After a seven-hour flight, which had been delayed two hours
almost, Lee Batty and I touched down in to JFK airport in New York. In the
distance we could see the Manhattan Island, finally after years of wanting
to go to America I was actually there. The strange thing was I felt at home.
The furthest distance I'd ever been away from London, my hometown, counted
for very little. The feeling I had was that of being dropped off in a slightly
larger version of London, which was full of English people putting on American
During our movement through the immigration system we had
answered yes to one of the questions on the form and were summarily moved
into the more intense "immigration department". We had answered
Yes to the question which asked if we had "a physical disorder",
As soon as we entered the room we were ushered to the front of the room
at which point nearly all the officials up on the podium mounted desk looked
at us and started cursing the immigration official who sent us there. "Are
you Brits?" One of them asked. We gave a nod. "Well in future
tick no to that question". "
Can we quote you on that?" I asked
About 5 officials answered, "Yes" in unison.
So immediately we'd felt the paradoxical experience of being
an Englishman in New York. It feels like being at home except the world
is larger in scale and some subtle rules are different. Like having no lower
arms or right foot. hey in the USA that's not a physical disorder!
Larry Hobson, a friend I'd originally met through the internet
and had met up with quite a bit in London, and who cat-sat in my flat when
I'd last gone on holiday met us at the entrance lobby of the airport.
Larry took us to his place, where Lee beginning to feel
the effects of jet lag, went off to bed. Larry and I toured the City in
his new car. The Manhattan skyline is most dramatic at night, it reminded
me of an opening scene of Batman.
Welcome to the larger than life comic strip world of New
York. Which is not, as Larry will tell you, like TV!
Larry got us a free ride on a river boat tour, the highlight
of which was passing the ruins of the Twin Towers.
Unashamedly nearly all the passengers moved to one side
of the boat to get a better view. I was reminded of the Francis Bacon painting
"figures at the base of a crucifixion". New York and possibly
many other parts of America feels under threat right now. From this has
risen a camaraderie and patriotism, so everywhere you go there's flags.
From house windows, head scarves and flying from miniature flag poles sticking
out of car doors. Along every road are roadside search check points staffed
by NYPD officers, US Marshals, and regular soldiers. Having seen such checkpoints
elsewhere I could see a difference especially in comparison to Israel. In
New York people appeared happy to oblige and in return there were smiles
and other friendly gestures between officials and public. In Israel I had
sensed the feeling that at any moment a gun battle would take place, so
it was best to move slowly and do exactly what was being asked of me,
When we first sat on the boat we sat in front of a group
of English couples. Meeting compatriots can have a rather grounding effect,
I personally prefer the anonymity of class and station that being a foreigner
affords. Within several minutes the group moved off uttering those paranoia
inducing words "It's nothing personal". True to our English upbringing
Lee and I stuck it out on deck shivering while Larry contradicted most of
the fascinating facts the tour guide extolled and gave us a running commentary
of the places he'd lived and routes he'd cycled. Still this probably beats
my version of "places where and people I've snogged in and around London,"
a tour my present partner assures me is extremely boring and annoying!.
At the end of the boat trip an army patrol boat circled us, on board were
mounted several large machine guns........ that was the second most interesting
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