The process of clearing airport US security checks has not improved at all since the last time I had the pleasure of being interrogated by them. Earning the privilege of passing through American territory just to get to another destination is an arduous process. If anything, the officials are becoming more surly, abrupt and downright rude. The sickly-sweet American customer service patter is nowhere in sight. Perhaps it’s the idea of working a job where there’s no way around the moral complications of accepting tips. In any case, they’re not a good example of enjoying your job (though looking at some of the imbeciles holding up the procedure in front of us, it’s not too surprising that tempers are already frayed 10 minutes after the lines first opened). As a result, despite arriving at the airport hours early, we barely have any spare time between the check-in and boarding the plane. On the plus side, Delta provides a good selection of in-flight entertainment. We enjoyed Moneyball. I suffered through half of Crazy Stupid Love before switching to Contagion, which was an enjoyable romp. According to Brodie I didn´t miss out anything by changing my choice. That left us with the start of some mindless rom com to take us down to land.
Now we just had to navigate our way into the Big Apple itself. The process is quite easy, but the signs aren’t very clear for anyone not familiar with How Things Work. Our first attempt to pass from airtrain to train station saw our tickets rejected. Despite the impression the ticket machine had given, we actually needed another ticket just to exit first. While we figured that out we witnessed the face-off between an irate Jamaican gentleman and an airport official who was clearly spoiling for a fight with someone. The crux of the confrontation was that there’s no clear signs on the airtrain to indicate which journeys are free to other terminals, and which involve a fare to exit the station at the end. The elderly gentleman was incensed at being told there was now a fee to be paid in order to pass. “This is America!”, the official shrieked at him. “Nothing is free!!!” She then proceeded to threaten to take off her uniform right there and then to teach him a lesson. He seemed to be up for this despite the weight disadvantage. Other officials began to congregate at the turnstile, making it clear that there was no way he’d get past all of them, though he was welcome to try. As we left for the train platform the old man was still oscillating back and forth between the relative safety of retreating back towards the airtrain and the temptation to take on the burly army at the turnstile.
After a short train journey we checked into our room at the Holiday Inn around the corner from Penn Station. It’s a great location, though not cheap until you compare it to the extortionate prices of lodging in New York in general. Within minutes of getting to our room our friends arrived, fresh from a disappointing visit to the sex museum. Apparently even less interesting than it had sounded on the website. So cross that one off your bucket list. We were extra happy to see them as they brought with them two Kindle Fires we’d previously had posted to their address. After a hearty dinner while we caught up on what´s been happening since our paths last crossed in Niagara, we roamed the streets of New York, taking in the sights and valiantly fighting the jetlag. The weather was pleasantly mild as we sampled hot drinks in a Christmas market or joined the throngs in Time Square. The last time we were in New York, Time Square looked quite different. The pedestrian sections give a different feel to the place. As your eyes become accustomed to the barrage of bright displays there’s a bit of space now to look around without getting jostled into the path of a yellow cab. The vinegary smell from the street vendor stalls watered my eyes as we pushed through crowds and on past endless groups of people hawking tickets to yet another comedy show. There’s always something to go see or do here.
When we’d had our fill of bright lights and the big cityscape we made our way to Grand Central station for the others to catch their train home. By this time in the evening there was little to see other than closed shops and restaurants beneath the massive central arches. Here and there a homeless person posed like a statue in the middle of the crowds, or jerkily stumbled in a circle while speaking in tongues (which effectively cleared a lot of space around them). It seemed like most ‘normal’ people had gone home for the night – a sign for us that it might be time to give in to the jet lag. We took a pleasant walk back to our hotel where sleep anxiously beckoned.