Friday, July 24, 2009

Day 33 - Fucking Houston

It started off ok. I had slept well and the Chinese middle aged guy in the bunk underneath me hadn't complained or snored all that loudly through the night, two things he seemed extremely adept at after the first night in this Houston hostel. I hadn't been able to sleep properly and tossed and turned in what possibly was the world's noisiest bed and never before had anyone had sex on this because it was a top bunk in an all male dorm. Besides, if they had done, I say congratulations, it can't have been easy to. I will admit that half of my own noise making came about as retaliation for the fact that Mr Washington Lee (that's his name) was snoring his brains out. Whenever he snored too loudly while I attempted to get some form of sleep, I would turn in the bed and bounce my whole body off of the mattress. It wasn't that I wanted to break the beams and crush the poor man but I just wanted to get him to shut up. It didn't really work so I grabbed a fistful of top-bunk-bed-post and shook that. Of course the next morning I was apologetic to the man when we ended up discussing this and didn't mention his snoring. As a middle aged Chinese man I reckoned he was a bit of a cute hoor so I decided to keep my own weapon in hiding until the time was right and to be fair I haven't had to use it for last nights sleep was a lot better and we established diplomatic terms by introducing oursleves to one another. No longer was he to be a mortal enemy, he was to have another judgement day. Or night in this case.

I went in, secured my MP3 to the bed post so as not to leave it fall from the top bunk like it had done the night before and listened to a few choons before settling into a deep sleep. I heard a small bit of snoring if I am to be totally honest but I slept fine and didn't feel the need, at least not consciously, to hammer the bed. Waking up this morning, I had a plan to walk to Sears to get some jeans there for taking back home (lets hope the Customs lads ain't reading this for I will be arriving in Shannon Airport...yes...Shannon, fuck em it's only three pairs anyway). After breakfast and a quick shower, which in my case is anything under 30 minutes, I headed out. Sears here in Houston, or at least the one on Fanin Street, is basically a big cement block. Using my rather less advanced notions of engineering, less advanced when compared to some actually qualified, this buidling was rather simply made. A mould was made, concrete was poured and then the builders hired some children who lived under Interstate overpassses to carve out lareg openings they now call "floors". There doesn't seem to be any windows and the doors even look pretty darkly and unwelcoming. Maybe Sears got the building for cheap when the government decided not to use it as a nuclear blast shelter.
Of course if it was to be used as a blast shelter then I'm not sure how effective it would be for even walking to this place caused me to sweat profusely. In fact, when I stepped out of the hostel at about 11am, sweat immediately beagn to retreat from my skin. It felt the heat and began to seep away. Remember that this was before I even began to walk, it was and is, that hot. If you were to compare to an everyday item, then it would be akin to walking into a small bathroom with no windows or vents after the shower had been left on for a few hours. As Donal said, it is like a steam room, but without the ceremics or the ability to actually leave at will to somewhere cooler.

Walking down the streets I continued to sweat but knew that Sears would be air conditioned, even dogs kennels are air conditioned here. Tthere wasn't anything dramatic, just a big store in need of some renovation with plenty of Lee and Levi jeans for $30 and under - a bargain compared to home in my mind at least and so I took some pairs. I paid for them too if you are wondering. The real drama was on the way home. I crossed the street to Fiesta supermarket and got some uisce, turned on my mp3 player and began a slow amble back to the hostel determined not to sweat too much but it was just past midday, God and the Devil were working together for the first time ever to create the hottest place in the history of ever by moving the sun to within 10 miles of the city and trapping the heat with lots of white clouds. It wouldn't have suprised me if there was an electric blanket draped all over the ground of this massive, sprawling and roasting oven of a city. Determined as I was about the sweat issue, having showered once already I was in no mood to waste time and have another one, I wiped my brow coming through a residenital neighbourhood near the hostel.

I could feel sweat being trapped in the hairs on my forearm as I wiped it across my forehead. My determined fight was doing with tissues for this job, simply because I forgot them. But then as I withdrew my arm I could feel something was up with my left eye. I threw my hand at it, knowing that perhaps I would catch it. The lens let go of its grip to my eye lash as it slid onto the palm of my hand feeling slightly withered and dry. This wasn't good. I needed to be able to see in order to make it back to the hostel. With one eye I was more vulnerable to everything, nuclear blast, robbery, getting lost but not more vulnerable to being picked up in a Mustang convertable by the local university's cheer leading team. There's always a flip side, always. I attempted to put the lens back in but couldn't do it, it was withered and drying so quickly from the absolute heat that even if I had had access to a mirror, it would have been a challenge for my eye to actually accept it. And so, looking around in vain, I dropped it to the floor where it would in time rot away allowing me to proceed back to the hostel with one eye working. Well I lie, two eyes working, one of which can actually see things properly. It's a strange sensation having one good eye and another eye feeding very blurry images to my brain. Not to worry though it was only to be for a short period of time before Ii arrived back at the hostel and replaced them because they had been in a few days over their real limit anyway so it was no big deal to me.

This was where the good part came to an end. I left the scene of the lens falling out with a sense of hope but upon arriving at the door of my dorm that hope was crushed. To be replaced, and those of you that know me already know what I will say, by unlimited amounts of absolute anger, the pure kind they don't sell at Tesco, so pure in fact that refineries throughout the globe beg for it as an example. Well I was no mood now to sell anything but the permission for this hostel to be either set on fire, vandalised (but only to an extent that it would render the place as "destroyed" and not just "damaged") or have a bomb dropped on it. I had begun to warm to the place earlier and all, having arrived with a fairly poor first impression of the place but now this has all changed. The doors are locked as a routine, it's routine in many hostels it seems but not for all of the useful daylight hours (between about 10am and 5pm) like in this mad house. I tried the door again knowing I couldn't open it without damaging it and it's frame so I trudged back to the common room, one eye open sulking on the couch wondering where Donal was and where the owner of this hostel exactly was right now, for many various and violent reasons. I texted Donal and found out he was at a gas station but would be returning to the hostel soon so at least I'd have someone who knew the situation about the place which put my mind at ease somewhat (and even more so when he brought Oreos with him). Before he arrived though I went and tried the office door, that too was locked but I deemed it pretty breakable and had to continually remind myself that I was at an age now where my temper could get me in a lot of trouble and Texas execute more people than any other US state, although Donal has pointed out that only 8 actually practice this grusesome exercise. Still I didn't want to be fighting this after breaking a door, esepcially if I couldn't find the keys once in there. There were some emergeny numbers on the window though and I figured this was reasonable so I rang the first one.

"Hello Joy (yes that is her real name, I knew by seeing this that I really shouldn't expect too much from calling her), my name is Nevin Power and I am staying at your hostel. I lost a contact lens and need to get into my room to replace it as I can only see out of one eye essentially...I wouldn't have rang but it is an emergency for me".

"Well try the back door to the office" she said in a voice that sounded quite hesitant. It's not often you would hear someone encourage you to actually break in to their office, or at least enter without someone in charge being around. I did of course try the door and explained that it was locked, all the while conscious of my phone credit which I would need to ring another number or two and that's not counting the local assassin.

"That door is locked Joy...", Ii explained allowing my voice to trail off in order for her to think up of a response but again she was sounding hesitant and while it is very rare that I get angry over the phone (it doesn't have the same feel as in real time you know, except for when it is a machine in which case it feels good but also peculiarly empty as it doesn't ever get angry itself). Anger is reciprocal, one person gets angry and takes it out on another who then gets angry allowing the chain reaction to continue much like nuclear fission but I wasn't about to lose it with Joy for not it was not worth the trouble. She had the power to kick me out of this place and probably would, it's not a conventional place at all and I doubt a conventional response would have been issued. Neither was one issued in this case for she went on to tell me that no one else had keys, the one guy who did she didn't have any contact details for and that there was no point in ringing anyone else for they were all out of town.
"So, I'm sorry, but I guess you'll have to go around as a one eyed man for the day". Normally I would give a slight laugh to leave the conversation on good terms but on this occasion I was mute, said goodbye and hung up. I was livid.
What if this was a defibrilator I needed or what if I left my phone in the room and urgently needed it to contact my parents over a sick relative or friend? What if the case had been worse than it was? I suppose she just would have said, "Well you'll just have to be the short-of-breath-man for the rest of the day so".

I went back to the couch, got up from the couch and tried the office door again before walking into the kitchen, possibly looking possessed to the other people in here and took a knife from the drawer. Maybe I could prise open the lock, the house has never ever been refitted so everything is pretty old and worn but this didn't work either.

And so I lay on the couch, closed my eyes, had some music on and drifted off into a state of semi-consciousness before Donal woke me having brought with him Oreos and suggested I write something on the blog. So here it is, as fresh as it can be. As fresh as anger from a riled up Nevin and by God is Nevin riled up right now.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day Eighteen - DC and North Carolina

As promised in the last posting of Day Eighteen, I will indeed give a full and vivid description of what the ordering of our dinner was like from the nearby Popeye's fast food outlet on Bennings Road. Having gone to the door of the Senegalese place to find it was closed, my secret wish was granted, I would be able to eat some greasy chicken. It wasn't that I didn't want Senegalese, for I did, but I wasn't all too disappointed because the back up plan was intriguing. The reason for this sense of intrigue was simple. In the middle of a fairly old resedential area which had, in a sense, seen better days, stood a colourful fast food joint. While it was yellow and red, other buildings around it were grey and frankly dodgy looking. This is not to say that Popeyes was to win an award for the world's most outstanding paint job for you could tell that only a few hours after it opened the locals were hard at workl, modifying, the paint scheme if you will. Still, it all added character.

