Tag Archives: travelogue

New York, 1. June 2007.

Landing at Newark Airport into the long lines that characterise every US airport I have been to is a strange, disorientating experience. The queue is badly organised, being broken into mini-queues which mean that you pray you don’t get stuck behind the Muslim (or the Hindu or the Sikh; I don’t believe US immigration officials are targeting Muslims; they seem to hate everyone) who will undoubtedly be given a long going over, or anyone who can’t speak English or Spanish, or the many, many of us who have filled in the incomprehensible forms incorrectly.
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Jaipur, Agra and the Taj Mahal, and Delhi. December 1991.

(I have posted letters about my trip to India in 1991; but I appear not to have written about the last part of the trip, which took me to Jaipur, Agra and back to Delhi. I shall write it now, referring back to my diary. Let’s see how good my memory really is! Although, of course, I could just make it up, with the help of Lonely Planet.)

I was put up in a hotel at the airport; the Centaur. It was ghastly. I caught my early morning flight down to Jaipur – even then, I felt bad about flying, but it made sense to fly, had I made my connection.

I stayed in a cheap hotel in Jaipur called the Evergreen – full of travellers; if I was by myself, it made sense to be somewhere relatively sociable. I went out and explored the city. I loved Jaipur: it was completely different to Darjeeling. Elephants and camels walked through the streets and there were crowing peacocks in the gardens. It was busy; people talked at me wherever I went. A guy who introduced himself as Ricki got shirty because I didn’t want to stop and have a conversation – he was, like so many others, trying to improve his English; but I was trying to explore.
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Darjeeling. December 1991.

(This is the text of a letter I wrote in 1993 about a trip to India in 1991. I have edited out bits that were nothing to do with that trip, and corrected a few typos, but everything else is much as I wrote it.)

The End of the World.

Well, that is what it felt like, high in the Himalayas – high by most standards, but not by Himalayan heights. This is Darjeeling, in India (that last letter, those twenty lost pages, were how I got there, the journey half way around the world and up a narrow, twisting mountain road)…
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Delhi to Darjeeling. December 1991.

(This is the text of a letter I wrote in 1992 about a trip to India in 1991. I have edited out bits that were nothing to do with that trip, and corrected a few typos, but everything else is much as I wrote it.)

It was another crystal clear morning. After the chaos of breakfast on the building site in the hotel, we decided to go for breakfast in Connaught Place, for a western entrance to the day. Nirula’s breakfast bar was full of tourists, all trying to hide their Lonely Planet Guides (like us); they were also studiously trying to avoid each other’s eyes (like us), knowing that eating bacon and eggs for breakfast was somehow not quite the thing to be seen doing. Whereas elsewhere, conversations would have been struck up across the room, as hotels and trains were compared and horror stories swapped, here people kept quiet.
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Delhi. December 1991.

(This is the text of a letter I wrote in 1992 about a trip to India in 1991. I have edited out bits that were nothing to do with that trip, and corrected a few typos, but everything else is much as I wrote it.)

A long flight, drunken. G. was determined to get drunk – it doesn’t take much to get him determined, and he kept summoning the stewardesses. I didn’t feel like drinking – I rarely do on planes, just a whisky or two. G. wanted to do litres. He turned to the Indian guy at the window, and whilst I dozed, listened to the same tunes on the jazz channel over again, and half watched the movie (Robin Hood; only worth it for Alan Rickman), G. got him drunk. This wasn’t such a good move. I mean, at the time it might have seemed like a good idea; a sociable thing to do, a chance to get a head start on the atmosphere. This guy ran a small chain of video shops in Hounslow; a canny Indian, trading, and turning a trick. (A lot of British business must be like that: small, slightly shadey, with dodgy deals hidden away in the cupboards, beneath a layer of dust and varnish.) He was flying back to go to his father’s funeral. One of three brothers, he felt guilty for getting out and going overseas. He had supported his family – built his father a house – and he foresaw big family arguments over: who would get the house (which he saw as his; he built it).
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“Coast to Coast”: San Francisco. Summer 1980.

xi. The End: Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Town

Outside San Francisco, after 7pm, at a bus stop. On the Bay Area Rapid Transit system – ultra-new, techno-flash tubes. Problem: night in a big, strange city, known for the depths of its vices and problems. Big problem. At the station, Market and Eddy, on the phone for ages, trying to find a room. Yes! A cheap room – $20 for two… We rush around the corner, through the weirdo people, flashing neon night and cables cars to the hotel. We took it even though the price was more (!) than we’d planned. Fall on our feet.

