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4/1/2003 - An IntroductionI guess that since this weblog is just appearing out of nowhere, some kind of contextual information might be in order.
As the domain name suggests, the ramblings here are the personal views of an expatriate Brit living in the US - in New York, NY to be more exact. The general idea is that it will be accompanied by photographic material, and will cover anything that takes my fancy, or that seems to me to be of particular interest to a British audience. The language will be transatlantic. South Manhattan is downtown; centre may be spelled the British way or the US way according to the context.
My name is Steve; I'm a 60-year-old Yorkshireman who has lived in the US since 1991. I'm a computer nerd by trade, and work for a small but very capable software development and services company based in downtown Manhattan. I'm divorced, having been married three times - yes, this is a soap opera - and spend most of my free time with Di, who is married, but has been separated from her husband for years. Di is 42, and lives in the Bronx. She falls under the broad heading of black, which covers a multitude of racial combinations. I fall under the broad heading of white, which also covers a multitude of racial combinations. I nominally live in a small apartment in midtown Manhattan, not far from the Empire State Building. The picture was taken by Di while we were waiting for food at a pub/restaurant called the Noho Star. The Harry Potter scar on my forehead is a reminder of the fact that my woman is a possessive creature, with something of a temper. The pictures are taken with an Olympus C50 digital camera which was my Christmas present to myself.
I have a beat-up 1999 VW Jetta TDI (the diesel version), that lives in a parking lot in Harlem, at 126th Street and Park Avenue, where it is convenient for the subway (the 4, 5, and 6 trains), and where it's convenient to get out of the city up the Harlem River Drive. The latter is a parkway (no trucks, and a nominal 50 mph speed limit) that runs up the east side of upper Manhattan. Southwards it becomes the FDR Drive, which runs down the east side to Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. From 126th Street, it's also convenient to get to the Willis Avenue bridge that crosses the East River into The Bronx, and gives easy access to the Bruckner Expressway (a motorway in British terms, or a freeway in the US). The Bruckner goes close by the apartment block where Di lives, and where I visit much of the time.
Just to give you a geographical feel, I've included a Yahoo map of the area, marked up to show where the characters live and work.
I got divorced in November - quite amicably - maybe I'll talk about that sometime, since I had expected it to be a horrendous experience in the US, and it didn't turn out that way! My ex-wife's name is Lynn, and she lives out in the sticks in New Jersey, about 50 miles west of New York in a small town called Hackettstown. She and I are still friends.
There was another woman in between Lynn and Di, and there's no love lost between her and Di. I'll say no more about that.
11/1/2003 - Di's neighborhoodDi is my 'girl friend'. (And yes, to those of you out there who are still under 40, people at 60 do still care about relationships, and love, and sex and all that!) She's 42, has six children, and has recently become a grandmother. She's attractive, as you can see, and most people, including me, find her sexy. She's bisexual, which makes for some interesting nuances in life, not least of which is that you have to be suspicious of everybody's intentions, not just the men.
She lives in what is usually know here as "one of the projects". These are characteristic tower blocks, many of which were put up in the 60s by the city or the state to deal with overcrowding problems in the inner city for the benefit of low-income families. They are often quite well laid out, and have established trees and a good deal of landscaping. However many of the inhabitants don't seem to appreciate this much, and up close, the surroundings are often spoiled by a lot of gratuitous litter and graffiti. Inside they are pretty decent, except for the stairwells and lifts, and looking out from in, the view is better than looking at the building from close up outside. From a distance they don't look bad either.
Di says that ideally they are supposed to be 'stepping stones' for low income families until they can better themselves, but in reality, many people will be born here and will die here - some of them sooner than they should.
They also tend to be infested by drug dealers. I guess the people who live here have a low expectation from life, and don't expect anything wonderful to happen in the future, so there's plenty of easy prey. You'll see occasional cars with white drivers in the parking lots also, who are there for the related purposes. The police pretend to be interested in this activity from time to time, but nothing much happens to disrupt the trade.
