Hello and welcome to my Blog!

This Blog is going to be an account of my trips over to the 'Land of the Free' , to visit 'Uncle Sam' , the good old U S of A. Lots of places were seen over the course of three trips and lots of photos were taken, which will be added in due course. The first few posts will be recounting a week me and my good friend Malcolm Meikle spent in New York City in March 2001. Then we fast forward to November 2003 when me and Malcy returned on a three week trip and were joined by another friend, Ricky Mcnamee. This trip began in San Francisco and ended in NYC, taking in a whole load of places inbetween (Yosemite, Vegas, LA, New Orleans, Memphis and more). The third trip was on honeymoon with my wife Angie in September 2006, a ten day visit that could easily be made into a Channel 4 real life film adventure, believe me! Feel free to leave a comment on any post (by clicking the yellow 'comment' button beneath the post), good or bad, I dont mind. Honest! And feel just as free to become a follower of the Blog (by clicking on the 'follow' button on the right hand side of the page) to keep up to speed with updates. Ok, so stay tuned, enjoy the read (and photos!) thanks for dropping by, and I'll see y'all real soon. Steve

Thursday, 8 March 2012



Friday, 1 July 2011

That was the week that was

So the week was just about over. I took so many photos I must have kept the camera shops in business all week just on my own. (I was getting the films developed as soon as they were full, didn’t want any little accidents spoiling them!).

 I had even given Malc a disposable camera and told him to take some photos of me when I wasn’t looking, when I wasn’t expecting it, (instead of posing for photos all the time). He did this ok but most of the pictures were taken with Malc standing behind me so most of them are just of me from the back. Nice try Malc!

One photo I missed out on was when an old guy cycled past us one day near Central Park dressed head to toe in gold coloured clothes. He had a ghetto-blaster strapped to a shelf on the front of his bike which was blasting our Frank Sinatra’s `New York New York`. Never did see him again.

 We didn’t make it back to the Intrepid either, like I said the week just flew by. The day we left was March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day. It’s an occasion wildly celebrated in New York with a massive parade up Fifth Ave. from 44th to 86th St. We caught a little bit of the parade around 52nd St. but had other things on our minds, like getting ready to head home. Well that plus the fact we didn't fancy mingling with hoardes of drunken Irish/would-be Irish 'revellers' marching the streets with green beer whilst looking for red English blood. Funny, you never see those pictures on the telly.  

It was with heavy feet but happy heart (or should that be the other way around?) that I jumped into the minibus back to JFK. I had done it at last. And I had a suitcase full of mementoes, souvenirs and photos to keep with me.

 Although we’d seen and done a lot, I know there is a lot more to do and see in New York City.  The further we rode away from Manhattan the more I craned my neck to catch one last glimpse of the city so damned good they named it twice!

Even before we were airborne I was making plans for a return journey to the USA. Read on……………. 


Friday, 29 April 2011


Funny how a week at work drags by, yet a week in New York City can pass in a blur. Maybe it’s because you look forward to it so much, like birthdays when you’re younger. I’d arrived with a `to do list` and done it.\(Well most of it anyway). The hotdogs and pretzels I’d seen all those years ago on the TV, the big steaks I’d heard all about, going over to 53rd and 3rd, `Georgie Boys` last stand. Damn those New Jersey gangs! The skyscrapers. The sights, smells and sounds. Especially the sounds. I’ve never been in a noisier city!

There always seems to be car horns blasting and sirens going. Then there’s the steam rising from vents in the road. A bit of a unique NYC thing?, maybe not but it is to me. I will always remember the feeling I got when I got my first sighting of the Manhattan skyline coming in from the airport. Even thinking of it now brings a thrill of excitement. And just the simple act of waking up in New York every day for a week, stepping out of the hotel and being right in the middle of things, that was such a good feeling at the time and a feeling that I will never forget.  

 The city has so many different ethnic areas (Chinatown, Little Italy, Little Russia etc), that virtually every country on earth seems to be represented in their own district. Chinatown was fascinating to me. We first came across it when walking up Broadway one day.

