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

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!


Thursday, 7 April 2011

World Trade Centre

They say you can easily spot a tourist in New York City. They’re the ones wandering around with stiff necks because of looking up at all the skyscrapers instead of watching where they’re walking. Needless to say, we’d fallen into that category within minutes of arriving. And now it was time for even more neck straining.

Although the World Trade Centre complex was actually made up of seven buildings (including a hotel), to most people it simply meant the immense 110 storey, 1350-ft. high majestic Twin Towers. Built from 1966 to 1977, a lot of locals considered them a bit of an eyesore when first completed. To me they were the most amazing buildings I ever set my eyes on. Standing in front of them for the first time, I remember gawping (cartoon style), at the sheer size of them. Absolutely fantastic.

We were heading for the observation deck and entered tower one by mistake. Although we could have headed up to the famous Windows of the World restaurant on the 107th floor, there was no need what with being full of burger and chips from earlier. We realised our mistake when a security guard approached us asking if he could be of any assistance. “Aye”, I said, “we want to get up to the roof.”

 “Well if you gentlemen would care to make your way across the concourse to tower two, you can do just that.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” And off we went.

It was clear to see how busy it got during peak tourist times with all the roped off areas to form queues to the front desk. Today, however, there were only half a dozen people in front of us, and after paying our entry fee we were whisked off in the elevator up 107 floors in 58 seconds! There were some excellent displays all around the 107th floor, all showing the history and progress through the years of NYC.

 One model in particular caught my eye. It was a scale model of the whole city. Everything was there, the five boroughs, all the bridges, the water. Every building was an exact replica and I guess the whole model must have measured about 15 feet square. The twin towers were like a centrepiece, looking majestic while overseeing the whole city.

I had a stroll over to a window and got tingly feet while being able to look virtually straight down to the street below. We were stopped on our way to the roof by a guy offering to take our photo while standing in front of a big picture of the twin towers. The photo then got placed in a special display type folder named `Top of the World Trade Centre`.
 They printed the photos for you while you visited the roof and you bought them on your way out. All for about $20. Well being a total all in tourist it was a souvenir not to be missed.

It was an escalator that took you up to the roof. When standing at the bottom of it looking up, it seemed as though when you got to the top it just kept going and sent you straight off the side of the building.

 I’m pleased to say though, that that wasn’t the case! When you got to the top there was a big thick railing keeping you well away from the sides. The first thing that struck me was how windy it was up there!

Then again, 1350 feet straight up on top of a 110 storey building, there’s going to be a bit of a breeze. Makes you wonder what was going through the mind of Frenchman Philippe Petit when he tightrope walked between tower one and two in 1974. I have enough trouble on the top rung of a step ladder.

Getting as close to the safety rail as possible, I began taking in the views in front of me. The vistas from the top of the Empire State Building were impressive enough. But this. Well. Damn well amazing. It’s said that on a good clear day you could actually see the curvature of the Earth from here, you’re that high up. Looking over at tower one with its massive aerial, the immensity of these huge buildings really hit home. My camera once again went into overdrive. The whole city was spread out below us again, only this time in brilliant sunlight.

I could have stayed up there for the rest of the week, just looking, but we had to make tracks and still had a lot of other sights to check out. We picked our photos up on the way back down and once at ground level headed for the subway to get back to our hotel. And there was our next surprise. Beneath the towers, we were amazed to find a huge underground mall containing countless clothes shops, hair salons, cosmetic stores, and loads of eating establishments. All hidden away under here. A surprise on every corner!

It was here that the ‘Aftershave Incident’ happened. I had walked into one of the shops and picked up a bottle. I hadn’t realised that my finger was on the nozzle and accidentally sprayed myself right in the eyes. I dropped the bottle and held my face in agony. My eyes were burning. No amount of help from the staff could ease the pain and an ambulance was called. The upshot was I had to spend the rest of the week in hospital, and pay for the broken bottle of Aftershave.