People who don't know any better refer to areas like this as the ghetto; but that's not fair! New York is a very expensive place to live, and all the people who do the ordinary jobs in the city have to live somewhere they can afford to live. The fact that some of the people who live there trash the area, and generally behave in a way that gets a place a bad reputation should not reflect on all.
No bones, it is overwhelmingly a black and/or latin area; I'm the token white around here. However, people have got used to me being around now, and I don't get as many stares as I used to.
When I stay with Di, to get to work I have to catch the number 5 bus, which takes me to Hunts Point Avenue subway station. If I'm in a hurry, or feeling a spendthrift, there's also the option of catching a 'dollar cab'. The dollar cabs are an informal system of taxi sharing. It seems to work quite well for the taxi owners in the mornings. Normally the trip to Hunts Point would cost you $5 in a taxi. In the mornings they pack in four or five people at $1.50 a head (the days of a dollar are long gone), so if they get a full load they do better than they would with an individual passenger, and even if they're only part full they don't lose out that much. The cabs are a good deal quicker than the bus, though I'm not running down the buses. They are reasonably new and well maintained, and they make as good a time as they can. Most of the drivers are surprisingly cheerful and good-natured - more than I'd probably be!
Just down the road from Di's place there's a growing shopping center, and in among the shops there's a diner called Jimmy's Café, which has an attached bar. This is our local, and we go there often on Thursday and Sunday nights for the karaoke - more on that topic later.
To the south, the roads in this part of Bronx soon end at Long Island Sound. Down there you can see the Throgs Neck, Whitestone and Triborough suspension bridges; the traffic arteries between Bronx (mainland New York state), Queens and Brooklyn (on Long Island)), and Manhattan. There's a lot of new building going on down there by the shore, which I think will contribute to the general resuscitation of Bronx. It had a horrible reputation back in the bad old days of New York City, when the whole place had a reputation for being the most violent city in the USA. Di says that things have changed enormously while she's been here. The shopping center for instance has grown and improved out of all proportion, being little more than derelict lots to start with.
Across the sound is La Guardia airport, and one of the main take-off lanes passes over the South Bronx just a little to the west of where Di lives. As I sit here typing I can see the planes angling up across the water to my right, or occasionally directly overhead.
Anyway, enough of this. We're going into Manhattan to look round our favourite charity shop (US - thrift shop), and then we may get the shuttle bus to IKEA over in New Jersey. Since it's the weekend I'll probably fancy a beer somewhere along the way as well. This will be much the same as the trip to work. Bus to Hunts Point, number 6 train to 125th Street in Harlem, then switch to the 4 or 5 express down to 42nd Street, then back on the 6 down to 23rd Street. This hopping from local to express rarely gains you anything, but if you're lucky, and get an express immediately, then sometimes you succeed in getting on the number 6 that was in front of the one you got off. Otherwise you get back on the one you left. Pretty pointless mostly, but it breaks the journey up.
To the left is a picture of Jimmy's Cafe, our local bar. We never made it to IKEA, the last shuttle bus leaves at 3pm and we were way too late for that. Maybe next week.
17/1/2003 - Indentity CrisisIf you hate tedious things like getting your car through it's MOT Test, or getting new car insurance, don't come and live in the US. Having recently got divorced, I've finally had to bite the bullet and transform myself from a New Jersey alien into a New York alien. To complicate matters, I've recently moved into a new apartment, which is a sublet, where I don't have any noticeable legal status. The list of things to do is horrendous:
1) Convince the US Postal Service that it's OK to deliver mail to me at the new address,
2) Get the phone at the new apartment switched over to my name, and get the bills sent to me (requires 1).
3) Get the cable TV turned off (I don't have a television at the apartment) , but leave the cable internet connection turned on (requires 1 and 2).