We walked in slowly, hungrily, past the two or three cars laying in the driveway area away from the drive-thru section. There's drive-thru's for everything here, even for laundry and for banking. I still remember going through my first McD's drive-thru in Douglas, Cork. It was a novelty to say the least, here you were driving to a window to get dinner in a paper bag and putting money through a window. As unglamourous as that sounds, it seemed as if the world was all of a sudden a better place for it. I realise better now although I do harbour the urge to go through a drive-thru in a shopping trolley some day.
As we pushed on the door to get in, I noticed that we would have the option, if we so wished, of sittign in with our food. Options are funny things though, we all have the option of throwing a brick at a cop but knowing the consequences we tend not to. Well the option of sitting down in here was much in line with that area of thought. The principle occupiers, big and broad black guys, were having a good time amongst themselves and who would we be to interfere? Iit wouldn't be right.
I had spotted on the menu that the chicken, which they specialised in drowning with hot oil, was served with biscuits. Nnever before, and I bet you haven't either, have I seen a mother load her shopping trolley with chicken from the freezer and rich tea biscuits. Therefore when the menu kept issuing that combination to me as my eyes scrolled around it, I naturally was curious. Chicken and biscuits? Only over here. I asked the lad in front of me who had just put his order through the plexiglass what exactly these biscuits were. He pointed to the items piled up in the kitchen, items that looked like scones to me. I thanked him, knowing that he wasn't a threat but to be honest that thought did cross my mind a little. Iif things wanted to kick off in that place then they would and the staff knew it - they were behind half inch thick plexiglass. Never before, in a food outlet of any kind, have I ever experienced anything quite like this. It was a complete sensory overloading, boysterous failed gangsta rappers eating merrily (they made it show) in the corner, a drunk guy who recieved the odd crumb from them who nibbled like a squirrel and dropped beer on the floor near Donal and I as we ordered (and no this wasn't anywhere near midnight or a nightclub) and staff who seemed oblivious to it all behind the half inch of clear plastic. And why not be oblvious, they were behind enough protection to stop a Scud missile nevermind a baseball bat or similar dynamic hitting device that the failed rappers used as protection of choice.
Ooh, and the food came out through a rotating box, at no point could you touch a member of staff unless your arm was only a centimetre thick and quadruple jointed. As the food was being prepared actually I saw that my drink, a large one no less for I had walked all of Washington that day, was in a Coca Cola plastic glass which I of course duly left at the hostel despite promises to take it home.

I can't really blame the fast food for this but God loves a tryer. I was asleep and because Popeyes use too much fat in their cooking process I was still processing my meal in my sleep thus casuing me not to get up at 8am like I said I would. I just made that up on the spot and Ii'm impressed...if only it were true. Bascially I overslept as I was up too late the night before and was cruely woken by Donal. Never before had I been so quick to grasp a situation as Donal pushed me to wake up, seeing my eyes open and then warning me,"We've got one hour".
"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck". I can't say that I have ever responded to anyone like that in the morning either but there you go. Donal packed his tuff, I packed mine before rushing a shower and we both skipped breakfast in order to get out to the bus and to the train on time. We literally had one hour between waking up and that train going on it's way to Raleigh.
We caught the X2 bus without much of a wait but it looked shaky, time was ticking and as we boarded, I wondered would we have been better off making a run to the subway station which at that time may have been more reliable for us. Too late now, our quarters deposited, the bus was moving, slowly, but moving. Donal was calm, or seemingly so, but I was really fearing that we would miss this train and I was hungry into the bargain. I watched every bus stop, counting the people, were they old or young, did they have kids? Old people and kids took longer and old people especially for they like to engage in cobversation with the bus driver and I really wasn't in any mood to hear how Mrs Darling's knickers flew off her line yeseterday in a breeze or how the last bus driver had been rude to her. While this didn't happen, thankfully, there was always a group of people waiting at every stop and possibly some imaginary stops as well for that is what Murphys Law does to people. It fiddles with the mind.
Finally we were at the Capitol, our stop for Union Station, but our jounrey wasn't over yet. Mental torture, such as the bus trip was with the counting of minutes, the anxious glancing at a watch that kept ticking on and on, the people waiting at every stop to get on, was never going to be complete without some physical torture to. With a backpack and 20kg of luggage each, we had 7 minutes to get onto that train before it's wheels began to turn and we still had about one and half blocs to go. We crossed the road and looking at my watch, I began to run pulling my case behind me, Donal followed. My legs ached, my arm stretched too much to reach back to my case and drag that at speed, it all seemed too much but looking at my watch was the incentive that kept us going. There was no way we could miss this train.
Union Station is a grand building and worth looking at but all I remember from it is some letters indicating platforms and after finally seeing our letter, the final boarding call was issued and tickets were thrust into the hand of the waiting attendant at the door. A rush down a flight of steps to the platform and finally we were aboard, drenched in our own sweat but content to be on the train at last.

The train was something we were both really looking forward to and I had done a lot of reading as regards train journeys in America before even leaving the shores of the Emerald Isle. Apparently you got to talk to a lot of people on the train and that really the journey was not so much about the desitination but actually a lot about how you got there and who you talked with. It turned out to be true for having settled in, I got out at Richmond, Virginia where a smoke stop was scheduled. Not being a smoker I took my camera and went picture taking but got talking to the guy sitting across from me and so it remained until he got off to meet his family about two hours later. Before all of this however I had made my way to the lounge car to get a coffee and a bagel, two items that I thought of as a temporary breakfast, and while they won't break any taste records, they did the job. Besides, the scenery outside was much too nice to really allow me concentrate on the food although when I went back to my seat and got talking to Joe again we ended up on the subject of BBQ's. He was a 52 year old black guy, originally from DC and working as a cook something he had an obvious passion for it must be said. He roasts whole pigs on his outsized grills in his yard and by the way he was talking seemed to collect BBQ's for fun but had yet to acquire a small one, the only type that I myself have. We were both quite appreciative of our food, esepcially meat, and there were times when I felt like a learner driver in an L-plated Fiesta next to this guy with his collection of Cadillacs, BMWs and Alfa Romeos. You can imagine then that I was extremely chuffed when he mentioned to me, as he prepared to leave the train, that he was going to go and buy a small and cheap BBQ, like my one, right that day because he thought it'd be a good idea in case he ever wanted something just for himself and so avoid a big clean up job on his bigger ranges. I nodded in approval many times, possibly even when he had left the carraige altogether.
Try cooking your steaks directly on the hot charcoal having brushed off the dust from the coals first. Hhe could have told me to eat it raw and I would have beleived him he was that engaging but on this bit of advice, I think I'll be following myself. As engaging as he was though I was glad to put my neck back to a normal angle, until a clearly overweight lady one seat behind where Joe was, commented on my blue, white and red shoes. I turned my head to face her when she asked me did I play soccer, answering that yes I did. And here was where the fun began for she then enquired if I was going to NC State. Asuming that she was asking was I headed for the State of North Carolina, I dult responded that yes I was but obviously our wires had crossed. As nice as the lady was, we were never quite on the same page and when we did eventually land on at least the same book, I was taken slightly aback. She had been to France and Germany and wanted to go next to see Ireland and Britain. I must be honest now and say that this was unexpected, she looked more at home in a battered pick up truck sharing a seat with a banjo and a husband named Cletus. My sincere apologies to that lady go out to her now for I was working from stereotypical imagery, not something I am proud of but that's not to say that she didn't need to lose a few pounds if that was possible for her to do. I'm making no assumptions this time, maybeshe couldn't. Either way, her heart was in the right place.

It was in the middle of a phone call from home that I noticed the change between north and south and it's nothing if not pronounced, the houses changed and the towns too. There was more oepn space, more greenery and the houses had white pikcte fencing and ornate wood work on them. Yes indeed, this was the south and it wasn't long before I had to funnel my way through people getting on the train in order to get my luggage and get out, a difficult process it must be said but once it was done I felt my phone vibrate and Suzanne and Allison had made it to collect us. Nnow here was luxury, an air conditioned and sculpted Honda Civic coupe to bring us the 3 hours to Boone. I hadn't realised that this was the length of the journey because looking at some maps I reckoned that the drive was less than an hour but how wrong I was and I'll never forget how nice a gesture that was. They didn't point out any worries over fuel or distance, nothing at all and we even stopped off to get dinner in a masive mall before continuing on the Interstate to Boone, a welcome sight after the big cities that had so drained us so far.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Day Seventeen - DC

The final proper day in DC came along not any quicker nor any slower than I expected to. I wasn't glad that today was the last day here nor I was sad to know this either because I expected that by the end of the last full day I'd have done all that I would have wanted to do. It's not quite as random as other cities and so you can leave with your canvass full so to speak, ready to come back another day maybe but in no real hurry to do so. Or misty eyes. This was only going to happen though if I got up and actually did the things I wanted to do and as I promised myself I did indeed get up early having enjoyed only about 5 hours of sleep.

This was a trait of DC, free internet meant staying up late updating this blog. The things I do for you people. I had promised to try and wake Donal to see if he wanted to come to the Capitol Building too but I guessed that this was to be a futile exercise and so it proved. I put my hand on his shoulder after rising from my own bed across the room and rocked him a bit but he didn't seem to like that, showing his distaste by throwing an arm against me, so I left him be. The arrangements, if this were the case, weren't the clearest really, for Donal has no US mobile. We were to meet in the National History Museum later that real times or anything but we trusts that it'd work itself out and so I went off alone to get to Capitol South, the metro stop I reckoned was closest to what I needed.

Being alone wasn't all that novel but being alone for that period of time, pretty much a whole day was and I reveled in it. You can do what you please, take your time and see and just gather your own thoughts together for no matter how close a traveling companion you may have, time alone is necessary. It is in all walks of life. I do hate being alone in queues however and that is how I stood in the long line that filed out of the Visitor Centre of the Captiol Building. Still I couldn't complain too much as I waited in the line looking at Dad's wearing denim shorts and long socks, the type of socks you normally wear when playing football. The baseball cap and dodgy 80s style shirt completing the look. Actually that shirt as even poor in the 80s. Pity the kids.
The line moved on and through a security check which wasn't all that bad even at this unholy hour and I should mention this now, I hadn't had breakfast yet, I skipped it to ensure I got here in good time...i.e., before 9am.
And I was lucky I skipped breakfast because the overweight, bearded and jovial man looking after the line inside the centre gave me the last ticket for the next tour. He wasn't Santa although he was wearing red.