Only joking. We actually grabbed a pretzel each and jumped on the tube.

Now. I can’t continue without mentioning the atrocities that occurred exactly six months after we had stood on the roof of tower two. 9/11. I vividly remember watching the images on television and being totally dumbstruck. Angry. Livid. Sad. Sick to the gut. Unbelieving. I simply could not believe what I was seeing. Could this really be happening? Yes it was, and like the rest of the civilised world, I was outraged. There has been plenty said and written (and actions taken of course), in reprisal. Suffice to say that the sorrow and grief felt worldwide involved me also.


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island

We’d been fore warned that it gets extremely busy down at the Statue of Liberty, so an early start was in order for our first full day. We were hoping to catch the first ferry across from south ferry, Quite a hike from 53rd street first thing on a Sunday morning. We were nicely settled at the back of a subway train when I noticed a sign on the carriage stating that `You must be in one of the first five cars if you want to get off at South Ferry station’.  Thank you. Bugger. I took a photo of the sign,  then for the next few stations we carriage hopped our way down every time the train stopped until we were in the second from front, just in case! A few stops later some fellow Brits came dashing into the car doing exactly the same thing. You can’t take us anywhere!

We had time to have a look around Battery Park and took great interest in all the memorials there. The old circular fortress called `Castle Clinton` was built in 1811 to defend against British attacks. Thankfully it’s a lot friendlier these days and it’s from here you buy your tickets for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ferry rides.  Its also from here you get your first sighting of Lady Liberty. Quite small from where we were standing of course, and even smaller through the lens of a camera!

 She was a gift from the French to the American people with one stipulation. The Americans had to provide the base and the pedestal. It took the Americans a long time to raise all the money to pay for these, but once it was all sorted the grand unveiling took place on October 28 1886 with President Grover Cleveland doing the honours. She stands 111 feet 6 inches from toe to crown and looks fantastic again now after being extensively restored in 1986 for her centenary (at a cost of $69.8 million!).

It was quite fitting that the ferry we got out to her was called `Miss Liberty`! The hot counter on the ferry looked very inviting, and it was here that I sampled my first NYC hotdog. (Never too early in the day I suppose). Very tasty! I couldn’t take my eyes off the statue as we sailed closer. Wow. After all this time, there she is. And here I am!

There was quite a drama when the ferry docked. We were making our way down the ramp (while staring over at the statue), when Malc lost his footing, slipped over, rolled/slipped under the safety ropes, and fell headfirst into the water. Two of the ferry staff jumped in after him and another one threw some lifebelts in after them. They were in the water twenty minutes before pulling Malc to safety, complete with a fish flapping around in his pocket.

Only joking. We were off the ferry the second it docked and spent a bit of time walking round the base reading (and snapping) the plaques and taking in the fantastic views of the Manhattan skyline. Camera (as always) at the ready! It’s a bugger trying to get the right angle so the statue looks like it’s coming out the top of your head.

 It’s on the base of the statue that the famous poem by Emma Lazarus reads “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door”. Great stuff. The poem was actually written to help raise funds for the pedestal construction.

There was quite a queue starting to form outside the main lobby of the statue by now. It was then I found out you could actually walk up inside all the way to the crown. What a massive bonus. I didn’t realise you could do that!

 It took us two and a half hours to wind our way up the twenty two storey high (354 steps) spiral stairs to the crown. You only get to spend a couple of minutes in the crown (which is fair enough really), but I was like a kid in a sweet shop. They very nearly had to prise my fingers off the railing to get me back down the staircase. 
We were told later that two and a half hours from queuing to getting back down wasn’t bad at all. If we’d come during peak tourist season it could have taken us 7-8 hours.

The original torch from the statue is on display in the main lobby, replaced during the restoration in 1986 because of corrosion. It’s all lit up in a cage-like surround. I suppose they don’t want anyone walking off with it as the ultimate souvenir. We had a bite to eat in the café (burger and chips), before one last walk around the base and another look at the Manhattan skyline just across the water. Then it was off to Ellis Island.