Although the street was already quite busy there was a clear throng of people a little further up. When we reached the start of Chinatown itself it hit you full on. There are around 150,000 Chinese-Americans in New York (many living and working in their minisociety without using a word of English), and looking at the scene in front of us, it seemed as if they were all doing their shopping at the same time. Add a huge mix of other New Yorkers and tourists and you can imagine the amount of people milling around.

In the early days of Chinatown the community remained isolated from the rest of the city, financed and controlled by its own secret organizations, the Tongs. Some of the Tongs were simply family associations who provided loans. Others were criminal fraternities and were at war with each other. The old windy road in the area (once a dead end) called Doyers Street was at one time known as `Bloody Alley`, a place where warring Tongs lured and ambushed each other. A truce between the Tongs in 1933 brought peace to Chinatown, which to this day remains a very self-sufficient area.

Food here is everywhere. The markets on Canal Street are wildly known to sell some of the best fish, fruits and vegetables in the city. There are countless restaurants ; Mott Street – from Worth Street right up to Kenmare Street – is lined with Cantonese and Szechuan places, as well as East Broadway. And don’t forget the vendors selling all sorts of delicious snacks (and some not so delicious looking snacks as well mind). But there’s more to do here than just eat. There are also galleries, antiques and curio shops, Oriental festivals and the Eastern States Buddhist Temple. What a fantastic area of the city.

We spent a fair bit of time wandering around between the vast array of stalls and open fronted food shops, some of which seemed to resemble a mini slaughter house that sold the meat on to customers as fresh as you could possibly imagine. I swear I saw a skinned, bloodless rabbit wink at me as I walked past one shopfront. And I honestly lost count of the ammount of restaurants we walked past, all displaying huge menus in their windows without containing a single word in English. And why should they? After all, the vast majority of people living their daily lives in and around the Chinatown area have no use for the English language what-so-ever. Like I said earlier, Chinatown remains a very self-sufficient area and they certainly have no need to pander to the whims of English speaking tourists.

Ironically, the Chinese restaurant we did visit wasn’t even in Chinatown! It was up near our hotel and we came out of it like a couple of stuffed pigs. It was interesting while in there to witness so many people dining solo.
 It’s a well known fact that in the average NYC apartment there’s hardly room to swing a cat in the kitchen. With the city boasting over 25,000 restaurants you can bet the vast majority of them are going all out to get your custom (the real swanky ones will have elite clientele I suppose!). It’s so cheap to eat out (and eat out well) in New York that for most locals it’s very much an everyday thing. So although it was interesting to see so many solo diners, it wasn’t really surprising.

 Its not as if they were all just sitting staring into space, every one of them had a book or newspaper or paperwork of some kind in front of them. As for me and Malc, we ordered what we normally would in the UK. We just didn’t figure on the New York portions. They brought us a huge bowl of chicken fried rice which we shared out onto our plates, just about filling them. We’d also ordered a sweet and sour chicken dish to share along with chips.

These followed a couple of minutes later along with another huge bowl of chicken fried rice. We explained that we already had ours but were told that this was ours also! There was nothing to do but take a deep breath and get stuck in. Every time we had a drink of beer there was someone at our side before the glass was back on the table to top it up. Very attentive, I’ll give them that.

Well we did our best but when we couldn’t manage anymore there was still a mountain of food left. And we hardly even touched the portion of dumplings we ordered! I thought I was going to burst. They offered us a `doggy bag` to take with us what we couldn’t eat, but I thought if I looked at anymore of it I’d be sick so we politely declined. But talk about getting your moneys worth. Wow!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Rockefeller Center, Madison Square Garden, Lower East Side

Socks. I needed to buy some socks. I suffer from what could quite possibly be the worst smelling feet in the world when I’ve been on my feet all day, and saying as I didn’t want to subject the lady from the hotel laundry service to such a horrifying ordeal, I was just throwing day old socks away as opposed to getting them washed. Yes, our hotel actually had a (quite expensive) laundry service, possibly to make up for the lack of a café/restaurant, or a bar, or room service etc. We had been planning to buy some clothes while here, (supposedly quite a lot cheaper than in the UK), so I could now kill two birds with one stone.

