We have arrived in Washington after our two and a bit weeks in NYC. Our time there proved to be an experience, we explored a fair bit of Manhattanand the surrounding areas, saw the iconic landmarks, met some interesting people, got to see a little bit of the lives of the haves and of the have nots (and the vast prairie that separates the two!).
We were HelpXing (I.e working for our keep) with a family in the Queens district. Staying in an attractive though very ramshackle house located on a very middle class mainly Jewish area that is surrounded by the sort of multi ethnic mix that you might expect to find in any of Londons outer boroughs.
Our immediate vicinity was very orderly, traditional American suburban homes, manicured lawns, squirrels abounding, mature deciduous trees and star spangled banners adorning many of the properties. Oh and some of the most incredibly tasteless, disproportionate and crass looking houses imaginable that have been built on existing plots, after demolishing what had been there, but leaving the original chimney stacks to circumvent building codes.
No doubt the owners (or possibly victims) of these “designs” were inspired by a combination of fading memories of TV shows like Pimp My Ride, a vague recollection of a curled at the corners post card picture of the colloseaum behind the counter in some takeaway once frequented and a sudden influx of wealth that just had to be displayed, like a turkey cocks plumage.
The family we stayed with were pretty unconventional by some peoples standards, they have three kids aged 5-14 that they home school. Both parents are well educated, polite, charming, generous, welcoming, and quite possibly bonkers. Their life seems like one long anthropological experiment (sadly lacking any scientific rigor). The children are all bright, articulate and have been encouraged to explore subjects that interest them, learning at their own pace. This openess has given these kids the freedom to discover for themselves the natural order of things, the shared values that allow us to form cohesive and fair societies and that individual responsibility is the key to a better world for all. Unfortunately in practice, it appears that providing the freedom to discover does not actually guarantee discovery, but hey, it’s a long term experiment and I can’t say with my hand on my heart they are wrong to take this approach. Only time will tell if the little fuckers turn out OK!
So what actually have we been doing for our keep?? Our main job has been refurbishing the basement. Taking down and replacing a suspended ceiling (that had been put up and fucked up by previous Helpxers), forming a studwork wall and fitting a door. Jane was brilliant, this was the first time we had undertaken something like this together and she really got stuck in. It was not all work though, we explored Manhattan by day and night, from Harlem down to Staten Island, went to see a performance of Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera House and visited some lesser known museums. Using our hosts bikes we spent many hours cycling around Queens until some bastard nicked the bikes (locked up to a steel post outside a bookstore in a niceJewish area, wtf is the world coming too?). To our hosts credit, they were really great when we told them the bikes had gone, just saying that they were just stuff that could be replaced and nobody was harmed. I would have been well pissed off, together they were worth well over a thousand bucks!
The best/most surprising bits about NYC;
The police- seemed to be far fewer about than in Blighty, not adorned in paramilitary attire like our hobbies now wear (yes, I know they had guns) very polite and approachable.
A night time walking tour of lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge that included the twin towers memorial with a guide who had witnessed 9-11 first hand, very moving.
The less good bits;
The subway stations were hot and mostly pretty grotty.
The food both in restaurants and the shops was often horrible processed yuk.
The cost of living was much higher than I expected, most things can be brought cheaper in the UK and the VAT is included, not tax added as here.
Not enough fatties waddling about the place, I was confidently looking forward to a period of being regarded as svelte, but sadly for me it’s not the case, I’m still a fat bastard.
So did I fall under the spell of the Big Apple, no! It was good to see and spend some time in the place, to meet and speak to some folks doing regular stuff and to get a bit of a taste of a New Yorkers life.
But I think New York has peaked, the rest of the world has caught up. It is the Tyrannosaurus Rex of cities, a voracious, fast and powerful beast. With its thick skin, muscles and teeth it appears initially to be all powerful, but then you notice the flaws, the short arms that can’t even reach the mouth (food here is more often about refueling than dining), the huge and insatiable hunger for resources, both human and material (this is carnivore land, ain’t no greens in this hood bro). Yes folks, I reckon the Big Apple is a dinosaur and like its ancestors of 65 million years ago given the chance, it would blindly lead the Human Race down the road to extinction.