It was fascinating to walk through the very doors that millions of immigrants had walked and to see actual baggage from those very days. Some of it reminded me of my own tatty suitcases. Mental note to myself; must get some new ones. I tried to picture the scene that between 1892 and 1954 nearly 17 million immigrants landed and were `processed` here, in the registry room. A room measuring 200 feet long, 100 feet wide and 56 feet high. Not all immigrants had to pass through this great hall though. First and second class passengers actually got `processed` while still on their boats. One third of all the millions of immigrants who arrived here ventured no father than New York City.

Once Ellis Island was no longer needed as a mass processing station, it became a detention and deportation centre for `undesirable aliens`. Talk about the worm turning! The Island also acted as a hospital for wounded servicemen during both world wars. The Island facility closed in 1954 and lay in ruins for thirty years until restoration began in 1984. Six years later (and at a cost of around $160 million), the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration opened in 1990. The interior was restored using any surviving original fixtures. 

As well as retaining actual baggage once belonging to the arriving immigrants, there are also over two thousand other artefacts on display, as well as galleries filled with photos and posters. An audio tour is available where you can hear the voices of immigrants telling their stories. To put it bluntly, Ellis Island is a right little treasure trove as well as being a very important historic site. Well worth a visit in my humble opinion.  We hit lucky on our visit, it was relatively quiet. Loads of room to go snooping around, poking our noses in everywhere.
 When we went to leave it was the ferry Miss Liberty (again) that was waiting to take us back into Manhattan. I got my eye on the hot counter again and couldn’t resist sampling my first NYC Pretzel. Like the hot dog, very tasty. 

Once back on dry land we had a stroll around Battery Park, watching various performers at work. It must be a long day for the people that paint themselves green, dress up as the Statue of Liberty, and stand for hours on end, erm, pretending to be a statue.

Far better to be in one of the bands belting out Caribbean numbers and jumping around enjoying themselves.

Or one of the guys on the stalls selling deliciously smelling hot roasted nuts and snacks.  Maybe they all know each other and take it in turns to do each job. Short straw: Statue.

 “Aww c’mon, I was the Statue yesterday.”

 “Ok, just do it again today and you can be on the roasted nuts tomorrow.”



Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Empire State Building

JFK Airport was doing a great job of impersonating a building site when we finally set foot on American soil. I think our delay in the airport was due to the sudden outbreak of Mad Cow Disease in the UK just prior to our departure. They stopped just short of making us dip our feet in a bucket of disinfectant before allowing us into the US. After jumping into a minibus with a load of strangers heading our way (German Dutch and French tourists), we were Manhattan bound.

Me being the saddo that I am, I had my camera out as soon as we pulled off. The first yellow cab I saw, SNAP! Got it. A sign post for Flushing Meadows, SNAP! Got it. Some signs for a federal auto auction SNAP! Got it. You get the idea. I even took a photo of the sign above our drivers head reading `Drivers tips not included in your fare or vouchers`. It wasn’t long before the magical Manhattan skyline was within sight. Oh my god, The Empire State Building! SNAP! SNAP! The Twin Towers! SNAP! SNAP! SNAP! Loads of other skyscrapers! SNAP etc…! It was at that very moment that I realised I had no film in my camera.

Only joking! I was snapping away like a hungry alligator with a prize catch in its mouth. We lost sight of the skyline briefly while going through a tunnel. Then BANG! HELLO NEW YORK CITY! It was suddenly all hustle and bustle and huge buildings all around us. I, of course, took photos of the first cops I saw standing on a street corner. Didn’t notice any donuts though. Or hot dogs. We were the last to be dropped off at our hotel (W55th street).( I didn’t mind that though, it gave us a free tour of half of Manhattan). Well I say hotel. It was really just a reception desk that happened to have a few rooms above it. Not to worry. There was a nice diner just next door.

