10 hours in New York City
I was listening to Nina Simone’s ‘To be young, gifted and black,’ whilst reading the final chapter of Jeannette Wall’s fantastic book ‘The Glass castle’ and felt more motivated than I had in a long time. I look out the plane window and see the very flat landscape of Norway; different shades of brown, very neat fields, boarders of dark sinister looking forests, cute red and white houses scattered.
It was the kind of motivation you get after watching a fantastic movie and being so inspired that you think you could write a movie just as good. Or you go to a concert and you’re so blown away by the performance you believe you could take up lessons and sell out Madison Square Gardens in a day. I was simply listening to fantastic music whilst reading the final chapter of a brilliant book, for the second time.
I wasn’t listening to Mrs Simone’s song and relating to the lyrics or what she was singing about, and I didn’t read and weep over The Glass Castle with some kind of sympathy or relation to the harsh upbringing Jeannette had, thinking I was just like her and now I was going to write a New York Times best seller, no. But, what the combination did have in common was that they both had that sense of power and hope. I have found myself sulking and perhaps feeling a little sorry for myself before, between feeling lost, not having a clue what I am doing with my life and then turning 25 and thinking fuck, I am now in my mid-twenties, this is real. But in reality, it’s all in my control, I have complete power over my life and what I want to do with it or what paths I want to make. Without saying too much about the book as I believe everyone should read it, even thought it was heartbreaking for the most part, Jeannette has a seriously inspiring sense of character in the novel, one that’s not easily broken, and thats where I felt motivation from. And then I guess throw in Nina Simone’s empowering song, some romantic Nordic countryside and you have yourself a mental kick up the bum.
What a fantastic book that was though. I don’t read nearly half as much as I should and I’ve grown up the better half of my life hearing that from both mum and dad constantly. They’re right, I don’t and Im not sure why, because I really enjoy it when I get into it. Our last family holiday was in Corfu, one of the Greek islands, I was 19. I remember arriving in our hotel room and flipping open my suitcase to reveal 5 large books squashing down my pile of clothes. “Jeus, that was ambitious Natasha,’ mum said as she looked at the books. But sure enough day 9 and 10 of that holiday I was booklets and subsequently completely obsessed with The Hunger Games.
I recently went to my parents holiday home on the west coast of Ireland with my mum, a place that is very close to my heart and is home to the majority of my precious childhood memories. Things have changed since I was last here, 3 years it’s been. Theres a lovely little book shop in the village that mum had kept talking about, so after a wonderful walk on silver strand beach with all 5 dogs, we stopped off here for a snoop and a coffee.
I wanted to get a couple of new books, to get back into the routine of reading. As I carefully selected a number of books after reading the blurb, I found Mum glancing at them and informing me she’d read them and there was a copy at home in Wicklow or even in the cottage.
‘Humph,’ I thought to myself.
That’s when I saw The Glass Castle, sitting on the shelf, alone. I knew it sounded familiar and quickly enough I remembered a very close friend of mine, with grammar as sharp as her character, had recommended this book to me. I recalled the Mrs Annie Vanderboom (yes her real name), telling me how wonderful this book was. So, without reading the back, I bought it.
I finished it 4 days later and read the second half again 3 days ago.
When I was packing for this trip I found myself incapable of parting with this book. As I sit here writing this, I look into my large carry on bag and see three new books peeping out, three books I bought after finishing The Glass Castle. This book had brought back my love for reading, so it had a special place in my heart. So I packed it. I thought myself that I would pass it onto someone that I thought would enjoy it.
I landed in Oslo after an hour delay, leaving only one hour to collect my bag, check it in again, go through security and make my flight to New York, an almost impossible challenge.
To top it off, the airline had lost my bag, misplacing it on the oversized baggage onto the belt of a flight that had just come in from London which was of course circling round and round the belt in a terribly lonely fashion, right behind me as I sweated and puffed at the non moving mouth of my baggage belt, with nobody insight. After my bag was relocated to me, I had 10 minutes until boarding- I still ran.
My New York flight was delayed by one hour because a red faced puffing and panting Irish girl had weaselled her way into having one last bag checked in, thank you once again Norwegian, I owe you.
I got off at New York with 11 hours until I had to catch my flight to Cancun Mexico. I had never been to New York and after doing a small amount of research and a read of another New York only based blog I realised it was a rather easy commute into Brooklyn from the airport.
