Things that surprised me about America in my first 2 weeks
- JFK is the worst airport I’ve ever flown into
As the busiest airport for international passengers in the US, you might think that arriving here you would enter into a well coordinated, constantly shifting environment of immigration and bureaucracy. However 4 hours after disembarking my aircraft stood sweltering in the queue, even I was desperate to get in front of the surly but efficient border patrol agents.
- New York City’s roads are terrible
After having lived in Australia for a year I never thought I would encounter roads similar to those corrugated red dirt tracks in the outback, let alone in the urban centre of NYC. It was an assault course of; potholes, ongoing roadworks, patch up jobs & stray traffic cones. Add in city drivers, unpredictable pedestrians and satnav following delivery vehicles- you have quite the challenge for the uninitiated.
- A lime rickey was a pleasant surprise
My habit of ordering unknown items off menu’s continues at Raymond’s diner in Montclair, NJ. ‘The Rickey’ was originally concocted in Washington DC with Bourbon as it’s base liquor and was revived a decade later using Gin. Today it has been reinvented as a virgin cocktail generally using soda. Radioactive in colour but refreshing in taste, it was the perfect accompaniment for a Saturday brunch.
- Trains on the weekend from NJ to NYC become infrequent
From my few experiences of the NJ transit system, I have come to realise it is a wonderful thing but I was very baffled to find that the number of trains almost halves as soon as the weekend arrives. (In the UK, transport generally only lessens on a Sunday.) With 1,218 residents per square mile, New Jersey is the most populated state in America. Come the weekend, commuters are keen to stay at home and avoid the sightseers.
- Four miles after leaving NYC you enter a watery swamp
From the train window you can survey the gently swaying vista of ‘The Meadlowlands’. An area of 20,500 acres comprising of wetlands originally forested in Atlantic white cedar. It gives out quite a romantic image but the area gained it’s name from Dutch settlers who cleared stretches to create ‘meadows’ of salt hay which they used for animal fodder. Nowadays it’s frequently exposed to waste dumping, pollution & unsightly development. But it’s not all bad, it’s also home to over 260 species of bird, 22 mammals, 51 fish and 420 plants with boardwalk trails throughout.
- There’s a continuous stream of sirens
On my first day out in NYC we saw almost 10 firetrucks in 4 hours, 2 of those hours were spent inside watching a Broadway production. After a few trips into the city I don’t even notice them, the noise just blends into the background with the rest of the buzz. In spite of the negative suggestion firetrucks provide, they do look very majestic with the stars and stripes streaming out behind them as they attend to one of the 11 million 911 calls NYC has per year, that’s an average of 31,250 per day.
- Despite the sirens, New York is actually quite quiet as cities go
Having travelled all over the globe from India to New Zealand to Spain, I’ve seen my fair share of cities. The images we so often see of NYC are; honking yellow cabs, irate New Yorker’s, echoing construction work, children screaming in Central Park and skateboards clattering down Madison Avenue. Don’t get me wrong, those noises are all present (don’t forget the sirens either) but it seem’s to be at a lower din that I had imagined or that is portrayed in the movies that we see across the pond.
- Yard sales are exactly like they are in the movies
The cliché scene we visualise is a gorgeous neighbourhood with big houses, huge well kept gardens with a handwritten ‘yard sale’ sign up front. Next comes the welcoming, friendly, polite home owners and the pretty children manning the 50c lemonade stands on the sidewalks. After visiting my first community yard sale in Morristown, New Jersey I can report that that is exactly what we discovered. I appreciate that not every neighbourhood is as peachy as Washington Avenue but I still enjoyed the novelty aspect of the experience immensely.
- You can buy guns in Walmart
After moving into our apartment, we have visited Walmart numerous times a week. However it wasn’t until a trip down to Florida that I noticed the guns in the sports & outdoors department. I’m very mindful of the unhealthy love affair America has with firearms, but I hadn’t quite been prepared to see them in a store where I buy cheap flip-flops. It turns out that Walmart is the nation’s largest gun retailer stocking a range of firearms & accessories in 1,700 of it’s 4,672 stores in the US. As crazy as I think this is, Walmart has tighter background check policies than the US government does. The company videotape every gun purchase, carry out background check’s on staff members involved in transactions & have created a system that can trace guns that are used in crimes. The most important part of their policy is refusing ‘default proceed sales’. This means If a background check doesn’t clear within 2 hours and is placed under review, many retailers will chose to continue with the sale even if an approval or denial hasn’t been declared when the 3 day mark passes.