New York City, NY
Let me be frank – I hate American Airlines and it’s hard to know where to begin with why – the queues, the rude staff, not having my vegetarian meal, the uncomfortable seats, the headphones that don’t work which would matter more if the inflight entertainment was actually entertaining which would matter less if I could’ve slept. To add insult to injury, we touched down in New York at 5.45am and they refused to release us until 6am all so we could go and join another queue at customs for over an hour!
When I finally got my bag, it was time to get the straps out for the first time this trip, heave it onto my back and head to the subway – yes my friends, the coaches have turned back into pumpkins and its back to public transport! In the past, Matthew and I have always used the subway to get to our accommodation in New York. Even with him navigating the way, it was always an arduous journey – on my own, infinitely so as I waited an eon, and then got the wrong connection and then found out there was track work on the line I needed. When I was as close as my crumpled spirit could get me, I admitted defeat, headed to the surface and hailed a cab for the last several blocks.
This is my 6th visit to the Big Apple, in the past we always stayed in Manhattan. This time, I opted for Brooklyn in an attempt to make something new of the experience. The taxi dropped me off in front of a beautiful brownstone where I was to meet my host for the week… on the fourth floor, no lift, heavy bag, no sleep, horrible journey, emotionally raw, ready to burst, I knocked on Maura’s door which was opened to me with all the welcome of an old friend. I was invited in, sat down and made to feel immediately at ease. As we chatted, neighbours came and went all with a warm welcome and local advice. Maura showed me to my apartment on the first floor (phew!) and it was gorgeous. She had to give it a quick clean after the last tenants before I could properly settle in but she allowed my to lay down my baggage, both physical and emotional before sending me off for a walk around the neighbourhood with a hug that lightened my load even further.
Out on the street, it’s fair to say, I was feeling wobbly from the lack of sleep, need of a shower and being back in a city that holds so many memories. But three deep breaths and one look around was all it took to fall in love with New York again.
Park Slope, the neighbourhood I’m staying in named for nearby Prospect Park, is beautiful. It helps that everything is in full bloom with cherry blossoms and tulips bringing the rows of brownstones to life. I meandered on, being restored by the Sesame Street goodness when suddenly I was stopped in my tracks by a shop across the street: Brooklyn Superhero Supply.
It’s a little known fact that the whole concept of the superhero has been a recurrent theme in my life of late so it felt quite prophetic to see it there at a time when I had to be my own superhero and indeed one in desperate need of supplies. Yet even as I crossed the threshold of the shop, it was ringing a bell… Inside, it was as promised outside – supplies for superheroes, anything you can imagine – grappling rope, matter, anti-matter, gallons of vengeance, alien drones – you name it, they had it all including a devilianising chamber (where I was indeed devilianised)! No doubt you’re as confused as I was when I eventually just blurted out ‘but what does it all mean?’. The guy sidled up to me conspiratorially and whispered “it’s all a front, follow me”. He led me to the back of the store where he pushed open a secret panel, as he did, the penny dropped and I remembered something I’d read about years before…
Behind the door was another room twice as big as the front with tables, chairs and book shelves stacked with all kinds of crazy **** (it looked like our house!). I couldn’t believe what I was seeing because I suddenly knew exactly what I was standing in the middle of – “This is the Dave Eggers literacy program, isn’t it!”, he seemed genuinely impressed that someone with my accent knew what it was. Dave Eggers is an American author, one of my favourites, who several years back started a literacy program for disadvantaged children. But as the story goes, the venue he found had to be run as a business due to the zoning requirements. The place was dilapidated and looked like an old pirate ship so in order to comply the council regulations, he decided to set up a pirate supply shop in the front, leaving him free to run the program out the back. Apparently, he has now rolled it out in six other locations around the country using the same concept – I was standing in the Superhero one! All money made in the shop front goes directly to running the programs which are run entirely by volunteers.
At the time I read about it I was so inspired – such a brilliant project – worthy, creative, imaginative. I couldn’t believe my luck to have stumbled across it! I wanted to buy one of everything but instead I just bought the t-shirt and made my ‘vow of heroism’ to complete the transaction. I reckon I could just about have flown out of the store and lept over buildings in a single bound. If I can fly myself and not have to deal with American Airlines again, I’ll be happy!
I went back to my apartment via a local farmers market where I picked up some big apples for the week and a coffee to keep me going.
Freshly showered and already overwhelmed by the ups and downs of the day, I decided to have an easy evening. I strolled up to the park and along to the local cinema to see Source Code. Although I really enjoyed the movie, my cape drooped a little on the way home – maybe it was a couple of hours of watching a beautiful man with big blue eyes save the day or maybe it was just utter exhaustion. None the less, a superhero has to be strong and I had one more feat of strength – I had challenged myself to go to a pub by myself to prove it could be done. And I did. I didn’t say that I had to talk to anyone, so I invoked my powers of invisibility by hiding in a book, making notes about this extraordinary day. None the less, I think it’s safe to say that my time in New York is off to a flying start (end of superhero puns).