Friday, May 02, 2008


I've been off the air for a few days. I decided to jump on a plane and have a few days taking photographs in America - as one does. In order to remember what I'd done, I kept a diary over the five days, and the piece that follows is Instalment Numero Uno -

DAY 1 -

Landed in New York at about 2.05pm (their time) yesterday afternoon, and then landed again a couple of seconds later – 3 marks out of 10 for the pilot! I'm here on my own for 5 days of selfish picture taking, and general gawping.

I thought I'd at least try to write bits of it down as it happens, so here goes. First impressions are not good – the people who man the booths in the airport, unless you ask them the exact question, and to the exact right person, feign no knowledge. I asked the Customs guy where you got onto the airport shuttle train. He "didn't know", in spite of the fact that he probably came to work on it! Ho Hum.

I'd dutifully packed fleece, scarf and gloves to combat the weather over here, and arrived into 80 degree temperatures. Well planned, Roger. New York was greeted then by a geriatric Impromptu striptease in the JFK Customs Hall.

I have a thing about Governments keeping personal data on me, but faced a rather stern Customs official who had the Full Monty of Fingerprinting and Iris Recognition cameras waiting for me. It did feel a bit like the opening scene in BladeRunner, with the slight, but rather crucial difference that I did't kill him half way through the process! Something told me that non-compliance, and civic protest about individual's rights was probably not going to bear a great deal of fruit, so I'm now on their database – at 62 I'm now a common criminal! But he did suggest that I "Have a Good One", so that's OK then.

I sat on the plane next to a Turkish Brain Surgeon who lived in New York, and he gave me the inside track, so to speak, about the subway, I used it to get into the centre of the city. Catching the J Train, (rather than Duke Ellington's A Train), we clanked our way into central New York, past a continuous stream of grafitti covered buildings. The train ran at high level on a raised track which was definitely "French Connection" car-chase territory. Still, it allowed my noseyness full reign, and I could look into 10 miles of suburban American backyards. Conclusion, the average New Yorker is not the tidiest animal in the world, by an extremely long way.

The skyline here is something else. Quite possibly the best known in the world, and watching it gradually appear, exploding into full view as you trundle slowly across the Williamstown Bridge before disappearing underground in Manhattan, is hugely exciting.

The total cost of the journey was a princely $7, and it gave you an hour looking at the people in the carriage who live here. Huge ethnicity, lots of languages, everyone (and I mean everyone) locked excitedly into a mobile phone – presumably each person telling someone out there that "They're on the train".

All except for one absolutely gorgeous, slim, elegantly but casually dressed black girl, who sat there in serene stillness for the whole journey. I felt a real scruff and she put us all to shame.

I had decided to stay in the Financial District, as I wanted to be able to get access to the Brooklyn Bridge waterfront by walking there, rather than having to take subways, buses or taxis. So we got to Wall Street, and the flaw in saving a few dollars on the subway came to light – you've got a 20 kilo bag and a camera bag which weighs a ton, and no escalators to help. Do it slowly. Oh, well!

Wall Street is much tighter than I'd imagined - very narrow street, massive buildings, taking a lot of the light, and lots of gentlemen without a neck, outside the buildings, all sporting those twirled up black headphone wires, and speaking into their cuffs. Every other car seemed to be a hulking Black, dark windowed 4x4. A bit sinister - I did feel a touch of "The Bourne Ultimatum" around me, as I wandered along in a bright pink polo shirt. But then a well hit golf ball played from where I was standing would have landed in Ground Zero, so perhaps you can understand it.

The hotel entrance was covered in scaffolding, and didn't look that inviting to tell the truth. But the room was well fitted out – plasma screen, microwave, un-turnoffable Air Conditioning system. It was also extremely clean, and the staff did not seem to be able to do enough for you. So, full marks here.

Having unpacked, I shot back out to walk to the River, to take a few pictures in the warm sunshine. Wandering around Pier 17 (London's equivalent is Covent Garden), there were acrobats, trapeze artists, and a Marching Band, with a terribly earnest and unsmiling Leader who blew his whistle rather than speaking (a bit like one of the Clangers), to start the Blue and Red uniformed 15 year olds off. Actually, it was a Standing Still Band, with a few very large American Teenagers blowing their own trumpets, but no matter. Good fun.

I suddenly realised that I was hungry, it being the equivalent of 10 o'clock at night RST (Roger's Stomach Time). Charlene, from the hotel, (always make friends with the Hotel receptionist!) had recommended a local Italian Place, where I duly turned up at the equivalent of 5pm, for an evening meal. It was very good but Heavens above - their portions are absurd. I was really famished, but only got halfway through the towering mound of Prawn Linguini, before giving in. The Italian waiter, who actually turned out to be Albanian when I asked him which part of Italy he came from, thought I didn't like the food because I'd left some. I think, in future, a Kiddy portion is the order of the day.

I wanted to walk over Brooklyn Bridge, and photograph the skyline as the sun went down. So off we went, camera bag and tripod in hand.

The place was heaving. The bridge itself is a remarkable structure, especially considering it was put up in the 1880s. The wooden slatted walkway sits on-top of the roadway, and is divided into two, one section for the pedestrians, and the other for the lunatic cyclists who blast past you in a flash of intensely focussed pedalling mayhem, taking absolutely no prisoners, and most definitely asserting their rights to be there, if you got anywhere near them. I nearly speared one hapless Lance (Boom-Boom) Armstrong lookalike when I was fiddling with my tripod, which I'm sure wouldn't have been covered by my insurance.

It was a lovely evening, warm and clear, and the view off the bridge was breathtaking as the sky darkened, and the millions of lights from the buildings, the boats and the incessant stream of cars took over. The whole of the world seemed to have come onto the bridge with the same idea, but it was all very good natured, although I did have to throw a couple of Germans over the side to get a decent spot for a picture. Getting a good picture was more difficult that I'd imagined, because the traffic makes the bridge jolt around and vibrate continuously, just enough to stop your images being dead sharp. So, take a lot of pictures and hope – maybe we'll end up with a "soft focus" theme to it all. But it's a hell of a place to end Day 1 of my trip here.

Except that I got back to the hotel, parched and in dire need of a beer. I got talking to a San Francisco Human Resources Lawyer, who turned out to be very good value for money. We watched the New York Mets play on TV as he gave me a potted synopsis of Baseball over an hour or so. We put the world to rights – he thinks Bush is a total disaster, and has let the American people down badly. The guy (not Bush!) is a Democrat, but will probably vote for the Republican McCain, because he thinks he's the best man (or anyway, the least worst) to sort out the Iraq mess, which has clearly struck at the heart of the thinking American. I'm not sure we think like that in the UK. Anyway, I now know a lot about Baseball, Curved Balls, Sliders, Pitching techniques etc. He, in turn had both barrels from me on how Cricket works, so I'm not sure who lost out most in the deal.

But they're all keen to talk, and, I suppose expectedly for a hotel in the Financial District, all have a well formed and different view on life and an opinion which they voice to support their case.

Got to bed at 5am UK time (Midnight over here) quite tired, having been up for just over 24 hours. But a really exciting place to be, even if the weather is going to get worse rather than better.



No comments: