Monkeys were playing so it was unquestionable that I would aim for the Orion music festival in New Jersey. The evening of July 19th I drove around like a crazy man back in England trying to sort everything out, made sure I had my passport, signed my motorcycle and my car over to some friends, packed enough clothing to last me through the hot weather, said a teary goodbye to Mum, Tim (step dad) and Lou(sister) and headed to Dad’s place ready for the 5 hour drive up to Heathrow Airport. In the morning we picked up Ben – a good friend who I had convinced kind of last minute to join me at the Festival, en route to the Cayman Islands – and we were off! As ready as ever for our Amazing American Adventure! My dad kindly drove us up and stayed for a few days in London with Jan(step mum), my sadness of saying goodbye to them at security was masked with pure excitement and, I must admit, a little nervousness! Ben and I hung around the departure lounge for what seemed like an eternity (for me at least), I think because the reality kicked in and my brain was processing at maximum velocity, thinking over everything that I forgot to do at home, and everything that I hadn’t planned yet. I remedied this with pointing out my people-watching observations to Ben and having some laughs talking aloud what we thought people were thinking. Id never seen so many ethnicities in one place before, and I was genuinely intrigued at how the people from the same cultural backgrounds generally acted the same way. I became less and less proud of being part of the English-Moaners.

On the walk to the gate me and Ben were continuing our ‘cultural and social studies of the naked ape’ and trying to figure out why someone would choose to walk on the non-moving-floor section. We were going on a casual stroll and they had to nearly jog to keep up with us! I know this because the girl near jogging next to us pointed out that not everyone is as lazy as us in some incredibly witty comment. Of course, the banter back was just as witty. She introduced herself – Imogen, and we all got talking about out plans/previous travel experience, she was staying with some woman in NYC for a few weeks, then off to Massachusetts. We went through the departure gate, ben to the right, me to the left, imogen to the right. We met around there other side and Ben announces his upgrade to premium class.

“Haha, funny one benny boy!”
“No… seriously.”

He only went and got a random free upgrade to a plush leather seat and gourmet meals! So I was sat on my economy seat, a little jealous but happy that I at least had the window/door seat which meant that I had loads of leg room and a nice view of the cold but now sunny Heathrow airport from the side that I rarely get to see. However I now had an empty seat next to me where Ben was supposed to be. I was thinking of different scenarios of who it may be – maybe some fat sweaty dude wearing a star trek T-shirt? Or a hardcore football fan of Millwall who would be so angry that I don’t know a thing about football? Or how about a crazy smelly old cat lady with a bad cold coughing all over my inflight meal? Or how about that pretty girl who is walking up the isle looking a bit lost, and now slowing down and putting her hand luggage in the over head… She sat down.

Her name was Jen, Jen from London but originally Sweeden. We talked about our different travel plans – she was on her way to NYC on a mini holiday before her employer gives her team of ‘buyers’ the keys to a massive hotel in London in which it was her job to research and purchase all the interiors for the bedrooms – beds, tables, ornaments, lights, switches, plug sockets, everything. We both had a long night ahead of us, it was 8.30pm and we were taking a 7 hour flight to a place that is 5 hours behind us then having to stay up until at least the next afternoon. We made an agreement – to sleep for at least 4 hours – but she informed me that first thing was first… Free wine… Free wine… More free wine… The free wine hits hard at that altitude and we talked for the whole flight, 7 hours, between intervals to go get more wine when they weren’t bringing it around quick enough! I didn’t find out her age (I’m going to say mid 20’s but maybe older due to her job position) and I was too drunk to remember half of the rubbish that we talked about but she was interesting, had a really cool outlook on life… and a good kisser… She hurried on through the USA customs at Newark Airport to meet her friends, more than likely never to be seen by me again. Fragments of her life lodged in my memory like a 10,000 pice puzzle with 9,990 pieces missing and I’m sure fragments of mine in hers. I met Ben up ahead in premium class laughing at me for getting drunk, and we met up with Imogen in the cue for customs – she was 20 people behind us, naturally she ducked the barrier and started talking about guns. The cops had guns, and to my drunken self this was something fun to talk about – Ben on the other hand was telling us to shut up else they won’t let us in! He goes through with no problems, only staying in the USA for 5 days, I go through with a lot of questions – “Are you with him? Then why are you staying for 80 days? Where are you staying? Where are you going after? When are you leaving the country? When are you going home? What are your plans here?” – Most of these questions I didn’t have the answer to, but my drunken wit seems to work ok and I blagged my way through! Ben’s bag got checked for the “food content” that he had checked the box to say he had on the way through – these were just a bag of mint sweets that he handed to the customs official who was also wielding a handgun.

