For ages, it seems like it’s been looming as something exciting and a little bit scary in the distance. From Monday October 10th to Monday October 17th, 2011, I would be visiting New York City. Tyler James, publisher of ComixTribe, had invited me out to the New York Comic Con to represent The Standard, and I jumped at the chance. Having missed out on getting tickets for San Diego Comic Con earlier in the year, I had the funds to pull the trip off, and so I decided to build a vacation to the Big Apple around my first experience as a pro at a major con. And somehow, it managed to sneak up on me, and all of a sudden it was only a few days before I would be heading off. It was an early flight, due to depart at 6:45am on Monday morning, so after finishing packing on Sunday night, I went to bed, setting my alarm for 3am.
Needless to say, I had a tumultuous start to my holiday, going on something of an emotional rollercoaster that veered from nightmarish to brilliant and back again in quick succession. We got off to a bad start when I woke up at around 5:25am, having slept in over 2 hours. Now, I’m usually neurotically early when I’m setting off to the airport, having everything packed well in advance, but still managing to spend a good couple of hours double and triple checking everything and getting myself organised on the morning when I’m due to set out. That didn’t happen here. Operating on pure panic, I was ready in a whirlwind and in a cab headed for the airport within 15 minutes of waking up. And I was panicking, as my ticket told me I had to be checked in for 5:45.
I needn’t have worried The motorway extension built near our home meant that I had the quickest journey to Glasgow Airport ever, cutting a journey that used to clock in at over half an hour to a mere 10-15 minutes. Things started to go really well once I (belatedly) checked in. The lady at the desk informed me that my flight was overbooked, so they were asking customers if they would mind switching to a later flight at 9am. This flight would be via Continental, rather than the British Airways journey I’d booked, and would be direct to New York rather than having to make a stop at Heathrow. This was great for me, as it cut down my journey time and ensured I would arrive in New York two hours earlier, even with the later departure time. In fact, a direct flight was what I had originally wanted, but couldn’t afford. Then, on top of that, I get compensation of £220 for the “inconvenience” of now having to wait such a long time for my flight!
But really, it worked out great. Instead of what would have been a crazed rush, I now got to take my time, browse the shops, and grab the breakfast I had been forced to skip at home. And by the time I’d breezed over to the gate at a leisurely pace, I didn’t really need to wait all that long. If I’d gotten up and left at my intended time, I’d have had to hang around for ages to get this later flight. So really, everything actually worked out perfectly. I believe the term you’re looking for is “jammy bastard.”
However, karma got its payback once I got on the plane, and things took a turn for the sucky again. Just as we were taking off, I got this lurching feeling in my stomach. I tried to ignore it, as the seatbelt signs were still on, but it soon became clear that the combination of the pumping adrenaline from my early morning shock and dodgy airport food had taken its toll. Ignoring the pleas to stay in my seat, I had to run down the aisle and spent the first half of my oh-so-desirable direct plane journey curled over a bathroom, dry heaving. No, I wasn’t actually sick, but I felt so wretched I found myself wishing I would just heave and get it over with. On a plus note, I discovered that Ted Beneke, the loathsome character from Breaking Bad, is actually named after the Beneke brand of airline toilets. “That’s interesting, I’ll have to make a blog observation about that,” I thought to myself in-between retches.
When my stomach finally settled a bit, I got to enjoy the luxury of Continental airlines and their magic multi-channel telly systems on the back of every seat. No longer are we in the Dark Ages where we are stuck with a single lame in-flight movie while on a plane journey. No, I had a vast choice of movies, and I selected Fargo. Watching it again, I was reminded why I consider it one of the greatest movies of all time. I think it just about cured my rampant nausea.
But eventually, the plane journey from hell was over, and I arrived at Newark Airport. I tell you, Americans are INTENSE. I hadn’t even done anything, but walking through customs, looking at the officers with one hand on their guns at all times, I was terrified of getting shot, perhaps through some accidental faux pas or case of mistaken identity, or simply through one of the officers sneezing or something and accidentally firing a round off into my gut. And smiling nervously and making awkward, pleading niceties only seems to make the folks sitting behind the desk more suspicious! Thankfully, the customs officer who asked me about my reasons for visiting the US seemed to be a comic fan, and I got to break the ice a bit by showing him copies of The Standard.
