From my journal a year ago, landing in New York for the first time on the 4th of July:
Woke up in Cozumel, Mexico, left for New York, USA. Flew to Charlotte, North Carolina, ate at Burger King at the airport while I waited for my connecting flight. Landed at La Guardia. Took no time to get through to the cab rank, was driven to Park Slope by a Sikh driver. We discussed the problems Indian students had in Melbourne and Sydney as I got my bags out of the trunk.
Dropped my backpack off at the apartment and walked up 3rd Street towards Prospect Park. The street was wide, tree lined. It was warm. Twilight. People were barbecuing. Fireflies were an unexpected delight. Realised I’d landed on the fourth of July. Walked along the boundary of the park following people to where I hoped fireworks might be happening. Asked for help from three elderly ladies who had spent the day having a picnic. They had accents, but I didn’t know where from. Haiti? They had been in New York a while, they said. They were wary of me at first. Said the fireworks were happening in Manhattan and I should catch the subway to either 34th or 42nd Streets. They let me tag along with them to the subway, as I had no idea where I was going. We walked through Brooklyn, the streets progressively getting more derelict, and I told them where I was from and that I’d spent a week in Mexico at a wedding. “I hope you don’t have the bug,” one said. “Swine flu? I hope I don’t have it, either,” I replied. They gave me some advice about the subway system when we got there, we were fast friends by then. The lady who had been most wary of me had warmed up to me most. She said to make sure I kept an eye on my wallet while her friends made a beeline for the turnstiles and I thanked her. She told me to get a weekly ticket and a subway map.
Caught the number 2 or 3 train towards Manhattan. Spoke to a man sitting beside me with his wife and two young kids about how to get back to Brooklyn (catch the downtown Brooklyn). Uptown and downtown finally made sense. The train was occupied by more coloureds than whites. I asked the man if he was going to Manhattan to see the fireworks, he said he was and to get off the train where they did. I followed them with a crowd, up to the turnstiles where a couple of subway attendants yelled at us to get back onto the train and get off at 72nd Street if we wanted to see the fireworks. This stirred everyone up but we traipsed back down to the platform. I was following another family, hearing the wife say, “How do we know they’re telling the truth?” We caught the train to 72nd Street and I followed people down to the river.
It was hot, hotter than it was when I first arrived. A big crowd was gathering. I overheard a woman standing outside an apartment building, probably about sixty, say to the footman at the entrance, “Why do they bother? Each year it’s boring.” There were cops everywhere, directing traffic, some on horseback. I heard the popping sound in the distance as I reached the fringe of the crowd, the fireworks began their crescendo and I pushed through the hot, mostly black bodies, catching the last bright splashes on tippy-toe. The crowd ‘Ahhhed’ and a section of them were singing the Star-Spangled Banner. I couldn’t imagine Australians belting out Advanced Australia Fair spontaneously like that. People began to disperse and I walked back to the subway. I thought about getting off at Times Square, but it was late, so I went back to Brooklyn.
The train was full to brimming. Spoke with a grey-haired man and his lady friend about Australia. I missed my stop, but they helped me with directions to get to where I wanted to go. I didn’t quite know where I was, but didn’t think I was too far away from 3rd Street. Stopped for a pepperoni pizza from a place called Gino’s. There was a soccer game on TV, USA vs. Grenada, a CONCACAF match. A kid came in, ordered a slice that he sprinkled herbs onto it from a shaker on the counter they had for doing just that and sat eating it, watched the game. New York pizza lived up to its reputation. I ate a slice from the box as I walked in the general direction of Park Slope. Found 5th Avenue and a homeless man sitting on some steps called out to me, “Can you help me? I’m hungry.” “I can give you a slice of pizza,” I said and he took it gratefully with two hands. I walked up 5th Avenue, past bars and delis.
I got back to the apartment, the bottom floor of a brownstone, ate more of the pizza and left a couple of slices for breakfast. I watched a DVD of Bull Durham and started watching Woody Allen’s Manhattan, but stopped halfway through as my eyes were heavy. Decided to smoke a cigarette and walk around the block as I wasn’t ready to put the lights out just yet. It was 2am and people were still out. Got home, had a shower, went to bed. I liked New York a lot.