Escape To New York

Much of my life is governed by bizarre ideas that get out of hand – you’re reading one of them at the moment! However, even as such concepts go, the idea of flying across to New York for a weekend is a little hard to take. There was some logic behind it; my main holiday this year is going to be two weeks spent learning to drive, not my idea of fun, so I thought it’d be cool to throw all caution (and rather more money than I care to think about) to the winds and head for New York on an ultra-cheap Virgin flight.

Arriving at the airport clutching my weekend bag (socks, toothbrush and a wide range of unpleasant T-shirts), I discovered one of the perils of cheap airlines, the inevitable delay in the flight. Paranoia was soothed on discovering that every Virgin flight was late, some of them by up to 12 hours, which made our 90 minutes seem almost bearable – Gatwick airport isn’t somewhere I’d hang around by choice. In desperation I hit the book-shop, hoping to find something to kill time with and after some time rooting among Harold Robbins and Jeffrey Archer novels (and, oddly, P.J.O’Rourke’s ‘Holidays in Hell’), I went for ‘Slaughter of the Lambs’ by Thomas Harris, the nearest thing to a good book available.

We were eventually allowed onto the plane. “Hey, this is a lot roomier than I expected”, was my first thought. Then we were left the Upper Class i.e. expensive section into the Economy i.e. our area. Sit down, belt up and wait for take off. I had to stifle giggles throughout the demonstration of the safety drill, being unable to forget the piss-take – “the emergency exits are situated over the wings of the plane, which means you people here, here & here have no chance”. I was impressed with the power of the plane at take-off, which showed high acceleration and maintained it for a long while. I was also impressed with the Virgin stewardesses; an aisle seat meant I couldn’t see out the window but who wants to see the top of clouds when you can gaze wistfully after long, stocking encased legsā€¦ I began to wonder for whose benefit the safety belts were provided.

The main in-flight entertainment was a film – on leafing through the flight magazine, we could have been lumbered with ‘When Harry Met Sally’, which made ‘Black Rain’ a relief. Interesting to note no-one at Virgin gives a toss about showing 15-rated films to an audience of all ages. Seven hours after leaving, we struck land, not too gently, at Newark. Since they’ve abolished the visa requirement for UK citizens, I was hoping for a quick passage through immigration, but it was not to be. After filling in a form that had intriguing questions like ‘Are you a member of a Communist or other subversive group?’ and warned me that I might be refused entry if I was mentally handicapped (into the nation that elected Ronald Reagan president?), queuing for 45 minutes and being quizzed to make sure I had a return flight ticket, enough cash and a hotel, I was in. So much for “give me your poor, your huddled masses”.

Having taken the bus into New York, the next step was to get to the hotel. It was Bedlam outside, so a wise move seemed to be to take a taxi. This was fine until we arrived at the hotel – on pulling up at the curb, the taxi was approached by a bagman who suggested to the driver that he should move his fucking cab. The driver responded in kind, and the two began a contest to see which of them could cram the most swear-words into a sentence. The vagrant yanked open my door of the cab – was he going to get in next to me? He reached inside his pocket – ohgodhelphesgotagunletmeout. He got bored and drifted away. Welcome to New York. My state of mind wasn’t improved when I went for a burger to calm my nerves. I’m sitting there eating it, when in walks a policeman. Second Chance body armor, large semi-automatic weapon, the works. At this point, I rated my chances of getting out of the city alive at about 50/50.

Saturday morning dawned bright & early, jet lag working in my favour this way. Watched a bit of American TV before getting up – great sports coverage, everything else was dross. Some of the adverts had a horrible appeal, like the programme (sponsored by some diet plan) resembling a revivalist prayer meeting with people telling their tales of how said diet had saved their lives, before bursting into tears and having to be comforted by the presenter, who resembled Russell Grant, only a lot more effeminate.

Much of that day was spent walking down Fifth Avenue, and up Broadway. I was impressed with how clean and quiet the streets were compared to London. Even on a Saturday morning, there were about one tenth of the numbers you’d see on Oxford Street. Most people drive enormous cars, I expect – I thought the SUX-6000 in ‘Robocop’ was a joke, but it’s hideously close to the truth. It was great to see places like the Chrysler building, home of ‘Q – The Winged Serpent’ and the Empire State Building, climbing frame for large anthropoids. The latter was slightly disappointing, in that it’s tiered nature meant that by the time you were close enough to appreciate it’s size, it seemed to go up only twenty stories or so, compared with other slabs of glass-steel, which rose vertically up from street-level six or seven hundred feet without a pause for breath. It’s the only place you can get vertigo standing on the ground.

Spent a fair amount of time in book shops, or rather running back and forth between them. There is no fixed price for books in the States, so you have to comparison shop between places to get the best price. Picked up some interesting bits and pieces, most notably Klaus Kinski’s autobiography, ‘All I Need is Love’, following which he is now facing several libel suits. Had a quick drool in a couple of video stores, too, cursing the invention of the NTSC system!

Broadway goes on and on – I eventually gave up at Macy’s, the world’s largest department store with a turnover of $5 million per day. Eight floors, five of which sell nothing but women’s underwear. After heading back to the hotel, I got a call from Michael Gingold, the editor of Scareaphanalia and the only person I knew within striking distance – he came into town and after one drink in the hideously expensive hotel bar, we headed out. Hit something of a problem in the first place we tried – they demanded to see our ID, to prove we were over 21 (the drinking age in New York). Having been asked to prove my age once in the past six years, I naturally hadn’t bothered taking my passport, so after a brief delay, we found another bar, ready to prove our right to bear drinks. Naturally, they didn’t ask. However, they served a mean steak sandwich, a good pint of Guinness and the juke-box occasionally played tracks from ‘Blue Velvet’ which kept us happy, though our Dennis Hopper impressions got the odd funny look!

Continued in TC7

A Guide to Western Civilization, or My Story – Joe Bob Briggs (Penguin Originals, 5.99)

Published in the US in ’88, this is the second book from Joe Bob, his first being ‘Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-in’, one of last year’s Penguin originals, first published in ’87. ‘Western Civilization’ is a very different book, containing little about his favourite films (apart from a brief mention or two about ‘The Trip’, ‘Night of the Blood Beast’, ‘Maniac’ or ‘Bell, Bare & Beautiful’ or stars such as Steve Reeves or Annette Funicello), and more (much more) about his real-life exploits.

His first book was pretty much unreadable at one sitting (as you’d expect; it was, after all, a collection of columns in a newspaper), but enjoyable nevertheless. This second book, detailing such things as his earliest girlfriend Dede Wilkes, or how he invented the Titty Bar, his marriage to his star attraction and his exploits in Mexico helping the locals across the border and into America, land of the free.

There are a few occasional chuckles to be found but the rest is a bit of a strain, in parts even embarrassing. You’ll have to read some of his first book before you even consider embarking on this one, and then only if you’re really that interested in hearing about his (fantasy – Joe Bob, or Jose, as they know him in Mexico, is after all more of the writer’s character than his true self) life, without the info about the many trash and exploitation movies covered in his previous publication.

It’s hard to slag off a book which manages to come up with more than ten different phrases to describe the female breast in the space of two pages, but at times it just degenerates into plain silliness. The highlight of the book is his point-by-point description of the Kennedy assassination, so check this out if you see the book on a rack somewhere – page 165! For those who read ‘Joe Bob Goes to the Drive In’ in one sitting. (AF)