The tour consisted of an ultra-patriotic movie, then a tour of the actual building which suprisingly didnt last all that long but was impressive nonetheless. By about 10:30am it was all over and I went in serach of some breakfast or at least a coffee. I thought that eating in the Capitol Buildings restuarant would be a nice idea but the prices were expensive even for a coffee which was actually out of one of those big thermos flasks. And it was Dunkin yes, America really does run on Dunkin, as the slogan says.
Instead of any form of edible sustenence I headed for some literary sustenence in the Library of Congress. Taking the tunnel from the Capitol Building meant I didn;t have to go through more security on the way but I was disappointed to fid you couldn't actualy access the books casually. You had to arrnage for that in advance but then this is the biggest library in the world, or at least in the top 5, so I thought it fair enough and besides I was hungry.

Walking out of the Library of Congress I proceeded to walk into the city centre to the Verizon Centre where I came upon a Dunkin Donuts. Having been able to check my exam results that day in detail and having dne very well I tucked, without shame, into a coffee and a few donuts. Now if these weren't good enough, the action inside was. A guy in a wheelchair, apparently a veteran, came inside and rolled over a womans foot by accident. He was outside being helped by some charity workers who he didn't seem to get on with and decided to take refuge in the Dunkin Donuts when this happened. The thing was though, the shouting match wasn't between the man who seemed to be not fully wheelcahir bound but perhas semi-whellchair bound, but was actually between this black woman in her forties and some other woman in there. In fact they seemed to know one another. The staff carried on with their work, perhaos used to this sort of altercation but by thsi time the wheelchair vet had scouted off outside to avoid any of the tongue lashings that were flying back and forth. Some Muslim women in there watched the show too, smiling at the comicness of it all. I was too, you couldn't help it. Even when a public apology was issued by the, er, lady who started it all. You know the way you have stererotypes who seem to match the moment? Well she was not that match.

Leaving from here the donuts were taking their toll and needed walking off so I proceeded to walk around the downtown area in the sun where I was stopped by a young woman who had just done a model photshoot it seemed. She showed me all of the photos, very arty mind you, and then went on her merry way. I think she was trying to make the boyfriend jealous. My camera was the thing that set this off by the way.

By now the coffee needed an escape route so I walked around and stumbled upon the library of the Washington Historical Society for which I had to sign in but it was nice and the exhibit of painting on Lincoln caught my attention. I also got some directions that put me on the right track to the Old Post Office Tower which the guidebooks say is a nice alterntaive to the busy Washington Monument if you are looking for a nice view. No trip is complete without a wild goose chase and this was mine for the directions I recieved, all in all from about 4 different people, all turned out to be wrong. How does this happen?! Well it happens when you don't have a map I suppose but I eventually found the building, the old post office building which was now a pavilion for shops and cafe's in a nice indoor setting. I went through the security and a National Park Service Ranger guided me to the lift which took us to the 12 floor..well it did between two lifts anyway. The view, even thought I had been up almost ten times as high in New York, was really nice. Not overawing or anything but serene and calming in a way that is hard to put into words. You're kjust happy to enjoy the view with no crowd to block you for it never got busy while I was there. You could gaze out and see the Capitol Building, the Washngton Monument itself and a load of the city.
On the way down in the lift I enjoyed a chat with a guy who goes up their regularly when he is on lucnh from work. It tunred out he had moved over with his job from California which would be the equivalent of a laid-off Limerick worker moving to Poland to work in the Dell plant there. It's amazing the length that American people go for their work, it seems to be a whole other ball game here.

Finally I went on to the National History Museum which was quite impressive but which I won't go into detail due to time constraints right now but Ill say this..I dind't meet Donal here!

I went on to Arlington National Cemetary taking the subway and saw the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldiers before walking abck the considerable diatance to the Jefferson Memorial, a very expensive text asking Donal to meet me there, which he did. It was a beautifil setting on the banks of the Potomac away frm the busier Mall exhibits.

We had promised we would eat dinner in a Senegalese place next to the hostel and though we were both very hungry we went and saw that it was closed. Next stop, Popeyes fast food, concentrating it seemed on chicken and biscuits, a combination I had never thought of before but those biscuits were actually scones. Now this place was something else altoghether but I'll leave that explanation for when I have more time for it deserves it so watch for updates on this post!

Day Sixteen - DC

If there was one place in DC that I had to go, other than the toilet as a natural reaction to things as we all have to (you can laugh now), it was the National Ar and Space Museum. Being fascinated by planes and rockets and such, this place was a mecca for me and the first stop on our long sixteenth day in DC. Again we didn't start out particularly early but we did make it out of the hostel earlier than on other days which was an achievement in itself we reckoned as we talked on the way to the subway station by the DC United Stadium named after Robert F Kennedy.

A short trip to the Smithsonian stop on the metro line left us almost directly in front of the Air and Space Museum. A quick security check and sign announcing that they were open until 7:30pm rather than the usual time of two hours earlier reassured me a I reckoned we could be caught for time in this museum, the world's most popular. And it ain't the world's most popular due to the security guards I can tell you that. I've become used to security checks at doors over here, not that I agree with a lot of them or see the point in some of them but they there and this isn't my country so I can't dictate that they should or should not be. Anyway being so used to them I slipped off my belt, got ready to put my camera through the machine and such only for the security guard to verbally slap me with, "sir, you're not listening, no belts or cameras, walk through". So I could just walk through with this stuff then? Seemingly so. Well I did anyway and you know what, he was right, I wasn't listening and it is only now hitting me that many Americans aren't either. The reason is that so many are sick of hearing about terror threats, alert levels and stop here, undo your belt, stick out your tongue to show if you're lying, type of things that are going on. An automatic reaction has entered the consciousness and I'm not even American. So there, it was automatic, I wasn't listening.

As for the museum itself, well it really is something else. Planes hang from the ceiling, the Mercury capsule stands encased in perspex alongside a Gemini capsule. To think that this capsule opened it's door in space to allow a man to float around outside was a thought worth remembering as I gazed at the switches, the tiny area to sit in, the control column and screens. A mobile phone has more computing power than this I thought...some watches too. Plenty of satellites and probes were on display including the Voyager probe, a test model of the one that is now in deep deep space way past our solar system. The lunar module was on show and this itself made me excited for this thing was up there on the moon, or at least was a full model or ground test version of it. In fact most were ground test vehicles so you were looking at the real thing, at the one that would go up if the other couldn't. It doesn't get a lot more real than that and yes, it was big.
You can walk through a Skylab test vehicle to see the first US space station, look into a 747 cockpit (they chopped off the front of a 747). I could go on and on but really you get the picture. Oh and there were missiles there too, ICBM's like the SS20 from Russia and the US Minuteman. There was the Sidewinder and the Exocet missile. Basically there was an awful lot of stuff, all of which was fantastic.

The idea for the day was to go and see the Air and Space Museum before then going to the National History Museum which Andrew, our well dressed friend from Leicester, had recommended. Time had run against us though, the Air and Space Museum separating Donal and I to the point that finding each other was only facilitated through sheer luck. We had walked for so long through this massive museum that we were tired and in need of something to eat fast.

It wasn't going to be fast though as we walked up through Georgetown, home of old Victorian style houses, the George Washington University, the Watergate Hotel and a lot of embassy and diplomatic houses. Eating in this part of town was said to be good and easy to find, something that had evaded us so far in DC and looked once more to be doing the same. We walked through leafy streets, quiet in this evening time towards a building I should have recognised. The sign gave it away, it was the Watergate (and if you plan on staying, it's closed till 2009 for renovations). We walked around it finding a lot of shops and such, not belonging to the hotel it seemed, which suggested to me that the place was now apartments and some are. As novel as it was to stumble on this place, food was not being served so we carried on, I pointing to the river side and in the opposite direction to where we were walking, as a possible hunting ground. Admittedly we did have to walk quite a bit but we got there. The sun was going down as we turned around from the direction which would have brought us straight back into central DC, frustration beginning to tell as cyclsists and joggers passed us. They weren't hungry you see.

We finally made it to the riverbank and found a nice restaurant there that is owned by the farmers union of...I think it was Nebraska. A union owned restaurant with good prices and some nice looking plates in front of happy looking customers sounded good to me. It sounded especially good after looking at the prices in the other places clustered in this circle under what were probably luxury apartments. High prices should have been expected though - there were boats docked at the side of the river and they weren't rubber dinghies or inner tubes either.

Our waitress it had turned out, had spent a night in Dublin airport on her way to Paris and had heard that Cork was a lovely place. In fact, anyone who did care to comment on our home city, always seemed to have heard only good about it which does make one proud. I suppose, when you are away from home, thousands of miles away from home, you tend to look more favourably at your homeland and iron out the mistakes that are so much more obvious when you are actually at home. Someone once said you become more Irish when you leave Ireland and I have to agree.

Oh and the food was wonderful, the burger was delicious as the waitress recommended it for my dangerously empty stomach and the dessert was tempting. So much so that she managed to sneak a bit out for me to taste but I really had no room left.

After taking pictures outside the entrance to the Watergate Hotel we went on home. The next day I was determined to be up at the crack of dawn in order to get a tour of the Captiol Building. I'm not that good at getting up early but this had to be done...when would I be back to do this again?

Day Fifteen - DC

When you think of a tank, you think of an army and when you think a strong army, you think of the US Army. With bases all over the world and a history that involved them in some sort of conflict every two or three years, this is the automatic choice. The spread of US culture and with it the image of the army as liberator also helps in this regard. So why am I saying all of this? Well where is the centre of this mammoth military machine?

