Thursday, 4 March 2010

Day 1015 - New York, Brooklyn

Having spent a couple of hours in the morning watching the appalling weather reports from around New York and seen the visibility from the 23rd floor disappearing, it was time for me to set off across town from The Bronx to Upper Manhattan. The snow was still swirling as I set off. I had to cross back over the freeways by the cycling path, which surprisingly enough hadn’t been used. I had to push the bike through about a foot of snow which came above the bottom on my front panniers making a nice large surface area to have to push forward. I had to keep stopping for a breather, then once off the footbridges I couldn’t even see the path, it got deeper and harder. I gave up on the last few yards and decided to cycle the last little bit by going the wrong way up the freeway. I retraced down Westchester Ave, I thought it would be the best bit of road as it ran under the subway. It turned out to be the worst and I almost came off with a big slide. I took a long time to cover the 17km, but I got there. I stopped in a cafĂ© full of Dominicans who were all delighted to hear where I had come from and wanted photos with me. They were a lovely bunch, I would have liked to have stopped and chatted with them longer. Helga, my next host was on the 10th floor with a lovely view over the Hudson Rivers to the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey beyond. It was so nice to be back in the warm. Before long I was heading down town to the Museum of Modern Art, it was free on a Friday evening, a $20 saving, but it did create massive queues at the cloakroom. I saw Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, a painting I have always wanted to see, but have never really liked. I then took a short walk to Times Square and Broadway. The lights there even put Japanese cities to shame.

I bought a 7 day unlimited transport ticket, very good value and entertainment indeed. It is probably no different to the London underground, but it’s the nutters that I love so much, they are so cool. They get on and seem normal, then they start their ’act’. One big Rastafarian started singing quietly, slowly getting louder and more passionate, then started dancing, first slowly, then more vigorously. But the best bit for me is watching everybody around them, they all try desperately not to look at him, behaving as though nothing is happening, but I could see the subtle body language saying “Oh shit! Please don’t’ pick on me”. I also love the emergency procedures on the train. There are different instruction for Fire, Medical and Police, but the first instruction is always the same “Do not pull the emergency chord”. This is truly a multi-cultural city. Different nationalities generally occupy different areas. I have heard so many different languages, most of which I can not recognise. I have spent my time using the trains and doing a lot of walking checking out the usual stuff, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street etc. The snow was a pain and to make matters worse my shoes are leaking so I get wet feet every time I go out, so when I take my shoes off my feet stink.

It was soon time to move on again, from Upper Manhattan to Brooklyn. I would be staying with Auston, Sam and Tom, all friends of Jerome, but they would not be back home until 7pm, so I had the bike and a day to kill. I made my way to Central Park and did a lap of it. It was all really nice scenes, loads of runners, walkers and cyclists. The cyclist had all the gear, flash clothing, fast bikes, but where are they other than in the Park, how do they get here? I cycled town 5th Avenue, the main drag north/south. People would call out “Where are you going”. In the past I used to say New York, they would be impressed, now I just said “Brooklyn” and they weren’t. I met Shelly, a cycle courier whizzing around on a recumbent bike. We stopped for a chat. It turned out he was the proud owner of 9 recumbents, I would be very happy to have just one. As I rode along I noticed one of the lanes was a fire lane, a bit over the top I thought, until I realised that there are sirens going all the time in this place. I made my over the old Brooklyn Bridge, a suspension bridge and well know landmark. The cycle path and footpath were above the road, there were crowds of people crossing on foot. I passed through a heavily Jewish area, they were all Orthodox Jews. I found the street where the lads lived. I rode down looking for 248, it all seemed to be industrial. People were going into an old warehouse so I asked “Do you know where 248 is?”, “This is it” they replied. It’s a converted textile factory split into apartments. I got on well with the guys, but I think I am glad not to be there at a weekend. The place is even mentioned in Wikipedia “The Lofts are two opposing loft buildings in Bushwick, Brooklyn. They share similar features, such as 5 floors (16 apartments per floor at 255 and 20 at 248). The apartments range in size from 400 to 2500 square feet (various units between the first and second floors of both buildings are duplexes). Approximately 400 tenants inhabit the two buildings. The building has a reputation for hosting raucous all-night "loft parties." Given this, and the preponderance of twenty-something recent college graduates living in the two buildings, the buildings have been given the nickname "Art Dorm." The building was constructed in 1936 and served as a factory space manufacturing various textiles and garments until 1998, when it was converted into residential lofts.” They are talented guys too, covering courses in film making, music and philosophy. The music is impressive, all constructed on the computer, no musical instruments are involved.

