Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Connecticut? Is that in Queens?

I'm currently back in the UK. The intention is to move to New York completely in January, so until then here's my first encounter with New York's twin wonders: the immigration hall at JFK and the yellow cab.

As I stood in the Disney style 300 yard snake of immigrants awaiting finger printing, photographing and cataloguing it occurred to me that there can be few greater contrasts than Virgin Upper Class service to US Immigration in one three minute walk. I wonder if Kylie has to queue up as well? I was assigned to the queue of the slowest immigration agent in the history of the United States' border controls. When I was placed fifth in it, there was 300 yards of snaking humanity behind me. By the time I had advanced to second in the queue, there was no one in the snake at all. I briefly considered discussing this with my fellow misfortunates - but decided silence was the best course, at least until I was in.

At one point during my stoical stand, I noticed a little toddler on reins in the snake behind me. Just as a gap appeared, and his family's time to shuffle forward five yards arrived, he suddenly turned and with a lunge, hugged onto one of the pillars that holds the seatbelt material queue separator. He wasn't upset, he just wanted to hug a pillar. His Mum had to prise him off.

I enjoyed watching him do that.

Once out of customs, I avoided two strangers who accosted me offering rides and made my way to the official yellow cab rank. I didn't want to get into anyone's car, I wanted a proper taxi. Something I could trust. I told the driver, Old Greenwich, Connecticut, and we were off with him muttering something unintelligible. After about five minutes He pulled over, got written instructions from some friend, he needed to borrow my pen - and my paper. Then he filled the tank. Now we were really off. There seemed to be a lot of honking on the New York streets, but I never heard any in the distance. It all seemed to come from cars directly around us.

After clearing the city, I thought we might make good progress, but my belief was slightly dented after fifty minutes when he pulled off the interstate onto an unmade road and flagging down a passing 4x4 asked the way to Connecticut.

Now if a Now York cabbie can't find East Putnam Avenue, Old Greenwich that is one thing. Not being able to find Connecticut is quite another! Anyway, back he came, we set off again and I bravely did nothing in the back.

It became apparent that the cabbie didn't entirely trust the 4x4 driving football mom. I first wondered about his intentions when he stared at a Mobil garage as we passed it on the Interstate. I wondered quite a bit harder when he pulled over, stuck his cab in reverse and zig-zagged backwards up the slip road, back to the garage, waving the oncoming traffic past as we swerved towards them.

Bravely, I clutched my bag and did nothing.

One hour thirty-five into the journey, we spotted a sign for Old Greenwich, followed a couple of minutes later by our stumbling right onto East Putnam Avenue. This caused a strange reaction in me. For the last hour or more I had been mentally abusing my mumbling kidnapper, noting the number for complaints, considering the appropriate torture, that sort of thing. But as soon as I caught sight of my hotel, I was consumed by a feeling of gratitude towards the incompetent fool. Suddenly I wanted to shake his hand and tip him generously. It was some kind of Stockholm Syndrome, only in a taxi.

Since then I've had it pointed out that jumping into a yellow cab and attempting to leave the city is equivalent to hiring a central park row-boat and trying to take it down Lexington Avenue.

Monday, December 3, 2007

With practice, can use simple tools

It was the first snow of winter yesterday. It was also the day I had to drive to Newark. It's not enough they put the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car and the cars on the wrong side of the road, I had dig the car out of the snow before I could drive it.

Being British, I started by brushing at the windows with my sleeve, but there was quite a lot of snow and it was going up my arm. I then remembered seeing a stick in the boot. That might work, I thought. When I retrieved it, I saw it had an ice scraper on one end and a long brush down the handle. Having decided that the brush must be for the upholstery, I set to work clearing snow with a three inch ice-scraper. After about five minutes of pushing the snow back and forth with a small square of plastic, I tried - in the spirit of scientific discovery - sweeping the snow away with the upholstery brush. Would you believe it, it worked really well! It's quite ironic that they put that upholstery brush on the stick and it turned out to be better at clearing snow than the ice scraper.

It occurs that this story is really quite boring. Sorry about that. Luckily, this blog has a current readership of one, being me, and by the time it has risen to its rightful place as the premier blog about America through British eyes, this post will be so far back in the archives that no one will read it. Serendipity at work right before my eyes.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Smell the Cobra

On the road in New Jersey yesterday, I passed a scene I thought only existed on radio bulletins. A lorry had had quite a crash and over half the metal side of the trailer was sliced off as if by a tin opener. By the time I got there, a JCB (I think I should say backhoe over here) had cleared the shed load into a large pile of green glass and cardboard by the side of the road, but the road was wet and the air was thick with the smell of Cobra beer.

I almost got out to lick the tarmac.

"I mean, they pronounce their T's!"

One of the houses we looked at was in Valhalla. I wanted to live in Valhalla before I knew anything about it. Imagine! Valhalla! Instead of gnomes in the garden I could have had gods. We could have all lain in late on a Wednesday as tribute to Odin, bought a big sledgehammer and used it inappropriately in honour of Thor - it would have been great.

Unfortunately, the house wasn't very nice.

Also, the old man who lived there insisted in following us around explaining all the rooms to us. When we went into the bedroom, he actually said to Jules, "Come here, I've got something any woman would love." The fear on her face as I pushed her forward, heels slipping on the wooden floor was a joy to behold. The thing he kept in his bedroom that all women love turned out to be a closet, which was a bit of a let-down.

The other problem with house-selling-geezer was he didn't seem to like the English very much. Oblivious to our accents and our efforts to explain it was our birth-place he was criticizing he delivered a monologue on the World's problem that is England. He started by saying that his daughter had gone to live in England, "of all places!" then quickly upped his pace until he hit his peak by complaining in a tone of voice usually reserved for talking about goat-botherers and other sexual deviants, "I mean, they pronounce their T's!"

So we didn't buy that house.