The Pentagon.

Getting up late once more we set off on the metro to the Pentagon, that famous building, breached just once, on 9/11 and an example of architecture to come when it was built in the 1940s. It was condemned then as wasteful expenditure and not a real government building for it was located away from the other main ones, across the Potomac River. These concerns subdued however, the whole idea of a Russian mushroom cloud eradicating all government buildings in DC whether they be across a river or not, taking over in the minds of the media columnists who decided it was in the wrong place first day. We arrived at the stop, myself already thinking it pretty nifty that it was possible to get off at a stop called "Pentagon", but then DC surprises you in this subtle way. Now, all of the metro stations in DC have escalators to bring you to ground level for it was built in 1976 and so is pretty modern and up to date, but this wasn't an escalator that we faced as we scanned our cards to get out of the station (another peculiarity that wasn't present in the Boston or NYC systems). This was a mega-escalator that seemed to rise not to ground level but sky level for upon looking up that was all one could see. I was confident that I would have to call Dulles International Airports air traffic control centre to get permission to go this high and this steep. I discovered the steepness when looking over my shoulder. I should mention that in many stations there were ads with pictures showing what happened to the shoes of unattentive people coming off escalators. Torn, ripped and frayed. Well if you fell backwards before even approaching the getting off part on this giant then you're whole body would be ripped and frayed. And torn. To see people running down the opposite one as they talked on phones was like watching someone walk a tighrope. Amazing and dangerous and the evil side of you wants them to fall, or get a fright anyway. I decided that would be unfair though so I stopped thinking that as I gasped in amazement, the exit section coming up, the steel steps going under those teeth-like things at the top of every escalotor. The advert compares it to an alligator when disturbed (not that I've ever disturbed one) but I reckon it's a fair comparison.

You wouldn't actually realise you were at the Pentagon unless you were told for when we exited we had to confirm that this indeed was the building between ourselves. The view we all know is from the top so you can see the shape easily but not so on ground level. We read a little of its history outside in the view of cheerful guards with machine guns, always a comforting sight, before setting off to see the Pentagon Memorial dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the US military HQ. It was very well down, each soul commeortated in a very systemic way which photos do more justice to really. Or is this me crying to move on to the next blog post for I have so many to do? It is I will admit but basically the memorials are steel benches over a pool of reflecting water with the names engraved on to them and the area organised over a large space at the sight the plane hit with ages increasing along a wall system that borders the memorial. It was modern and effective for the benches really mshow that many lives were lost, some not even teens yet.

The humidity on this day was overwhelming and in the memorial area there was no shade. It was that heat that bakes you, it just slowly turns you on a giant spit better known as Earth until the Sun is ready to go to bed and you are soaked from sweat. Water fountains are readily found in DC though and we used them quite a lot, needing to of course.

Time had flown by as we had spent the hottest part of the day indoors, which made me wonder upon glancing at my watch, what it must have been like to be out in the sun in the midday heat. Actually this reminds me, when we were walking to the subway I saw a local black guy wearing a vest walking up in the opposite direction to Donal and I. He was sweating profusely. I knew at this point then that we were in for it. If the locals were sweating then we would be too, only worse. Much worse. The only cure was to literally shower in antipersperant but even with this your body would make sweat and you'd explode from not letting it out. There really was no way out.

There was a way out from the Pentagon though as we walked back to the subway looking across the massive Pentagon car park to buildings marked as Boeing, Lockheed Martin etc... I thought od Eisenhower and his warning of the impending dominance of the military-industrial complex in US politics. I thought also of the US need to have car parks surround everything. The saving grace in this case was that a good few Pentagon emplyees rode motorbikes.
My suggestion was to eat in the Dupont Circle area of town that night as that was supposed to have a concetration of nice restaurants in a laid back area. We didn't quite find a concentration but we did hit upon a nice Greek place that originated in Vienna. Peculiar I thought but I was hungry and didn't fancy another bowl of Muesli as a dinner substitute and so, in we went. The food was nice but portion sizes were small compared to what we were used to which, looking back, was a good thing as we can't eat whole farms every day now can we?

Still I figured dessert was in order to so I hopped into the South's answer to Dunkin Donuts, Krispie Kreme and grabbed a donut and a coffee. It should be Crispie Cream and it should be Doughnut but when in Rome...or in DC, what ever the case may be...

The rest of the ngith we spent talking in the park at Dupont Circle, so named after a Civil War hero I believe. The park was a circle funnily enough with benches all of the way around affording views of its centre but not ot the nice mix of architecture behind it. This was a good place to people-watch however with the background Victorian buildings provding a nice vista through the park trees. We talked and we talked until time hit us and we decided it was time to call it a day but not before I managed to ridicule someone under my breath.

In America, many traffic lights have a timer so you know how long you have to cross the road and sitting by a crossing we could see this. 50 seconds to cross a 12 foot wide stretch of road. A group came walking over and of course there was one imbecile who took 50 seconds to cross, just to show the rest that he could. Now if I were a psycologist I would say that what in effect was happening was him showing how slow he could be to the rest of the group but then I'm not a psycologist. I don't need to be one to see that indeed he was. If I was the car driver I probably would have knocked him down to teach him a lesson.

And so for today there I leave you, don't act the fool.

Day Fourteen - DC

The fourteenth day of the trip started fairly late it must be said. Traveling from NYC on a bus with an intense stop in Phily had worn us out a little. Phily doesn't get a fair mention in this blog due to time constraints but the talk with author Thomas Hine was so interesting and engaging that it was actually hard work to conduct. There I was sitting face to face with a seasoned journalist and writer, who was I? I just tried to me, asked questions, contributed to the conversation and did my best not to seem like an idiot and in this I think I did well. To put this in physical terms it was like trying to keep up with a seasoned marathon runner. It could be done but there was only one person who was going to feel the pain the next day. And DC was that next day.

I had sat down to have some breakfast, Muesli, or a kind of this anyway, when an English lad called Andrew came along and began to talk to me. He was dressed up in a formal shirt and jeans, very English I thought as I looked at him. He was a nice guy though, working in the Labour Party back home so I knew that I was talkign to someone here with a bit of intelligence. The problem was that I wasn't quite fully awake as he talked while putting some peanut butter on the toast that had just popped frmo the toaster. I thought, looking at the peanut butter, that it had come from Safeway where I walked earlier to get the Muesli. When I was there I was quite suprised by the amount of people who were shopping on this Sunday morning after the July 4 fireworks. It was packed full unlike the corner store I went to earlier before reaching Safeway. The corner store was fairly barricaded, a feature of the community businesses it seemed, and hadn't any real selection of cereal. I really watnede Muesli and had stopped myself buying some in Boston so there was no way I was having breakfast without bits of what looked to be rabbit poo but were actually raisans, in my cereal. Safeway it was then but getting in there was hard, I couldn't find the door. Walking around the massive shopping centre walls I came upon it and also came upon those crowds I talked about earlier.

After a little while I began to tune in to Andrew to the point where we both hit on the same thought. He was traveling alone, clearly not with a girl of any kind because surely no girl would allow him out in that long sleeved shirt. We talked and came upon the idea that perhaps he should come out with Donal and I to see the sights. An extra body would do no harm and he was affable and talkative so it made sense and withing the day we walked the National Mall seeing the outside of the Captiol Building and a lot of memorials that night.

The thing about DC is normally, well apparently anyway, the humidity that exists there in summer. On this Sunday we were lucky for the heat wasn't unbearable as we walked but it was getting late in the day so....actually that's not a bad reason for staying in bed, it was a strategic decision, not a tiredness issue after all. Any jury would agree I'm sure, even in the US Supreme Court, a building's steps of whom I climbed after losing the two lads at the Capitol Building. That's what happens when you bring a camera though, you want to get better shots, see different angles and make the most of your time and I tried to,k even if that meant a million dollar text to Donal's Irish phone number to meet back up with them after I losing them completely. It turned out I had been gone for an hour but in DC it is easy to lose yourself in thought as you wonder about the buildings, what they really stand for, what freedom really is and whether this place is one of contradictions, the centre of an empire with unfmailiar clothes or simply a place which history decicded would be built in a European style, to rival those Europeans.

After catching back up with the lads, we went to eat in Quizznos Sub. Well ,they did. I choose not to do so, as I wasn't in the mood and didn't fancy going there in the first place but I wasn't about to winge for I wasn't starving. A thing about travel is that the apple cart can be very easy to upset and ruin things between two people although it's different with groups I suppose. With two, the balance is easy to unfurl and with no real reason to complain, I didn't. Besides, even if I was hungry, what was coming up next would more than distract me from it.

Having walked a lot of the National Mall, the long corridor containing the Captiol Building, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial etc, it would have been a shame to have missed out on the chance to finish it off, at night, and so we walked along it, curious as to where the crowds of people were for it was a Sunday night and as we walked we felt as if the whole city belonged to us and us only. Had the police erected barriers to prevent people from seeing us walking around? I have discussed rules and regulations here before so anything is possible. Our first port of call was the Washington Monument, a staggering tower dedicated to the man who is revered over here as the first Presdident, great leader and all around good guy. The name should give it away. Looking up at this tower, having seen it so many times before on other media was something quite special and while I have no allegiance it to it, it made an impression. The whole Mall is meant to really for it is the heart of America's freedom rheteoric and what a heart! Needless to say there were plenty of American flags fluttering in the wind around the monument and at this point I took off to see if I could see the White House, which I did but only from afar as the Police presence was obviously quite large and I didn't know my way around the rear section where you get closer to the most powerful home in the world. At this stage it was dark, the moon had risen and was clear in a night sky of dark navy blue and I wound my way through sidewalks, seeing the Organisation of American States building, a place where many important decisions had been made but which seemed to have little significance for most walking by. So much so in fact that I easily laid the camera on the ground to allow it take a steady 4 second shot of the building.