But first, one attraction we had our eye on wasn’t on your usual tourist itinerary, the World War 11 US aircraft carrier Intrepid, now a sea-air-space museum. We went off the beaten track a bit to get across to it, seeing a little bit of NYC everyday life on the way. No souvenir shops to be had walking all the way along W46th Street, just a few guys working on a car in a garage, a couple of local stores and a postman on his beat. I’m a postman myself so I stopped to have a chat with him, compare notes on how things get done in the US as apposed to the UK. Very interesting (I won’t bore you with all the details!).

 We finally reached the Intrepid, which sits at pier 86, W46th Street, (on the Hudson River), and were really looking forward to having a look around it. Our hopes were blown out of the water though (pardon the pun!) when we discovered it was closed to the public one day of the week, today! The opening times might well have changed by now, but for us, no ship ahoy.

Instead we headed back all the way along 46th Street to have a look around midtown. I had made a phone call earlier in the year and set up a tour of the post office, but we now had a bit of time to kill before we had to be there.

Once back through Times Square it`s only a few blocks to the vast expanse of the Rockefeller Center, which covers an area of eleven acres between 49th - 52nd Streets and 5th - 7th Avenues. I was only really interested in getting photos of a couple of things around here. First, the famous Radio City Music Hall, which has been perfectly restored in all it`s art deco grandeur. It looks as good today as it would have back in it`s hey-day.

Next up was the sunken plaza in the middle of the center. This is a restaurant in the summer but gets transformed into the famous ice-skating rink in winter, which looks even more spectacular when the equally famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree sits above it. Surrounding this sub-ground area are the `Flags Of All Nations`, a bit like what they have at the United Nations building at 1st and 46th Street.

The towering General Electric Building is the `Flagship` of the center, which includes the NBC studios and television network headquarters on the 70th floor. The `Today Show` broadcasts daily from the glass-enclosed street level studio near the ice rink.
This is where many locals head to in the hope of seeing themselves on television. Damn. I went and left my giant `Hello Mam` home made placard in the hotel. If you have a few dollars in your pocket you`ll never go hungry around here. I lost count of the number of restaurants/cafes we walked past.         

Having said that, there are also plenty of hotdog stands dotted around, and I hated having to walk past one without parting with a dollar for a very tasty snack. I’m sure the vendors used to rub their hands with glee when they saw me coming.   

 It was now time to head for our tour of the post office. We were met there by a lady who introduced herself as our personal tour guide. `Funny name that`, I thought to myself,  and after waiting a little while for other people to turn up for the tour, she gave up on them and set off with only me and Malc in tow. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let us into the building I really wanted a look at (the sorting office floor, where postmen prepare their walks), and we had to make do with a tour of the mail processing centre instead. Although interesting enough, this wasn’t what I was wanting to see.

 We have mail centres in the UK doing the same job. I was more interested in seeing the working area of the postmen before they set off on their beats, to compare their set-up to where I work. Even having an official with us (acting as tour guide) didn’t help. The security was so tight they didn’t want me and Malc poking our noses around in there. They sent us on our way with a carrier bag each full of post office information. I was only surprised they didn’t give us a couple of lollipops to suck on as well.

We then walked a couple of blocks to have a look at Madison Square Garden. What a fantastic arena! Built in 1968, `the Garden` stands on the site of the former Pennsylvania Station. Its 20,000 seats are the home ground of the famous New York Knickerbockers (the Knicks), basketball, and New York Rangers hockey teams. Mind you, it doesn’t stop there. You can also see rock concerts, championship tennis, boxing, outrageously staged wrestling, antique shows, dog shows and more! There is also a 5,600 seat theatre. So me and Malc wandered in to have a look.

 We were just making our way up a ramp inside when we heard a voice behind us. “You guys going somewhere?” We turned to see a security guard heading towards us.

“Just having a look around mate.”

“You got tickets?”

“Didn’t know we needed one.”

“There’s a game on, you gotta have tickets to get in.”

 “Oh. Cant we just have a look around?”

“Not tonight you cant. I’ll show you out.”

 “Very kind of you, I’m sure.”
 I have to say, I much prefer St. James` Park, Newcastle! We went for another wander after being escorted outside, this time up to 42nd Street to have a look at Grand Central Station (or Grand Central Terminal to give it its proper title).

