Country 3: USA
Ever since I decided just over a year prior to organise a round-the-world trip, the ever-growing mountain of travel research, anticipation, and self-discipline bestowed upon myself of saving every extra dollar possible came to a head when I left Sydney airport on 6 April 2006. All my concerns and stresses suddenly exploded into a wave of absolute relief as my 747 was taking off. I almost couldn’t believe it was happening, but here I was on a direct flight to LAX. What I was mostly excited about at this point though was video-on-demand for 12 to 13 hours! I knew I should’ve caught up on some sleep, but I watched 9 hours straight on movies and TV shows while others around me dozed off. 3 hours later I was awoken by a breakfast call, and an hour later by the dirty smoggy view of Los Angeles, not the best welcome I could’ve imagined to the start of such an epic trip, but it was different nonetheless.
My plane touched down and technically I stepped foot on American soil (or airport carpet) for the first time, but it didn’t feel that special just yet. Strangely enough, I was met with a farcical display of having to change planes with 150 or so other people by actually stepping out into the departure drop-off area without clearing any form of security, then re-entering the check-in area while our bags were being transferred to our next plane, or so we thought (luckily I was reunited with my bag, it’s all good). Shoes off, get pulled to the side as you’re not American and potentially a threat, arms up, spread the legs, get swabbed for drugs and bombs, on your way.
After being on a Qantas flight of probably as luxurious as economy class can get, I was met with American Airlines’ outdated grey boxy-looking aging seats, one big screen for 20 or so rows of passengers being shown a movie we didn’t choose, and a sub-standard sandwich and a can of Pepsi. Not surprisingly, I fell asleep after an hour due to boredom and jet lag.
After gathering my backpack and leaving the airport without incident or even being questioned, taking a shuttle bus through some rough-looking rundown New York City neighbourhoods in darkness wasn’t any more welcoming than the L.A. smog cloud in the daytime. I was happy just to get to my hostel room on Manhattan’s 30th street, upon which I fell dead asleep.
I had a whole bunch of things I intended to do on my first day in NYC, but what I didn’t expect was to spend 5 hours standing in lines and waiting on trains and ferries to visit my first landmark of the day, but before that was to begin I had to get onto the subway. After about 20 seconds of staring at the automatic ticket machine, I was met by a guy who asked if I needed any help and welcomed me to New York City. I would’ve figured it out eventually, but he was very polite and friendly, and at the end he smiled and asked if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to give him a tip. I was so pleasantly surprised that I was more than happy to slip him a dollar and be on my way, to which he thanked me. Funnily enough, when I caught the subway the next day from that same station I heard “hi Shane!” off in the distance. What a nice fellow.
So, checklist to see the Statue Of Liberty: purchase ticket, 1 minute. Stand in line to get onto a ferry, 2.5 hours. Ferry to Liberty Island, about 20 minutes. Time it takes to walk around the statue and admire it, take gawky pictures of yourself with it in the background, and frown at the realisation that you had to book days in advance to actually enter the statue itself and that you couldn’t even reach the top anyway because the country is on ‘orange alert’ or some shit, about 45 minutes. Realisation that you’d wasted almost a full day doing one thing and haven’t eaten since breakfast even though you won’t get back on land until about 2pm, a few seconds.
I made my way back onto to subway and up to Ground Zero. I don’t know what I was expecting really, but standing in front of a massive construction site didn’t do much for the atmosphere. The huge delays on building some sort of monument had been highly publicised, but the reasons why nothing had happened 5 years later escaped me, or even 10 years later as I type this. The mounted photos around the fenceline were enough to give me a scope of the situation, outside what I’d learnt from news reports and such. It wasn’t eerie, it didn’t feel like a true monument to anyone in particular, it felt like a hastily gathered display that didn’t quite seem fitting enough. I don’t know how the victims’ families and friends feel about it, but I don’t know if anything could really capture the mood of the place correctly anyway, so I suppose it was enough.
The afternoon was wasting away, so I made my way down to the United Nations building, but as I arrived the exhibition on offer was about to close so I moved on. I was able to admire the numerous flags (it took me a bloody long time to find Australia!) and the gift from Luxembourg of a handgun with a knot tied in it. I found a Quiznos nearby and scoffed down a yummy soup and a bottle of Snapple (a drink I’ve sorely missed since it left the Aussie market), then found my way over to the Museum Of Modern Art. I had heard somewhere that between 4pm and 6pm that day there was free entry, and I was right! I saw people snapping photos which I’d never seen in an art gallery before, so I was right in there doing the same! Hello Andy Warhol’s cans of soup! *click*
The rest of my day was a bit of a rush, passing through Times Square (which felt completely underwhelming compared to how famous it is), the NBC Studios (its size underwhelmed me as a fan of Seinfeld and Conan O’Brien), and Radio City Music Hall (which probably would’ve been better if I took the chance to go inside).
Last stop for the day, the Empire State Building! 45 minutes in line didn’t worry me as the view was absolutely amazing! I stayed for another 45 minutes taking all the lovely lit-up buildings in, as it was now quite dark. I was pretty buggered by now so I grabbed a street hot dog (they’re a lot smaller than I expected!) and wandered back to my hostel.
Next: New Jersey, Washington D.C., and other assorted bits