My trip was immediately off to a better start than last year when I didn’t sleep in. Rather than that nightmare scenario, I instead got up in plenty of time at 4am sharp, and was able to set myself up for my journey with a hearty breakfast of a piece and sausage with cheese. Even after exhaustively double-checking, triple-checking and quadruple-checking everything while doing the remainder of my packing the night before, I still felt the need to make sure I had everything I needed. And then I was ready and anxiously waiting for my lift to the airport, my mind spinning with scenarios in which things could still go disastrously wrong. But no, everything was fine, and Danny arrived in his car to pick me up. My journey had begun!
I was at the airport for around 6:30am, and got through check-in and security smoothly. Once settled at the gate, I excitedly pulled my iPad from my bag. Oh, what an exciting world awaited me, a world where I could join the trendy folk who Facebook and tweet and browse the interwebs from the airport lounge…. but only if I pay for Wifi access. Nuh-uh! The iPad went timidly back into my bag, and the old tried-and-true companion of a book emerged in its place: Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, on this occasion. As those who know me know, I’m a huge fan of Gaiman’s comic opus The Sandman, but I hadn’t read any of his prose before. American Gods certainly got off to a promising start, with Gaiman’s distinctive literary voice carrying over effectively to a new medium. After a while of reading that, my boarding number was being called, and it was time to get on the plane. Once seated on the plane, I tentatively took out my iPad from its hiding place once more. I couldn’t go online, but I could use it to read comics, perhaps? Nuh-uh! Not until the plane was in the air, at least. Before I knew it, the plane was taking off, and it was, Goodbye Glasgow, New York, here I come!”
I have to say, I may not have ever had a smoother, quicker TransAtlantic flight than the United flight I had this year. I arranged for myself a little viewing schedule of film and TV on the personalised screen on the seat in front of me (we truly live in the future, folks, remember when there was just one in-flight movie everybody had to watch?), and that took me through most of the journey. I started off by watching an episode of Louie. Brilliant. I’m a big fan of Louis CK, but we don’t get this show in the UK, and so I’d never seen much of it. After watching this episode, which had me laughing my ass off maniacally and scaring the other passengers, I vowed to catch the rest of the series somehow. Next up was Moonrise Kingdom. I’ve had mixed feelings about Wes Anderson. I absolutely loved Rushmore and The Royal Tenebaums the first time I saw them, but by the time He got to his subsequent films I felt the same old quirky-quirkiness was wearing thin, and on revisiting those early films even those felt a bit contrived and precious at some points. But Moonrise Kingdom was very, very good, displaying increased heart and maturity from the filmmaker. Next up was Brave, and sadly I found that to be a disappointment. Visually stunning, sure, but the actual content of the story was not up to the standard I’ve come to expect from Pixar. In amidst that viewing list, I read some more American Gods, read a couple of issues of Garth Ennis’ Hellblazer on my iPad, and dozed off for a wee bit. Even the food on the plane was pretty good! So, all told, one of my most pleasant flying experiences ever, and in what felt like no time, I had touched down in Newark Airport.
Once I made it through customs and picked up my suitcase, a hop onto the AirTrain followed by a 3-stop train journey took me to New York City. It felt good to emerge from Penn Station into the NYC bustle. It felt less good humphing my suitcase along 5 blocks to West 38th Street (7 blocks if you count the block in the wrong direction I walked before having to turn back), then 3 blocks down to 10th Avenue, to reach my hotel. I was staying in the Best Western Convention Center. A modest hotel, perhaps, but in an ideal location – with the Javits Convention Center a mere half-block away – and decently priced. And the rooms were clean and the bed was comfortable: what more do you need from a hotel, really?
After calling home and unpacking, I headed out to look around the shops. I didn’t end up buying any goodies that first afternoon, I was more interested in browsing around. I took the long walk all the way down to the Forbidden Planet, somewhere around East 16th Street, then walked all the way back up to West 45th to try a restaurant called Five Napkin Burger for dinner. My cousin James, he of James VS Burger fame, had recommended a handful of eateries to try, and had left me with the parting words that if I were to try only one, it simply had to be Five Napkin Burger. So, I went in with pretty high expectations. Upon walking through the door, it struck me that the place was more upmarket than I’d been expecting: I thought it would me more like a fast food place, but it seemed to be more of a Di Maggio’s type restaurant diner. I felt a bit weird going in by myself! I ordered their signature burger, the Five Napkin burger, along with their fries. The fries weren’t much to write home about, a bit burned and crispy, but the burger was delicious. They’d asked me how I’d like my burger cooked, and I’d fine for medium, and so the burger was pink. Biting through it was like biting through butter, the meat was so soft. I left very satisfied with my first dinner in New York City.
I wrapped up my first night in New York with that most classic of touristy activities: a visit to the Empire State Building. I’d been to the top during the daytime back when I visited the city with family as a kid, but this was my first time making the trip to the top at night, and it was so much better. The views of the city all lit up below were breathtaking. The photos I took didn’t really do it justice, though I also filmed a couple of videos that may have better captured it. I started off at the busy 85th floor observatory, then headed up to the more quiet and serene 102nd floor observatory. It was so peaceful up there, it felt almost a shame to eventually leave. Once I got back to the hotel, I realised that I’d forgotten my camera charger for connecting my camera to my iPad using the handy connector device James had got me for my birthday. Soon afterwards, I realised I’d also picked up the wrong phone, taking an expired throwaway phone with me instead of my US mobile.m All that double, triple, quadruple checking for nothing!
I hadn’t done too much on my first day, but it was really just a chance to get acclimatised to being back in the US. I took an early night in bed, knowing I’d be up early the next morning to launch into a full day of shopping and sightseeing!