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Traveler in New York

There’s nowhere so bewildering and random as New York for a traveler crashing on a different sofa every night..

I am startled awake by the sound of a heavy door crashing shut in a room nearby. I have no idea where I am except that I’m lying on a couch, with no shirt on, in a carpeted hallway awfully lit by fluorescent bulbs. There are no windows. I slowly come to remember where I am. I’m on the 21st floor of an office building in midtown Manhattan.

Not just an ordinary office building, I am in the main nerve center of the modern media broadcasting universe. From here New York’s television feeds are distributed via fiber optic cables throughout the world. My friend, John, single-handedly mans the graveyard shift here, patching lines through on requests from Singapore or wherever at 3 AM. I came up here to have a look at it all: the racks of electronic switching systems and a whole wall full of monitors. A spokeswoman in front of camera on one live feed, not being aired, complains that her “tits are showing.” Any channel can be sent anywhere and is. New York never sleeps. But I do, on a small couch out in the hall.

The sound of the door waking me up is the secretary arriving in the morning. I have no idea what time it is. I don’t want the secretary seeing me here in the hallway half-dressed. I find my shirt and quietly peer into the reception room. I glimpse the backside of a dark-haired woman as she goes into the restroom. I successfully sneak out the front door of the office without her seeing me and John gets to keep his job.

The best part about New York City is how random it all can be. The key is to insert yourself into the earnest lives of people and take it from there. I’ve never cared for sightseeing, landmarks bore me, but thrust me into the day-to-day happenings of friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends and places really come alive. For the past week I’ve flitted about the five boroughs meeting Jazz legends, discussing Buddhism, joining protests and drinking heavily. Chance encounters whilst out and about.

Twenty-one floors down and out on the street I can tell it is well before 7 AM. The sun is barely up and I’m near Grand Central Station before even the earliest commuters. Steam rises from below the ground as men bustle about unloading stacks of beverages and newspapers from delivery trucks. My neck hurts from the awkward way I slept on that couch.

I decide to head downtown to where I usually crash in New York, which is wherever my ex-girlfriend Suzie happens to be living this year. She moved to New York four years ago and goes through apartments like I go through new countries. Right now she lives in a loft down in Soho, an area in Manhattan famous for its art galleries and trendy shopping. I really could use a shower and a change of clothes and maybe a couple more hours of sleep before the day starts. First, though, I need coffee. Two rules of thumb in New York – you can always find coffee, and you can never find a toilet.

After caffeination I head underground and catch the 6 train south. With rush hour beginning I can feel thick apprehension in the air surrounding the silent commuters – just last week four bombs went off on London’s Metro system killing dozens. One of the idiosyncrasies of living here is that New Yorkers have it in the back of their heads at all times that they are terrorist target number one. No one admits how jittery they are but I see them on this train eyeing each other and covertly glancing underneath the seats for unattended bags and packages. I usually ride the subway at night, the tension dissipates and a summer stench of sweat, booze and heated concrete permeates the lines instead.

Mason barks loudly and I curse as I step in his crap in the dark of Suzie’s place. India is tidier than here. Suzie and her five roommates rented this loft, previously a corporate office, three months ago completely unfurnished. By unfurnished I mean there weren’t even walls for bedrooms when they moved in. Now the space consists of a chaotic pile of screws, sheetrock scraps, tools and boxed personal items. There is the ramshackle start of the bedrooms. The people here have been living like this for months, too young and busy to actually work on putting up the place. My original plan to spend most of my time here backfired. I was allergic to the dust and got tired of stepping on screws and Mason’s crap.

Worse, I unwittingly offended Suzie’s roommates when I first got in. The first evening I was walking in the hall, shouting over the breaking up signal on my mobile phone to a friend in New Jersey:

“Man! You should see this place! It’s an absolute disaster. I don’t know how anyone can live here!”

I didn’t think anyone else was home. Turns out everyone was home. They were hiding like bats in the dark of their bedrooms, not yet having organised the electric supply. I had broken the most important sofa-surfing rule – “Never offend your hosts.”

They were too uptight to say anything though and they emerged from their rooms with hammers, nails and saws in hand – instead of attacking me though, they set to work on improving their apartments. Looks like I really struck a nerve.

I’m washing Mason’s crap off my sneakers when Suzie comes out of her room. She is just leaving for work. As she passes me on the way out she gives me a kiss goodbye. Suzie is a stunningly beautiful blonde in the ironic situation of being lonely in a city with twelve million people. She doesn’t get along well with girls and guys here all just want to sleep with her.

I can see why. She looks great in her business dress and high heels. Her part in the rat race is to woo software developers into contracts. When her company needs to seal the deal on a contract they send her in to take the programmers out on the town for dinner and drinks. The geeks fawn over her all night, and in the morning they sign contracts to code ASP or PHP or whatever for twenty hours a day. Suzie’s smart and capable and hates it but they pay her well. In New York you can make money but live soullessly or just try and scrape by somehow.

With Suzie gone I shower and change my clothes and take a nap for a couple of hours in her big brass bed. I have free time today and decide to head up to Central Park and do yoga. It’s already hot outside, humid in an offensive way. There are only two nice months a year in New York, April and September. London has bad rainy and foggy weather but New York has awful cold and muggy heat. I sweat my shirt through walking uptown. A heat like this is sexual in nature. All week long I have been watching the sex ooze out of the sidewalk. I can see it in the million types of girl passing by walking their dogs or with shopping bags in their hands. I see bodies of every variety.

New York presses everyone together. We’re on intimate terms, holding hands on the subway and dancing together through the doorways. Cities like Los Angeles have automobiles and freeways that conspire to create distance and separate the diverse multitudes. Here we’re all right in front of each other with nowhere to run and hide.

After some yoga and healthy contemplation in the park I go to get hamburgers at The Burger Joint. This is a greasy place well-hidden behind a curtain in the lobby of The Park Meridian, a ritzy four star hotel full of French people with money. A neon hamburger behind a menacing concierge reveals the way. A friend who helps produce the shows at Carnegie Hall on the same block meets me for lunch there. He’s from Michigan, lived in Seattle a while and hopes to study and work soon in London. Coming and going like everyone else.

He offers to take me out to Brooklyn tonight to a hipster party but I’ve decided instead to see an Israeli girl living here in the East Village whom I met last year in Argentina.

The best part about New York City is how random it can all be.

Jim Klee

Jim Klee – sports a mangled passport and a well-worn rucksack. He believes travel to be a form of therapy against modern civilization’s madness. In 2002 Jim embarked on a journey starting with a one-way ticket no return to Mexico City. Some months later he discovered Tom Thumb sleeping in the shade besides his tent on a beach in Costa Rica. After surviving rip currents in Mexico, nearly freezing to death trekking solo in Patagonia, and getting knocked unconscious by submerged rocks while surfing in Australia, Jim decided to clear his head by beelining his way (mostly overland) to the Himalaya. There a regimen of Sufi poetry, yoga up in the mountains, and cheap gel pens resulted in a stack of notebooks containing an unpublishable travel novel. He re-emerged in New York City in late 2004 and Road Junky was born soon after.