Even if I could only get a slice of pizza and a beer in Brooklyn, venturing out of the airport and hauling my big beetle bag around would be worth it.
I collected my bag without any issues, walked out the front, saw the sign for the AirTrain and arrived at the platform. No signs were making sense to me and train after train was whizzing by until a tall black American man asked me if I was lost.
“I want to go to Brooklyn,” I said as I squinted up at the signs above the doors.
“You can catch this Airtrain, it’ll take you to Brooklyn, I’m actually going there too,’ he replied in a friendly voice.
I told him I only had 10 hours in New York so just wanted to go to Williamsburg to get a beer, a pizza and see that sky line.
He was wearing all black; black slim fitting jeans, a black zip up jumper, black coat, black cap, black back pack and then bright read sneakers that looked like Jordans. Everything looked brand new without a mark or a stain in sight, he looked liked he looked after himself, plus he just came off a Norwegian plane too, so I trusted him.
The train pulled up and he assured me this was the one we needed to get on,
‘But I don’t have a ticket yet?’
‘You pay after the ride.’
“Where have you just come from?’ I asked him.
‘Em, Norway,’ he replies with rolled eyes.
‘Not a fan?’
“I went for my nephews first birthday, he’s not actually my nephew but they call him my nephew, I was only there for four days but it was a lot.’
‘What’s your name?’ I asked.
‘Shanga,’ he replied, accentuating the two syllables.
‘Like the shops in Africa where they make the necklaces?” I asked.
‘That’s the one, but Im not African, nor am I named after those necklace making shops, I’m named after the singer Glady Knight’s son.
Shanga is turning 34, he lives in Brooklyn but was born and grew up in Georgia. The father, who’s an engineer, was offered a job in South Carolina, so Shanga and his two older brothers moved with the family. He went to college there and then moved to Brooklyn three years ago and now works as an art teacher and occasionally a sports teacher.
‘It seems cool, but I’m just like every other goddam person who moved to New York to become an artist, it’s hard.’
I told him my mum was an artist and I showed him some pictures of her paintings, then he showed me some of his. He drew very detailed pencil drawings with a message and concept behind them. One of his favourite ones was a pencil drawing of a young black man with his arms above his head with a shooting target fitted onto his torso to look like his organs.
‘I drew that right about the time all those young black kids were being shot by the police.’
We got off at the Howard Beach station.
‘Now, you need to buy a metro card here and put like $15 on there for your whole trip out and back, do you have a metro card?’
‘Nope, first time in New York, how do I get a metro card?’
‘Here, you can have mine,’ and he gave me his spare metro card.
We had to go over to the Far Rockaway Brooklyn A train express.
‘You’re going to be going to the Broadway junction, then you get off and go over to the L line and go to Bedford Avenue, that’s where you’re going to find your beer, your pizza and the water front.’
He could see I was already confused.
‘You know what, I’m hungry, I guess I could go to Williamsburg and get something to eat, then go back home, that way I can show you, so you don’t get lost.’
‘That would be great!’
Andy Warhol piece, Bedford Avenue & North 7 st.
By the time we got to Bedford Avenue it was 11pm but everything was lit up. It had been raining a lot in New York and the puddles of water were bright with red and yellow bulb reflections. We walked down streets under scaffolding and past red brick town houses that had stairs leading up to old brown doors, just like in the movies. There were late night convenience stores with buckets of flowers outside, trays of fruit, lit up fridges of Arizona Ice Tea and big bright flashing blue and red signs reading Budweiser. I was smiling the whole time with excitement and delight.
‘So you’re a teacher, do you read a lot?’
‘Not really,’ he replied.
‘I don’t read a lot either, but you should read this book,’ I pulled The Glass Castle out of my bag and gave it to him.
‘It starts in New York and it ends in New York so it seems fitting that I should leave it in New York,’I told him with a smile. He was delighted. We carried on walking around the gently busy streets of Williamsburg.
‘Now, were going to need to find somewhere that’s still open and serving food as well as getting you a beer, I don’t drink myself.’ His accent was coming out now and I could really hear the southern in it.
He walked me to one of his favourite thai places, but it seemed like they weren’t serving anymore so we went to the one next door which was a little more fancy looking.
