Day 1: to Long Island City
Incredibly, it’s been 12 years since I was last in the USA. Chicago and New York all the way back in 2005. It’s taken the relocation of my good friend John to draw me back, and I am very much looking forward to it. To top it off nicely, we have The War on Drugs in Central Park to warm up a Friday evening and to sweeten the deal even further; we’ll be treated to Interpol in some kind of former tennis stadium on Saturday. A sort of festival of our own.
Many hours later and I’ve only been on the ground for ten minutes yet I’ve been asked for directions twice. Once even by an American lady. Hashtag, looking local. In JFK, the air train doors nearly put out another lady’s lights. Sending her absolutely flying into another passenger’s bag. I’ve learnt that lesson the easy way.
It’s warm in New York. Wonderfully balmy, even at 10pm. The ability to sit outside drinking your beer or eating your dinner in mid-September is certainly something Dublin lacks. Our destination for food is a Cuban restaurant somewhere in LIC (Long Island City). Skirt steak with rice and beans. Sensational stuff. A few drinks in a bar later and it dawns or rather yawns on me that I’ve been up more than 24 hours now. All going well. I think. I am pissed though. One more would be fine, yeah?
Day 2: Manhattan and The War on Drugs
It’s a short walk just passed the big Pepsi Cola sign to the boat on the East river. We walk across the busy Brooklyn Bridge. Take in Battery Park, the 9/11 Memorial and Wall Street. We wander through Fraunces Tavern and The Dead Rabbit, the best bar in the world, whatever that means. It must be 30 degrees out. Sun beating down. An absolutely glorious day. There’s only one thing for it, lunch in the sun at Pier A. It’s a beautiful spot to sit and sip a couple of beers over lunch. I start to dip, due to lack of sleep, but otherwise we could have stayed there all day.
The boat back blows the cobwebs away and by the time we disembark, I’m back in the game so we head to Rockaway Brewery for several delicious beers. The bartender won’t accept my fifty dollar note though, blaming her pen checker device for the misunderstanding. AIB apparently dishing out dodgy notes. The time drifts away and soon I’m taking my very first Uber ride to Central Park for The War on Drugs. A different sort of gig. Far more refined than that of its Irish equivalent. Though the fourteen toilets they provided for maybe 2,500 attendees was probably a short fall. The band is in top form, a really powerful set played impeccably. The summer stage in Central Park is a great venue. There’s a really nice vibe around it. People just hanging out, relaxing in the park. Somewhat of a holiday feel to the atmosphere, and not just because I’m on holiday either. Incredibly, this is the first concert I’ve been to outside of Ireland. By tomorrow evening I’ll have two under the belt.
We jump in a yellow cab and head to PJ Clarkes to meet up with John’s friends for the best pints of Guinness in New York, I’m reliably informed. Not a bad pint at all. Sammy Davis Jr. used to booze here. Popular with the presidents too. Nice pint of Guinness. A couple of UN girls attempt to chat us up; we’re having none of it. Well, I’m having none of it. John is very interested in their hard hats, which they have due to coming straight from turning the first sod on a new embassy. They ditch us when we won’t buy them oysters from the in-pub chef.
The drink is seriously flowing. By home time, around 3am, everyone is well and truly steamboats. A brief trip to Fiddlesticks feels like four days of my life. It has all the hallmarks of Coppers so we duck out and grab some pizza en route home.
Day 3: Brooklyn and Interpol
The day starts with a bacon, avocado and cream cheese bagel. Courtesy of John. Very New York, and very delicious. After, we stroll down to get the ferry, which doesn’t really arrive so we hop in an Uber to the Brooklyn Brewery. We treat ourselves to an ice cream while we await our driver. The sun is out even fiercer than yesterday.
The Brooklyn Brewery is packed. I’ve managed to forget my ID again, but we get in and get served all the same. The security guy just tells me to show him my phone, for the cameras. Gas. This needing to prove your age everywhere is all well and good, but it’s getting ridiculous now. The tour is short but good. The story of one of the founders, who was a journalist in the Middleton East during the 80s, makes for an incredible tale. Kidnappings, assassinations and a bombed out hotel paint the scene of a life that you wouldn’t expect from a once amateur brewer.
