Travelling alone has its advantages, often relating to food, as it generally allows you to walk straight into a seat at even the most popular restaurants. Besides, unless it’s absolutely necessary (Immigration, for example), I have better things to do with my time than stand in line. I walked straight into a bar seat at Prune, a sublime cafe a few doors down from me when I stayed in the East Village, and didn’t have to contemplate the notorious queues at Egg, a renowned brunch establishment in Williamsburg, which despite not having an espresso machine (they serve French press), offers its breakfast menu until 6pm.
Need motivation? Find a view.
It’s two degrees celsius and I’m two-thirds of the way through a 45 minute run, still feeling the bite of cold in my quads as I tackle the final incline of the Williamsburg Bridge towards home base. The word ‘vomit’ jumps out from the other graffiti tags littering the concrete path and urges me to dig deep. I’m hurting, and hoping like hell there’s truth to the notion of perceived exertion as I try to fire up against the cold for one last effort, convinced I’m barely out of a trot. I reach the top of the bridge, and the view is an instant painkiller.
I’ve had a few views to keep me motivated lately, from the New York skyline at the end of the street, to sprawling Los Angeles from the Griffith Observatory (tough hill climb!) and the Getty Centre, to quaint Pismo Beach and sassy Santa Monica.
Please, take a moment, and a breath, as you scroll. And then go and hire Top Gun on DVD. Go on, you know you want to!
Con: Arriving at Heathrow airport check-in to learn that the hurricane-forced cancellation of the first leg of my ticket deemed the return leg from London to New York void.
Pro: Helpful airport staff willing to work with me on this.
Pro: Arriving in New York as planned.
Con: Three-hour wait in line at US Immigration. No, seriously: am I on Candid Camera?
Hours one, two and three documented here. Indulge me, please.
Pro: Luggage still on carousel when I emerge from Immigration.
Pro/Con: Cab drivers are generally risk-takers. We all know that. We’ve all been in situations where we’d like the driver to perhaps slow down a little as the cab approaches stopped traffic, or perhaps weave a little less on a congested roadway. But I have never – ever – feared for my safety the way I feared for it the night I thought I’d be clever and skip the taxi cue at JFK. I’d just spent three hours in line at Immigration and had to get to my accommodation to pick up the keys from the regular tenant before she caught her own flight out of town. Lining up again at the cab rank just wasn’t an option. I needed a ride, and fast. I guess in retrospect, the question I ought to have posed was: am I willing to die for it? I was about to experience ‘dodgy’ at a whole new level (and I’ve had a random dude jump in the back of my car in Soweto, South Africa).
Overpriced fare: check. (Taxi becomes shuttle becomes overloaded shuttle that takes a long freaking time to get me anywhere, despite the speed… and the driver has the nerve to haggle over price!). Unroadworthy vehicle: check. Overfilled boot: check. It wasn’t so much the suitcases stuffed to ceiling height that gave this away, but the road noise I observed mid-trip when I turned around to see occy straps holding said-luggage inside the vehicle and a gaping space where the boot wouldn’t close. Insane driver: certified. This guy’s ‘do not stop, under any circumstances’ policy meant we ducked and weaved our way through heavy highway traffic utilising whatever means possible – be that driving up the road shoulder, or edging in front of ginormous SUVs at high speed, gloating all the way, of course. “Not everyone can do this … you must be African!” (Based my experiences including aforementioned Soweto incident, he’s got a point).
Just in case you think I’m being paranoid, let me advise you that this guy refuelled the car at the gas station with the motor running … while talking on his mobile. I shared a few nervous, eye-rolling glances with the gentle giant sitting next to me in the back seat, seriously thinking he may be the last person I see in this life. Perhaps I have the Jamaican lady in the front seat and her frequent exclamations of “Lord, have mercy” to thank for me being here today. Whatever it was, something or someone had mercy on me that night.
Pro: Arriving alive.
And pro-plus: Coming ‘home’ to my Williamsburg apartment wiped the slate clean. We shall not slum it!
Con: It seemed like the perfect pad until the next day when the toilet overflowed. Lord, have mercy! Have I done something bad in a former life? Are you testing me with these seemingly trivial yet incessantly annoying travel adventures?
Pro: Have become familiar with toilet mechanics and handy with a plunger.
Pro: Have worked out what a boiler is for and have a rudimentary understanding of which fuses need tripping to activate hot water.
Who says you can’t polish a turd?
You know you’ve landed in Hipsterville when you pass a guy going for a jog wearing a stussy hat. And you know it’s cold when you’re about to leave the house looking literally like a giant crap, but you don’t care enough to change.