Today I read a news item on the beloved New York taxi cab. Apparently they are experimenting with sharing the taxis, something that isn’t going down too well, “New Yorkers don’t want to have to talk to other people” the report added. It gave some guidelines as what you should do “1) Don’t talk to any other passengers 2) Don’t talk on you mobile phone 3) If somebody talks to you, make a phone call.” What I find interesting about that is the fact that when you are away from the cities it always nice when people talk to you, yet in the cities, if somebody talks to you, you automatically think you have found another nutter. Thinking about it, they normally are! I called in at Trinity Church at the end of Wall Street this evening. They have a ring of 12 bells. I almost gave up waiting and was about to leave as they weren’t ringing, then I heard the faintest of sounds, the sound proofing had all but made them silent. This meant they could practice as long as they liked. We finished ringing on the 12 at about 21:45. I was surprised to find the bells have only been there for about 3.5 years.

Recently I have been counting down the days until I head home, now I can pretty much count the hours. It feels strange. It sort of feels like the end of a holiday, but when I used to do that I would think about going home and then to work the following day, but I have no intention of either of those for a while yet. So what of New York? Well, I haven’t fallen in love with the place. It never really stood a chance to be honest. No matter where I ended this trip, it was inevitable that my mind would be focused on heading home and seeing family and friends. I have certainly enjoyed my time here and stopping in 3 different neighbourhoods has made it interesting and yes, I would happily come back. For me the highlight was going up the Empire State Building, something I have always wanted to do, the views were amazing. So I am about to leave the US. It and its people have been very kind to me, I think they top the Aussies in friendliness, but still fall a little short of the Iranians. I have had a great time here and would love to come back and see a bit more, but may be I will wait for warmer weather next time.

I am intending to write another two blog entries, though I don’t expect them to be very long, after that I think I will call it a day. This was really written as a travel blog and although some of you may find it interesting to hear how I adjust back to life in the UK, I am not really sure I have the desire to write about it. I will see how it goes.


caff said...

Did you hear about the control tower at JFK? It seems the staff there are getting younger and younger! Don't want to scare you but a 10 year old was heard giving take-off and landing instructions recently!! This just leaves me to wish you a safe and happy journey not just for coming home but also for the coming months as you settle into a new type of journey.I hope it proves as satisfying and fulfilling as the previous 3 years. Our love and Gods speed remain with you. Looking forward to seeing you SOOOON :-) xx

BlondebutBright said...

Hi John, we met in Chandigarh, India at the Rock Garden in December 2007. I was the American traveling with my Spanish husband. I've been following your adventures for the past two years - it's incredible that so much time has passed! Thanks for providing such fascinating updates and descriptions of your experiences. I wish you the best of luck when you return home.

aoiffe said...

Were they Dominicans from the Dominican Republic or Dominican monks/priests?

dad said...

The world famous Flat Iron Building is so named because it resembles a pe-electric iron. They were cast iron and the handle was not insulated, so you needed a heavy pad to hold it. We had two, one heating over the fire whilst the other was being used. If oyou forgot to wipe it first on a piece of cloth the fabric you were ironing finished up dirtier than it was before being washed. Your photograph is is very good indeed and is one of my favourites.

caff said...

Fabulous city shots. I particularly love the reflections :-)

Urban Mobility Project said...

Glad I could help!
Loved reading about your ride through NYC!

Ms. Frances Morantes said...

So,you come to the End.It was nice meeting you Mr.John Harwood.I just wonder how you will ajust to going back to every day living?I will pray that everything turns out the way you have planned.You deserve it. Be happy stay healthy and stay young.Always a Friend in America.I posted the short clips I took of you while you were in Sanderson,Texas on FACEBOOK.THANK YOU FOR Letting Me Shoot Them. Ms.Frances Lozano Morantes.

The Sloths said...

Dear John

we wish you a very Happy Homecoming!! It seems like many countries ago since we met but we've enjoyed following your journey very much and love your fab photos always. Thanks also for the inspiration that now finds us cycling through China!! Have clocked up 1,000km plus already plus many big hills!! Hope we will meet again soon in good old Blighty.....
We wish you all the very best!!
The Sloths

caff said...

Welcome Home Zibs :-)
It was fabulous to see you for a couple of hours at Heathrow. How strange it seemed. Three years ago I was waving farewell not knowing when we would see you again. Now you are home with so much history behind you. It was always a joy to read of the wonderful people and places you encountered and I hope you encounter joy when you meet your friends and family over the coming months and those here at home who have supported you and keenly followed your journey. I look forward to seeing you again on Sunday.
Welcome home little brother :-) xx

JCH said...

Congratulations, John, you did it!Wow, we've had a hard winter here in the U.S. and still you made it all the way to New York City. Dare I say, "stubborn"? OK, let's go with "determined" instead. You are amazing.
Enjoy being home and start writing when the time is right ... your fans are waiting.