‘Welcome aboard this Continental Airlines flight from London Gatwick to Newark, New Jersey. We expect a little turbulence south of Greenland and our flying time today is six hours and sixty-five minutes.’
Spilling over their seats, a couple from Kalamazoo enjoys peanuts and orange juice when, I imagine, George declares to Martha, ‘That’s a pretty quick flight.’ Martha nods, ‘Yeah, I couldn’t stand being on this plane for seven hours.’
Distressingly, our Washington DC hotel room stares at the US Department of Education, festooned with banners proclaiming Dubaya’s policy- ‘No Child Left Behind.’ Marginal communication skills have not impeded the 43rd President, who, with twit-faced sincerity, once announced that, ‘Increasingly our imports will come from overseas.’
Walking the two mile National Mall, we enjoy its bookends of the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument; at 555 feet the world’s tallest structure- until the Eiffel Tower. The Jefferson and Roosevelt monuments are majestic, but we’re smitten with the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool- through which splashed a uniformed Forrest Gump and hippie child Jen-nee, before embracing in front of a protest crowd.
Stumbling across the US Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue is wonderful, but I’m unsure if I’m chilled or amused by the Explosive Ordnance team- whose divers dispose of mines and other underwater weapons. Their motto summarises perfectly their work- ‘Initial success or total failure.’
Our first glimpse in the Smithsonian National Space and Air Museum is unforgettable. Hanging like artwork from a Land of the Giants-style classroom ceiling are authentic planes and rockets. My favourite is Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1 which in 1947 became the first jet to fly beyond the speed of sound.
Cruise missiles, MinuteMen and Tomahawks are strewn about the museum like toys, which, I’d advocate, is exactly what they were. Peering up their towering coldness makes me feel very small. The Apollo 11 Command Module seems minuscule and primitive; its welding, riveting and instrumentation, less sophisticated than a modern three-burner barbeque.
Years ago in Queensland, Kerry’s Uncle Alan poured me a glass of his homebrew beer- and still my mouth hasn’t offered forgiveness. Given that he’d only just met me I was bewildered that he so clearly wanted to kill me. McDonalds’ McGriddle cakes are unquestionably worse. Naively trying one, I began convulsing; purple whirls blinding my eyes. If you’re in the US, avoid. In ‘Thank God I’m a Country Boy’ John Denver enthused about ‘the sun’s comin’ up I got cakes on the griddle.’ I pray McDonalds’ McGriddle cakes weren’t JD’s last breakfast before his Cessna tipped into the Pacific.
Arriving in Manhattan I immediately ticked the boxes on two distinctively New York experiences: arguing with a taxi driver and spotting celebrities. United Airlines bumped Kerry’s parents in Washington so we caught a shuttle-bus to The Beacon on Broadway, confident that our transfer booking reference would be sufficient. It would not, my Hispanic hombre assured me and thirty dollars cash was needed. Both my receipt number and I assert that the company has been paid and yet we to and fro like a grumpy tennis match – to the bemusement of a full foyer. ‘I haav theese guy ‘ere from Inglan’- or France,’ he tells his useless office. France? Now I am upset. I think, I can stand here arguing all afternoon. You’re a taxi driver. I’ll bet you can’t.
And he couldn’t so I then head out along Broadway, into the promise of Friday evening, and within a block hear some familiar voices.
Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you’d have a diamond
from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off comes to mind as I turn and see Matthew Broderick. His equine wife, Sarah Jessica Parker has her hoof in his hand and is braying about something. Probably sex. Or shoes.
I continue through Mid-Town past the bars, the Citarella market and a Barnes and Noble bookshop. A Marine approaches. His t-shirt says, ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body.’ The Marines take nothing as seriously as, well, being Marines.
Sunday morning we’re 1,050 feet up atop the Empire State Building, squinting out into the smoggy heat and disappointingly, the Statue of Liberty is shrouded. The skyscrapers and canyons are mesmerising but, for me, the deep drone, punctuated by urgent sirens and horn blasts, is also remarkable. Maybe this is what U2 meant by America’s ‘rattle and hum.’
Surely, however, Manhattan’s most handsome is the Chrysler Building with its Art-Deco aesthetic, hubcap designs and glittering gargoyles. A soaring tribute to the wonder of the motor car, it was the world’s tallest before the ESB and possesses more charisma yet little of its fame. Why escapes me.
Grand Central Station is gorgeous. Golden light, marble and space suggest infinite excitement- grand voyages and romantic destinations and in this honeyed cavern – 120 feet wide, 375 feet long and 125 feet high, the clacking of the arrivals and departures boards exaggerates the seduction.
Leaving via the sumptuous Vanderbilt Hall, we come to a street market on Madison Avenue; I have a Chinese massage that’s like eating tofu- beneficial rather that enjoyable. More amusing is the entrepreneur on Lexington Avenue sitting behind his sign
Tell me off – $2
Of course I should have yelled, ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself! That’s too expensive! Why, back home folks only charge a dollar,’ but it was lunchtime and Bubba Gump’s in Times Square beckoned.
Inside is predictable but huge fun. On our table is a stand with two license plates that we flip- ‘Run Forrest, Run’ if we’re content and ‘Stop Forrest, Stop’ to grab the waiter. Sipping our drinks he quizzes us. ‘What was Forrest’s Vietnam War wound?’ We chorus like kids, ‘Butt-tocks.’ The food’s good and we buy shirts in the gift shop before emerging into the humid glare. Having paid homage to one fictitious character I’m keen to visit another mythic individual’s environs: Central Park.
Holden Caulfield is the anti-hero in JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and this 843-acre space is significant in the novel. Entering, we hear percussion and whistles as the Dominican Republic parade passes like a jolly serpent and, the cacophony evaporating, we sit by the Heckscher Ballfields.
As with all sports, baseball’s best moments occur when beauty thrillingly replaces danger. I like its egalitarianism- all ages, shapes and abilities strut about. Ball players talk constantly. Having struck out, one jogs over to first base and coaches the new batter.
‘Come on baby.’
‘Ducks on the pond’
‘You drivin’ this bus, baby’
The innings complete, we amble towards The Lake where Holden and his girlfriends ice-skate but the dinosaur rumbling, aubergine sky splits and we’re instantly soaking. Near the Cherry Hill fountain a fire engine puts out a lightning strike and I say to Kerry, ‘Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields.’ She replies, ‘it’s nothing to get hung about.’ In the tropical torrent, the Imagine Mosaic (a gift from Naples) and its flowers is a sodden John Lennon tribute so beneath the American Elms we scuttle.
And then we slosh westward along 72nd to our hotel and dry towels, laughing, like youngsters, at how wet we are.