New York, New York (Looking for Judge Judy)
Stop #1 in my life-changing, life-trembling move to the United States is Newark Liberty International Airport.
Rebecca and I understand EWR as a necessary evil; a tense and petulant airport, unlike Edinburgh or Nashville which are small and friendly enough to at least pretend they’re happy you want to fly somewhere.
But Newark is where Continental flies to from Edinburgh, it has been our Hub-of-choice for 6 years, and so Newark is where I will begin my life as a permanent resident in the United States.
Stop #2, before we fly on to Nashville, is a 7-day vacation in New York City. This game plan, on the face of it, seems designed mainly to drive my Judge Judy and all right-thinking individuals to distraction. I had to explain to the Judge my whereabouts for the first week in April 2011, I fear she would give me the same short shrift she gives her arch nemesis; Men Who Do Not Pay Child Support.
Arrive in a new country with no job or home of your own? Living off your savings? Is the first logical move really to relax and spend a week in one of the most expensive cities on Earth? Baloney, Sir!
But let me make the case for the defense.
Judge Judy’s views have become increasingly important in our house – compulsory, compulsive breakfast viewing for the last few days. It’s a dirty habit but I was justifying Judge Judy (Real cases! Real people! Judge Judy!) as vacation research, until I learned that the NYC visuals belie the fact that the show is taped in Los Angeles. Baloney!
Anyway, we’re not going to NYC for the shopping, for the drive-by 5th Avenue delights. We are on a pilgrimage. I am an eager immigrant with just the shirt on my back – the other 19 shirts are in a shipping container, along with our bikes, cookware, books, cat basket etc and it will be 3 months before we see any of that again. Assuming it’s not dropped overboard (but we don’t talk about that) – and fingers-crossed that I don’t get tossed back in the opposite direction by Immigration Control and that I emerge, ready for America, as wet behind the ears as Fievel the Russian immigrant mouse.
New York City is the first American city I ever visited, back in 1993, 21 years old, for my first student work visa orientation. I didn’t have the Florida-visiting childhood of many of my friends, I was a USA-virgin, and NYC is the perfect place to arrive.
America-in-your-face that made me feel as though I had walked onto a movie set, including a bus ride through Harlem, looking out onto an alien planet, and then an adorably British decision to “just walk down Broadway” with the inevitable, dime-a-dozen Brit-shock of noise, accents, portion-sizes and variety.
I knew from my first night that America was a land of choice and quick-decisions (most of which had to be made before they would bring you your appetizer.)
I got close to returning to NYC since that summer, including drives along the New York Thruway in 1996 and 1998 as I travelled between Toronto and New Hampshire, including a night in Albany (where I spent quality time trying to explain to some kids in the hotel parking lot where I was from…Edinburgh…Scotland… Europe? Well, it’s to the right, over the water…etc) but never quite made it.
And we have a 10 year wedding anniversary to celebrate. My marriage, which I sometimes consider the greatest confidence trick I ever played, is 10, old enough to get ideas of its own, old enough so that it doesn’t believe everything I say, and we must take care of it. Rebecca and I had so much fun getting married the first time, we did it again in 2005, just in case anyone figured we had a cooling off period. So my wife wants to visit NYC for our 10th wedding anniversary? And we’re flying into Newark that week anyway? Yeah, that sounds like a plan.
Much to my own delight, with that 1 previous visit to New York City, I’ve spent more time in the city than my American wife. Two more days, to be exact. So I guess that makes me an expert guide, right? And NYC veteran that I am, it’s surely my civic duty to show my wife the big
Rebecca and I have both been researching for the NYC trip, along with trying to sell our UK house, our furniture, writing resumes, working out health insurance, small stuff like that.
My wife has developed a methodical approach to preparing for vacations, which involves 1. buying a map 2. buying a guidebook and 3. getting advice from friends.
This is why the friend we’re staying with actually knows that we’re coming, and also why we have our tickets for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tour. And it’s why we already have a travel plan so ambitious that hey, I’m just concentrating on the promises of Momofuku and Ciao Bella Gelato, because with a tourist pace this frantic, I will need excellent noodles and ice-cream.
My approach to vacation planning is both more literary and less helpful. For example yesterday I finished Paul Auster’s Sunset Park, which I loved, and as well as being set in Brooklyn, helpfully featured details of the hero showing his girlfriend around New York City. Even less helpfully, my local gym (the last time I will mention the gym, I promise) is arbitrarily charting my treadmill progress as a journey through New York City (I’ve made it to Lafayette Ave – is that good? I have no idea).
And we have people to see. We will be staying in Brooklyn with Ali, a friend of Rebecca’s from high school, whom we last saw in California in 2009. She will be putting us up / putting up with us for 7 nights. Ali can boast the least fearful politics of any of my wife’s friends, although after a week of me, she may be less well disposed toward immigrants.
And I will meet up with Shawn, a friend of mine since my first American summer, someone who can take some pride for introducing me to the music of John Coltrane and Jane’s Addiction, and some shame for introducing me to the music of Alanis Morrissette. (Shawn will claim this was down to an in-car mistake, a radio pre-set fumble, but I say, baloney.) Shawn also bought me my first Twinkie, and I read somewhere that this makes us brothers.
And NYC will be an excellent place for writing (did I tell you I have a Difficult Second Novel? Did I mention that?). I get more writing done in a city; I certainly take better notes. I notice more about people than scenery, and I’m thinking NYC will have plenty of people.
I try to follow my characters, keep tabs on them from discreet distance, and it’s true that none of them have expressed an interest in New York City. But I’m also pragmatic, and I figure if I pay well enough attention, I will glean enough of this city for 2-4 pages of novel or a short story, or both. Or nothing. But just in case, I will bring a pen.
I’m probably most excited by the prospect of attending StorySLAMs (live storytelling competitions); I’m spoilt for choice, in fact, and will have to choose between two Monday events; The Moth (which has 2 big things going for it; I’ve enjoyed their podcasts for 2 years, and it’s in Brooklyn) and Risk! which I’m less familiar with did Tweet at me encouragingly.
Spoken word is something I know about. I’m more comfortable telling a story in front of an audience than with dinner party small talk or swapping weather gambits whilst standing in line at the post office. But it’s been a long time, I will be both jet lagged and rusty, so I will probably just listen and learn. And even that will be an improvement on our San Francisco trip where we missed out on attending Porchlight.
Then again, I may just lose myself entirely, ditch the writing and go watch the Yankees play the Twins – I will find it hard to resist the allure of America’s national game (sorta kinda) and more importantly, April 5th is Insulated Can Cooler Night. C’mon!