Thus started a ten day romance. San Francisco is a great place, and we got to know (parts of) it pretty well. As you must have realised, our hotel – it had a really incongruous name, something like the Rutherford or the Stratford – was in a real down area, so far downtown it almost reached Hell. We were right in the heart of the Tenderloin. Junkies, drunks, gays of all descriptions; leather and chains; prostitutes of both sexes.

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“Coast to Coast”: Las Vegas to LA and beyond. Summer 1980.

viii. Fear and Loathing.

We got dropped by the monster family at a road into Vegas; we were very glad to get out of the car, even though it had been a fast ride – probably the fastest we had, more than 70mph the whole way. The grandfather, so he said, had never learned to read or write so well (we had to tell him which way to go, because of the road signs. He took a couple of wrong turnings. They also didn’t know about crossing time zones – their watches were two or three hours out with ours. Weird). We were a couple of miles from the heart of Vegas, Downtown. We had to walk in 100° heat – at 7pm – into Main St to find a place to stay. We found a brothel; $5 each per night – dirt cheap. It looked very dubious, though, but we needed all the money we had, so took it. We were pretty exhausted, and crashed for a bit with the TV on, anything on any channel. These two girls kept coming asking if they was anything they could for us.

At 9 or 10, we split and wandered into some casinos. Vegas has two main gambling areas – the Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard) and Main St; these are about three or four miles apart. The Strip is upmarket – Caesar’s Palace, Silverbird, Circus Circus. Hard time big losers. Main St is down market – all glitter, but small time people – grannies; no big games. Slot machines are everywhere.
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“Coast to Coast”: Colorado and Arizona. Summer 1980.

vi. Colorado: rock formations and park bench mutations

Denver. We arrived driven by freaked out Vic, in the rain, drizzle. He dropped us at the Greyhound station: always a good place to start – everybody knows where that is. And then the statutory phone call to the youth hostel; except that they have moved, the building that used to house the hostel is now entertaining the Unification Church – the Moonies. The hostel was understandably worried about this, and all over the Greyhound and Amtrak (that’s the railways – the trains are huge, long things. We drove past some trains that we estimated from our speed were about three quarters of a mile long, headed by five more diesel locos, bright yellow animals that English engines to shame) stations they had pinned notices.

The hostel was quite a way out: Denver’s a surprisingly big city. The rail tracks cut the town in two, the geography on side is different to the other: street organisation is shifted through 45 degrees. This was the case in a lot of place – Denver, San Francisco, LA and Chicago. The other side of the tracks – the wrong side – is a true phenomenon: the original streets and avenues, and then the railway came, the tracks, and then the cheap down and out side; a sudden change of atmosphere and you’re in the poor district.

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“Coast to Coast”: New York to Chicago and Des Moines. Summer 1980.

ii. Counting the Cars on the New Jersey Turnpike

Thumbs out and let’s go… We took a bus to Newark, New Jersey, and started to count the cars… We chose Highway 80, our plan being to head to Chicago, then across to San Francisco, LA, San Diego…

Newark is really an industrial extension of New York: petrochemical works and factories; Bruce Springsteen-land, where Patti Smith grew up.

Standing by the side of the road in 102F heat; nothing stops. Then – something to put us 80 itself, a pick up. Dumps us in a bad spot ten miles on. Shit. Another, and another. I had an amazing view of the New York skyline as we went up a hill – I really regret not taking a picture. Still no lift of any length; then we start getting fifty miles rides: medium distance. Long waits between rides – but then who is going to pick up two blokes on the road?
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“Coast to Coast”: New York. Summer, 1980.

And here we go again.

i. New York, New York, 42nd Street.

New York was great. That basically fits, and describes the place.

We got to JFK after an exceptionally boring Laker flight across the Atlantic. The first thing I did was phone Michael 1, so we could get something arranged for our first night – and she said we could stay as long as we wished; she reiterated this when she saw us, too, so we ended up accepting the offer – we hadn’t intended to.

Leaving JFK on the bus, and thus to a subway… Where do we go? No subway map – go and find one: green red yellow blue spaghetti thrown across an outline of Manhattan, impossible to trace or follow. How to get from here to there via… local and express trains, excepted stops… jump on and pray.
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