It was September 2010 when I first set foot on American soil. I had arrived at the city of my dreams – New York, and of course I was bubbling with excitement. True to its reputation, it didn’t disappoint. There was an electric atmosphere in the air, and a persistent voice saying “Anything is possible”. I was given theopportunity to report for the South African Broadcasting Corporation from the United Nations. Those three months left an indelible mark on me. I soaked up every bit of the city from watching Broadways longest running musical “The Phantom of the Opera” to grabbing a pizza at Little Italy, and of course shopping up a storm at Macy’s and Century 21.
Of course it was not all pleasant. The discovery of a gigantic New York cockroach in my kitchen at one point almost sent me packing. I have a phobia for the creatures you see, and it’s the good thing the landlord obliged to my request and fumigated the room. The problem wasn’t unique to my room or that building. I soon discovered that New York is indeed the city that never sleeps, and neither do its cockroaches.
Why, Melini? Why?
I left New York in November that year, totally in love with the US, and determined to come back. In South Africa my friends made fun of me. “Why on earth would any sensible person want to move to the US?” they said. “Americans are a bunch of rude arrogant people”. But they hadn’t experienced the magic I had, and I kept wishing that one day I too would be able to live in the land of opportunity.
Last week I found myself back in my favourite city in the world. Like a magnet I was drawn to Times Square. It was the great atmosphere I was used to. Hot dog vendors on street corners, T-shirts going for a song, artists drawing cartoon pictures of tourists for $5 (plus all the extra charges you find out about once they’re done). The sexy ‘cowboy’ was still there with his guitar, and the usual throngs of people armed with cameras flashing at anything and everything.
I noticed that Coca Cola had changed their advert though on the big pillar behind the famous red staircase. The old one used light and technology to make it seem like there were construction workers inside the tower. I missed that. This one was far more boring.
But what was new this time around was the appearance of 'Snoop Dogg'. Playing to the flashing camera's of excited tourists, a Snoop Dogg look-alike pretended to be the real deal, while his 'agent' collected 'donations for charity'.
We visited a number of media houses during our brief stay in New York, including the New York Times, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and ProPublica. Bloomberg was particularly interesting. It’s the first company I know of that has FREE ‘service centres’ where employees can stop by and grab chocolates, packets of crisps, popcorn, dried fruit, nuts, biscuits, juice, cooldrink or coffee. Did I mention that all these are free?
We also had some free time in New York to shop or do what tourists do. A visit to a few of my favourite clothing stores led me to one clear conclusion. The stores had all collaborated to change the size of their clothing to a size smaller. And no-one had told me about it. With bad luck with shopping, I proceeded to do the things that make me happy in New York, like enjoy a chicken gumbo at my favourite Mexican Grill. A gumbo is a bowl filled with rice, beans, chicken, corn, hot sauce, cheese and guacamole.
I wish I could find this in South Africa. I also made sure I got on the ferry to Staten Island. The ferry has an absolutely stunning view of the Manhattan skyline.
The bite (or sting)
Every day as I retired to my room I inspected the pink mark on the outside of my right leg. Indeed it was getting bigger and redder. It had been just over a week or so since it appeared and I was hoping it would simply disappear. We had been told that despite having medical insurance, we’d have to pay the first $100 if we saw a doctor. That’s a lot of money, but in any case, I didn’t think it was anything some ointment couldn’t fix. The worry started when I went to a pharmacist who took one look at it and told me that there was nothing he could give me that would work, and that I should see a doctor. I wasn’t sure where to start.
One phone call to our travel staff Denise and her husband Larry and they shifted into gear. At their hotel room they deliberated. Was it a spider bite? Or was it a bee sting? Surely I would have felt a bee sting, I thought. But Larry who had been a victim of a bee sting before, said there were different types of bees and the symptoms I had were similar to his. With one more day in New York, they gave me two options – go to the doctor down the street or try out an over- the- counter cream and see what happens. I decided to take the safe route, (especially after the pharmacist freaked me out) and off to the doctor we went. Doctor Gupta took one look at my leg and said it was a good thing I came. The deep redness worried him, and he promptly put me on a course of anti-biotics. He was a pleasant doctor, and I was really surprised when three days later someone from the medical centre called me to check on how I was doing.
Dog poo and flirting
New York continues to amaze me. I find it remarkable that people who walk their dogs carry plastic packets to clean up after them should they decide to decorate the pavement. The law is clear on this one.
Even flirting takes on a new meaning there. In South Africa it’s not uncommon to find groups of guys sitting at the side of the road whistling or passing silly comments when a young lady walks by. In New York, they say ”Good mornin’ mam, Damnnnn you’re lookin fine today.” Once I was stopped in Times Square by a businessman who grabbed my hand and delicately kissed it. He described how beautiful I was and insisted on taking me for dinner.
Now fortunately I’m not easily carried away by this romanticism, but hey, it certainly beats being whistled at which I find terribly demeaning.
That said, it’s been just over 6 weeks that I’ve been here, and with three more weeks to go I can’t help wishing Boston’s MIT students would have invented a time travel machine. Just so I can quickly beam myself into South Africa, spread some hugs and kisses, drop off my extra luggage and of course catch a real Durban *bunny chow!
*Ps. A bunny chow has nothing to do with bunnies. It’s a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with tasty hot curry. The dish originated in Durban.