The task in hand now, as the clock ticked by, was to find the two lads who I said I would meet by the Lincoln Memorial, a sight to behold at night. I walked through parkway seeing it in the distance and knowing that if only I hopped the little chain along he side of the path I could cut through and get there a lot quicker. This would certainly have been done at home but not here in DC. This place is hallowed ground, it is like one massive church of liberty where American cicitzens come to worship and pay their respects. I was certain that walking through the grass would not only bring me some funny looks but also a police man wondering if I had escaped from a mental insitution. That was fair enough really, I couldn't simply make up my own rules here, I wouldn't appreciate it if Americans back home decided to walk across...well, Turners Cross.

I finally reached the Lincoln Memorial as it passed ten o clock. The view from there down the reflecting pool that, well, reflects the Washington Monument, was something to behold but glory is not always as true and noble as it can be. Walking down to the nearby Vietnam War Memorial I was thrown into an area of darkness, slant light, poorly formed reflections and thouands of names, 58,261 in total. I walked along the wall, walking down into the ground to it's centre and then back up as I exited what I can only describe as a wound in the ground. A nescessary wound to remember those people who fought in a war that personally I think was pointless and based on lies and false theories. Upon walking up I saw a man, not dressed like anyone else at the wall, asking people if they needed help looking up a person. Some didn't acknowledge him, it was as if they didn;t want this man, who was a veteran of this war, to remind them that this war was real. Here was living proof and to the right of him was symbolic proof etched in a wall. I contemplated turning back so as not to engage with him, I couldn't see him properly and didn't know what to say and for that doubt I still feel a little bad. Who was I to judge him? My feet took me by him where I answered him that I didn't need help with the wall but that I appreciated his asking. How could I not acknowledge this guy? He was here of his own accord, perhaps gaining some solace from being around people that, etched in the wall, he may once have served alongside. This man had probably seen things that I never want to see, experiences that none of us can ever be prepared for and people, few as they were, ignored him. I was glad then when one group did indeed ask him some questions. Being honest, I wanted to ask him what it was like out there but what was he suppossed to answer with? He was a man, not a talking exhibit and I thought it was best then to listen to what he was being asked by others as igonarant as that in itself sounds. One thing stood out for me - 35 sets of brothers were killed in that war. Having a brother myself this was something that took me aback. How can one possibly explain that to a mother and father?

I finally climed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a temple like structure modelled on Zeus temple in Greece. You can't help but be amazed, it is outstandingly well made, lit and although it has no press button machines to "learn more about Lincoln" it didn't need them. It seems to me that in America everything has to be bigger, better, or extended to again and again. The Lincoln Memorial stood simply without need for any of this and was better off for it.

And I must say, I was better off for having Muesli supper when we got home to the hostel.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Day Thirteen - Phily and DC

It's not easy to travel when stuck rigidly to a plan. Can it really be called a holiday then? Not that this is really a holiday anyway because there are things to constantly worry about, are the dates ok, when do we need to be at the train station for, do we have enough money until we get to an ATM. Is my bike at home still ok? This then, is better described as an adventure and so it was as our bus pulled into Philadelphia where I was going to meet up with Thomas Hine, the author of a book called Populuxe which pioneered the study of the designs of the 1950s in realtion to US identity and the Cold War of the time. I fund it fascinating and will probably do my MA thesis on this quirky subject and so talking to him was a no-brainer. We met up and went to a cafe, commenting on the weather which was suprisingly not humid and the layout of the city which reminded me of Boston. I'd go back, it was compact, had narrow streets, a mix of high rise and low rise and dated from a good bit back. On top of this with the industrial decay perhaps still taking its toll there, the city had been through what Marseille and to an extent what Cork also went through in the 1980s with heavy industry leaving in droves, the city had extra character. It had seen bad times and was enjoying the improving times all the more for it. I'm not going to be so arrogant as to pontificate on this for we were only there for about 3 hours before we had to end our interesting chat and make our way to Chinatown to catch a bus to DC.

Catching a bus here was interesting. Donal went first confronting an angry Chinese woman who clearly never had taken a class in customer-service before. She gave Donal the wrong ticket but this was expected as he had asked for a ticket to Phily when he was already there. It sorted itself out in the end but not before she raised her voice, spoke English faster than any Oriental person had ever done and tore tickets like a shredder. I learnt the lesson and got through it hassle free...not that you'd want to hassle her. The bus was supposed to leave at 4:30pm but didn't leave until after 5pm which was the prime reason we missed out on the fireworks later that evening. I was sitting on the bus, no air con on and was complaining, mainly to myself, about the bus driver who looked like the only thing he was interested in was smoking outside. The only drama was two black guys who had obviously had an argument and were on the street, not the bus thankfully, getting ready to square up to one another. The weaker looking guy ran away with a bag on his back though which ended that, allowing me to resume complaining. We finally left at about 5:15pm, too late to get to DC in time, not that we knew right then.

DC hit pretty hard when we got there. As the bus approcahed the city, we could see the Capitol Building in the distance and the Washington Memorial but the part of town we were going through looked pretty run down confirming what I had heard from a friend before that when you leave the centre of DC, it begins to look pretty mank. Mank sometimes means character though and after a few days we got the hang of it but as the X2 Metrobus dropped us to the hostel I had other thoughts...mank really was mank, or so it seemed. The hostel seemed pretty far out, in an area that didn;t look appealling and I suppose I judged the book by its cover a little quickly. The owner of the hostel wasn't there to check us in and the fireworks were going to start soon. When he did arrive, he complained we hadn't given hima check-in time. That was optional accoding to the website. He sorted us out thoguh and turned out to be a nice guy but he took his time showing us around the hostel which again added to the fact we couldn't see the fireworks and by the time we threw our stuff down and got onto the subway, hope was fading. I clung on to the hope that the fireworks would last a while for as we entered the subway station we heard big, and I mean big fireworks going off, as through the neighbourhood familes and kids set off their own little ones. People got on the subway on the way to a stop we would get off at and with this I thought we were ok, the locals were timing it as we were. It turned out they were going home The show was over when we came up to ground, a scuffed National Mall with people gathering their stuff to go home was all we saw.

Yes you read that correctly, they were going home. The timw was 10:15pm and they were going home even though the next day was a Sunday, they could afford to stay out and party. This was strange behaviour to say the least for back home...well you know how St Patricks Day is, it lasts about a week, employers wonder where workers have gone and the whole country is turned upside down in a pool of drink. DC was a massive contrast as people took their fold up chairs, lined for the subway, and went home. In Boston it was different, last year at least, but then this wasn't ever renowned as a party city and even finding food, never mind drink, if you wanted it, was difficult.
We walked, using our senses as we had no map and didn't feel in the mood to talk to a local as we were gutted at not seeing what we really had wanted to see. Eventully we came upon a part of town that seemed to have some places to eat but guess what, despite the bit of life that was still going in this section of town, food places were closing up. Imagine Abrakebabra closing at 10:30pm on a Saturday night? I honstely couldn't believe it and thought for a second about maybe opening a fast food place in this town myself and raking in the dosh. It was there for the taking really. Ultimatedly we ended up going to McDonalds, as much as we didn't want to, and ate our food on the steps of the Smithsonian Arts Museum near the Tresaury Department Building. It was unique at least.

As we sat there the police came by and informed the crowd sitting on the steps that if anyone was under 17 they'd to be home by midnight, fifteen minutes away. I couldn't believe it, they were so strict on this! There was even an ID check threat made which resulted in a few people leaving just to be sure. One girl had to make a show of throwing out her can of alcohol in front of the crowd as the police saw her drinking. It wasn't due to her being underage it seemed, it was just because she was drinking outside. "Don't spill it out on the steps, come down to the sidewalk, it'll stain the steps". So there we are, rules and regulations again.

We left to get the subway home to the hostel and I had a distinct impression that DC wasn't going to be a nice place to spend time. Book covers though can really mask what lies inside.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Day Twelve - New York

Day Twelve was to be our last day in New York before we made the trek to the bus and on to Washington DC, with a brief layover in Philadelphia to see an author I have wanted to meet. It was strange thinking this at the time because we had gotten so used to New York, to the accents, to the moods and to the area as a whole. Don't get me wrong here I am not saying that we 'knew' NYC, no one, in my opinion, can ever really know this place because it changes quicker than you can get to know it. Maybe you can get to know it as an overall concept but in physical bricks and mortar it's fluid and as such then difficult to know, if at all.

This musing wasn't going to keep us from feeling a little disappointed that we were leaving however. We'd have to make the best of the place while we still could and our starting point, admittedly a little bit of late one, was the USS Intrepid. This is a WW2 spec carrier with all different types of planes on it and Concorde next to it on the quayside. It would be impossible for this not to be good but we had left the hostel late, a feature that was to continue into our time in DC, and were hoping that it wouldn't shut before we came along.

The reaon we had left late was because we hadf laundry to do and an average sized amount of it and looking back it probably took an hour to do as we semi-struggled with the industrial strenght machines. We went in, asked for instructions, bought mwashing powder in a plastic bag that said "Made in Mexico - Effective and Economic", prayed it wasn't H5N1 infected and proceeded to pour it into the machine too late. There was no drawer like in machines at home but a rubbber cover with a special pipe, opened to allow to to out in the powder as water sped through it but the water had gone through before I realised and I think the manager wanted to scold me when I explained the problem. Instead he got a container of water and rinsed it down manually. Well I did, he filled it. We then dried the clothes, 5c a minute, folded them neatly so as not to iron them as there wasn;t one around and we finally got back to the hostel. Although it may have seemed like time wasted it wasn't because where is more local than a laudrette in Harlem? The accents and things we heard were just brilliant and way too lengthy for this.

