March 31st, 2007


New York, Day 1 and 2

The Customs Officer looks dubiously at me and my carefully filled out (because mistakes, corrections and crossed out sections are emphatically not allowed and reason for immediate refusal of entry into the United States) Immigration form and asks "Rego Park, New York, NY -- where is that?" "In New York", I say, "though I don't know where exactly." "Oh no", says he, "It may be in New York, but not in New York, New York -- you know, like Albany, or Niagara...You ever been to Niagara?", and without further ado, he takes a big black felt-tipped pen and crosses out the relevant section on my Immigration form and writes "Rego Par [sic], NY" in bold lettering across it. That's it, I think, I'm not going to be allowed entrance now because he's ruined my green entry form, while poor Jules has been waiting in Arrivals for me for 5 hours, and now it's all been for nothing! He goes on to tell me about Niagara and how the best way to see it is by going across to the Canadian side, then waves me through. Relieved, if slightly bewildered, I realise I'm not to be ignominiously deported, after all. I swear, of all the countries in the world (except Israel), crossing as a tourist into the US is more of an ordeal than a mere formality. Still, at least this time, he cracked a smile at the end, whereas I'd gotten used to a surly, dour-faced, and unnecessarily rude reception on my previous visits, so maybe the recent survey that said 70% of tourists rate US Customs to be the most unpleasant of Customs in the world has had some effect.

Rego Park, it turns out, is in the borough of Queens, New York, NY. It's the home of freakspawn's sister, who had offered to put us up in her new apartment there. When we got there, she had just nipped out down the road to get us some keys cut, but we didn't have to wait long before she arrived back. As she had recently moved in, the place was big, light, airy and fairly bare, and both anonypooh and I immediately fell in love with it. We went to the local supermarket to stock up on fruit and breakfast food, then after a while ventured out into a light drizzle (the only rain we were to encounter in our week-long stay) at the Pio-Pio Peruvian restaurant which is tiny but immensely popular, and if you've ever tasted their chicken, you'll know why.

In the middle of the night, Jules got a call from her husband telling her to ring in to a UK radio station right that very minute, to claim the £1000 she'd won in one of their competitions. If that wasn't a lucky omen for the rest of our holiday...

Lisa left for work early the next morning, but Julia and I took our time getting ready and deciding on what to do first, then took a leisurely stroll to Queens Center Mall where we had coffee and cheesecake and a look around the shops. I'd decided that while I was in New York, I would get a new pair of trainers as my 2001 souvenir Nikes could definitely do with being replaced, they're so old and tattered now; but I didn't see any I liked and I ended up buying a Hawaiian Slipper ring instead. After a restorative cup of tea and a change of clothes back at the flat, we took the R into town and wandered around the Theatre District to check out the available shows, as the plan was to go see one later in the week. Or go see a film...By the time we got back to Times Square, my ankle was giving me real problems, as I had optimistically, but as it turned out rather stupidly, elected to wear some modest heels for the evening. So while Jules went to intercept Lisa as she came out of work, I popped into the Skechers and got myself a pair of comfortable, casual, champagne with little pink flowers embroidered on them, sporty sneaker-type-but-not-quite, shoes. I had to fight another woman for them, as they were the only pair in my size, and she was convinced in hers too; but luckily when she tried them on, she found they were too small for her and she beat an embarrassed retreat.

Under Lisa's guidance, we made it to a Moroccan restaurant with live rai music and a belly dancer, where the food was delicious even if my portion was woefully small, consisting of only 4 (four!) jumbo shrimp. However, since my starter, of beef and runny egg in a spicy tomato sauce, had been more substantial, it didn't really matter, and we had a fantastic time, soon to be eclipsed by our next stop: Mo Pitkins, the venue for Corn Mo and Hair Supply.


The Mighty Mo

Just before we left, Jules had got on the Internet and reserved tickets, which was just as well, because when we arrived at the venue, somewhere in Alphabet City, with a good half hour to spare, we were told it was sold out. "That's alright, we've got tickets", we said, and were advised to wait in the upstairs bar. I scanned the room, and saw the man himself sitting in a corner reading a magazine. He looked up, saw me, and got to his feet with a look of absolute delight on his face, which deepened as he saw Jules coming up behind me. We were caught up in a bear hug and a torrent of words which he used to express his joy and surprise at seeing us there, and we sat down at his table where he introduced us to his girlfriend telling her how we had been regulars at his shows in Britain over the last few years. We told him how we had meant to surprise him, and he told us how the surprise had worked, and how pleased he was to see us. He introduced us to some of the members of the other band on the bill, 'the best heavy metal tribute band to (80s soft rockers) Air Supply in the Tri State Area', Hair Supply, again emphasizing that we were fans of his who had come all the way from Europe to see him, impressing them with this fact mightily. After a while, they all left us to get ready for the show, and when the doors were opened, it was our turn to be surprised as Mo had apparently taken the time to ensure that we had front row seats.

Hair Supply were on first, and they rocked the place. They had brought a camera crew to record their antics for posterity, and our enthusiastic response to their set has now been preserved on video. anonypooh took some pictures, which can be admired in her journal, if you want to get an idea of what their show was like.