Ben and I took a seat in the airport near the door. It was dark outside – 4.30am body clock time, 11.30pm local time and we had to hang around until 6.30am local time! Sat on the uncomfortable chair I looked around at the flat empty floors and walls of the airport, a short Mexican man was cleaning the floor keeping to stereotypes and a white guy who spoke spanish to the mexican man was helping and keeping an eye on the stragglers left behind. It looked clean and there was a few vending machines next to the rows of blue seats with uncomfortable handles 6 meters in front of us that I was going to have a look at until the local tramp (bum) decided to make it his new bathroom. Imogen had found a random guy that worked at the airport who was going to take her underground to where the bus would pick her up and take her into the heart of the ‘Big Apple’. She had no paper so biro’ed a sketchy email address onto my arm with instructions to email her and keep in contact, then disappeared downstairs with the guy who was now bigging me up and laughing about the false information that was given to him.
“I did not join the mile high club with some random Swedish girl! Thanks for that Imogen!”

Me and Ben settled down and tried to get comfortable. 6 hours of attempting to sleep was ahead of us. I managed to get a few minutes at a time before waking up with someone walking past or the arm of the chair digging in so uncomfortably, but we kind of expected this and it was my own fault for not sleeping on the plane! The altitude of the plane that was on a high a few hours ago but, now back down to the ground, worn out, ready for a service and a rest would be a good metaphor to compare to how I felt. I was rough.

Writing is difficult. When I left the grey, drizzly, confusingly-melancholy haze of England, I made a promise to myself – to archive everything that I experienced while travelling through the USA. Ive been here now for 5 weeks and have written nothing more than the 8 email addresses and phone numbers that are lingering around, without details of the people they belong to, in my specially bought ‘journal’. So much stuff has happened while I’ve been here – I’ve met a massive extent of kind and interesting people, seen some beautiful places and experienced some crazy American cultures and food! But it is one person in particular who has finally inspired me and prompted me to start writing this blog – an amazingly kind, overly caring, beautiful and adventurous young woman who serendipitously happens to be living in a wooden cottage just across the road from my current and temporary accommodation – Kristen. We’ve had a lot of adventures in the short 2 weeks that I’ve known her, she and her friend Rebecca have kind of made it their mission to show me the wonders of Allegany county and beyond; and in showing me, I believe they have rediscovered it for themselves. I have realised just how easy it is for some of the most beautiful places on Earth to become stale when you know them too well; I think of home back in Cornwall quite often and although I’m having too much fun here to really miss the place, I appreciate it now more than ever. I didn’t know when I first met her, but Kristen keeps a blog which I now have bookmarked in the top bar of Safari – The Western Life. After reading through some of it, the things we have done and talked about suddenly became more valid. In simply living them they just get stuck in the ever expanding ‘back room’ of my mind, waiting hopefully to get sorted into some kind of fathomable format. Its crazy that it has taken me 21 years to realise that memories are so important – they define who you are – and I should take care of them rather than put them in what seems like an attic space with boxes of old things that you know are there, but can never really find them.

Im currently sitting in the office of Pollywogg Holler, on one of the very few grey-skied days that I’ve witnessed since being out here, drinking PG tips (the only english tea I was able to find on the extensive wall of tea in a Giant store), listening to Sun Kil Moon’s latest album and trying to occupy myself from thinking over and over about the events of the previous evening and figuring out what to do with myself. Probably not the best weather/music for this task but I guess its what got me out here in the first place. Life has a strange way of taking over all rational thought and I get sucked in very easily to simply living in the moment, without regard for past or future. I’ve come to terms with the realisation that I’m a bit of a nomad, nay, a complete nomad and I’m not sure if I’ll ever have complete stability or if I want that. When you don’t know what you want to ‘be’, the possibilities become vast and life is exciting, however I can’t rely on the kindness of others taking me under their wing my whole life. I guess that I need to have more of a plan, not too much more, but at least a plan of what I want to achieve that extends further than than next 10 days of my life! I hope that keeping up this blog will not only give family and friends their fix of knowledge in regards to where I am, what I’m up to and that at the least I’m still alive; but will also give me the ability to analyse what I’ve done/what I’m doing/what I’ve learnt and decide what to do next.

If this works, thank you.

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