What a fantastic railway station! Opened in 1913, up to half a million people pass through the terminal each day. I didn’t know where to look first. You could spend all day looking around in here. I have a black and white picture on the wall at home (one of many of New York!) of the Terminal taken in 1930 featuring sun rays streaming through the giant windows. It felt great to finally stand in front of them and look for myself. The three massive arched windows each measure 75 feet (23 m) high. The vaulted ceiling features a zodiac design containing over 2,500 stars with lights pinpointing the major constellations (the design is actually said to be a `Gods eye` image of the sky, the work of French artist Paul Helleu).

 You also can’t miss the two Grand Staircases, double flights of marble steps styled after the staircase in the Paris Opera House. And the big gold four faced clock that tops the travel information booth on the main concourse. Or the restaurants and food court, including the famous Grand Central Oyster Bar. Like I said what a fantastic railway station! 

We did our bit of clothes shopping straight after leaving the station (and also got some new socks!), and after the disappointments of Intrepid, the post office and the Garden, we decided to cheer ourselves up with a few beers. What a big difference in the US to the UK for having a night out. In the UK you find a bar on virtually every street corner (or so it seems!), but in the US you var-nigh have to get a cab from one bar to the next.

 We had heard that there were more bars in the lower east side in the city, so after a quick shower and change of clothes, we had a couple of drinks in the bar near the hotel before jumping on a tube down to Grand Street and headed across from there. After a short while we asked some people if we were in the `lower east side` area. We were, and were pointed in the direction of the nearest bar.

 Here was another New York first, two bars within a few feet of each other! I had developed a taste for a local drink over the week, Brooklyn Lager, mmm! Malc`s eyes lit up when he spotted a local drink of our own here in NYC. Newcastle Brown Ale, a favourite in the North East of England.

 We had been in the bar a little while when I heard a familiar accent at the other end of the bar. He turned out to be a fellow Geordie who was making his way all around South and North America. While being over the moon to be able to talk to someone who understood him (strong accent), he was even happier when I offered him some English cigarettes (Regal, another NE England favourite!).

We all had a good laugh and drink together and before we knew it, it was 2am. Me and Malc had trailed over here to sample a few different bars and ended up in the same one all night! There was nowhere to get anything to eat on the way back to the subway but while standing on the platform I spotted a chocolate machine on the wall. That would have to do for now. I had just bought a dairy crunch bar when the train pulled in. Apart from me and Malc, there were only two other people in the car, sitting together right in the middle. I thought it best to break the ice. “Hello lads, you ok, mind if we sit here?” (Right next to them). “Yeah man, sure.” One of them was really big, broad, the other was a lot smaller, dwarfed by his pal. It was the big lad that was talking.

I asked where they were heading. “Home man, Bronx.” “Long way mate, want some dairy crunch?” “No, you ok.” “Go on, there’s plenty.” “No man.” I waited a few seconds. “Last chance, sure you don’t want any?” “Go on then.” We ended up talking all the way to our stop (which we weren’t sure of in our state). But our new friend kept us right. His pal never said a word the whole time we were on the train.

 When we were back on the street Malc was shaking his head laughing to himself. “I think we just got away with it there” he said. “Eh?” “I don’t think two lads heading to the Bronx at 2.30 in the morning are used to two drunken idiots forcing dairy crunch on them.” “Well he seemed happy enough.” “Aye Steve, but his mate didn’t.” Good point. Still, it’s nice to be nice eh?!


Sunday, 17 April 2011

Central Park

The diner next to our hotel was getting some good business off us, especially first thing in the morning. We’d tried McDonalds for breakfast but I found it was taking two of them to satisfy me. Is it just me or don’t you get enough in those places? The diner was different, what I would call a proper breakfast. Real bacon and egg (with about two hundred different ways to have your eggs cooked), toast, sausage, as much coffee as you want.  Not too keen on maple syrup on pancakes though, must be an American thing.

“Good coffee that”, was usually the first thing Malc was saying in the morning.

