Sunday, May 22, 2011

The 4th Jonas

$25 New York City hostels aren’t my idea of nice. They’re more of a necessity. Sure, there are nice ones in town – I’ve stayed at those too, but at this stage of wandering about America, frugality over comfort is paramount.

After switching between $25 hostels over two nights I was more than happy to break from that scene. Katy sent me her address, and though it felt like it could be an elaborate prank, I went out there anyway.

A doorman stood at the front – no doubt unimpressed by my backpack, skateboard, guitar and hat combo and before he got a chance to move me along Katy came down and let me into the building. There was no elaborate prank; there actually is an apartment opposite Central Park. As far as having someone put me up for a night, this is easily the most expensive place I’ve stayed in. And no doubt, I was probably one of the poorest people to ever walk through their doorways. The numbers in the lift crept up as we approached her floor, but with someone like me in the building, the value of the apartments went the opposite way.

No matter though, we didn’t spend much time in the building before heading out to Greenwich Village to kill some time. Not using a map, and kind of guessing where the nearest subway stop, we ventured in and around the streets that make Greenwich Village Manhattan’s diamond in the rough. There are skyscrapers to the north and south, but stuck in between is relative modesty in an inner city suburb.

Knowing it’s my last stay in New York for a while, it was important to me to visit the new World Trade Center site one last time. When I first came to New York four years ago the fences, though not overly high, obscured the view of anything.  All the work was happening below - both cleanup and construction. I went by again in August, where the building was obvious, the shape was taking place and glass was being fitted to certain floors.

Now, over six months after the work is becoming more and more apparent. You no longer have to go to the site to see the rebuilding, it’s visible from places like Greenwich and Soho. Like a milestone that helps direct people to places, the tower is becoming a marker for lower Manhattan. The crane above helps add a new level each week, and in another six months the tower will take its place among the tallest on the island. By the time I get back, it will be finished. It’s an honour to see such a symbol be constructed over my time here, and when it’s complete I’ll be doing everything I can to go back and visit.

The rest of the day was relaxed, and with a midtown apartment surrounded by skyscrapers, the view from my bed was enough to keep me up late at night. It had the same effect in the morning, as once the sun began to came up and illuminate the streets and buildings, it was near impossible to fall back asleep.

That said, it couldn’t keep away the rain that has been shadowing me for the last few days. When the girls got up to go to the Met, I grabbed my umbrella and walked. Doing my best to ignore the crowds, 9th avenue provided enough leeway from Times Square to give me a fair portion of footpath room. Working my way from 60thst, I walked through Chelsea and eventually back down to Greenwich Village.

It felt like I was doing laps up and down the cross streets, and that was to get a feel for the same pavement people like Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac trekked across. The area has changed, and no doubt their modern day equivalents would have to take out a mortgage to buy a latte from one of the local cafés, but there is still a history in the area that goes beyond all the designer and boutique stores that attract most people there now. That also includes the neighbouring Soho area. With all the beautiful building fronts being home to outlet stores and massive crowds, the art scene that used to dominate has picked up its easel and moved on. What a shame.

It had taken a few hours to get this far, and with the rain refusing to let up I turned around and walked up the Bowery back towards midtown. It’s the perfect road for walking around, as the people selling industrial deep fryers on the street are enough to keep the crowds down. Midtown was typically hectic, and a stop at Macys left me lost as I looked for any way out of there. Finally, I headed back to Central Park, and as if I didn’t need reminding from my feet, I realised I had walked well over 100 blocks. Screw the gym, just hate the subway.

Again, the sun woke me up with its brilliant views of Manhattan, and on a mission to get to the post office and grab a new book for the road, I hurried back to Midtown. I returned to Macys, and was asked the oddest question of my entire life by a balding man behind the counter of the visitor center. I handed over my passport, received my discount voucher and as I was about to leave he asked “have you ever been told you look like one of the Jonas brothers?”. Wait, what? Puzzled, and slightly bemused, I responded honestly with “no, not really”. End of conversation right? No. “Well wouldn’t you like their bank balance, or their girls?”. Huh? Twelve-year-old fans? “Ugh, I guess” not really realising I’d just consented to a bit of pedering at the cost of a few million theoretical dollars in a strange case of small talk. Thanks guy.

