There’s one of two things you do in Bed Stuy on a Sunday; church or laundry. After a night out in Manhattan I opted for the latter.
I’ve been in the US for almost two weeks now. My trip started in Chicago on a late night train into the city, clinging to my belongings on the advice of an MTC employee ‘honey, be careful, watch your stuff’. Needless to say that aside from a conversation with two airline workers, the subway ride into the city was uneventful and I arrived at my accommodation unscathed.
I stayed in Chicago for only a few days, it’s a beautiful city that is quiet on the surface but buzzing underneath. Music is accessible, good food isn’t too hard to find and the people are friendly. I stayed at the Holiday Jones on W Division Street, which is located in a funky little neighbourhood not too far from the city centre. After a few days in Chicago I found myself ready to leave and kicked it to NYC on a Greyhound bus to meet up with friends Justine, Tamzin, Maggie, Adelle and Adelle (that’s not a typo…)
I don’t think this simple sentence really sums up how gruelling a bus ride from Chicago to NYC actually is. The whole trip took over 17 hours and ten of those were spent talking to a guy who hadn’t slept for at least 48 hours and had no intention of sleeping for the next 24. We talked about a lot of stuff; he was an ex-Marine who is currently studying to be a paramedic. John was painfully aware of race issues in the States and disturbed by the way indigenous people are treated in the US and abroad. Somewhat ironically, he also said he only dates African-American /Hispanic women as he finds white women boring and sought my opinion on him as a white American male. I gave some vague answer about how people aren’t defined by the colour of their skin and how there isn’t actually a stereotypical American but the stereotype we often associate with America is just one of many stereotypes. I don’t think he found my answer very satisfying because the conversation came up on and off for the duration of our trip together.
I arrived in New York many many hours after my twilight conversations with John. I was deliriously tired from lack of sleep and found it hard to string together a sentence once I eventually met up with the rest of my group. It’s a funny moment seeing some of your closest friends after one – two years apart. I found Maggie inside the café and gave her a clumsy, smelly hug and picked up conversation from wherever we had left off. Eventually Justine and Tamzin arrived; we waved to each other from across the road and gave each other tight hugs. After a few more attempts at conversation, which all of us were a little too tired to participate in, we made our way to our accommodation in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn and settled in for a week in NYC.
Bed Stuy is one of my favourite parts of Brooklyn, I stayed in the neighbourhood two years previous so had an idea of what to expect but was still a little surprised to find it has transformed from a pretty rough area to corner coffee shops, wine bars and sit down restaurants.
The week in Brooklyn went quickly…we spent the majority of our time walking around various neighbourhoods, catching up with friends and observing some of the strange and wonderful things that seem to only exist in New York.
Seeing as my last trip to New York involved a super-storm and not much else I really embraced the opportunity to explore the city and managed to fit in a visit to Central Park, Les Miserables on Broadway, two strolls over the Brooklyn Bridge, a friends gig and subsequent bands, a haircut in Bed Stuy, shopping at Times Square, window shopping in East Village, dumplings in China Town, ice-cream anytime I could, a look around Williamsburg and a visit to the 9/11 memorial site.
The 9/11 memorial site is nothing short of amazing. It’s one of the most astounding memorials I’ve visited and took my breath away. Coincidentally, only a few days prior I had spoken with a guy named Will whose grandfather owned one of the construction companies responsible for building the Twin Towers and subsequently building the new tower and memorial site. I could tell he was proud to be associated with such an important part of American history and a part of me can understand why. The tragedy that took place on 11 September is one that continues to have global ramifications and affect the international community on many levels. Visiting the site took me back to the events of that day and the emotional turmoil I felt as a simple observer. I’d spoken with Will on the Greyhound bus into Manhattan, he’d pointed out the new tower and stared at it intensely before stating in an almost exasperated tone ‘my grandfather helped build that tower and I’m still riding a fucking Greyhound bus’. I don’t think I’ll forget his words too soon; I think we both felt some confusion over his predicament.
There were a lot of highlights throughout the week, finding good food became an absolute mission for all of us. On our second last night in NYC Justine, Adelle and I walked a decent few k’s for dumplings and were pleasantly surprised to find they were both cheap and delicious (hello, $1.00 for four pork dumplings). We downed our dumplings and chatted with an Italian traveller named Danilo who had only recently arrived in NYC and was trying Chinese food for the first time, he told us in his lilting Italian accent that he had ‘wanted to have a new experience, try something different’. He wasn’t too impressed with his noodle soup but enjoyed talking with us and exchanging stories. We advised he try dumplings next time and parted ways.
For me, NYC is made up of conversations with strangers and friends. The city didn’t seem nearly as bizarre this time round but then again, a hurricane was bearing down on NYC when I last visited. Maybe my expectations were a little too high?
It’s no longer Sunday. I’m now on the road in a hire car with Justine, Tamzin, Maggie and Adelle listening to DJ Kool. We’ve been driving for ten hours. Next stop Asheville, NC.