It was time to go and check out the cities `backyard`, Central Park. What was once 843 acres filled with shanties, pig farms and marshland, changed thanks to the vision of journalist and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and architect Calvert Vaux, creators of this masterpiece right in the middle of Manhattan. Work started in 1857 and took twenty thousand labourers twenty years to construct (although the park actually opened in 1959, before work was complete).

Workers removed almost three million cubic yards of soil, blasted rocky outcroppings to create the picturesque rifts the Olmsted-Vaux plan called for, planted between 4 and 5 million trees, 816 varieties of other plants, drained marshlands, used ten million cartloads of  stone and earth to transform the whole look, and dug the reservoir (now named for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) which is now circumscribed by a popular 1.6 mile jogging track. It all adds up to the lush 843 acre park of today.

We had originally planned to hire a couple of cycles and ride around the whole park, but Malc has awful problems actually riding a pushbike (balance, peddling the right way, steering, you name it), and he decided not to go ahead with the quick lesson I had promised to give him.

So, (on foot), we entered the park from the south and headed straight for the Woolman Memorial Rink, (in the south east corner), for me one of the best known features of Central Park, restored in the 1980s by tycoon Donald Trump. Although we had no intention of pulling on skates and making fools of ourselves on the ice, we spent a bit of time there watching plenty of other people fall flat on their arses. To be fair, everyone seemed very capable and it was maybe just as well we didn’t enter the fray and disrupt the flow.

 From there we made our way up through the park, taking in the warm sunshine and mingling with lots of other people enjoying the surroundings. The park was created for `New Yorkers who have no opportunity to spend their summers in the country` (Frederick Law Olmsted), and they were certainly making the most of it today.

We were in the company of other walkers as well as cyclists, joggers, kite flyers, sunbathers, would-be artists and the odd musician. Olmsted and Vaux would be over the moon to see their masterpiece being so well appreciated. The baseball pitches were about the only thing not in use when we strolled past.  

Central Park has so many attractions, you could spend days in there and still find more to do. We’d walked up as far as 79th Street when we realised we were just across the road from the American Museum of Natural History. Malc had wanted to have a look in here (he has this thing about Dinosaurs!), so now seemed as good a time as any.

 This is the largest natural history museum in the world (attracting over three million people a year), and now covers four city blocks. It holds over 40 million specimens (including 96 percent of all known species of birds), and the exhibits brilliantly detail the evolution of life on Earth. Malc was in dinosaur heaven, but before he totally indulged himself in that, he joined me in a walk around the space and time exhibition they had at the time. Enlightening stuff I tell you!

 The funny thing is, amongst all the hi-Tec displays, the computerised simulations and the digital technology, the one thing that’s always stuck in my mind was the spiral walkway that descended three floors. I was right at the bottom of it when I had to look twice at the `Timeline Chart` printed on the inside of the walkway. I walked right back to the top and saw the opening diagram, the big bang, the start of it all. All the way down the walkway, events in the Earths history were mapped in areas of millions of years, all taking up a good few feet to demonstrate the length of time, i.e. Ice age, Stone Age, Dinosaurs, etc., then right at the bottom covering about three inches was Human life on Earth. A tiny little fraction in the Earths history. When you see it laid out in front of you like that, on that scale (even though you know it from your school days!), it looks fascinating.

Malc wanted to spend a bit of time checking out all the dinosaurs, I was wanting to head downtown to check out a bookstore I’d heard about (the Strand), so we agreed to meet back at the hotel in a couple of hours. I had the address of the bookstore and knew which subway station to get off, so it was a piece of cake. Except it wasn’t, and after wandering up and down streets, round corners, and up and down more streets, I gave up and asked a few people for directions. The trouble was no-one knew where it was so I decided to head back to the subway to ask from there. I was just about back at the station when I just happened to glance to my right. There, sticking out like a sore thumb was the Strand! When I’d left the station earlier I just walked straight ahead. A little look to my left would have saved about forty five minutes of meandering! Never mind, I still enjoyed my time mooching around in there, even if I didn’t actually buy anything!