I’d completed my postal mission, and it was finally time to pack and leave New York City. Beyond that, I was giving up the small safety net I’d acquired on the east coast. I’d got to know people through school, many of which I’d consider good friends. Knowing that you’re never too far from welcome company is a lovely thing, but the epic bus journey from New York would remove all that. Away from Massachusetts and the east coast, I was on my own again. Sure, I’m meeting up with friends, but none of us are from North America. We’re all stepping out into a bit of an unknown, and that’s an exciting thing.

I said bye to Katy and Olivia, grabbed my bag and headed for my bus to Washington DC. It was late, and the trip was held up in traffic. As it cut through New Jersey it did afford one final glimpse of Manhattan and its famous skyline. Clouds were coming over, but even in the rain, it is still one of the prettiest views in the world.

The bus was slow. A tortoise would giggle at such a pace. My original two hour connection time was limited to a few minutes in a mad scramble from one bus to the other. Through DC the bus rolled past the capital building, illuminated beautifully at night. As we left the city, the Lincoln Memorial shone out from its vantage on the hill. That was the final glimpse of the capital, and anywhere of note for the next few hours.

The next bus trip was close to hell. Fearing I’d sat next an incredibly rude person who didn’t respond when I asked if I could sit next to her(I did anyway, there was nowhere else) it became apparent that they were deaf. Now who feels rude? Finally, after 8 hours, my bus rolled into Knoxville, and when I walked to another part of town to get my final bus to Nashville, the Greyhound station was noticeably void of staff. Their schedule runs at 12:30AM, 6:45AM and 6:45PM. For someone getting in at 7:30AM, there could hardly be a worse way to run a bus line – but it is Greyhound, and I shouldn’t be surprised at all by any of this.

I wasn’t the only one unimpressed by Greyhound that morning, and after remaining in the station until 10:30 before some staff arrived, another guy who was waiting with me decided that he wanted to go to Nashville immediately – at any cost. A phone call later, he had haggled a $300 taxi ride and told me I could come along. Not having $150 to split the cab, I offered the ticket price which he was happy with, and within a few minutes, I managed to avoid a near 12 hour wait in a bus station and was on my way to Nashville.

Robert, the man who had organized the taxi lived near Nashville, and after visiting Knoxville for the night, had to leave his car (and gun) behind for his wife while he was due to get a bus. He showed me the scar in his ankle where he was shot in Kuwait and told me about the two trials he had as a pitcher for the New York Mets. For the three hour ride he told stories about his brother who was jailed for life at age 16, his 17 years working for Paramount as a film set electrician and about how big the bass he once caught was.

When we finally stopped just outside Nashville to grab a bite at Shoneys he would only take $20 from me – explaining that I was a student and that I needed it more than him. Having not eaten for near 20 hours, I had never seen a plate of pancakes look so good. I made my order and for the first time in my dining life I experienced a waiter follow me into the bathroom telling me that they were out of bananas. If that wasn’t strange enough I ended up sitting next to a table full of clowns while I enjoyed bottomless coffee and lots of syrup.

Despite my attempts to make up for the taxi, Robert wouldn’t let me pay for lunch – again using the poor student excuse. As if everything wasn’t hospitable enough he called his friend who drove out and dropped me off at the hostel. A potentially horrific day (where I’d still be sat at the bus stop) turned out to be fairly awesome. Again, I shouldn't be shocked at the incompetence of Greyhound, but American hospitality shouldn't surprise me either - I've been a thankful recipient since August, but it's been particularly highlighted lately.

I’m knackered from the bus ride, and my legs and back are stiffer than a man suffering a Viagra overdose but I’m finally here. California is still a few weeks away, but now that I’ve left the east coast, I feel like I’m on my way home.

Against Me! - Wagon Wheel
The bus went through Roanoke last night, and all I could think about is how great this song is. Michael Jordan aside, this was another reason I applied to North Carolina. If there's a better song about travelling through America, I'm yet to hear it.

1 comment:

  1. Lewis did you ever venture into Left Bank Books in Grenwich Village? They have a first edition Kerouac 'Big Sur' in there that I lusted over for a good half hour

    xx lily