Culture, Features, Tiny Treasures, Travel
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Across the USA

New York City

“Wanted: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen.”

At 8:57am, the first morning in New York, my phone buzzed with a gentle siren-like sound, but it wasn’t my alarm, so curious I turned to my side and rubbed my eyes to focus on the short text that was on the screen. This wasn’t exactly the welcome I was expecting, nevertheless, I groaned and forced myself to get up.

Me and two friends that I’ve known since school were in the United States for a holiday. I’ve always had a keen eye on New York mainly because of Seinfeld, so I had some pretty big expectations, from the accents to the attitudes. It delivered straight alway as our taxi driver frantically wove through dense New York City traffic, beeping and yelling out the window the entire 40 minute ride to Harlem from JFK. It was everything that I had hoped for: rushed and angry, lively and cultural, and, well, funny. It was dark and wet, and very muggy, my hair was so matted, I almost resembled a realistic oil painting, my hair flattened out like someone had just poured brown on my head, paint globules dripping down my cheeks. But that’s what 25 hours of recycled air gives you.

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On that first morning our plan was to get to Times Square and explore from there. We would find our bearings on the first day, and then proceed with our scheduled itinerary. Of course adding to the ominous mix was rain. We had landed in rain, and had actually stormed throughout the night until the early hours of the morning. Our airbnb host had provided umbrellas for us, so we had no problem heading out to the wet streets of NYC.

After breakfast at IHOP, who serve a questionable size of what are reportedly sausages, we entered the subway. Not the smartest thing to do without having read up on the system at all: uptown and downtown. It’s actually incredibly easy – just picture where you are (uptown or downtown) – and get the right train. It’s not as easy if you don’t have the MTA app because there is virtually no signage anywhere. Barely ever. If you’re not a native, you’ll learn the hard way. The other thing to learn is just how hot it gets in the station. After all you’re underground, but it’s a sauna.

Upon first stepping into Manhattan I felt like I was in some weird upside down world. My body was still working with the Australian clock, I was expecting to see night but it was as clear as day (a little drizzly). It almost felt like I was in a weird dome, everything was just surreal. But as we spent more time down and uptown, whether in Little Italy, strolling along the seemingly endless streets, lazing about in Central Park or spotting effortlessly cool Manhattanites walking petite dogs, the appeal of this magnificent city slapped me in the face.

New York is a city that doesn’t care if you like it or not. It’s raw, it doesn’t pander to denizens (try finding a public toilet — there aren’t any so don’t bother) and pedestrians have no respect for cars. Two days before we had arrived in New York, a random man had chased after police officers with a meat cleaver, beating one policeman. They were later both hospitalised. A day after that a small bomb had exploded in the Chelsea neighbourhood, somewhere along West 23rd between 6th and 7th. Yet as we walked through the streets of New York, I kept looking at everyone, trying to discern whether or not they were scared or bothered in any way. Just by looking at them, talking, laughing and carrying on, it didn’t seem like they cared. I thought how I would be if that I had been in that situation … would I still be jovial? Would I have a constant look of worry on my face? Either way, these New Yorkers that I passed every day weren’t bothered.

One of my first transactions was at a pharmacy, buying some deodorant. I mis-read the price as $5.50, nevertheless I gave the cashier $5.50, and waited for change, but for some reason, I zoned out. He waited. I waited. Suddenly he says, “Hey, move traffic.” I look at him and he points to the price.

“Isn’t this $5.50?” I ask.

“Are you a Member?”

“No.”

“$6.00.”

That was our conversation: succinct and to the point.

Most New Yorkers are very direct. They just say things as they see them. Consequences? Who cares about that. I have an opinion and here it is. I assume this is the interior monologue and guiding principal behind most New Yorkers’ discourse strategy. It works. You know where you stand and where they stand. There’s no hovering around, trying to interpret something, analysing it, replaying it in your mind…There’s no time in a New Yorkers life for that. While in Los Angeles 5 minutes is around 20 minutes, in New York 5 minutes is around about 15 seconds.

