My Week in New York: The End

Another 7am start, and I got out of bed and showered with a heavy heart, knowing that this day would mark the end of my holiday in New York City.  After a hearty fry-up breakfast to set me up for the day, I went up to my room and packed my bags.  As it turned out, this was quite an ordeal.  Fortunately, my mum had suggested packing a hold-all bag inside my suitcase that I could use as an extra bag if I couldn’t fit all my stuff in my case for the return journey.  And even with the hold-all as a second bag, it was a tight squeeze.  After much struggling, I had to give up on trying to get the Swamp Thing toy packaging (this great pulp mould of Swampy’s head) into my suitcase, having to leave it behind in the hotel room to get trashed.  But eventually, I had everything packed, and my hotel room emptied.  I was sad to exit the room for the last time, leaving my keycard on the table as I went out.

I went down to the front desk, and checked in my bags for the day: my flight wasn’t due until 11:05pm, and there was little point hauling my suitcase around the city for several hours.  The folks at the Comfort Inn were good enough to put all my bags in storage, freeing me up for a final day of shopping in NYC.  I picked up three T-shirts from Old Navy, two more pairs of skinny jeans from Levi’s, and a new jacket from Macy’s.  So, one good thing about my trip to New York was that it got me a whole new wardrobe, head-to-toe.  All I neglected to pick up were underpants and socks.  Oh, and a hat.  My friend Jamie keeps on telling me I need to start wearing a hat.

When I was done shopping for clothes like a normal human, I then resorted to the much more geeky/fun pursuit of comics hunting: as if I hadn’t already had my fill of comics!  I started the day by kicking myself, because I had intended to go back to Midtown Comics’ booth at NYCC on Sunday and pick up an Ex Machina Deluxe: Volume 1 hardcover, but it had slipped my mind completely.  So I decided to start my search for it at Jim Hanley’s Comic Universe.  For doing the signing, I had been given a 20% discount card for the store, valid for a year.  Since I was about to travel back home to Scotland, I figured it’d be now or never for making use of it.  Unfortunately – perhaps because it was Comic-Con season – Jim Hanley’s stock of graphic novels was sorely depleted, so much so I couldn’t find any book I was looking for, and I had a whole shortlist I ran through in my mind.  I eventually settled for Shade the Changing Man.

An aside on this theme of stock trouble: why does America hate John Constantine?  Is it because he’s English?  At Midtown Comics, Forbidden Planet, Jim Hanley’s, even New York Comic Con, the stock of Hellblazer comics was abysmal.  I say, without exaggeration, that Forbidden Planet Glasgow has the widest range of Hellblazer trades I’ve seen anywhere in the world, in my admittedly limited experience.

But back to my Ex Machina search.  Midtown Comics had a much wider range of books available, but still no Ex Machina Volume 1.  I had to make the long walk to Forbidden Planet (the New York one, the Glasgow one would have been a long walk indeed!) to finally get the elusive hardcover.  While in Forbidden Planet, I also picked up Elk’s Run, an early story by Joshua Hale Fialkov that I’ve heard great things about.  So, worth the trek out!

In amidst this search, I had lunch at Goodburger (where I took two bites of a Badcookie before promptly chucking it in the bin), and stopped in various shops selling jeans.  I figured I’d check out the range offered by folks other than Levi’s.  But I was promptly reminded why I’m not normally fussed about shopping for clothes.  The prices were crazy!  Diesel was charging several hundred bucks for a pair of their jeans, and their jackets required an investment of over $1000!  For $1000 I could fund an issue of a comic, or wear a jacket with a trendy label.  Crazy, I tells ya!

With time moving briskly on, I made a final stop at a souvenir shop to pick up some sparkly tat for family back home, then headed back to the hotel.  I got my bags, and was sure to tell the staff I had greatly enjoyed my stay, and would happily return next year.  And it’s true.  I really don’t have any complaints about the Comfort Inn Convention Center, it would definitely get my recommendation for anyone thinking of visiting NYC to attend the Comic-Con next year.

My last view of NYC before entering Penn Station... goodbye, Big Apple!

I had scoped out the journey from the hotel to Penn Station, figuring out the quickest, most efficient route to take by foot.  I thought I had it all sorted.  But it turns out that journey feels a lot longer when hauling a heavy suitcase and an even heavier hold-all bag.  I did eventually struggle my way into the station, and got my ticket to Newark Airport.  Agonisingly, I had to walk a couple of circles around the station trying to find the exit onto my platform, due to confusing signs, but I did finally manage to get on my train, and it was time for the journey home to begin in earnest.