Again, the day flies in and out of nowhere it’s time to head back to shower and change before Interpol. It’s an awkward journey out to the Forest Hills Stadium and an Uber is our best bet. Our driver is nuts. He misses the expressway entrance on the way to Forest Hills Stadium and apologies ‘I fucked up guys’. While finding our way back to it has to shout out the window at a guy just walking in the middle of the street in a dodgy looking area, ‘don’t nod at me like you’re in the right…..what the fuck dude. In the middle of the street with your hoodie up, it’s 90 fuckin’ degrees outside! This fucking dude’. I’m in hysterics beside him in the front seat. He turns to me and asks, ‘you’d do the same, right?’ ‘Sure’ I say, knowing full well that is literally the last thing I would have done in that situation.
The atmosphere in Flushing Meadows is thick, a hometown gig for Interpol and their Turn on the Bright Lights tour. An album that is not far off it’s fifteenth anniversary. It sounds as good today as when I first heard it. The old tennis stadium provides an incredible venue. Like a natural amphitheatre, perfectly suited for such a band. We’re running a little behind but there is just enough time to grab a couple of beers. The bar lady insisting that John downs his beer before she will give him two more. Sound logic there. For the first time I’ve brought out my ID and not one person has asked to see it. Interpol are great. A very tight band. A hometown show, the atmosphere proving that point. Paul Banks looks a bit perplexed when he’s given the signal that time is up. They definitely had a few more tunes in them.
I had every intention of a quiet night, but it’s still 3:30am before we get anywhere near bed, having met up with John’s friends at an outdoor, very cool square surrounded by bars. We Irish have a name, but man can Americans drink!
Day 4: back to Dublin
Breakfast in Queens, a fairly hipster joint. We get screwed on the mini-pastries. Everyone else seems to get them complimentary, not us though. Probably a case of prejudice. My eggs and toast are pretty good though. The place is wedged, thirty minute wait for breakfast. We hop up at the bar to avoid the queue.
You fly through dollars here. Nothing is cheap. Hundreds just seem to disappear. The approach to salary, tips and value seems skewed. Most people seem to carry cards and not cash, devaluing their own currency and spending power in a bizarre sort of way. Handing over a card that represents cash and not the cash itself makes it hard to keep track. I guess no one would come to New York for a cheap holiday, but how do low paid workers cope.
After breakfast, while we stroll to the subway, two motorbike cops tear past us and close off a street so we hang on to see what’s going down. Then, about a thousand motorcycles go by in convoy. It takes about ten minutes. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Our destination is Macy’s for a spot of shopping. A ridiculously large store. Very confusing. You sort of have to when in New York, or maybe not have to but I thought I might get some value on jeans or something. It only occurs to me when we are there that I have no room in my bags for any additional clothing.
The temperature has drifted up again today. We’re hovering around 33/34°C at times. Fuppin hot. An absolutely cracking day with the sun beating down, but I’m seeking the shade at every opportunity.
Tired doesn’t quite describe where I am at this stage. I’m not 21 anymore. Doing three fairly big nights out in a row takes a significant toll. The trek to JFK does not help. Sunday service means the E train is not going as usual so it’s a half hour walk to Queensbridge in the heat. Then the air train is off so everyone going anywhere is crammed onto a few shuttle buses for, hopefully, the last element of getting to the airport. Panicked faces all round. Thankfully I’ve given myself a decent amount of time so I end up being well early.
New York is some city and I’ve very much enjoyed my time here, but after a few nights I’m done. There’s no geographical heart, or maybe too many hearts. It’s all just on with no off. The choice is phenomenal, but without the same genuine personality of where it came from originally it seems. Just a haze of American-ness applied to everything. Some people are in danger of vaping themselves into a coma they’re trying so hard to be cool. New York passed hipster years ago by the looks of things. I like the whole craft direction things are generally going in but here everybody is doing craft or fucking vintage all day long while surrounded by the fumes of cars, buses and trains as well as the persistent buzz of millions of air-conditioning units humming in unison. Something just doesn’t add up.