After meeting back up with Malc, we decided to go and check out a steakhouse we had walked past about a hundred times already just off Times Square. On a poster on their window they were advertising huge T-Bone steaks. `Try one if you dare! ` It was screaming at anyone passing within about five blocks. Malc didn’t actually fancy it and ordered a regular steak. Not me. “One of those big fellas please, and make it snappy”. “Take a seat buddy, and prepare yourself”. I sat and prepared myself for a good twenty minutes before a waiter strolled over with an impressively large plate, on which I was expecting to see half a cow sizzling away. “Huge T-Bone, you call that a huge fucking T-Bone?!” I felt like screaming when the plate was put down in front of me. What a disappointment! Maybe if my name was Fido or Rex or Bouncer or some other pet dogs name I would have enjoyed it more. In case you haven’t yet guessed, it was all bone. As the saying goes; I’ve seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil! There was only one way to put this fiasco behind me. Three words to Malc was all it took; “fancy a pint?”


Thursday, 14 April 2011

Coney Island

The Warriors. A 1979 film about a Coney Island gang attending a mass gang meeting in The Bronx which goes wry. (A film I’ve now seen a few times!). The Warriors get stitched up and have to fight their way all the way home to Coney Island. When they eventually get there the first thing they see when getting off the train is the Wonder Wheel. A symbol that they’ve made it home. I’ve fancied having a look at it myself, and that was our plan for today. Hopefully without having to fight our way all the way down!

There’s a lot more to Coney Island than the Wonder Wheel of course. By the 1920s Coney Island was starting to bill its self as the `Worlds largest playground`. It had grown from three huge fairgrounds built between 1887 and 1904 (Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase Park), providing a popular combination of hair-raising rides and nearby beaches. The subway arrived in 1920, and the building of the boardwalk in 1921 ensured Coney Islands popularity throughout the depression. 

Three landmark status attractions dominate around here: The wooden Cyclone roller coaster (one of only a few wooden track roller coasters left in the world), was ready to roll in 1927, reaching speeds of 68mph and including nine drops and six curves. It still brings plenty of screams out of people to this day. The Wonder Wheel, a 150 feet high Ferris wheel opened on Memorial Day in 1920. It has twenty four passenger cars that not only rock but slide along tracks as the wheel turns. And the big red Parachute Jump near the boardwalk, which came to Coney Island from New York Worlds Fair of 1939/40. Although now long closed it still remains a beckoning landmark.

The train made very frequent stops all the way down through Brooklyn, with few passengers getting on or off. I didn’t mind too much though, it gave us the chance to check out the graffiti at all the stations. In the film it wasn’t just the stations that were covered in graffiti, the trains were in a right old state as well. In fact the image put across was that New York its self was a place not to be wandering around once the sun went down, and from what I’ve read and seen, that could well have been true! It’s a different story today though, of course, and it was from a very clean and graffiti free carriage that we admired the artwork outside.

 Before too long we were stepping off the train and looking over at the same sight as the Warriors in the film. It just happened to be another dazzling sunshine day. Magic! Walking out of the subway station takes you onto Surf Avenue, with flea market stalls, sideshows and Nathan’s historic hot dog stand, all closed today. Bit early in the season I suppose, it was only March! There was a café open just down the road, so after a bite to eat (chicken and chips), we bought a couple of bottles of coke so I could re-enact a scene from the film. The amusement park wasn’t open for the season yet so we had to make do with standing in front of the wire fence.

 With Malc at the ready with camera at hand, I started slowly creeping around shouting “Warriors come out to plaaaay!” repeated a few times while clanking the bottles together. (If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know exactly what I mean!). After rolling around in fits of laughter we had the photos we wanted and went to have a look around.

We had as good a look at things through the fence as we could then wandered over to the boardwalk. What a shame the park wasn’t open, but it still felt great to at least be standing in front of it. I was quite surprised at how big the beach was, very clean as well, easy to see why it gets so busy down here in the summer.

 While walking along the boardwalk towards the Parachute Jump, a woman slowed down while walking towards us.

 “You guys ok?” she asked, sounding a bit concerned.

“Aye champion thanks” I replied.

“Ok” and she walked on.

Me and Malc exchanged glances. “Bit strange the way she said that” said Malc.

 “Aye, you think she saw the little performance earlier with the coke bottles?”

 “Well if she did, she could have taken the photos!”