We visited a lot of New York in our 9 short days. We went to most neighbourhoods, Central Park, well-known restaurants, markets, we used the Subway and the bus, we walked around 25 blocks from the Meatpacking District to Hell’s Kitchen, we somehow made it out of Central Park wilderness around 9:37pm, back on to the 2 train to Harlem. We also caught a baseball game at Yankee Stadium – the Yankees won. And yes it was the one where the guy proposed to his fiancée, but dropped the ring. We also took a day trip to Philly, tried a cheesesteak, climbed the Rocky steps and pranced around town.

Super New Yorky bucket list:

  • bagel and schmear
  • breakfast at IHOP
  • looked unhappy on the subway
  • talked to a moody NYPD officer
  • jazz hands off Broadway
  • j walked and nearly got killed
  • passed agents talking to their wrists
  • passed agents in bulky black SUVs with tinted windows
  • Monster Cables at Best Buy
  • Nom Wah
  • Tom’s
  • Mint Milanos
  • Buying random supplies at Walgreens
  • Being amazed by Walgreens
  • Jumba Juice
  • Trek through Central Park
  • picnic at Central Park
  • pretending to be rich at Barneys
  • accepting lack of wealth at Nordstrom Rack
  • Yankee Stadium
  • Riverside Drive

New Orleans 

As soon as we stepped out of the plane, New Orleans was sweltering. It continued to be 30+ degrees for our entire 4 days there. We were lucky to have a great apartment a stone throw’s away from the French Quarter, with its never-ending scent of gumbo, cafe au lait, pralines, beignets and bourbon. While at night the Quarter transforms into a village-like fete, during the day you could hear a penny drop. Most of New Orleans is like this during the day. But nevertheless it does have an old-world whimsical charm to it that gives you the feeling of drifting, floating a few inches above the hot pavement. As my eyes darted from street sign to shop sign, VooDoo Museum to Cemetery tour, as I rode in the only two cable cars in the entire city, and as the melodic tunes of street performers filled my ears, I felt like I was on a vaudevillian movies set. We went on a steamboat cruise and tried a po’boy…after not having eaten anything remotely nutrioutius in weeks, my appetite for this sandwich was virtually non-existent.

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At the NOMA Sculpture Garden

Las Vegas 

I’ll keep this short. Vegas and I didn’t really get along. Walking along The Strip it feels like I’m on one big movie set. Nothing feels real, nothing looks real. It’s behemoth and soulless, a pulsating mess thriving purely on dirty profiteering. I hate casinos and the way that gambling is facilitated here. I hate how hard it is to find a supermarket and fresh produce, and I hate the Rainforest Cafe. We stayed at the Luxor, a mangled Egyptian themed hotel, in the shape of a Pyramid that has a constant sickly vanilla scent throughout, unless you walk through the gaming rooms, whereupon even if you quickly walked through, you will smell like whisky and cigarettes.

It’s a revolting mishmash of cultural appropriation. The only time it felt real was just after The Strip, in the Nevada desert. The rest of Vegas is flat, falling apart and poor. This juxtaposition simply further emphasises the economic system in this place, and it just hurts to see. I’ll leave it here.

…Ok the outlets were amazing, and it can be fun when you’re with cool people. Sort of.

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Portland

Portland has a lot of soul. People here are kind, and the city, somehow is polite. Nothing is arrogant or ostentatious. You can see the sky because there isn’t an infinite line of apartment buildings and skyscrapers obstructing the view. You don’t need to stand on the pinnacle of the city’s tallest building to see the grid below.

I had a lot of preconceived notions about Portland, yes, from Portlandia. I was waiting to see the lovechild of Fitzroy and Newtown, bustling with Pendelton-clad skinny boys with post-war haircuts. It was a little bit of that, but it was more of people who wore whatever they felt like. Portland is humble and down-to-earth. While we were there if felt like everyone had packed up and gone on vacation. It was quiet, and not bustling, even in Downtown Portland. It was refreshing and relieving to be in a place that was so much more calm, yet soulful and rich. We visited a lot of the Portlandia landmarks, and went to VooDoo donuts. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t that convinced by it. We can get amazing donuts here in Melbourne.