Finally we left for the USS Intriped and as we sped walked our way down the Lower West Side from the Times Square subway stop, the signs were promising as we could still see people on the deck of the ship looking around casually. These were later on to turn into the world's most evil people by the way..keep reading. Seeing the hopeful signs I had begun to get excited and when the guy sitting casually in the shade asked us if we needed help I confidently asked which way did we get on to the ship. He didn't tell me but rather informed me that the ship was closed. There was no point, arguing although it had closed early. Donal had half guessed so he wasn't too gutted but I was, I was disgusted. Concorde was there, just over a fence somewhere or something and here I was a few minutes too late to see it. Think back to when you were a child and wanted that extra sweet but upon almost getting it, it's moved or taken away. This was that feeling only that the TV remote control was also just out of reach of the playpen and Fifty Cent or another self styled gun loving "ho-dog" or whatever name his "homies" have given him on a give day, is playing on the TV. They used this form of torture in Guantanamo if you believe some people. You see the thing was, I walked down a little bit to at least picture the ship and then saw Concorde, standing gracefully, 220 feet long next to the carrier, reflecting the sun with its gloss white paint, a symbol of mankinds progress a nd a symbol also of its regress. They allow you to walk through it and all. We'll leave it be at that, where's the waterboarding guy?
Oh and the people on the ship who had went on time were evil for enjoying themselves up there when I know, for a fact I will jave you know, that at least half couldn't tell on aerofoil from a wing. And for those of you that know, that was a trick. Those evil bastards wouldn't have known though.

Going by customary tradition we had to have a steak in New York due to it being our last night and having seen a place right under Madison Sqaure Garden earlier in the week, we headed for that. It was closed. I was actually not to unhappy that it was if I am to be completely honest with you because it's name was "Ken and Pauls" or something like that and I just knew it was going to be expensive because, and pardon me here now for they are not all like this, but I guessed that two yuppies who made it big in stockbroking before running from the impending bubble, opened this place and came up with this great name by putting their first names on a sign. That's the imaginative capability of two former stockbrokers or accountants and you know that generalisations are always true. Then of course, as we continue with our generalizations, they jumped the price on the menus because if the soup is $10 then it must be the world's best and that isn't always true. Cutting this long story short, we walked a little further, basically across the road at Madison Square Garden to a little restaurant doing a finbe Porterhouse steak for about $24. Deal, although doing that every night would be a disaster both healthwise and financially, one night every now and then is acceptable and we found our last night in New York as being completely acceptable.

What was even more acceptable still was the Empire State Building and the view from the top which was to cap off our time in New York with a bang, in a literal fashion so it happens as we saw some early fireworks from up at the 86th floor with the breeze blowing through the stars to cool us down. Getting up there was a bit of a disaster though as you had security checks, screaming kids (it was that playpen and the tv remote I tell ya), long lines (yeah those ones) and sore feet. Organization and uniform design do not seem to be the fortes of the people running the whole show as the guys in the burgundy and black, initially sounding like a good combiation until you see that burgundy is the main colour and not the trimming of the uniforms, look like they applied for their jobs straight after being thrown out of a high class circus. The organisation is about the same for although the lines were orderly, they were slow and cumbersome as you curved your way around velvet-roped empty space. Frustrating was not the word but at the end of the day it was worth it as the view is something else up there.
You ascend in the lift and your ears pop numerous times adjusting to the rapidly changing air pressure, you watch the floors tick by in anticipation (one middle aged Japanese guy in the lift looked very, er, anticipated, in a way only Japanese people can manage to). Then you emerge and take another shorter lift from 80 to 86. And then you see the crowd of people already on the deck. There was enough room though and I managed to loose Donal and get great night shots of the Manhattan skyline which shows that 1) the crowd was big and 2) the crowd was big, but not big enough to prevent me using the wall as a tripod for timed long exposure shots. Forget the last part, just me showing off. It was a clear night and the eye could see for miles even before we got the extra lift to the 102 floor, indoors and with very few others in there, this oasis of silence allows you to reflect on the view, to really pay attention and hear yourself say "wow". Lights as far as the eye could see, silhouttes you recognise fro mthe silver screen, streets you've crossed before but not look like slithers with ants crossing them. Being 1200 feet up in a building built in the 1930s, depsite the frustration while queueing, really is something to try. And it really is something to cap a week in New York with.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Day Eleven - New York

Traveling is not always just about leaving your home, it is also a lot about looking forward to coming back to that same home. On a trip five weeks long though and only eleven days into, I was already missing home but knew that there was no choice but to carry on, keeping busy by looking at the sights and generally keeping my mind occupied. In New York this is pretty easy to do as you can imagine. I can't exactly think of the banks of my own lovely lee (and the song of the same name) when a black guy is shoving a CD in my hand and trying to get me to buy it. He's an independent rapper, he has to sell his stuff someway and really, American know how to do this. I can't say that's ever happened on Pana really, the only people who come close are the Concern charity workers who ask you to give out your bank details under an umbrella on Oliver Plunkett Street after they have practically ambushed you. You see them, you try crossing the street but you've just missed out on one on the side you crossed to and you can see him turn as a person opposite you rejects him and bang, you're caught. Charity is fine, very fine actually but I personally don't like this type of charity collecting. Sure they don't force you to give but that's like saying the people who circled you in school and shouted "fight fight fight" at you and one other inevitably bigger guy, aren't making you fight. As for the CD, I think I actually bought one in the end but I bargained with him and got it for two dollars.

On the other hand you can certainly think of home when sitting in a diner somewhere, it being alien to you as you look about with your Biochemistry degree (not that I have one myself mind) wondering whether the NYC smoking ban was a good idea or not as you sip on an ice cold glass of Cola. You can't get Rasa over here, certainly not if you call it Rasa. No TK Red Lemonade either. Probably because it turns red with the addition of DTT but still it tastes good back home.

It's important to have links to home when travelling and that includes people you know from home and normally locate with home in you mind. A friend of mine, Christine, had come to New York on a J1 for the summer and we spent this day with her, or rather she did with us as she had come in from way outside the city to spend a day in Manhattan. The day didn't begin too early, we met up at Grand Central at midday, Donal following on after having a shower. It's only really a valid excuse but the air conditioner in ther hostel wasn't too effective at least for our room due to there being about 12 people in the room. That's a lot of breathing and a lot of warm air which, so my theory goes, means you get sleepy and so I have just made out a valid excuse for sleeping in late. It obviously wasn't that we were doing so much walking at all.
Not having had a brownie since Boston and trying to find a decent cafe in Times Square to have a chat meant that we went into one of New York's Europa Cafe's and discussed home, being so far from it, America, other people and all the rest of it, things you would no doubt find quite boring. However these things were important to talk about as they reminded us both of home and that was the important bit. If you are at your home reading this then you won't find that interesting but you get my drift.

Upon Donal catching up with us we queued up for Broadway tickets at the TKTS Booth unde those red stairs. This was not like a regular queue though for Americans call them 'lines'. People underestimate the cultural gap between Ireland and America at times for we all know what 'lines' mean when overheard in a dodgy nightclub. Yes indeed the guy with the hoody simply wants to get into a line to get his coat from the cloakroom, that's all. Oh and this line was wet, again what I would imagine a line to be like in a nightclub seeing as that line would probably be along the top of a wash basin or hand dryer. The TKTS Booth was due to open at 3pm but as we descended from the red steps to have a look about we noticed that there were actually already quite a few people in front of us, perhaps 50 or so people. We took our place though, suprised at the amount of people alreayd there for tickets and waited. Waiting is never fun, that's why there is always magazines in waiting rooms and such like but at least there were three of us together and that meant that we could talk and pass the time because, to be frank, the adverts around Time Sqaure were getting pretty boring. We really should have guessed that there would be rain on the way after seeing the clouds and indeed there was - heavy rain. I think Donal felt it first and then it just began to pelt down like bullets, soaking any bit of fabric it touched. I had brought a poncho with me, perhaps guessing that there would indeed by some rain and it helped a little as we learned the art of "tent-putting-upping" which I beleive is actually Japanese in origin. Not really but then it should be Irish in origin as the British kepy burning down the permanaent structures and it does rain a lot on the Emerald Isle...I must look into that one further for a bit of historical hijacking.
I ripped the poncho out and we put it above our heads trying to share the plastic sheet amongst us so that we didn't get too wet but water will always find a way and whenever we moved the water slid through creives in the poncho and down our backs. It's always the back isn't it? Murphys Law is alive and well, the first world wide set of laws ever, before the League of Nations and before the UN.

Eventually we reached the top of th queue and after much discussion on what to go and see we ended up with three tickets for Shrek the Musical. Chicago was $98 and that was with a discount (the TKTS Booth sell tickets at a 20% to 50% discounts as the shows are all same say shows). Shrek was a shade under $50 so that sounded good immediately after the Chicago price was conveyed to us at the desk. Funnily enough no prices are listed on the elctronic boards that disdplay the show times and the percentage discount but I remember the Chicago one saying it was a 50% discount so if you want to see an expensive show then this is the one for you. Shrek was a reliable bet for us though, should be funny and we'd know bits from the film so we wouldn't get lost. We didn't go straight from the tickets to the show obviously, we were soaked and needed changing so after paying a visit to H&M where clothes may have been found we ended up splitting up. Christine and I went to look for a hoody for her as her jacket and top had completely soaked through and although was now drying in the heat, must still have uncomfortable. We went searched through a lot of shops and ended up going through Fifth Avenue in the search but unless she wanted to take out a mortgage there was no way she was getting even a pair of socks there because we had choosen the centre of New Yorks fashion district to look around for a cheap hoody and in the end we hopped on the subway to get to Harlem and to the hostel.

