Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Part the Third (a bit late)

I wrote the first two parts of this account in the first few weeks of my third year, a couple of weeks after the events described. The reason why it stopped there wasn’t because I didn’t want to write anymore, but because I was busy. It’s really not that much of exaggeration to say that I’ve been busy pretty solidly since then, the third year was hard, my marks have stayed roughly consistent but the amount of work required to get those marks seems to increase with each essay, the last two nearly killed me.

But hey, it’s over now, I handed in my last two essays of ‘ever’ on Monday and have been drunk pretty solidly for the last few days. I’m now sitting around on a nice day listening to loud music and nursing a hangover; my friends who were staying here have all gone and I’ve got nothing particularly pressing to be doing so here is the rest.

Well. That’s the plan anyway, I don’t know how much I’ll be able to write, or whether I can remember it clearly enough to write about it.

My first day in America was largely spent staring blankly into space and trying not to fall asleep. I was very happy to be there but I wasn’t entirely sure of myself, not 100% convinced that it was all actually real. We went to Kristen’s sister’s flat in Harlem – which, to my surprise, actually looks exactly like it does in films and TV shows - although there weren’t any crime scenes, which is generally the only reason why American film makers ever shoot things in Harlem. I remember that the flat was very cool, full of strange artwork done by the people she lived with and oddly hewn furniture.

I think I probably seriously offended Rachel by not appearing to be particularly interested in going sightseeing in New York, and generally not being hugely sociable or entertaining. In my defence I think I should point out that I was tired, confused and (due to sitting down rather awkwardly on a chair that was much, much harder than it looked) reeling from what felt like a really hard kick in the balls.

[Note for women: Being kicked in the balls in just about the most unpleasant feeling ever, it combines extremely sharp physical pain with often pretty serious nausea, aching and the fear that you’ll be left infertile and walking like a cowboy for the rest of your days. So please, don’t kick guys in the balls unless they absolutely unequivocally deserve it]

Where was I? ah, yes, being dull and uninteresting in New York. That night me and Kristen ate some tasty floppy pizza, planned the escape from New York with Rachel and slept in the spare room on a surprisingly comfy airbed. I slept like a log, probably woke up half the building snoring but I’d been awake for about 40 hours by that point, so I figure that I deserved it. The next morning we went out for a brunchy-lunchy type thingy in a diner downtown which gave me my first proper idea of what my meals were going to be like on this journey…

In a word, Big. Very big. I ordered a ham omelette which was billed as one of their healthy options and was presented with a mountain of food on a plate the size of a hubcap. I really should have guessed it would be like that from the fact that the diner proudly displayed a notice telling the customers that they had a defibrillator behind the counter…

I recall stuffing as much of my behemoth of a breakfast into my mouth as I could manage with half my mind paying attention to the conversation and the other half looking at the poster on the back wall, of which all I could see was the header: CHOKING VICTIM - and wondering why they were promoting a skacore band in a downtown diner.

Needless to say I still wasn’t 100% there.

We said goodbye to Kristen’s sister and set off some time in the early afternoon; unfortunately after about 20 minutes of travel the camera keeled over and went to sleep. I’m not sure if it’s because of that or just because the first day’s travel wasn’t hugely eventful but my memories of that day are fairly hazy.

I remember driving over bridges and under overpasses going out of the city, marvelling at how people in New York appear to have developed a quite complicated means of communication using only car horns, Trying to navigate using the sketchy directions from Kristen’s sister and a map that I hadn’t yet got the hang of (American maps are strange) and fumbling for toll money.

I remember going across the Tappan Zee Bridge in the sunshine and thinking it was really amazingly beautiful, going along that long causeway section down close to the water level with the main ironwork bridge silhouetted against the reflections of the water and the blue sky.

I remember stopping somewhere in New Jersey to look at the map and get petrol, it was all green and sunny, there was a jeep parked next to our car. It felt like England, but hotter.

I remember, unfortunately, the first night trying to get a room in Washington – how the one way systems in Roslyn and the edge of town funnel you inexorably into the centre of town regardless of your intentions. How, bizarrely, due to the bad map I did a lot of the navigating from my memory of Washington’s street layout drilled into me by playing Midtown Madness 3 too much whilst very bored. By some kind of divine intervention (which must have been conferred by some kind of clerical error) we managed to get a room in really swanky hotel on the edge of town that didn’t mind knocking about $250 off the normal nightly price for a tired, stressed and generally bedraggled looking young couple. If I was ever to meet that woman again I think I’d probably give her a big hug and buy her a few drinks. Americans are, on the whole, very good at customer service, friendly and pleasant. I think I only got one scary look in our whole journey which was in a Seven Eleven somewhere in North Carolina (I think) where I went to buy something and, standing there with my long hair, beard and strange accent, got looked at like I was some sort of talking moose or alien or something. You could probably argue that one of the big problems with America today is that all the nice people in Washington DC work in the service sector.

But yes. We went to our decadently massive hotel room, with its kitchen and big TV; its monster bed and sofas, showered, sat around talking for a few hours and then fell asleep. Thus ends the first day proper of my travels in America. Wow, considering how long ago it was now the fact that I can remember any of it is quite impressive, testament partly to how very cool it was and how crushingly little of note I’ve done in the last year otherwise.

I’m going to stop writing now because this is making me all sad and wistful. I’ll probably write some more soon, but right now I’ve got a nice bass with new strings and a new jacklead which is angrily demanding that it be played.