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.

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