On June 12th 1975 I was in New York City.
I flew into Kennedy in the rain, on a British Airways flight from London. I had arranged to stay with friends of a friend on the Upper West Side. I stood in line outside the airport trying to get on the crowded buses going downtown. I did something against etiquette, perhaps moving my pack, and the driver told me "I don't do your job, why don't you let me do mine?" The bus put me down outside Grand Central Station and I stood in the early evening light trying to flag down a yellow cab. Many were empty but they paid no attention to me with my pack, though they stopped for others. This, I thought, was the time to tackle the subway, even though I'd been travelling for twelve hours. I got out at Broadway and 96th and was amazed at all the colourful characters hanging out on the street. I was made welcome in the apartment and ate and drank and talked long into the night.
The next day, still spaced out from the flight, I walked through Central Park where I looked at the blue jays and the cops cruising. I made my way down to Washington Square, where people talked to you like you actually existed, so different from stony London. I ran into someone who had been on my flight. I took a meal at Horne and Hardart. In the following days I walked a lot, and saw some sights, Grant's Tomb, The Natural History Museum, The Staten Island Ferry. I went to lots of art with my hostess who was an artist, in SoHo and at the museums. I went with my hosts round Brooklyn and ate clams and steamers and mussels with beer around Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach. We went to visit friends in huge loft apartments and drove around the city streets which were in a deadly state of repair. I saw Altman's Nashville in its opening week (it didn't open in London until September). We went to a black middle-class jazz bar in mid-town. I felt like I was in the centre of everything, everybody was interested in anything and everything, and they even listened to what I had to say as I listened to them.
In my mind this was to be the beginning of a grand journey. I'd had difficulty filling in the forms on the flight because they asked about where I was going and which flight I was going to take back to the UK. But I wasn't going to use my return ticket. I was going to hitchhike across to California and I was going to go to Cuzco and La Paz which sounded so high and far away when I read my Latin American Handbook (my only preparation), and most of the bus journeys appeared to take twenty-four hours.
|By Central Park, 1976: Picture by Paul W, CC|