4) Get a New York drivers license. Since September 11, 2001, this has become worse than it ever was. Requires 1, and 2, and 6 points of identification, in my case, my New Jersey drivers license, my green card, and my Social Security card. Cost $35, and a visit to the DMV, which in practical terms means wasting a day of your holidays from work. You get a tacky piece of paper for your troubles and have to wait 2 - 3 weeks for the real thing to turn up in the mail.
5) Register my vehicle in NY State. Requires 1, 2, and 4, a letter from the bank who gave me the car loan giving their permission to register the vehicle in NY state, and a certified copy of the title to the vehicle (currently held by said bank). In the UK, a car is a piece of scrap metal, like a washing machine or a TV, but in the US you have to have a bloody title for it, like it was your house! There may be more you-have-to-have's here, as this remains TBD.
6) Get car insurance in NY State, requires 1, 2, 4, and 5, a copy of the insurance policy I had in New Jersey, and a copy of the insurance ID card that I had to carry in my car at all times in NJ, and I have to go to an authorized photo-inspection centre to ensure that it's a real car I'm insuring, and that it's not already written off.
I'm sure there's more I haven't discovered yet - gonads of firstborn or similar. In the meantime, it's Friday night, I'm going to the pub for a few beers.
Footnote: I took a couple of pictures in the DMV, and shortly afterwards I was approached by men with badges who took me to a room at the side and asked why I had been taking pictures.
Apparently it's illegal, or against some regulation to take pictures in a DMV. This I was told is for the protection of the employees. I can relate to it. I'm sure tthat lots of people come out with DMV rage and if they had some way of remembering who they were dealing with, that could pose some sort of problem.
Anyway, I said I was English, and I'd intended to use the pictures for my web page. They seemed to think this was a plausible explanation, and after they'd seen my green card, and made me erase the offending pictures I was released back into the waiting room. After another half hours wait I actually succeeded in registering the car in NY state. De-Dum!! So now I have spiffy new Empire State license plates.
17/1/2003 - The Dangers of Getting AheadDi was to meet me at the pub just along the road from work, and later we were going to eat out. This required that Di got her hair washed, and washing of hair always takes longer than men expect, especially when you've only got as much hair as I've got. Consequently I was left to my own devices in Jim Brady's for about an hour, by which time I'd managed to consume four pints (and I mean pints, as opposed to the US version - Brady's uses 20oz glasses) of Bass. This didn't get the evening off to a good start, since it meant that I was doomed to be more pissed than Di for the whole evening.
To make matters worse, the food at the place we'd chosen to go was bloody awful, so by 10:30 we were about ready to come to blows, and I got sent, or went to 29th Street while Di went back to the Bronx. When she got back I got two or three phone calls pointing out that I was an alchoholic. OK, so I'm a alki. I started drinking pints of beer when I was 15, and I'm unlikely to change my ways now. I console myself over this character defect by musing on the fact that a good proportion of the famous people in history were in the same boat.
Not that Di didn't enjoy herself at Brady's. She found some strangers to chat to, as is her wont, and there was ritual showing of grandchildren pictures and the pictures of Maria's tits, which Di happened to have on her digital camera. I think her newfound friends were more impressed by the latter. You can just see the guy at the bottom left cracking up - "What the hell is she going to come up with next?" He should be worried, in such respects, Di has no mercy. Unfortunately no more revealing details of Maria were available, or at least, none she's letting on to.
Anyway, as a result I got a good nights sleep, and finally got round to doing some work on BEV the next morning. I can see it's going to be a lot of work if I'm going to make anything decent out of it. For a start, I need to make a photographer out of myself. Principally though I've got to make up my mind just how public I want to be about what I see, and what I feel. Also I've got to reach an understanding of what I can do in terms of showing others without getting sued here in the land of the lawyer. (Maria, please forgive me! But they do say, any publicity is good publicity)
I forgot to mention the second digital camera. The first one disappeared from Di's apartment, and I had dispaired of getting it back. At that point we found a demo model at a much reduced price in one of the major electronics chain stores, and I bought it. Of course, later, the original camera turned up again. One of her sons had 'borrowed' it!.
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