I opened the big double doors and walked inside to this big open wooden room with a square pond in the middle with boats of lavish flowers floating around. The seating was low and there were glass egg chairs dangling in what looked like a drinking area. A woman who was standing at the host stand dressed in traditional thai clothes bowed and clasped her hands together as she welcomed me.
We sat at a table surrounded by other people, mostly couples. The people eating there were wearing round delicate glasses or thick black square ones, the women left their grey cashmere scarves wrapped around their necks on and didn’t take their sleeveless bubble jackets off. The men wore backwards caps and brand new sneakers. It seemed like a casual dining place for the elite trendy people of Williamsburg, I’m sure if I had complimented any of the outfits in there they would have been shocked and assured me this was there ‘oh its late on a Tuesday but I wanted steamed dumplings and California rolls, so I just thew this on,’ and it would have been true.
I had tempura calamari for $10 and a Brooklyn IPA draft beers for $8, reasonable enough for such a nice setting. Shanga had water and a chicken pad thai which he barely ate and had boxed up.
Well I have to say this is the first time I’ve ever gone to dinner with a complete stranger I met in the airport,’ he said as he hid his lower lip with his hand.
‘They called me Red Snapper when I was younger, which turned into Snappah, because my lower lip was so pink when I was younger.’
‘I was called piglet, because i was pink all over and kind of still am.’
I asked him what he thought about Trump and he told me he was asked that 20 times a day in Norway so on the plane he had drawn a picture of Trumps different characters.
‘He’s a delusional man who doesn’t actually know much about anything. He doesn’t even live with his wife, not even when they’re in the same building. Obama went everywhere with Michelle and he adored her, thats a man I respect.’ Shanga pulled out the pencil drawing of Trump and said I could have it, signing it before giving it to me.
After our food we walked down to the pier by the water where I would be able to see Manhattan, the Williamsburg bridge and the Brooklyn bridge.
It honestly took my breath away. It was just like I had imagined it, so massive and the buildings were so tall and so bright and the Williamsburg bridge was gigantic and beautiful, the Brooklyn Bridge even more so. We went along the walk way which hugged the lapping water and winded around the front of some fairly gorgeous apartments, I would guess there were worth a few million.
After I had fulfilled my tourist dreams, we walked back up towards Bedford Avenue and went into a grungy looking bar called Rose Mary’s Greenpoint Tavern. It had an unusual amount of easter decorations dangling from the ceiling and was glowing pink from a UV light stencil of a rabbits face. It was small, had a bar, booths and a jukebox. There were taps of beer and stacks of small bottles of local craft beer. The man behind the bar had long brown hair in a pony tail and a scraggily looking beard which went down so low it sat on his protruding stomach which was accentuated by a rather tight red t shirt which said Guinness on the front.
‘Hey little lady what can I get you?’
‘A pint of Guinness please and a water,’ I replied with a beaming smile.
‘It wont taste like home but I’ll do my best to give it damn good pouring.’
After the Guinness I had a Goose Island IPA for $6 which was truly delicious.
Shanga told me about his 39 year old brother who still lived at home with his parents. He had a heart disease and had to get a heart transplant but during a second procedure his right lung had collapsed and was unnoticed for a number of months because of his high functioning new heart.
‘Now he can barely walk two blocks. He came to visit me recently and I live on the third floor without an elevator so that was tough, I had to rent out a wheelchair too. $100 deposit and then $70 for the damn thing which I ended up busting up the tire on and then fixed it up long enough for me to get my deposit back and get the hell out of there. More expensive than renting a car.”
By now it was 2am in the morning and I had been travelling for over 24 hours without a wink of sleep. It was time for me to head back. I had written out all the stops in my notebook ready to make the journey back on my own but after Shanga had to wake me up after our first stop he ended up bringing me all the way back to the airport where we met and where the adventure had begun.
I am so glad I decided to venture out into New York for those 10 hours, everything came together just like in a romantic fantasy film script you have in your mind from being a child. I felt like Shanga brought the loop full circle for me and that I wasn’t just imaging this mental kick up the bum. These are the kinds of moments that fuel my love for travel and my adaptation for the ‘yes man’ concept.
I hope that my copy of The Glass Castle carry onto another brilliant person who it effects equally.