 Once we got past the Parachute Jump the scenery turned very residential, so we had a bit of a wander through the streets before heading back towards the subway station. With very little open there seemed little point hanging around, but the main thing was, we’d seen everything we wanted to and were happy enough with that.

Later on that night we were having a drink in a bar/grill near the hotel, when a man standing near us cut in on our conversation (Lets call him Brad). He said that he worked in the city and talked with people from all over the world but was having trouble placing our accents. “North East England mate, Hexham, near Newcastle Upon Tyne” I told him.

 “You guys are English? Damn I had you down for German or something. That’s some accent you guys have, I couldn’t pick many words up.”

 German indeed. After finding out we were on `vacation`, he then went on and reeled off all the tourist things he thought we would have done.

 He got them all right. “Aye” I said, “spot on.” “Oh, and we’ve been down to Coney Island today.” When he heard this he nearly choked on his beer.

 “Coney Island” he repeated, rather loudly. “Why the hell`d you wanna go down there?”

 I explained about the Warriors thing but he still looked bemused.

“Were you guys in a tour group or something?”

 “No, just hopped on the train”

“Weren’t you a bit wary?”

“Aye a little bit, in fact we both nodded off on the way back” (fell asleep).

 (He meant wary, as in scared, I heard it as weary, as in tired!) At this he guffawed again.

 “You fell asleep?” he asked/shouted. “Don’t you guys realise you’ve just ridden one of the most dangerous lines in the western world?”

 “Really? Seemed ok to us.”

 “Did you notice many more white men on the train?”

 “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Guys, you’ve been right through Brooklyn to Coney Island and made it back without getting your throats cut. Put your money away, the beers are on me!”

 Well I thought he was totally over-reacting, but if he was happy to buy us beer, that was fine by me.

He spent the next half-hour or so buying us drinks, then his friends turned up and he talked to them instead. He did buy us one more drink each after I ‘accidentally’ bumped his arm when our glasses were empty.

 To this day I don’t know why he reacted like that. Maybe he’d had a bad experience in Brooklyn himself? I don’t know. Were those two men we spoke to yesterday unloading the truck keeping something from us? Why were they laughing?

The woman on the boardwalk looking somewhat concerned, what was that all about? Was Coney Island/ Brooklyn to be avoided in March 2001? One thing I do know though, that stranger in the bar, (Brad?), he’ll never get a job as a tour guide, not with that attitude!



Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Brooklyn Bridge

Unlike some US cities, New York is fantastically easy to walk around (and we did plenty of that!). Its pretty much impossible to get lost anywhere north of Greenwich Village thanks to the layout of avenues (straight up, north-south), and streets (straight across, east-west!). The exception being Broadway, which is the only major avenue that cuts diagonally across Manhattan. A grid system that gives addresses, in my opinion, that special New York touch. 33rd and 3rd. 55th and 6th, and so on. Brilliant! Like I’ve said, stepping out of our hotel took us straight onto Broadway. Walking up four blocks would take us directly to the south end of Central Park, but that would have to wait a little while.

 Today we were heading south again. Going east one block led straight to a subway station (55th and 7th). It seemed a waste to just jump on a train to get ourselves anywhere so we headed east a few blocks to 5th avenue and strolled down to 42nd street and another subway station. We got a train as far as 23rd street then with a combination of walking and hopping on the odd bus soon found ourselves close to City Hall Park.

 NYC has 2,027 bridges (76 of which cross water), but it was one bridge in particular we had our sights set on today. The fabulous Brooklyn Bridge. Completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was for years the largest suspension bridge in the world, linking Manhattan to Brooklyn, then two separate cities. The roadway from anchorage to anchorage is 3,579 feet.  It was the German born engineer John A. Roebling who conceived the idea of a bridge spanning the East River while ice-bound on a ferry to Brooklyn. It took sixteen years to build, required six hundred workers and claimed over twenty lives, including Roebling`s, who’s foot was crushed between an incoming ferry and the ferry slip. He died three weeks later, just before construction started.

His son, Washington Roebling, finished the bridge, but in 1872 he himself suffered from `the bends` and became partly paralyzed. His wife, under his tutelage, took over with Washington directing things with the aid of a telescope! Most workers who died did so suffering from `the bends` (then called caisson disease), caused when coming up from underwater excavation chambers.

