I stood in the seemingly endless immigration line at JFK with mixed feelings. Putting to the back of my mind that with some of the visas in my passport, I might be on the first plane back to Heathrow, I read a book as I made excruciatingly slow progress to the front of the snaking queue. The Hispanic border officer looked suspiciously at my rather worn out passport. It had pages of visas from countries that his President might not approve of. But after a good chat about trains – “is NYC to San Francisco as far as London to Iraq?” (good question – answers on a postcard please), the obligatory fingerprints and photos, and I was in. My flight took seven hours, but it was a further four to get through immigration and through the Friday night traffic in Manhattan to my HQ on the Upper West Side.
Although I was pretty tired I could immediately feel that the wait was worth it. My exposure to press and media over the last few years has given me a rather negative and stereotypical impression of the U.S. But it took me only only took a few hours in New York to ground myself and recover my admiration for America, real everyday Americans, and the massive diversity and vibrancy of life in the city. I hadn’t been here since 1999 and had much to catch up on.
My HQ has been on Broadway at 74th street. It’s been a great place to stay, but I have been rather surprised not to hear from some of my nearby neighbours. No invitation from Yoko Ono to pop round for tea, and no invite from Michael Douglas to lunch at the Carlyle hotel either. I later reminded myself that Michael once said “lunch is for wimps” (“Wall Street”, 1987) but I still popped round to see Yoko just in case her invitation had been lost by my concierge. Security at the Dakota didn’t let me pass the spot where John Lennon was tragically shot in 1980, so I shall have to wait until the next time I’m in the neighbourhood to share news and find out what Julian and Sean are up to these days.
I did pop over to “Strawberry Fields” in nearby Central Park. It’s a popular spot but yet somehow an unspoiled and peaceful place. I’m sure John would have approved.
One of the “must do” items on my itinerary was to visit the site of the twin towers memorial to pay my respects. I had travelled up to the 107th floor of the South Tower on several occasions prior to 2001. Like everyone else on the planet, the events of 9/11 are burned into my subconscious, but being here again and visiting ground zero for the first time is something I’m really pleased that I was able to do. The memorial itself gave me a very powerful and cold feeling – I have not researched it, but I’m guessing it has been designed to do just that. But yet around the site and across Manhattan, life goes on. Street entertainers keep the crowds happy, pushy street vendors sell gory 9/11 photo books, and New Yorkers smile, curse, honk their horns and are living life as normal. There seems to be a great balance of remembrance and just getting on with things. It will be different tomorrow though – the 16th anniversary of 9/11.
My bags are packed and I’m soon off to Washington on my first Amtrak adventure. The locals at the Beacon Bar seem happy I’m trying it, but worried I might not enjoy it. I have to frequently explain that they have not seen some of the Chinese trains that I have had the pleasure to travel on! I shall report back soon.