Thursday, May 25th, 2006 – Distance Travelled 216 miles
They do say that time waits for no man and that is very true in New York. As I said, at the end of the previous post, I woke up on the sofa, neatly cocooned in a quilt, but it was still only just after six. Outside the window, the bridge over the Verrazano Narrows was almost as lovely in daylight as it had been in the dark.
My friends were running around like crazy people because they both had jobs to go to and they start very early in those parts. My friend did offer to get me breakfast, but I could see they were running around so I took the briefest shower, brushed my teeth and left with them around seven a.m. I snapped a shot of where they live and then we walked the few blocks up to the subway station. After hugs all around, they disappeared into the ground and I went in search of food.
The area had a strange familiarity and I subsequently discovered that a lot of the external scenes for “Saturday Night Fever” were shot in that and the surrounding streets. Almost opposite where the Harley was parked was the Philadelphia Grille (10004 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11209). I pretended to be American and not English by having a Philly cheese Steak for my breakfast with a cup of coffee. It would never have been my first choice, but it did hit a number of spots ! As I started the Harley, I realised that I had done over ten thousand miles on it – and that I was nowhere near done !
Some years before, when visiting my then girlfriend who was studying at Columbia University, we had visited the Harley Davidson Cafe on 56th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan. As you do, we had bought matching, glass, HD tankards. We were still friends and I was aware that, in a recent apartment move within Washington DC, hers had come to grief. As I was to see her, in a couple of days, I thought that I would just pop up to 56th street and replace it.
The mistakes we do make ! Here is some advice about driving a motorcycle in Manhattan. DO NOT DO IT ! On paper, it looked fairly simple, just a quick ten mile trip, first on the freeway to the tunnel under the bay and then riding up Manhattan Island on 9th Avenue, which was the most westerly. Local knowledge had informed me that in the maze of unidirectional cross streets, 56th Street was a west to east. In truth it was not finding my way that was difficult, but staying alive was. I would not want to be a turn-indicator bulb salesman in New York, because nobody ever wears them out by using them. Cars just seemed to pass on all sides and drift across lanes without feeling any need to let other drivers know what they were doing. That, coupled with myopic, stupid or just plain homicidal pedestrians and simply appalling road surfaces made it a trying ten miles indeed. Of course, it was all for nothing, when I got to 56th Street, there was no cafe at 6th Avenue, or on any of the other corners. Nor was it there on 57th or 55th streets. I guessed in the end that it must have closed. Still, I got to see the United Nations building during one of my turns back and forth across the island of Manhattan.
I had yet another friend, Mike, in Trenton, New Jersey who I had been trying to contact, unsuccessfully for a few days. It was make or break time and, when I pulled out my mobile ‘phone for a final attempt, of course he answered. A few directions, hastily scribbled and I was off with an arrangement to meet him in a diner at 11:30 which was about two hours in the future. I joined the mayhem that marked the ingress to the Lincoln Tunnel and somehow survived both the underwater transit and the egress on the New Jersey side. I rode along Route 495 long enough to find my, by then, bosom-buddy, the I-95 and head south. With all due respect to Mike, a native of that State, New Jersey, particularly that part of it was simply ghastly. Over industrialisation, gone mad, was all I could see in any direction from the Interstate. A tribute, maybe, to Bethlehem Steel with all of its bridges and gantries, but not much to look at. I must have covered at least half of the sixty or so mile distance before I saw any trace of protracted greenery.
Like the guy himself, Mike’s directions were very precise. I came to the I-195 as expected and followed it to Route 206 from which I took the described exit onto the surface streets at Broad Street in Trenton. Almost as if he was talking in my ear, I easily spotted the flamboyantly red-painted Broad Street Diner (2654 S Broad St, Trenton, NJ 08610) which was my destination. Mike was also easy to spot. He is a gay guy and more than a little flamboyant himself. We rapped for an hour or so, during which I helped myself to a couple of eggs, with bacon and a lot of orange juice as I was feeling a bit hot and very thirsty. Mike is as effusive and demonstrative as he is nice and it was a fun hour. But, I had caught him out with my sudden advent and he was supposed to be somewhere else and had to go. Luckily, with real friends, a moment is usually enough and we parted glad to have just touched base.
For some strange reason, I have always wanted to see the famous Boardwalk in Atlantic City, so that became my next destination. Mike had suggested that I could get there simply by retracing my steps on Route 206 and keeping going. Sadly, I was feeling a tiny bit off colour so I allowed myself to be seduced by the I-195 and then the I-295 so I could just keep driving. I followed the latter, which for long periods paralleled the real “New Jersey Turnpike”, just to its west until I came to Route 42 which was dubbed “The Atlantic City Expressway” where I turned east. Compared to the Interstate, the Turnpike was almost deserted and it occurred to my fevered mind that Simon and Garfunkel would have had an easy time with their counting had they done it there.
Route 42 rolled towards the sea through some green, but otherwise flat and wholly uninteresting, countryside that was occasionally interspersed with nondescript little towns. After a while, the towers of Atlantic City itself appeared on the horizon and, at the totally misnamed township of Pleasantville, the road crossed a causeway and into Atlantic City proper. I admit that I was not feeling my best, but what a commercialised dump Atlantic City was, like a very downmarket Las Vegas. I sat on a bench on the Boardwalk, which was the most impressive thing in the whole town and looked at the ocean. People were thronging both the Boardwalk and a short pier that jutted into the sea to my left.
Their shrieked conversations, most Americans find it difficult to just talk, seemed to go right through my head. I was feeling very hot and I realised that the prolonged soaking I had received the previous day had not done me very much good. Just to my right was a large and garish hotel, but I wanted to go to sleep and it was sure to have beds. I walked back to the Harley, parked just behind me and got my bag, then I walked into the hotel and got a room. For those reasons, I found myself in the Trump Hotel (2500 Boardwalk, Atlantic City, NJ 08401).
Obviously, since then, Donald Trump has moved on, but then he was scarcely known to us Europeans. I think the only words that describe the room in which I found myself are tacky and gaudy. It was a sea of dark wood and a sort of orangey velour, in the midst of which reposed a bed you could have landed a helicopter on. If I had been on form, it would have repulsed me but, of course, if I had been on form, I would not have been there. I sat on the bed, lay my head back for a moment – and that was it.