I’m currently in New York where I’ve come on holiday for 10 days or so, staying in a rather nice apartment in Harlem. That’s a description you’d not have seen written anywhere 20 or 30 years ago, but this part of New York has gentrified considerably since New Jack City was made. It’s no Kensington, and you still see a lot of people who look like extras from The Wire hanging about outside laundromats and dodgy-looking discount stores, but there’s not much evidence of serious crime.
I haven’t been to New York since summer 2000, when I came here at the start of my 5-week road trip around the USA. A few things have changed since then, and not just the lower Manhattan skyline. For a start, people using the visa waiver scheme now need to pay $14 online for an ESTA – Electronic System for Travel Authorization – which is something the department of Homeland Security uses to see if you’re a terrorist or not. I knew nothing about this until the airline (fortunately) informed me a few days before I flew. JFK airport doesn’t look quite so impressive now I’ve travelled around a bit, but despite a long line at immigration I cleared through it quickly enough and was pleased to find Uber works for airport collections too.
One of the first things I noticed, sitting in the traffic on what I think was the Long Island Expressway, was how much the cars had changed since I was here 16 years ago. Back then they were mostly American – either Ford or GM marques- and much bigger than those you see in Europe, totally different models. Now you see Toyotas and Nissans everywhere of the same or similar models to those on sale in Europe.
The other thing is that the place doesn’t feel as exotic as it did when I first came here. Last time I had barely travelled anywhere before coming to the USA, but now I’ve clocked up around 40 countries since it’s just like visiting yet another foreign place. Only as I found with Australia, it seems a bit weird to be in a place which is obviously foreign and everyone speaks English (of a sort, anyway).
I also used the New York metro yesterday, and made a bit of a hash of it. I got one one train, thought it was going in the wrong direction, got off it, realized I should have stayed on it, then got back on the next one. And bloody hell, New York is big. I only went from 135th to 42nd street, and it felt like we’d covered miles, and I was only halfway down Manhattan island. And despite my being thoroughly familiar with London, New York is another step up in terms of people running around in a mad rush.
My plan here is to take lots of photos, do some shopping, go on the piss, and take a half-day trip out to an area of Brooklyn for some research for a story I’m working on. And I’m supposed to be going to the US Open tennis on Monday with the chap I’m staying with, who is taking a client there and for some unfathomable reason has decided to being me along. Incidentally, my host is an American who I met in South Carolina during my 2000 road trip, in a Wal-Mart car park of all places. Funny how things can turn out.