The Big Bad Apple

‘Kevin, we’re sending you to visit the office in New York’, said my boss, beaming at me as though he had announced that I had just won the lottery. I could see he was waiting expectantly for grateful thanks to be heaped on his fake wooden desk.

Now anyone named Kevin, on hearing those words, would jump for joy….wouldn’t he? When these words were uttered to me, I was at an age when jumping for joy was beginning to be classed as a hazardous activity, so I just said: ‘Oh really’? I say ‘really?’ a lot. Probably too much. Anyway…..perhaps if I had been invited to visit the New York office while I was still in my twenties, I might have managed a small hop for joy. The ‘New York office’ was the company’s Shangri-La and a pilgrimage to the Big Apple was much coveted by new and established employees alike. The typical time for a visit was two weeks, but I was being sent for one week. Since I had no choice but to go, one week suited me just fine.

Anyone I spoke to about my impending trip to New York was immediately envious whether they had been there before or not. I wanted to hand them the flight ticket and say: “There you go, enjoy. It’s all yours.” If it had not been a business trip I would have done just that.

By now you will have gathered that I was less than enhthused by the prospect of visiting the biggest tourist trap in the world. Besides which, every disaster known to man has happened in New York if the movies are to be believed. Alien invasion, tsunami, earthquake, giant gorilla, massive spiders, 30 Rock TV series and even zombies! Over the years I had heard stories of the high crime rate and more recent news was telling of bedbug infestations in most hotels in the city.

To quote a line from the song ‘One night in Bangkok’ from the musical ‘Chess’: ‘You’ve seen one crowded, polluted, stinking town….’ you’ve seen ’em all. There are always exceptions, however, and for me Paris, although also polluted and sometimes stinking, stands out for me as a very memorable place. For the rest, however, I can take them or leave them. New York was just another city in another country that doesn’t even offer the same depth of history as Europe. I was therefore greatly underwhelmed at the prospect of travelling 5 hours across the Atlantic Ocean just to sit in the New York office while trying to understand my colleagues who would be speaking American. I made a mental note to look out for an American to English dictionary that would assist me in translations during my trip.

In the spirit of positive thinking and looking on the bright side, I decided to book myself in on a few touristy type activities. I chose a Hudson River jazz cruise and a performance of a play on Broadway that starred Matthew Broderick. For the rest I figured I would be too tired after a day at work to go running about the streets of New York. Being mugged wasn’t on my list of tourist activities, so I would do what I always do when staying away from home – leave the office, arrive at my hotel room, lock the door and not venture out until morning.

I quizzed my colleagues, the intrepid travelers that had gone before me, about their experiences. One of them mentioned the bedbug epidemic, so naturally I conducted research online to verify the story. Sure enough I found scary articles about hotel guests being noshed by the critters during the wee hours of the morning. Although hotels were doing their best to fumigate and eradicate, the little blighters were proving to be hard to kill (the bedbugs….not the guests). So, having been in the Boy Scouts and having lived my life by the motto ‘Be prepared’, I went out and bought a magnifying glass and a strong flashlight. This, according to Mr Google, was the only way to inspect the bed and surrounding area on arrival. Granted, it was the plush and very upmarket Roosevelt hotel, but it was old and who knew what lurked in the shadows?

I also asked my work comrades what visa I would require to enter the USA. They were vague, but seemed to think that no visa was required as I had a UK passport. What they failed to mention, and what I found out on arrival at Shannon airport on the Sunday morning I was due to travel, was that I needed some sort of entry clearance that I could have applied for on the Internet for around twenty Euro. I was directed to an internet terminal by a harsh looking woman and quickly filled out the form and printed it. Then came further scrutiny of my passport and various other checks. I didn’t realise that this would circumvent the procedure on arrival at Kennedy airport. The 5-hour flight was uneventful and I was amused to find a yellow cab, such as is seen in movies. The taxi driver turned out to be the ubiquitous Pakistani that is found in taxis worldwide. I had somehow expected to see a cloth-cap 50-something good fella from Queens representing the New York taxi driver stereotype, but reality is always a little different. OK, a LOT different.

It was a sweltering day with around 80% humidity, but I thanked Jesus, Mary, the ghost, the long-eared donkey, Joseph and the talking walnut that the aircon was working in the room. The door had hardly latched behind the snooty porter before I whipped out my magnifying glass and flashlight and pulled apart the carefully made bed to inspect the mattress beneath. Either the bed bugs had been pre-warned by an informant or there were simply none in the room because I found no trace. I had my deoderant can and lighter standing by in case the hive was discovered, but nothing. I re-made the bed and decided to take a walk around the famous streets to see where the office was situated on Park Avenue.

I found it quickly, although I was walking very slowly to avoid melting in the heat. I wandered aimlessly, pushed myself through crowds of sweating people and arrived suddenly and unexpectedly at the gates of what looked like a park. Turns out it was Central Park. You know…where all the muggers, rapists and homeless people hang out. I had seen it in so many movies, but there it was right in front of me….and yet it was just another park. Nothing special about it other than that it had starred in movies. I walked in a short way, but found it to be unimpressive and way too crowded. I left and made my way towards a street market that stretched for four or five city blocks. It turned out to be a festival to celebrate French Bastille Day . It was very festive and I was amused that I was in the heart of New York, but it could have been any city in the world. I was also amused to find that the Bastille Day market was populated mainly by stalls run by Chinese people selling water melon and pineapple.

Part II to follow shortly….

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