I’d never been to the USA. Peter had, several times during his working years, once not too long after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre. I’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the parks in Utah… But we wouldn’t have time for any of that. This was going to be a ‘taste of America’ – three cities for a few days each. What the hey. It was all new to me.
Wheeling my brand sparkly new bright red suitcase, we went into Copenhagen airport to board our Lufthansa fight to New York via Frankfurt. It all started in the increasingly common way. I was stopped by security who wanted to check my carry-on luggage. I had to open the bag for the man. I’m not sure if it was a random check or whether they really did get their knickers in a twist over the little metal container filled with mints. Must have done. The man took the mints out and re-scanned the bag. I’ve become inured over the years, though I still can’t help a sigh. Flying used to be fun but all that security has taken the gloss off.
The flight was generally uneventful, although one passenger was a pain in the butt from Frankfurt to New York. The cabin crew were up and down to his seat every few minutes and he had his entertainment system on so loud I think everybody could hear the dialogue for the movie he was watching. And, of course, he was first out of his seat, talking loudly on his phone as soon as we arrived at the gate at Newark.
We collected our luggage and joined the lines to pass through immigration. When it was my turn I marched up to the end of the long counter where the immigration officer sat and handed over my passport. Officer Wong (he had a name tag on his shirt) looked me over as if I smelled bad, looked at my passport, was probably disappointed my online visa was in order.
“How long you stayin’ in the US?”
I’d prepared for that. “We’re going home next Sunday.”
He looked down his nose at me. “Ah don’t care when you goin’ home. How long you stayin’?”
I admit to being slightly flummoxed. Well shit. Let’s see… three nights here, a few in Washington…
Pete must have noticed things were not going according to plan. He came up behind me. “I’m her husband,” he said, handing over his passport.
Officer Wong took a look at the page. “You’re married? You got different surnames.”
“Yeah,” Pete said. “She didn’t change her name. Makes it easier for the divorce.”
Officer Wong’s demeanour changed instantly, clearly a fellow-traveller in that respect. “Oh, yeah. Makes sense.”
A bit more banter between the boys and we were outta there.
We’d arranged a shuttle service for the trip to New York City before we left home. All we had to do was find where we were supposed to go. It took us a while. Signage in Newark seems to be aimed at American people who fly a lot. But we got there in the end, joining half a dozen other people in a small van. How do I describe the traffic? Sydney on steroids? Or maybe St Petersburg on steroids. Our driver cut and weaved and dodged between lanes, pushing into lines of traffic to take the tunnel to Manhattan, all the while messing about with a tablet on her knee. Eventually she pulled up around the corner from our hotel in Hell’s Kitchen and fetched our luggage. I stumbled out, glad to have made it alive. I expect she does it all the time – but I don’t.
Pete took out his wallet to tip her – and couldn’t find his passport. The driver waited while he checked the vehicle, his pockets, his carry-on… I was starting to wonder where the nearest Australian consulate was and the driver was glancing at her cab and its load of passengers. She wanted – needed – to leave.
Pete gave her the tip and she headed off. Then he went back through everything we’d done since meeting Mr Wong. And at last, Bingo! We’d had to produce passports at a desk somewhere, to do with the taxi service, and he’d put his passport somewhere unusual. It was there.
Heaving a huge sigh of relief, we checked into our hotel. We were on the 23rd floor or thereabouts with a view of the river, not a large room – we didn’t expect it would be – but with everything we’d need. The hotel was a few blocks from Times Square, so in a good location.
That afternoon we went for a walk getting a feel for the lie of the land. The things I particularly noticed were the rubbish bins lined up along the kerbs, the food vans at just about every corner, the external fire escape stairs, the apparently abandoned scaffolding where building projects had been started. Remember, this was 2011, only a couple of years after the global financial crisis. And I learned that Times Square is an intersection.
We went to the post office to post a parcel and managed to mightily offend another customer because we didn’t understand the protocol involved before you could approach anybody at one of the counters.
Eventually we ended up in an Irish pub, where we rested out sore feet and downed a drink or two while chatting to the Irish barman. On the way back to the hotel we felt in need of some food. Nothing substantial, just something to soak up the alcohol. We passed a few uninspiring convenience stores, then came across a sign advertising chicken sandwiches.
Except the Australian idea of a sandwich doesn’t line up with the American one. We were expecting a couple of slices of bread containing slices of chicken and some salad – lettuce, tomato, cucumber. What we got was a bread roll about 20cm (~9″) long, stuffed with shredded chicken mixed with something like barbecue sauce. A shred of lettuce and half a slice of tomato appeared on the plate as garnish. We’d bought one each, but one between us would have been more than enough. We left more than half of it, but we ate the garnish.
We were about ready for bed. Tomorrow we’d go and do some more exploring.