I’d accepted the fact that I would need a puffy jacket to face the approaching New York winter, but in my efforts to avoid black, I opted for a rich brown, three-quarter length number. Filled with down and a cushiony collar to keep my neck snug, it was as stylish as necessity would allow, and perfect for achieving the predominant ‘not trying’ vibe of my Williamsburg neighbourhood. I was actually rather chuffed with it … until the mercury dropped enough for me to christen it and a quick mirror check didn’t so much hint at recognition as slap me in the face with three words: “Heidy ho, neighbour!” I was Mr Hanky, no question (and just in time for Christmas!). I stepped trepidatiously onto the street wearing my turd-coloured sleeping bag, convinced that everyone who looked my way was about to ask where I’d left my Christmas hat. I consoled myself with the thought that if you’re going to look like a poo in public, you may as well be a toasty warm one. I had no choice but to own it.
Subway: As easy as A, B, G
“Got it … thanks a lot,” I lied to the helpful Metro staff officer whose instructions I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. New York subway workers have a language of their own, and this guy’s heavy speech impediment wasn’t making matters any easier. But I’d already had a few transit women get snippy with me when I couldn’t obey their instructions and had to revert to following their exasperated finger pointing like I was some sort of village idiot, so I was determined to crack this. Goddammit, if I could get through Paris and Barcelona on a handful of mispronounced words, I could fight my way out of a few redirected services in Brooklyn! I pieced together elements of the man’s directions and eventually figured out that all he was trying to tell me was: “Take the G to Hoyt Schermerhorn, then take the Blue to Jay Street. From there, take the R to Atlantic, then the the 2 or 3 to Grand Army Plaza.” So simple … and yet it all seemed disproportionally complicated for navigating an area the size of a postage stamp on my pocket map.
The New York subway is a fantastic, finely-tuned labyrinth until you need to be somewhere on time. Hats off to those who co-ordinate it, even though sometimes ‘express’ means making every stop, and there is a tendency for updates to services – usually a cancellation – not to be made until you’re on the train and then forced to depart at the next stop and sort yourself out.
As the sun disappeared and a frosty breeze whipped up outside, I kissed the Prospect Park greenmarkets goodbye (later I would miss a swing dancing class and several shopping excursions due to what was becoming a habit) and tried to look on the bright side. What had I learnt today? Don’t trust anyone or anything. Don’t get your hopes up. Leave more time. Leave more time! A friend back home advised me to avoid the ‘G’ train, which is colloquially referred to as the Ghost train because of its unreliability. And now I had firsthand experience of why. I purged myself of the negative feelings and focussed on getting to the Brooklyn Museum. If I was going to make it to church on Sunday (a day usually reserved for sleeping in), I would have to be super-organised.
In an effort to encourage the Lord to have mercy (but really, to get some heavenly gospel in my eardrums), my friend Nicole and I donned our Sunday best and headed for Brooklyn Tabernacle, a huge church that overflows each week with regular worshippers and the odd impostor or two hoping to get clap happy with the Grammy Award-winning choir.
I tried my best to fit in by belting out a few tunes along with the rather talented assembly, but it’s not easy when the screen showing the words to all the songs is half covered, and consequently you can only praise the Lord for half of the service. I had a brief moment where I considered accepting Christ into my life, but that was more through guilt implored by the pastor than anything else. “We’re not here to spectate!” he insisted (yes, we were), before expressing his disappointment in having people in the church who attended in body but did “not have Christ in you” (which to my mind, sounded slightly inappropriate). Hopefully my generous donation at collection time went some way to assuaging this disappointment. Is this how Catholic people feel all the time?
Crack that lobster
Travelling alone also means you can enjoy lobster with your dignity intact, as no-one of consequence witnesses you make an utter mess of yourself. To be fair, eating shellfish is universally acknowledged as one of those activities where manners go out the window. I usually try to find someone else to peel my prawns or remove the flesh from my Moreton Bay bug, but sometimes you’re forced to go it alone. Much like spectating at a football match, enjoying a seafood platter more or less requires you to leave decency at the door and resort to your base cave-man – or woman – state. It’s not uncommon on any given day to walk past the window of The Lobster Place in the upscale Chelsea Market and witness what could only be described as an eye-rolling, grunting lobster orgy as customers enjoy their no-frills pick-and-eat deal. I first walked past on a visit to the market with a vegetarian friend and felt that immediate wave of recognition for my own kind, vowing to later return and eat my fill.
So, here I was, elbow deep in melted butter and tabasco-covered lobster that I had hand-selected, thankful not only for the flavour explosion, but equally for not having to be polite in front of company. There really was shit going everywhere as the poor little crustacean got pulled apart. Flecks of meat sprayed the window separating me from the women at the outdoor table opposite enjoying their shell-free crab rolls as I pulled at the creature’s joints to access its sweet flesh. It flicked into the knitted holes of my cardigan, and lodged in the hair of the demure Japanese lady sitting beside me (I don’t think she noticed … and anyway, anyone who can look so tidy and feminine while eating a sizeable crustacean the way she did could do with a shellfish perm.)
Sometimes, seafood really is a metaphor for life, I contemplated as I wiped my hands with a refreshing towelette. Sometimes, a woman just has to crack her own lobster.