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.