It is almost criminal that, having worked for Americans for three years, I have never stepped foot in the country.
This September the time arrived for me to jump on a flight across the pond. Heathrow T3 to Newark Liberty International. I was unbelievably excited. I had a beer at 2.30pm, after getting to the airport four hours early (I suffer from hodophobia) and immediately felt like I had been at an all-day drinking session. I also had a raging temperature. And then the flight was delayed by three hours. So I used all my data watching Gossip Girl to kill time.
Three seats on Virgin Atlantic later, I slept for most of the flight, I landed at Newark and sweated in anticipation waiting for immigration. If you ever want to see Americans exude an overrated hold on power, it is here. I was asked about 15 questions about my trip and why I had Middle Eastern stamps in my passport, only to be sent off with compliments on how white my teeth were (I religiously used a whitening kit before my trip for this moment).
New York City really is like something out of the movies. I have based my rather limited outlook on the city (only recently finding out that the State itself is vast), on S and B traveling in a limo on the Upper East Side. Or Audrey Hepburn looking for Cat in an alleyway. Or being at school and seeing the footage of 9/11 for the very first time.
Basing ourselves in Harlem (it doesn’t deserve its reputation may I add) for the first two nights, my sister and I tried to re-enact a scene from Sex & The City by smoking and drinking champagne on the top floor fire escape. In reality, this just added to my fever and I got eaten alive by mosquitos, convincing myself I had contracted Zika for the rest of the trip.
We walked for miles (17.2 according to my iPhone tracker) from Harlem to Times Square to Central Park. I am a keen walker. I only ever walk in London. It was boiling and busy and wonderful and alive. My sister’s face lit up every time she saw another old building with yet another fire escape ladder to take a photo of. There was Donald Trump memorabilia everywhere but no one spoke about him. Times Square is nothing like I imagined. In fact it is tiny. And dirty.
Everything is called Trump Tower. There is a Starbucks on every other block. There are no public loos. There are traffic lights EVERYWHERE. Water costs $3 for a small bottle. Shoe stores don’t cater for people with small feet. The road network is faultless. Getting tattoos is expensive. Ubers are expensive. Everyone serves you a glass of water on arrival to a bar or restaurant. They ID you all the time. Americans are extraordinarily friendly. No-one smokes. Healthy food costs three times as much as is three times as hard to find. Tips are at least 18% – even for drinks. Americans have terrible taste in music (Drake….)
But we did it all. Empire State. Chrysler Building. Grand Central. The High Line. Greenwich. Upper West Side. Hailing a yellow cab (punching my sister in the face at the same time). Eating a sidewalk-bought pretzel. Using Alicia Keys’s lyrics for every Instagram upload.
The city is infectious and magical and, for me, totally unlivable. A studio flat costs on average $2500 a month. A one-way metro ticket costs $3. Unlike London, salaries here do equate to the cost of living but I couldn’t see myself living. I would find it impossible to escape or find a second of peace to myself. I do, however, see myself being back there again. Drinking Gin & Tonics at Gallow Green; eating steak at Good Restaurant with old friends from all over the world; taking endless photos of skyscrapers; remembering what life is like outside of our lost little worlds.
Start spreading the news, I am coming back.