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New York: First Impressions, 1970

It was in 1970.  I was on an Air India flight, taxiing down the runway to the terminal of the John F. Kennedy International Airport.  I was arriving in America for the first time and I had just US$5.00 to my name.

A list of names of people who had messages waiting for them was called out. My message was from my host-to-be in New York. He, a doctor, would be delayed by a hospital emergency and would not be able to pick me up for at least two hours. I was to wait in the airport bar.

Getting through US customers did not take long and I was left with time to waste and only five dollars to spend. I was standing at the main entrance in an attempt to escape the air-conditioning, as a white, stretch limousine; the first one I had ever set eyes on, pulled up in front. A very tall, imposing Afro-American, dressed in a full length, white fur coat and a  taqiyah cap, sprang out of the vehicle and rushed past me into the airport. In his haste some coins fell from his pocket and I automatically picked them and called after him but he dismissed me with a nonchalant wave of his hand.

For a moment I was mightily impressed that anyone could afford to throw away one dollar and seventy five cents, which was the total of the coins I had picked up. But his loss was my gain, I now had six dollars seventy-five cents, enough to be in the bar with confidence.

I was on my second beer and getting into conversation with the barman – they had time to talk to customers in those days, I laughingly recounted the limo incident and mentioned my temporary shortage of liquidity. He was amused but not surprised, explaining that the man would have been either a film star or a musician but more than likely was a pimp. As to my financial predicament;  he would allow me credit until my friend arrived. I had not even left the airport and already I was beginning to feel at home in America. And being a firm believer that you should try the local produce, I switched from beer to Manhattans and was in great form by the time Bill arrived to collect me and pay the tab.

My host lived and worked in Staten Island. As he was at work all day, I was left to amuse myself. I had been advised to be very careful, New York at that time was having a huge crime wave and a there was high incidence of murders. Debarking from the ferry at Manhattan the first day and being a bit confused, I  approached a very large policeman for assistance. He must of caught my accent because he hissed, Get the fuck away from me Limey!  I was later told that he was probably second or third generation Irish, as were most of the New York police. They did not hold Englishmen in high esteem.

I was somewhat taken aback and moved quickly on to enquire of someone else. Being from Manchester and of the theory that working class folk were friendly folk, I approached a man wearing blue over-alls. As he turned around to answer me I saw that he was sporting a large stars and stripes handkerchief, sprouting from his overall pocket and to match, a  pair of pink jogging shoes. I had chosen a homosexual and a mincing one at that. However, In contrast to the belligerent Irish cop, he was  thrilled  to meet a genuine Englishman. He was most helpful but, to my embarrassment,  insisted on accompanying me to the subway and all the way up to 42nd Street.


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