A quick look out of our room window revealed the Late Show with David Letterman just across the street. We really had arrived! It was starting to get dark when we hit the streets to get our bearings. We walked out of the hotel and straight on to Broadway. Walking down ten blocks took us right into the middle of Times Square, or as it’s often called `the Crossroads of the World`. Or even `The Great White Way`! Times Square is really just an elongated intersection where Broadway crosses 7th avenue. But what an intersection! Originally called `Long Acre Square`, it was renamed when the New York Times moved to the site in 1904. (The NY Times is now on 43rd St.).

They had a new years eve party to celebrate the opening of the Times Tower and that was the start of the now famous new years eve celebrations in Times Square, when half a million people pack it out to watch the lighted ball begin its countdown fall a minute before midnight.

 In the past, especially the 70s and 80s, Times Square was an area to be avoided at all costs. 42nd Street between seventh and eighth Avenues was known as `The Deuce`. A dangerous place of hustlers, pimps, prostitutes, run-down second rate x-movie theatres, peepshows, and sex shops. A real blot on the city’s image. Today it’s clean, policed, and very visitor friendly. What you have now is sports shops, music shops, loads of eateries, and of course the MTV studios! Not forgetting the famous NASDAQ market site, the electronic stock market with the 8 storey tall 9,800 square foot cylindrical video screen.  Or the TKTS Discount ticket booth for cut-price Broadway shows. And glancing around me I also saw hot dog stands dotted around the streets. So much hitting us so quickly! The hotel was at least in a great location.

The streets were bustling with crowds of people rushing around in every direction. The aromas wafting off the hot dog stands were delicious; the smell of onions mixed with the meat of the hot dogs, and the hot roasted nut stands were just as tempting.  We just stood and took it all in for a few minutes.

 “This is it mate, we’re here,” I said to Malc.

“Aye mate,” he said, “what do you fancy first?”

“Empire State Building, lets have a good look at things,” I replied, rubbing my hands together in excitement! Well you can’t really miss it can you? A quick walk along to 5th Avenue, then down a few blocks and we were there.  

The Empire State Building. Just say it to yourself. To think that during construction there were on average 4 1/2 storeys added every week. Completed in only two years 1930-1931, it was the world’s tallest building for more than 40 years, standing at 1,453 feet, (until the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre were built). Stately indeed!

We joined the queues for the elevator up to the 86th floor, (in record time!) where we paid an extra $12 to enjoy a flight simulator billed as the New York Skyride (which involved what must have been a midget flying around on a little plane in between peoples legs and around skyscrapers), which gave you a taste of the city. From there we got another elevator up to the giddy heights of the 102nd floor and the viewing platform.

It was totally dark by now and the whole of Manhattan lay below and around us all lit up like I’d dreamed of seeing it. My camera went into overdrive. Another thing I remember about that moment; it was bloody cold up there! We stood for ages taking photos and just looking. This was really it, New York City literally under my feet.

 One thing I kept turning to look at again and again (well two things really), were the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, which we were visiting the next day. What a fabulous sight. My dreams were being realised!

The great thing about the Empire State Building is that it’s situated in the dead centre of midtown, which gives you brilliant views in all directions. What an introduction to NYC! When we got back down to the bottom we had a look in the souvenir shop. It was here I bought my first keepsake. A model Empire State Building with a little plastic King Kong attached to the top. (Come down, we know you’re up there!). A classy piece of tat.

I was feeling really hyper by now. The buzz of the city had got to me straight away and I stopped just short of climbing the nearest lamppost and bursting into `New York New York`.

We decided to celebrate the start of our week in NYC with a couple of beers and nice big steaks in a nearby restaurant. Tomorrow would be the day to get stuck into pretzels and hot dogs.