The two gothic double arches (each 277 ft high), one in Brooklyn the other in Manhattan, were meant to be portals of the cities. Of the steel cable wire, each cable contains 3,515 miles of wire, galvanized with zinc for protection from the wind rain and snow. It all makes up one damned impressive bridge! At the bridges opening in 1883, with around 20,000 people on it, it was reported that a sudden fear of imminent collapse caused the mass panic in which twelve pedestrians were trampled to death. Two years later, in may 1885, Robert Odlum was the first person to jump off the bridge, for a bet. He later died from internal bleeding. “All that trouble just to get to Brooklyn!” was the vaudevillian quip of the time!

So, the reason we’d made our way to City Hall Park was because we wanted to savour the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge, not just jump out of a cab and be right upon it. And what an approach! You can’t help being a touch envious of the people who use this bridge every day to get to and from work. I feel it lifts your spirits just looking at it.

 Once on the pedestrian walkway above the road (18 feet above the road), you truly get the full magnificence and beauty of the bridge. The arches, all the cables and suspensions, not to mention the views! Looking ahead you get the relatively flat, low skyline of Brooklyn, looking back you get the outstanding skyscrapers of lower Manhattan.

 The walkway was quite busy with cyclists, joggers, walkers (with and without dogs), and the likes of me and Malc, gawping again! Well if you can’t gawp in New York City, where can you? This was yet another view of the city we were enjoying. In his book `On the back roads (discovering small towns of America)`, Bill Graves mentions that creating memories are what certain days are for and that, tomorrow, this day will be forever one of them. I couldn’t agree more!

Once over the bridge and into Brooklyn, there wasn’t much happening and it was quite a walk to get along to where the streets were bustling again. I don’t know why but I was quite surprised at how quiet it was first stepping into Brooklyn. After calling into a store for a Pepsi and chewing gum (well, when in Rome), I noticed a couple of guys unloading a truck near a subway station.

 Me and Malc were planning a visit down to Coney Island but weren’t sure which train we had to get.

“You guys wanna go to Coney Island?” said one of the fellas, sounding a bit surprised.

 “Aye, we want to have a look at the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone from the film The Warriors” I told him, which for some reason brought lots of laughter from the two of them.

 “You wanna go to Coney Island” he laughed again.

 “That’s a looong way man, you wanna be going down there way before now.”

“Canny hike is it?” I asked.

 This was when communications broke down a bit because of local accents. We did, however, get round to working out that a trip to Coney Island should be made early in the day.

After deciding to take the lad’s advice and leave it until tomorrow, they told us which tube to get back into Manhattan. “Friendly fellas” said Malc, as we walked away. “Aye” I agreed, “you think they know something we don’t though?”

After a bit more strolling we made our way to Macy`s, where we had an interesting encounter with a street vendor. It was just starting to get dark and I wanted a few photos of the shop all lit up. After taking a couple of snaps I suddenly heard an angry voice. “Hey, waddya think you’re doing?” I turned to see a man looking not too happy pointing at me.

I hadn’t even noticed him before now, but now I saw that he had a little fold away table set up at the roadside with stuff (couldn’t make out what), laid out on it. He started again.

 “Who said you could take photos of me? You can’t take photos of me.”

 “I’m not taking photos of you, I’m taking them of Macy`s.”

 “No, you were taking photos of me. Give me your camera.”

“What? Calm yourself down man, I wasn’t taking your photo.”

 “You were, give me your fucking camera.”

 “Piss off; you’re not getting my camera.”

By now he was quickly packing his wares away and a few onlookers were taking an interest.

 It was clear he thought I was taking snap shots of him as evidence or something. And he persisted.

 “Give me the film out the camera.” (It was a use once-throw away camera).

 “Not a chance pal.”

 “Fucking cant do nothing in this city”, said Mr.Paranoid, before scooting away down the street.

Of course I should have answered him back with a loud “Get out of here you Shmuck” (proper New York speak), then we could have been on the same wavelength. 

 A few things are sacred in this life. One of them is trying to take a camera off me on my first visit to New York City!