Thursday, March 15, 2012

Marker posts

(Cough. My new Doctor Who, Wirrn Isle, came out today but I'm not ready: I was planning a proper piece about that for its official release date at the end of the month. I'm new at this. But while I go off pondering that, I have been writing the following and wanted to share it with you.

That's all. Carry on.)

When I went freelance as a writer, people said the reality of it all would hit me on that first day I would be my own boss and would no longer have to go into an office. Nope. I sat there in my own office, fielding calls from six bosses instead. But it hit me last week as I did some drama work in New York and some business in Florida.

This is the first time I've worked in the States and I know that's not actually a big deal but it feels it to me. On the one hand, I feel great that I'm doing something that requires me to be thousands of miles from home and which just happens to include New York. But on the other, I don't half feel the pressure that the trip has to fund itself.

I don't know what it is in me that prefers working: it is better to be crew than passenger, I deeply feel that. So despite spending some days entirely in my motel working, and maybe because I've not even glanced at Disneyworld or Legoland or Harry Potter Country or Kennedy Space Planet, this trip feels very new and quite odd. Enough so that I've noticed what a difference it makes not being a tourist.


You just don't look like a tourist

Everybody knows. Everybody knows you're not a tourist. I got some time off in New York and went to a museum where on the way in, the staff were greeting everyone with "Hi! Welcome to New York! And where are you folks from?". Until I reached the desk and they just said "What's your ZIP code?"

(Since you ask, I said it’s 10017. That’s where my US iTunes account is registered.)

The museum exhibit was about the street grid plan of Manhattan. I've written about this before, I've written drama about it, and a few months ago I heard a exhibition was opening. I preordered the accompanying book on Amazon. And then thought, sod it, why not just go to the museum? It’s the Museum of the City of New York and the exhibition is The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011. Runs until July 15.

Anyway, so, one thing that I'd written about was how the streets were planned long before there were enough people in Manhattan to live on them. Long before they were as flat as they are now. I specifically wrote about John Randel Jr marking out the streets and avenues with wooden posts. Now I learn that he did that at first but people kept pulling them out. So instead, he began using heavy masonry. And one was found just a few years ago.

Picture New York as hilly terrain - Manhattan means “Island of Many Hills” - with just a few streets down near the harbour where the Hudson and East rivers cross. Less than a fifth of the island had streets then but it’s a small island, it was filling up. So the council divided the rest of the land into what then became 12 avenues and 155 streets: getting the maximum room possible for the most number of people.

Rocky, wild, hilly countryside and then these stone markers, spaced out at precisely calculated points. That photo at the top of this is of the marker post that was found. The very post that John Randel Jr banged into place to mark the crossing of 4th Avenue and 26th Street, back in the 1810s and 1820s when there just wasn't a 3rd Avenue or a 25th Street. There wasn't anything.

And just to show you, here's what that spot looks like now. 

It's now 26th and Lexington: the 4th Avenue is now broken up into chunks with names like this one, Lexington. Just as the 6th is officially the Avenue of the Americas, even if nobody calls it that unless it's their address.

It was very strange and personal seeing that marker post. It felt like the last time I was in the States and I saw a bit of the Titanic's hull in an exhibition. I was naughty then and touched it but I was good now and didn't press on the post.

Made me think. And I'm not even sure what it made me think. But may I throw some thoughts at you?

After New York I went to do some work in Florida and the car rental firm says I drove around the state for 730 miles. Normally that means I haven't found a car park.

But this time it meant I had quite a lot of time to think. And because I was in Florida, there wasn't a lot to distract me. New York feels real and dirty and kind of like it was built on purpose. Florida towns feel like they were just spilt there.


Collected thoughts from a travelling bloke

Man cannot live by Domino's Pizza. But it's only a two-minute drive.

In New York, the kindest thing you could say about me is that I look very English. But in Florida, I look slim. Now trying to work out where I could go to look hot.

Speaking of hot, it is a rule: you cannot switch on air conditioning too quickly.

Just got served by a guy whose tag says his name is Ishmael. "Call me," I said. On the good side, he actually had not heard that before. On the bad, I appear to have a date for the evening.

The poorer an area, the more churches it has.

E Street Radio really does not play anything except Bruce Springsteen music. He’s done some tremendous stuff. But he’s not half done some duffers too. Enough duffers are on his new album, Wrecking Ball, that I wasn’t going to buy it. But it became the accidental soundtrack to my driving on this trip, so I did. Rocky Ground is a good song. I keep calling it Rocky Road.

Sirius XM, the satellite radio service that includes E Street Radio and The Coffeehouse, sounds fantastic. It plays tracks I've owned for years and makes me wonder if they are new recordings, sometimes even new arrangements.

At my sleazy Florida motel where I was to be for most of a week, the desk clerk looked me over and asked: “Will one key be enough, sir?” I promise you he winked.  In New York, the desk clerk looked at me too. I was one man, staying one night, in one room. He didn’t ask. Just gave me two keys.

Just one more thing

Everything is easier once you've done it.  So why do we ever wait?


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