Travel / USA

A few days in NYC

Armageddon
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Cheap flights always seem like a good idea when you book them. When you’ve not slept for 24 hours, and spent hours contorted into positions that a 12 year old Ukrainian gymnast would find hard to maintain, you realise why people often re-mortgage their house to fly business class.

We made it to Iceland a couple of hours late and hung around for a while, marveling at what bankruptcy will do to a country – I bought the cheapest bottle of water from an airport EVER – and trying to work out whether the small cluster of houses we just flew over was actually Reykjavik or not. Flying over Iceland, I was reminded of a scene from the end of the world, what with its completely barren and crater-filled moonscape.

The cute little red-roofed airport seems to serve as a hub for people too cheap to pay for a direct flight, and American cruise ship passengers. Although the crispy white hair, bright white trainers and money belts gave it away somewhat, I confirmed that they were indeed cruise ship passengers when I nosily read over the shoulder of a little old man who was slowly typing out his ‘European Cruise’ diary on a mini laptop, while his wife stared over his shoulder pointing out mistakes every three words.

A few hours later we were en route to New York, after a two hour wait on the runway and a moment of panic when the pilot announced that the levels of ash in the air were too high to fly. In the end, they offloaded the cargo of frozen fish so they would not run out of fuel and we flew almost up to the arctic circle in order to escape the billowing brown mushroom cloud. I have to say I was most disappointed not to have seen huge balls of lava spitting out of the volcano into the air. Vee said that I had obviously been watching too many cartoons. I protested that I had seen it on National Geographic but he was adamant that it must have been a cartoon.

Pizza Etiquette
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Getting into the country was surprisingly easy, although Vee had some trouble with the fingerprint scanner on account of his gammy and bent little finger. We got a taxi to Naomi’s place in Greenpoint and, woozy and delirious from lack of sleep and food, we walked to Williamsburg and saw a sign for pizza slice for $1.25.

“What’s this one?” I asked, pointing my sticky fingers at a pizza smothered with something that looked like a colony of white fungus.

The boy looked at me, slack-jawed with shock.

“White Cheese,” he said.

But the look on his face told me that he wished he had said “What do you think you are doing, moronita, breathing the same air as me? Even an amoeba knows that this is a white cheese pizza slice and that it costs $4.20. Now be off with you, filthy uneducated foreigner!”

We ordered four slices and were quite shocked when we were asked to pay $18. Only plain cheese is $1.25. Everyone knows this even though it doesn’t say anything about it anywhere. Everyone knows what the pizzas are and how much they cost too, without there being any signs or labels or prices listed anywhere. Looking at a menu for more than 3.2 seconds and asking what a ‘full hero’ is means that people think you have just arrived on a boat from the world’s most underdeveloped nation, or the Netherlands, in our case. And no, I still don’t know what a bloody full hero is.

Wardrobe Malfunction
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Williamsburg is Brooklyn’s coolest, hippest, artsy neighbourhood and, on Saturday night, it was ram-jam packed with the uber cool, those trying very hard to look uber cool and those trying very, very hard to look uber cool and failing miserably. And everyone is young, verrrry young.

Fashion du jour for the gals is pudding bowl haircuts with giant fringes swept to one side a la 1980s Diana and skirts that start under their boobs and end about two cm from their crotch or 1950s housewife dresses and head scarves. The boys seem less conformed but if you haven’t got facial hair of some description, either a jesus-on-a-bad-day beard or a Colonialist-era curled, twisted and cultivated-with-love mustache then you don’t dare show your face on the street. Flimsy canvas deck shoes seem to be all the rage too, and the more ripped and worn out they are, the better. In fact, the more homeless you look, the better. There were also loads and loads of people with full body tattoos and strangely, lots of people with tattoos of footprints behind their ears.

In the short time it took for two starving people to stuff down two slices of fat, puffy pizza each, I saw the following characters and started to think that maybe we’d stumbled upon a film set: a morbidly obese goth couple, each wearing a floor length leather jacket, three people with full facial tattoos, a bra-less girl whose t-shirt was so artistically ripped you could actually see her nipples poking out of the slashes – it was highly amusing watching the two boys she was with trying not to stare at her chest, a fat boy in a pork pie hat and shoes a homeless person would have chucked away a long time ago bellowing on the phone to his confidante about his new boyfriend and a boy with a mustache that stuck out at least 3 inches on each side. Suitably stuffed and culture shocked, we wandered home and wondered if we’d slipped into a time-warp as three hours had passed since we arrived.

Polish (as in the country, not as in making something shiny)
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I woke up the next morning at jet-lag o’clock and was stunned by the absolute silence. I could not believe that I was in the middle of Brooklyn, which, if it was a city in it’s own right rather than part of NYC, would be the country’s sixth largest city. Not one thump of someone’s bad music, not a single dog barking, no children playing, no cars. Nothing. It was kind of weird. My stomach was giving me its usual ‘feed me lots and very quickly’ message because my body thought it was dinner time rather than breakfast time. After I’d bounced on Vees head a few times and manged to drag him out of bed, we headed off in search of sustenance to quiet my growling stomach and incessant whinging. Greenpoint is Polish town; all the people are Polish, the shops and bars and restaurants are Polish, and people speak Polish to you by default. We soon discovered that Polish people make great donuts and even better bagels – it’s not all wodka you know. After we’d overdosed on saturated fat and sugar in the Peter Pan Cafe on Manhattan Ave, we took the subway to Manhattan.