I hopped on the airtrain, and got off at the Penn Station stop. Thus began the first of many moments where I made an arse of myself. I took the escalator downstairs, I walked around, I went back upstairs, walked around some more. I just couldn’t find the exit! I went and asked the assistant at the booth where the main entrance out onto the street was. She told me there was no street exit here. I told her that I thought there was an exit onto West 34th Street. She blinked in confusion, then told me I was still in Newark Airport. This was merely the point where I could get a connecting train to Penn Station. Oh.
By the time I eventually DID get a train to Penn Station, and walk with my suitcases on what I would discover was a ridiculously long, roundabout path to my hotel, I ended up arriving at my hotel around the time I was originally scheduled to land in New York. I was utterly exhausted, and my stomach still didn’t feel too great, but I was in New York City!
I forced myself to unpack my bags, then I took a walk around a bit. I didn’t really do much of note: I just wandered around a bit, trying to get accustomed to the city. NYC, especially around the Midtown Manhattan area, seems to operate on a pretty rigid grid system: you have numbered streets (West 34th Street, West 35th Street, West 36th Street) running perpendicular to numbered avenues (7th Avenue, 8th Avenue, 9th Avenue), so that as long as you can keep track of what way is right and what way is left, it’s very hard to get lost. Unfortunately I can’t, so I did.
Amidst numerous exercises in walking several blocks, then having to do an about turn, it occurred to me that traffic in New York is fucking mental. I mean, here in the UK we have a very nice system where everyone gets their turn to have free reign over the road. Cars going one way, cars going another way, pedestrians. New York operates on a grid system, where first everyone (cars and people alike) who wants to go in the direction of the avenues gets a turn, then everyone who wants to go along the streets has a go. Which creates this crazy dynamic where, every time the WALK sign indicates you can cross the road, you have to watch out for cars turning into your path and trying to drive past/over you. I almost got hit on numerous occasions on the first night alone, and after a few days I was kinda numbed to the impact of the near-death experiences.
I didn’t do much shopping on this first night. I just picked up basics, such as water, a phone from Radio Shack for using while in the city, and a few of the toiletries I had forgot to pack in my mad rush. On the subject of water: I went through a ton of it over the course of the week! The pollution in New York must be terrible, that or there is some massive conspiracy with the bottled water companies to propel dehydrating properties into the atmosphere to make people buy overpriced bottles of H20 in an environment where it would take a braver man than I to chug from the tap. Because each day, I was going through on average 2 bottles of water, with the countless Duane Reade pharmacies peppered throughout the city being one of my most common destinations throughout the trip.
I was tired and ill, so once it got dark, I decided it’d be best to head back to the hotel for an early night. I did, however, make sure to stop at Midtown Comics on West 40th Street, just shy of Times Square. I had fond memories of this place from visiting it as a teenager back in 2004, and it lived up to my expectations on the return visit. It’s two floors of geeky comic goodness in the heart of the Big Apple, well stocked with a range of titles old and new. I was pleased to note that, on each occasion I visited the store, it was always busy, and the sign on the door indicated that there were two more Midtown Comics branches peppered throughout the city. It’s nice that the home of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four is such a thriving comics hub in the real world.
I popped into a deli to grab a light takeaway dinner for attempting to eat back at the hotel, and headed to my room. The room was small, the furnishing was dated, and aside from a few HBO channels (which all stopped working midway through the week) the TV sucked. But the Comfort Inn Convention Center was a hotel I ended up becoming very fond of. The staff was friendly, helpful when required, but happy to otherwise be hands-off and let you do your own thing. It was clean, the shower was nice and warm, and the bed was incredibly comfortable. The hotel was in a brilliant location, a mere five minute walk from the Javits Convention Center (and the walk was only as long as five minutes because roadworks meant the most direct route to the building was closed and I had to take a detour), and best of all, it was cheap.
I looked at my carefully plotted out schedule for the week (the kind I often like to make when going on trips, but rarely am able to keep), and saw I had a big day ahead of me. With the New York Comic Con starting on Thursday, and with me meeting up with my ComixTribe compatriot Joe Mulvey on Wednesday, I knew Tuesday would be my one day to go into total tourist mode. So I called it a night.
NEXT TIME: Times Square! Jazz clubs! Giant dinosaurs!