I only got to experience around two days in Portland (out of four) due to illness. But, as strange as it may sound, I did get to experience some extremely bizarre advertisements for prescription medicine! We don’t have that in Australia, and I don’t particularly understand the purpose of advertising prescription medicine, but they felt like parodies. I feel pretty well-versed in some American drugs including Nasacort.

I learned about Swedish Fish in Portland, and how Walgreens sells everything from croissants to an entire gallon of water — that’s more than three litres.

One thing I noticed is that Americans are very happy to answer questions from strangers, I found. I asked so many people questions, from directions (my favourite moment was asking an NYPD officer…swoon!) to even asking one couple who were sat next to us eating something that smelled so good, where they got it. They had a wonderful rice and chicken dish from Nong’s Khao Man Gai. We went there a few hours later, and enjoyed our food in a very hipster restaurant.

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Portland reminded me the most of Australia, and that was a very good thing because in general, Australia doesn’t compare to America.

San Francisco 

Our first night, after an hour flight or so from Portland, we were excited to be in a bustling city again. Th cbd, or downtown as they call it here, feels beach but San Francisco isn’t beachy. It’s foggy and rainy and grey (the best weather imo). One guide told us that a lot of people think that SF is always hot but it’s not!

We bought tickets for the City Sightseeing buses where we met a few interesting guides, in particular ‘Soda Pop Jones’, an extremely slender guy who looks like he played in a punk band at night and moonlit as a tour guide by day. He had dirt under his fingernails and had a dirty jacket, in fact most of our bus guides looked unkempt — I guess such is the difficulty associated with the tipping system and low wages. We went through all the circuits, our first stop to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. At first I didn’t think much of walking over a bridge, but the Bridge in fact is very beautiful, a rust orange that matches the blue sky. We were lucky we walked across it that first day because any other day was cloudy. The walk took us about 35 minutes. We then made our way to Sausalito but unfortunately didn’t stay for very long. We heard the story (and tasted) of Ghiladerli chocolate, visited Pier 39 about 4 times, and dined at the Boudin Restaurant (best seafood meal ever). One standout fact was that the Fisherman’s Wharf area attracts the second number of highest visitors next to Disneyland — although thinking about it now, they didn’t specify which Disneyland, but nevertheless, I found it an odd statistic for an area that has a few grottos, a wharf and other equally old and smelly places.

I’ll never forget the views you can find in San Francisco just by walking down the street, especially when you’re not downtown.One night we were on a very long mission to make our way from The Haight to a Turkish restaurant, Tuba, in the Mission. A quick check on Apple Maps and it was a couple of buses and a bit of a walk. The first bus we got, it was going in the wrong direction. We get off. We try to find another bus stop as we hike up the extremely (ridiculously) narrow streets of San Fran to find this seemingly invisible and non-existent bus stop. Out of the corner of my eye I see the tiny word “bus stop” painted on an equally tiny yellow stripe. They are everywhere on all of the stobey poles. They are the bus stops. WHY. We finally got on the cable bus, but of course, it crashes into a car. We get off and walk. All the way. 65 minutes. We walked through the most amazing suburbs, to find views like this:

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So yeah, contrary to popular belief, San Francisco is quite cold! It’s usually drizzling and even if it’s sunny it’s still pretty chilly. You want sun, you go to La La Land.

Los Angeles

La La Land. 4 Days, two theme parks (Disneyland and Universal Studios), 1 outlet, Santa Monica Pier, Beverley Hills, The Grove, Venice Beach, Griffith Observatory, East Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, and about every film location possible. Star sighting x1 (Guillermo from Jimmy Kimmel), 6 am start X3, 4 am start x1, homesickness x1000000. Total time spent in lines at Disneyland 3 hours. Time spent nauseated from the heat / children 6.5 hours. Desire to return: nil detected. Harry Potter obsession increase due to Hogsmeade visit: <100%. Butterbeer: yes.

I’ll never forget downtown Los Angeles somewhere along Hill and 6th and the tents. LA is just so huge and we only saw a tiny preview.

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