Donal was pretty much set to leave to get the show, I showered and changed while Christine rested and we went off then, hungrily it must be said, to the Broadway show. We made it on time, just about. Before I go any further let me take this opportunity to say that being late is not an actual problem for what it does is it prevents you from waiting and so its a preventative measure. After all I did already discuss the virtues of a waiting room didn't I?
On the way in I looked at my watch and saw that we had five minutes to take our seats and having not eaten anything since that brownie around 12:30 I mwas in the mood for a dinner but they only really had M&M's and water and other stuff like that inside the theatre and they chraged me $8 dollars for a pack of them and a bottle of water. I thought, afterwards, because at the time I was just desperate, that the guy who set those prices should have gone down with Bernie Madoff. The show though was great, very funny, well made, the music was very good and all in all I thought it was well worth the $48 I paid for my ticket because when will I next be at a Broadway musical? Who knows? Phone me if you do know, that'd be the berries.

Food was the next thing on the agenda, we had virtually starved our way through the day, except for the overpiced M&Ms, the packet of which I have had framed, and were all quite hungry for a proper dinner. TGI Friday's was somewhere I knew little about but knew enough that while in New York it was probably appropriate to eat there and it must be said that the three of us did quite well with the food although the post-10pm service charge was something none of us liked. Tipping is a strange practice really over here, it actually helps the worker to make up a decent wage because in most places they don't get enough of a basic wage in order to liove their lives. In essence then you are expected to buy their food for them and put nappies on their kids. That's the truth of it when really you shoud be rewarding them for good service so they can treat themselves and the employer paying for the daily nescessities through a decent wage because with the current system there is only one person gaining and that is the emplyer. The worker is being ripped off because tips are not a guaranteed income but yet that workers bills are always guranteed to come in the letterbox when meant to. Customers are ripped off in that they know that they must always pay more than the menu actually says. It's a ridiculous system, not that I mind tipping for good service, but not the point where the server must depend on what you and others give them over the period of an evening. It's unfair on them and in this instance in TGI's, was even unfairer on us. Still, we had dinner in Times Sqaure at 11pm and it feels good to say that.

Not long after this we ambled to Grand Central and Christine found her train home while we went on the subway, already talking about what to do the next day. It's a paradox, you have to plan the next day out and yet by doing so you're just making the time go all that quicker but what were we meant to do? Use a poor air conditioner in a room of 13 sleeping bodies as an excuse?!

Day Ten - New York

You may know that I have a slight fascination with the American life and culture of the 1950s and 1960s. It started out with two lads, Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin, the two brothers who make the duo better known to those who like a bit of alternative electronic music as Boards of Canada. When I discovered their music, I liked the videos, which happened to be made by fans simply to post on youtube and upon reading through some comments I ended up on a site called which actually has reels and reels of Americana film, adverts and short programmes from way back when TV was just about after working it's way into every house in the States. I suppose this was the first step and I gradually awakened in myself, for it was already there just that i had never bothered pursuing it, an interest in American culture of the time and the optimism assocaited with it as people looked forward to automatic houses, kitchens where the food would be automatically made, where cars would glide along highways without the need for someone to drive the thing. Perhaps the culmination of this era was with the 1964 World's Fair, the ending of the period coined by the author Thomas Hine as the Populuxe period of US history.

This fair was held in New York, in the Queens borough at Flushing Meadows Corona Park where the Mets play thier baseball and where the tennis stars of the world travel to annually to play in the US Open. There is a fascinating video from the time of the fair on made as a promotional video for it I think and having watched it and become somewhat fascinated by the whole idea of this world fair and the involvement of so many US companies in it with great places like 'Motoramas' and 'Unispheres' made there, I knew that while in NYC it would have to be seen. It was a Wednesday morning so I doubted many others would be there and besides who else is interested in seeing rusted remains but me? It turns out quite a few actually, but not really with the rust it seemed.

The blue line on the subway took us out of Manhattan and above ground through Queens and looking out of the windows it quickly became noticeable that we had arrived in Manhattan just through this partiuclar area. The ride was fairly long, again the maps were decieving in their distance but eventually we got there, one stop earlier than we really should have but it was no big deal. The sky was pretty cloudy at this stage and it was coming up on 3pm as we walked down to the park past some houses and cheap looking pizza places and convienience stores. The are didn't look too well off at all, not that that made it dangerous or anything but I was sure that tourists really didn't frequent the area all that much. Crossing the road, what came into view was a Redstone booster, the rocket that launched the first Americans into space which had the famous Mercury capsules for the silver suited astronauts placed on top. Next to that was a section of rocket engine, maybe from the Saturn boosters and next to that was a Titan rocket, the family of rockets that sent the Gemini spacecraft up into the stars to allow the US conduct their first spacewalk, months after the Russians had done their own. Although fenced inside the New York Science Museum they were imposing and I can only imagine what they must have been like to ride upon. I'd say they were quite a bit more severe than the subway. I have a great interest in this period of space travel as it fits in with that US optimism of the time and to see these rockets up close was amazing. We have all looked up at the stars at some point and on doing so wondered what is up there. Is it the ultimate freedom to be there where there are no rules as such, where not even gravity can rule upon you? Perhaps it is but perhaps also it is the greatest awakening one can have, to see our planet below you, to know that it isn ot your home but the home of billions. And yes you could say that New York is a planet in itself!

We weren't sure if we could see the park without paying but I knew it was free and after seeing a pathway, we followed it and came upon a sculpture which was emtitled "space" and suppossed to show the free flowing of metal in space. It did a good job, I thought it looked fantastic but it was simply standing there in the middle of a road into the park, a road seemingly open only to pedestrians and authorized park vehicles. There was no plaque, no sign, nothing to commemorate what must have taken so much time and thought to make. This theme was to continue throughout our walk around the park when we came upon such structures as the New York State Pavilion, three tall towers with observation decks on top and outdoor lifts along with a large area next to them covered with a glass suspended roof, the floor a detailed map of the State of New York in tile along with whatever exhibits were in there. I saw this as we walked along while gazing at a group playing baseball. Essentially what had become of the park, only partly in fulfillement, of the man who brought the World Fair twice to this part of New York, Robert Moses, was that it had turned into an organic play and recreation area. Moses wanted the park to be a great area for the people of NYC to play and relax but the Fair didn't bring in as much money as hoped, in fact it lost money, and so could never be made into what it really should have been.
Instead there were dry pools where fountains once shot magnifently into the air, grass and weeds growing where fantastic pavilions by the likes of GE and Pepsi once stood. The exhibits that still stood did allow me to think back on what that time must have been like with crowds of people admiring the flags, the national pavilions and the progress civilisation had seemingly made in industry after WW2. The Unisphere, a massive 700,000 pound stainless steel globe, with all of the world's seas and continents on it still stands about 12 stories high, tilted on its side as the earth is in space only that the water pool that once surrounded it is now dry, the floor a kind of aqua blue, now feeling only the patter of rain where once fountains showered water to. It was sad to think that this stood, as grand as ever for it recieved a facelift a few years ago, without anyone else really paying much attention to it where once it was the centrepiece of a World Fair. I contemplated this while watching planes fly over it as I lay down under Antartica. Donal and I climbed the metal foundation to it and lay under the world so to speak which was quite unique.

After this we walked down through more dry pools towards a statue called the Rocket Thrower, 43 feet high and cast in bronze in Italy. It depicts a man hurling a sphere into the air with a trail of fire behind it. From here we carried on to a huge pond from where, if you looked back at the Unisphere, it was suppossed to be the same view you would see of Earth if you were 6000 miles in space. A nice touch it must be said although I read that after being there wich is a shame. Just before we circled the pond it began to rain a bit and we took shelter under a tree, lucky there were plenty of benches around to use. People were playing football (soccer) nearby as well so it seemed to me that at least the park was actually being used but still I couldn't help thinking it was a shame that it is simply being left go to dust, being patched up now and then, but largely being allowed to go it's own way, forgotten in time. At the same time though maybe this is the way it was suppossed to be for if it were permanent it wouldn't have that certain magic about it.
I thought about this as we left, walking past the tennis stadium to the parks own subway station. Just before I walked past the light rail platform to the subway I took a look at the murals put in the ground at the end of the slope that you walk up to the platforms. They detailed some of the ideas of the park, some images of the park and indeed two murals held information on what was inside the time-capsules buired beneath the soil somewhere in the Park by Westinghouse. They're due to be opened in 6939Ad so we'll see what the people of the time think of birth control pills, a Beatles 45" record and plastic heart valves and so many feet of microfilm detailing general life in the late 1930s and the 1950/60s (two capsules, one for the 1939 Fair and one for the 1964 Fair). Or maybe we won't find out but you know what I mean.

We left, in a way I was sad to leave but we were both hungry and had more to do, and finally got to Greenwich Village via subway where we actually managed to catch a game of street basketball. Before actually getting to Greenwich Village we stopped off at Grand Central Station to look around and what place to look around. The marble walls, the high ceiling, the clock in the centre with the information booth and the throngs of people going home from work or a day inthe city moving , always moving to somewhere else. I really hoped they had admired this place beofre because it deserved to be admired. It was elegant, polished, almost relaxed in dealing with so many people. You know that when you call a building "relaxed" that it has a charcter all of its own and Grand Central really does. We left with our mouths wide open in amazement to catch the subway to Greenwich at last.
The basketball there when we got back to above-ground level was interesting to say the least as we watched tall coloured lads shift with amazing dexterity around a court which was sponsored by Nike it seemed. I got some good pictures of it all and after picking a colour, the white's I decided to follow the score as a crowd had gathered around to watch. Having picked the white's, they of course lost but it was good to see nonetheless. If we weren't hungry we may have stayed for more but our stomachs willed us on to find Johns Pizzeria and we were not dissappointed. Two 16 inch pizzas for $20 each baked in a coal fired oven and mande by two, maybe Mexican, chefs who really looked like they would throw you in the oven yourself if you made a complaint to them. Either that or they'd get the Mexican Mafia after you because they looked the part to be leaders of a Latin American group involved in certain less than legal activities. I'd go so far as to say that they went in to John and say "Hi John, we are good pizza chefs, here is what you will pay us, here is what we will do and we will begin right now" - I don't think John had much of a say but it didn't matter as the place attracts quite few celebrities even though it is so cheap (for what you get) and, well, not exactly chic looking inside.