Contrary to usual practice when Mo comes over to the UK and it's just him on his own with his accordeon and (occasionally) keyboard, this time he came accompanied by his full band. He did introduce them, but I'm afraid I've forgotten their names. Apart from one new song from a rock opera he may or may not be writing, all the songs in the set were songs we were familiar with, although obviously, with a full band behind him, the arrangements were different. Needless to say, we had a fantastic time. After the show, we talked to him again, and he said that if we had time and weren't too busy, he'd like to do lunch or dinner some time. At the time, we took it for a politeness, but oh how wrong we were!

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The Philadelphia Story

Is there any point to me telling this story again to you who have read anonypooh's account of it already? Maybe not, but I'll write it up just the same.

The next morning Nawaz, a friend of Lisa's and a NY cabbie by day, traditional Punjabi musician and singer in his hours off the job, drove us to La Guardia where we picked up the SUV we had hired for the weekend. On the way there, he decided to come along for the Boston trip the next day, which meant that not only did we have three drivers to get us there and back again (as I haven't driven since October 2003, I didn't think it would be a good idea to let me take the wheel in a strange car in a strange country), we also had another 'bum on seat', a thing we like to see at CoRo shows. Lisa took the first leg, straight into Manhattan and Pier One to pick up two papasan chairs, which when they were brought up after the shop opened, we could barely fit into the boot. Poor Jules was squashed in the back seat, trapped in a cage of rattan, but only had to endure this discomfort until we got back to the flat to unload Lisa's chair. The other one, we had to take over to Staten Island, where another of Lisa's friends was eagerly awaiting its arrival. The friend's neighbour then gave us detailed and rather complex and confusing information on how to get on the freeway to Philly, so that after 20 minutes of driving, we gave up on following her directions and found our own way which was undoubtedly shorter. Once we were on the right road, I gave superplin a call to let her know we'd soon be there ("in 2 hours...1 hour?...1 1/2 hours!")

The weather was fine, the drive relaxed, and we drove into Philadelphia roundabout 3 o'clock. Of course we couldn't resist stopping off at the Rocky steps, and Lisa and Jules ran up them as seemed to be the done thing.

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There were lots of people getting married in Philly that day, and they all came to the steps for their wedding photos. It remains one of life's mysteries to me how even in the coldest weather (although it was sunny and bright, there was a cold wind blowing), brides and bridesmaids can go around bare-shouldered all day and not show any sign of goosebumps or shivers...

We were getting worried as to what might have happened to Plin, as she hadn't returned our call yet, and resolved to send her a message as soon as we had found our B&B -- which we happened upon almost instantly as we began driving around randomly. Another friend, rosamundeb had landed in Philly earlier that day and been texting us regularly on the drive up. At the B&B, we were welcomed by owners Dave and Nadine, shown how the lock on the door worked, given directions to the World Café Live, and taken up to our rooms: the whole 2nd floor! Consisting of a suite of two bedrooms, a sitting room, a bathroom with walk-in shower and ginormous jacuzzi bath and an interconnecting bit that held twin washbasins, this wasn't the room with a double bed and a pull-out sofa we had originally booked, but we made no comment and instead pronounced the accommodation adequate to our needs. Actually, there was also a laundry room, but we think that may have been the owners' private space.

After settling in, as is our wont on such occasions, we went to look for the venue taking the car rather than the recommended 15 minute walk. Good job we did, as we found out that there would be a private function on that night which was to last till 9, and only after that had ended would the live music start. Back at the hotel, we found rosamundeb had checked in, and much squee was had between her and Jules. The owners appeared, to remind us there would be wine and cheese in the library later, and asked us what part of the world we were from so they could decide whether or not to let us stick a pin in the map they had on the wall. Sadly, London, The Hague and Chicago had already been pricked and so we missed out, but Lisa belatedly remembered where she was from originally and got to claim Belfast for her own by sticking a bright green pin in it.

We tried reaching Plin again, but to no avail. We just had to hope she would find out on her own the time for the show had been delayed by an hour or two and would meet us there.

While we were having 'tea and cheese in the library' (actually having carried it in there by ourselves from the breakfast room where it had been laid out), another couple came down and joined us. They were music reviewers, who had gone to cover a show at the World Café the night before, and though we tried to interest them in coming along to the gig as well, they preferred to stick to their booking at a local Thai restaurant. Never mind. They were lovely people, and we had quite an enjoyable conversation with them, about music (with him being a music professor in real life), press cards (with him advising us to just ring any venue that doesn't allow photography and claim to be doing an article, and just blag your way to one), Richmond, London (where he was from originally), Chicago (where she hailed from) and Boston (where they live) where apparently the traffic is a nightmare and we should count ourselves lucky we were only going as far as Cambridge the next day.

Between the 4 of us (neither Jules nor Lisa drank any of the red wine), we had soon managed to finish the half bottle, and when Dave appeared after about an hour, he first expressed a dour sort of amazement that we were still there, then offered us a refill, took out a bottle, and poured us each two fingers' worth...then forgot to take the bottle with him when he left the room. 45 Minutes later, we had polished it off, and Ros and I were getting quite giggly. By now it was time to get ready, and while the couple went to their dinner, we went upstairs to freshen up, leaving Dave distinctly out of sorts with us.