Use the F%$^&^%^% microphone
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There seems to be something wrong with the subway attendants who sit in the little 24 hour booth. How can it be that every single one of them refuses to actually use the little microphone that is conveniently placed there to allow them to talk to you through the bulletproof glass, forcing you to lipread as they scream an answer at you? And another thing I realised is that Americans in general do not like to be asked questions they don’t know the answer to. It really freaks them out. It’s my new favourite hobby…

We got out of the subway at Union Square and the first thing I saw was “Shoe Mania”, the biggest shoe shop I have ever seen. I almost fell over backwards at the sheer volume of shoes contained within those four walls. Then I ducked into a shop called “Bed, Bath and Beyond” and it made me feel like I’d been living on La Isla de la Juventud – one of the most remote and ‘stuff-less’ places I’ve ever been to – for my entire life. I could not believe the amount of stuff in there, stuff that I didn’t even know what it should be used for, piled high from floor to ceiling, stuffed in, layer upon layer, every colour, shape and size. If you needed a new shower curtain, you could choose from at least 300 different colours and patterns and I’ve never seen so many bins in one place in my life. And why does anyone need to choose between 47 varieties of coat hanger? I had to leave in the end as the sheer volume of stuff was making me feel sick. I’d not yet acclimatised, having come in from semi-communist, choice-less Holland.

We wandered around for hours, through Soho and Washington Square, paid $10 for a frozen cherry margarita, and finally met up with Laura and Ana at Dos Caminos for a beer, where we all squeezed onto a tiny bench and sat in a jet lagged stupor and sporadically commented on how expensive booze was.

Why does it always rain on us?
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On Tuesday it rained. All day. From the moment we woke up to the moment we went to bed. Not just little sprinkely, farty, piffy rain, but big fat soak-you-through-to-the-bone-within-fifteen-seconds rain, the kind of ran that makes you wish you were amphibious. Within about five minutes of walking, my jeans were soaked up to the knees and my socks were squelching in a very unpleasant manner. I’m not surprised about the rain, as it’s to be expected what with our reputation as rainmakers, but I was shocked about the length of the storm. We chose this day to toddle off to the promenade in Brooklyn Heights to see the spectacular view of Manhattan island it offers. The good thing was that our view was not obscured by an other people because no one but us was stupid enough to venture out in such abysmal weather, except the obese woman squatted on a park bench under a giant golf umbrella screaming into her mobile phone. The bad news was that we couldn’t see much of Manhattan island because it was pretty much shrouded in a grey haze.

Great Sharona, Man
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Every 35 shoe shop entries, Vee gets to to go into a guitar shop. Right next to the Chelsea Hotel, where Sid did away with Nancy, is a tiny guitar shop, with a very verbose owner and five or six random employees who lounge on amps, look bored or generally do nothing.

“Where are y’all from?” asked the owner as we perused the stringed beasts.

Recital along the lines of “England and Portugal but we live in Amsterdam…”

“Terrible steak in England. Worst steak I’ve ever tasted.”

Er. Ok.

A bearded weirdo pops up and says “Why is it so bad?”

“Well, it was so small and tasteless. And don’t get me started on the coffee. Here, have a cherry.”

Bearded weirdo thinks for a moment and then says, “Yeah, I suppose they don’t have big enough farms there. Texas is 20 times the size of England so it’s understandable that the steak there is so bad.”

Facial Piercings suddenly appears and says “I loved the food in Amsterdam, man. Really good Sharona.”

“You mean shwarma?”

“No. Sharona, that fried-up meat stuff.”

After that exchange, it was seriously time to find some cheap booze. The only way that your bank account can survive in NYC is to voraciously exploit happy hour which most bars have from about 5 to 7 each weekday evening. We found a Mexican restaurant that offered $3 margaritas all night and sat at a little table outside. As soon as Jaunita found out we only wanted to booze the night away we were herded away from the respectable diners and shoved in the bar area along with everyone else who had discovered that $3 margaritas were the only way not to bankrupt yourself in the process of alcohol consumption. $3 frozen margaritas come ready made out of a slushy machine. $3 margaritas are made with the cheapest and most potent form of tequila you can imagine and, once you’ve burned off your taste buds with the first few mouth-fulls, they taste great. So great, in fact, that you keep on buying more and more $3 margaritas until you have several half thawed brews in front of you and you are continuously repeating how marvelously clever you are at having found such wonderfully cheap cocktails. $3 margaritas are not very nice when they begin to eject themselves violently from your throat at 3am, as Vee found out. That was the end of the $3 margarita story.

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