To work off this massive amount of dough we walked south a bit through Chinatown and crossed over Manhattan Bridge, that less than famous one that borders the Brooklyn Bridge. It took us some time to actually get on the bridge but once on it became clear that this was not a structure to laugh at. It carried two roads which were always busy and it carried two subway lines as well as the walkways across it. It was all done so each was very seperate so there was no way you could fall in front of a subway train as that was a level above you seperating you from the roads. It was quiet and as Donal walked ahead at speed to work off the pizza, I ambled across taking shots of Brooklyn Bridge from a decent height and the lower Manhattan skyline. I sang too, as one does when on their own a few stories over the Hudson River as the sky turned darker and darker.
We reached Brooklyn and then went for the bridge bearing this borroughs name. By this time things had slowed down quite a bit as the darkness was fully set in and we sat own along the river on rocks in the park near the Brooklyn Bridge. If you ever watched the film Munich, then the park at the end of the film is where we were. After taking some pictures we then crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and this was really something. Even without the Twin Towers, the Manhattan skyline, to a Cork boy, is something to behold. Donal and I discussed how it must be monotonous to locals in the same way that Pana can be for us but yet they would find the small low rise of Cork to be fascianting in the same way we found the high rises of New York. I will say that the bridge is romantic, it's lit up and you travel on wood not on concrete or anything and it is by no means garish, just beatifully made beckoning you to walk across it or sit on a bench on the bridge to contemplate the scenery. As you walk over it you notice a hump, it's a suspension bridge after all and as you cross the haflway point you speed up towards the bright lights of Manhattan where you can lose yourself to anonymity. Now I did say that romance is certainly a part of this bridges character but what is romance if you are anonymous? But then what is romance if you can be not one person but two in an area of anonymity? Real romance, that's what that is and New York is a perfect place for it.

Times Square is another perfect place for this. Maybe one of the most well known and busiest places in the world and yet Donal and I could sit there and watch it all unfold from the red steps over the TKTS Sales Booth, the crowd who do discount tickets for same-day Broadway shows. Imagine sitting in a place where thousnads of people are present and moving and changing ever minute, where lights are so bright that the difference between night and day is certainly present but not in the sense that you may know it, where the place looks brighter at night than in day, where anything and everything can happen, where victories have been celebrated and New Years welcomed. There really is something about sitting back and relaxing in the midst of all of this. In a way it showed that amongst chaos, not order, but sanctuary can be found. There was no trouble, no drunken people trying to cause fights without even knowing it themselves, no tension at all. New people sat down every few minutes as others left reflecting life in NYC itself where buildings are brought down, replaced by new ones, where most things are never allowed to grow old but rather put away to make space for the new. It was the centre of ecclecticism then and we were there until about 12:30am before going back to the hostel to sleep.

It had been a long day with miles of walking but there was certainly a lot for the mind to store away as sleep came by. It knew it'd have more to store soon.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Day Nine - New York

Today was going to be the day when we were definitely going to make it to Greenwich Village. You may remember from earlier in this blog though that plans do not always follow their intended course and this one didn't either but there's an interesting story here nonetheless. How could there not be when it's set in New York?!

We started the day with the full of intention of seeing a bit of Greenwich Village which has, according to the Berrlitz travel guide we were depending on, maintained a village like charm due to the artists and others who live and mingle there. It's lack of imposing skyscrapers is also probably another factor in this as I found that the skyscrapers, especially newer ones were almost frightening in their stance. You look up at them like you would a school bully but you'd gasp in amazement at how they stood rather than at how winded you were from that punch to the stomach. All the same they do make you feel quite insignificant and annoymous whereas in Greenwich Village the buildings were much more like tall houses with speciality shops and restuarants dotted throughout serving those artists and students from nearby New York University. Come to think of it now it is students that often bring quite an amount of diversity ot a city and in this section of area they certainly add to the mix. This is being written with experience from another day when we actually did get to Greenwich Village but on this particular day we do not go there. You see looking at a subway map in New York is not difficult to do but rather it opens up whole new possibilities to you and I knew that at some stage dueing the week 8in New York I wanted to see the Flatiron building, arguably the world's first modern made skyscraper using the same basic construction that much taller and more famous builsings have since used. This then was a pioneer and as such it is fitting that it is a point, pointing horizontally to the Empire State Building which is way up town.

Even getting this far was an achievement though for we had walked quite a few blocks which is a square of land as the Americans divide up a lot of their cities into grids so you don't get Pana-like curved streets. Maybe they have some silly rule about this, it wouldn't suprise me! A block on a map looks small but when you actually down to the whole walking busines it turns out to be something a lot more altogether. We did it though and after some walking through the Lower West Side we reached the Flatiron District, named after that iconic building dating from, I think, 1909. With some pictures taken we ended up going into the park directly in front of the building and let me tell you something, New York would be a place where people come to die if it were not for these parks which are beautiful and scattered around the city in agreeable places. Honestly, the city is massive, everything there is bigger and as you shuffle by in shorts and sandals, dying with the heat, the bottle of water in your right hand already warm even though you only drank two sups from it, all of the buildings begin to look the same. Sure there are taller ones and smallers ones but you begin to not care, finding shade and a place to sit become your only goal while wishing at the same time for a fan to magically pop out of the ground to cool you down.
Of course when you need shade, it isn't around and as you stumble about helplessly, hyperbole is always good for a story, New Yorkers walk into you, inform you that you should get help by using lots of words beginning with the letter "f".
Parks then are places were you can go and lose yourself from the beeping of traffic, the steam that rises from the subway vents on the streets, the buzz that seems to will you to push on and go quicker so that you can look just like every other frantic New Yorker.
We entered the park and sat down, looking upon the grass and trees before Donal took an amble around which allowed me some time to take some pictures and to simply contemplate things alone. On a trip like this it is probably one thing that many overlook and yet contemplating the progress made, the progress yet to be made and just how much you like or dislike a place, is important as it makes your trip all the more rewarding somehow. Doing this alone allows your own thoughts to play about inevitably reaching inconclusive answers on everything but answers nonetheless. See how inconclusive that was? There you go.
Donal came back around the circle path around through the park, which it must be said was very well maintained, and off I went then to look about this little oasis before remembering that nearby was the New York Life Building and the Metropolitan Life Tower. Both are old, maybe neo-classical style buidlings which really are very grand and detailed. The New York Life building was open for the public to walk through and I'd say that at the time I was the only person dressed in shorts and a tshirt inside the massive lobby but I didn't mind and with my camera I began to take some pictures as I walked through. As with most places such as this in New York there was barriers that prevented you from going upsatirs without the right ID card to scan you through and to ensure no one hopped the barrier elegantly uniformed security men stood by. I even had an engagement with one. I pointed the camera at the area where the lifts and stairs were and I think I actually go a picture of it with all of its marble and polished brass but as I looked I saw, from the corner of my eye, that someone was gesticulating at me. A guard was telling me that pictures weren't allowed and to be honest he was nice enough about it but again to me it seemed like utter paranoia. I exited the building and went back to Donal who had, by this time, been waiting quite while for me and as the evening was drawing in we were no closer to Greenwich Village.

We were hungry though and had a restaurant in mind thanks to the guide but we couldn't locate it. Being two Irish lads rain came upon us (although I would also like to put the blame amongst those J1ers who come over to look for work in the summer, they're Irish too). This was no ordinary Irish rain though but proper darts of rain plummeting from the sky ready to make the colour of your shirt a whole lot darker. We stood doorways agast and hungry as thunder roleld in the distance observing natives running to cars, to doorways, cluthcing papers and even one guy who stripped off his top and ran down the footpath to what I think was his van to collect something. The rain slowed after a while to a level that to us Irish lads read "Irish summertime" on our weatherometer so the sight of people still holding umbrellas was comical at least to me. We hit upon Union Square which unfortunately we couldn't explore due to the rain becoming slightly heavier but again it's another park distinct from Madison Square Park where we had been earlier. It was coming up on six o clock by now and we needed to have some food having not had any in a few hours. We passed the Virgin Megastore, having not known there were two in Manhattan and saw a diner across the road on Broadway (remember that Broadway runs the length of Manhattan, it really is very long) but we also saw a place called Strand Bookstore which was closing soon. Having heard the name before as a place to pick up rare books at cheap prices, we decided to head inside before going to the diner a few doors down. The place was a mess but then it did say that it had the equivalent of 18 miles of books and I'd believe it, there were 3 floors full of books and by full I don't mean a full Waterstone's shop. Full in this place meant it barely passed fire regulations for people to exit, or so I would hazard a guess at. I found a book on 1950s America which I thought would be interesting, paid for it and then saw, upon reaching the door that once again it was lashing outside. So I stood in the doorway, the exit door behind me and the proper exit door in front (this was like a porch I suppose) and asked a girl who was also standing there was this the weather for the rest of the night. She turned out to be French and didn't know where Ireland was - must have been my pronounciation but I'd say it hit her afterwards and my God does she feel stupid now.

The rain wasn't stopping so Donal and I made a belt for the diner a few doors down the street where I was tempted by the salads but ended up with a Greek Gyro Chicken with the salad too. I was nice and healhty by American standards it must be said. By the time we had left though the night was after approcahing, it didn't look terribly inviting and we hopped on the subway from Union Square to Harlem to get back to the hostel. The day had been a long one, miles had been walked and the rain was after telling us that we really ought to get an earlyish night. And so it was.