I hadn’t been in JFK for years. Like the Heygate, it seems a product of the 60’s love or reinforced concrete. The arrivals ‘lounge’ is like something out of Communist Poland or Bulgaria – dingy concrete spaces, a single Dunkin’ Donuts booth, then a long concrete rampway under a parking garage to the new Airtrain which whizzes you along a circular elevated track past the different terminals of JFK and on through a desolate stretch of parking lots and factories (the anonymous Queens night spreading out beyond the window in a blur of lights and dark spaces), and onto a desolate station of the A line.
The first thing that strikes me is how much more subdued people seem here. None of that weird aggression you get in London with people yelling into their cell phones. I hardly noticed people talking into the their cell phones here – even the young black guys. That was the first pleasure in being back – the easy courtesy of Americans.
Then comes the familiar aluminum sided train with the scratched up, that hideous orange interior. Hard NY faces – a black guy with a sparse beard and one of those skullcaps fitting tightly over his head, getting off somewhere deep in Brooklyn’s ghetto heart.
And after the long haul through these familiar subway stations beneath Bedford Stuyvesant, the wait on the bridge at Smith and 9th, the Manhattan skyline spread out in the dark, the bell of the Williamsburg Bank Tower, the vast industrial spaces around the Gowanus Canal – reminding me how industrial Brooklyn, indeed all New York, remains – that until very recently this was a 20th century industrial city (unlike London, which is a 19th century industrial city).
Twelve hours after I locked the metal door behind me on Claydon House, I pulled into my friend’s apartment on 8th Ave, Park Slope. I’d never seen the street so quiet – with the neighborhood bar on the corner, the bodega with the stacks of organic potato chips and fresh produce, the big trees hanging over the street, the smell of grass and woodland from the park nearby it was like stepping out into the suburbs.
We went to the 12th street bar on the corner where a basketball game was on TV and Bon Jovi was playing on the stereo. The barmaid flirted with us and a plate of nice seafood with a good glass of Pinot Noir came to less than ten pounds. It was good to be back in New York.