Trying to sort out how much to leave for a tip proved quite eventful. It was all “that’s not enough,” then “that’s too much,” then “how about this.” “They’ll chase us down the street with big knives if we don’t leave enough.” It all proved to be a waste of time because the tip turned out to be included in the bill! Another first after leaving the restaurant though, our first ride in a yellow cab back to the hotel, drivers tip included!




Kojak. The Streets of San Francisco. Cagney and Lacey. Hill Street Blues. Ironside. Quincey. Starskey and Hutch (and Huggy Bear). Roseanne. Married with Children. Taxi. Happy Days. Cheers. Mork and Mindy (na nu  na nu).

Growing up watching these shows on British TV in the 70s and 80s, gives your impression of America as a land of scandal and murder on every street corner, and of crimes that always seems to get solved within an hour. (And the baddies are useless shots who always leave a fatal flaw in their grand plans). Or of total manic family life when it’s a hoot a minute and everything ends up smelling of roses, complete with family hugs and a moral issue stuck in there somewhere. Actually, the scandal and murder on every street corner part was maybe not far from the truth in America in the 70s and 80s. Maybe a few more Steve Austin`s (The Six Million Dollar Man) could have helped keep the peace.     

To an impressionable kid like me it was all great stuff. Id be hooked on every episode, awe struck with the larger than life city streets and the strange things people were eating. What the hell were Bagels and Pretzels? Where could I find some? Not from the corner shop down the road that’s for sure. “What’s that your after, pretzels? Never heard of them.” Relaying that Starskey and Hutch were always eating them cut no ice either. “Ask them where they got them then.” Ok, thanks.

And of course the old chestnut; ‘World Series’ in American sports when no other country in the World can take part? That’s one way to guarantee that the trophies don’t leave American soil I suppose. But still.   

Everything seemed so much bigger in America. The streets, the cars, the buildings, (especially the buildings), the houses, the hot dogs. Growing up, it was always a place I wanted to visit but I had convinced myself it would always just be a pipedream. That was until I finally got my act together in my early thirties and decided that come hell or high water, I was going.

Up until then I’d spent all my time and money following the (mis)fortunes of my beloved Newcastle United FC all around our green and pleasant land, and then all around Europe. While that was really a labour of love, America was a different kettle of fish. Like I said, a supposed pipedream.

The fascination I had with the USA was twofold. It was basically America in general, New York City in particular (with Los Angeles not far behind). My first trip over there had to be focused on NYC though. I had to get in amongst it, to experience it all for myself.

I had to have a stroll up 5th Avenue, have a look around Central Park, buy a hotdog off a street vendor, ride in a yellow cab, buy a ‘I love NY’ T-shirt, stuff like that.  I also fancied having a look at the corner of 53rd and 3rd, the spot Rod Stewarts `Georgie Boy` met an untimely end; `An ambulance screamed to a halt on 53rd and 3rd`. Damn those New Jersey gangs! I’d read countless guidebooks, and watched films and documentaries until I had square eyes. I felt I knew the city and streets before I even saw them for real.

As for L.A. That seemed a remarkable city to me. Or should that be a remarkable twenty thousand (or thereabouts) small cities rolled into one. So many places there jump out at you just by their name. Hollywood. Santa Monica (and Santa Monica Boulevard), Sunset Strip, Beverly Hills, Bell Air etc.

And then there were the other places I was just as keen to have a look at: New Orleans, Memphis, Houston (for the Space Centre), San Francisco.

I dare say I would also find trips to Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Missouri, Wisconsin (oh I could go on and on!), just as interesting. The funny thing is, the one state I have no real interest in is the one most Brits head to most often, Florida. 

 So we finally got round to booking a week over there. We being me and my mate Malc. After being advised to go off season (cheaper!), we were left with the choice between march10th and september10th 2001. Saying as March was only a few months away, that swung it. (As well as being only five days after my birthday!). I think I’d waited long enough without the extra six months added on. At long last a week in New York City awaited me.

Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave eh? Ok. Let’s go and have a look. I want a big bite of the `Big Apple`. Start spreading the news………..