I arrived at Newark International Airport a few hours early, and I must say it’s a lot less intense departing from the place than it is arriving there.  Less people with guns eyeballing you, at least.  I did, however, experience some confusion trying to find the check-in point.  I’d go upstairs, and someone would tell me to go downstairs, then when I got downstairs someone would tell me to go back upstairs.  Have I mentioned those heavy bags I was hauling around?  But eventually, I found the British Airways check-in tucked away in an obscure corner of the airport.  There was a nervous moment where I had to check if my giant, bulging hold-all bag could count as hand luggage.  I slid it into the little “your bag can be no bigger than this” frame.  It sat on top of it for a few ominous moments, before slowly sliding down into place.  I just made it, it would seem.  That could go in the overhead carrier, and the backpack on my bag could count as the “briefcase or small bag” I could put under my seat.  Technically, I was within my right, but when I was taking up three little trays with my stuff while going through security, or huffing and puffing carrying this heavy hold-all around the airport, I kept on worrying someone would stop me and tell me to check my bag in.

I grabbed a quick dinner nearby my gate, figuring I’d set myself up and avoid depending on dodgy airplane food.  When I arrived at my gate, my heart sank to discover my plane was delayed by nearly one hour.  Not disastrous in myself, but I had to catch a connecting flight at Heathrow, and suddenly that changeover was looking very tight indeed.  I passed the time by reading some more of the Starman Omnibus, and watching this old lady just walk in circles endlessly.

Eventually, the time came to board the plane, and I watched in quiet amazement at the number of people unable to follow simple instructions and wait for the number of their row to be called out.  This always fascinates me.  I’ve been on planes enough times to know how it works.  They’ll shout for people with small children, then they’ll shout for people in business class, then they’ll shout for people in rows 30-25, then rows 30-20, then rows 30-15, then say everyone can join the queue.  So why then, every time, is there always someone from row 2 front of the line, moaning and grumbling when they’re told they have to wait before getting on the plane?  I just don’t get it.  Whether you get on the plane first or last, YOU WILL BE SITTING ON THE SAME SEAT, AND YOU WILL BE LEAVING AT THE SAME TIME AS EVERYONE ELSE!  You’ll be on the plane for long enough as it is, why rush to get on sooner and be on it even longer?  Calm down, take a seat, and wait until you’re called!

When I got on the plane, I found I was sitting next to a 2 year old flying for the first time.  Cue lots of squirming, whimpering, and trying to undo his seatbelt, get out of his seat and run away.  He kept on grabbing my arm, looking up at me as if expecting me to aid in his escape.  Sorry, kid, I just wanted to sleep.  I’ll admit, though, once we took off the kid quietened down, and wasn’t any trouble at all.  In fact, he promptly fell asleep, and his mother carried him over to an empty row of seats behind us and laid him out.  It didn’t take me much longer than that to doze off, and I ended up sleeping through the majority of the flight.

When he landed at Heathrow Airport in London, I was informed that my flight to Glasgow would be boarding in five minutes.  I don’t see what the point of them telling me this was, as I still had to go through the agonising procedure of crawling through their security.  Heathrow is surely the worst airport I’ve ever been to.  When I stopped there back in 2004 I had to deal with massive queues bigger than any I’ve had to experience in any other airport, and this year I went through no less than 4 security checkpoints.  While Newark managed to all this stuff in two stages, Heathrow dragged the whole process out over two floors, and all the while I’m hearing the last boarding call messages for my Glasgow flight blaring over the speaker system.  Better yet, when I get through security the tanoy system starts shouting, “JOHN LEES, HEAD TO THE DEPARTURE GATE IMMEDIATELY!”  How embarrassing.  And here’s the kicker: after all that paranoid security, I walk up to the gate, and they say, “Are you John Lees?”  I reply with, “Yes,” and they just give me a boarding pass and usher me onto the plane without even looking at my passport!

I get on the plane, the last one to sit down, and I become that person I hate, the one I silently tut at, assuming they’ve held up my take-off while they shopped at duty-free or whatever.  Only, it seems it wasn’t just me that held the flight up.  After all that hurrying and stress, the plane then doesn’t take off for 40 MINUTES!  It turns out there was a bit of a hold-up with the take-offs, and they had to wait for an opening.

When we belatedly took off for Glasgow, it was a nice, short flight.  I just had time to read a couple of chapter of Ex Machina before our descent began.  And I was home, back in sunny, rainy Glasgow!

At the airport, I went to baggage claim, and to my dismay, there was no sign of my bags.  Going to the customer services office, I was told that due to the tight connection, there had been no time to load my bag into the plane.  Erm… how about that 40 minutes when we were just sitting there?  However, they told me by bag would be sent over on the next flight, and took my details.  Fair enough, my bag arrived at my home a few hours later.

I’d had an overnight flight, and it was now Tuesday afternoon in Glasgow.  I called a cab, and in no time at all, I was home.  New York already felt very much in the past tense, and it’s funny how quickly a vacation like that feels long gone.  But I was happy to see my family again, and enjoyed catching up with everyone and sharing stories of my time away.  This was an absolutely amazing week – I’m already planning on a return visit in 2012!

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