Once upon a time in America



Sometimes, you just have to say “fuck it” and do something spontaneous: I did that last night when I resolved this year to make a return trip to America. Once I am personally resolved to do something, I will ensure it happens. I was last in the USA in 2001 and was witness to the world changing, as 9/11 unfolded around me. I’m no pilgrim but I do make an effort to visit the 7/7 memorial in Hyde Park every July and Kirsty MacColl’s bench in Soho Square every 10th October, on her birthday. Fifteen years since I last visited America, I’ll be humbled to be able to pay my respects in person.

It’s fifteen years since I last visited the United States and fifteen years since I last had any kind of holiday. With that and all which I have endured, then achieved, I feel I’m due a nice break.

In an ideal world, proceeds from my writing would finance the trip but I’m a realist and it’s something I will save for. I have sufficient funds available to pay for the trip right now but if I don’t earn it through my book and other work, then I’d rather save than dip into the war chest: a little invested effort to increase the reward. The break I’m planning ought to come in at around a grand and I should be able to save that comfortably.

As an insight into the gifted but damaged mind which sits in my head, the trip to America will take on a far greater importance as the time approaches. Until then, it is a pleasant dream. When I made arrangements for a day in London tomorrow, I was initially excited. As the day is upon me though, I am incredibly anxious. This is how things often happen and the prospect of a great day becomes a challenge. I always overcome the challenges and enjoy these things with hindsight but I’m at the trepidation stage on the eve of my trip to London.

I’m due to sit a two and a half hour invigilated exam at Birkbeck College, to recognise my above-average IQ and to gain entry to Mensa. A trip to the capital is always exciting and I will look quite the dapper chap, with my new satchel and my Union Flag Filofax, as I make notes on the train. I shall arrive in London with sufficient time to take a light lunch in a cafe off of Tottenham Court Road, before attending my exam session. Whilst in London, I shall enjoy the architecture, history, culture and everything else which the greatest city on earth has in bundles. A small part of me is shitting it but I know it’ll be a wonderful adventure.

The bigger adventure comes in September, when my level of apprehension will be equal to my excitement over going to America. I’m putting together an itinerary for the trip but the outline plan is to first fly to Chicago with British Airways. I’ve never flown with our national carrier, so I will be fulfilling a wish with that small detail. There are cheaper flights but this is my dream trip and I want to make it perfect. The significance of BA is my national airline delivering me to another country.

I remember the descent into O’Hare airport from fifteen years ago, when our flight was held in a stack above Lake Michigan: an incredible sight from the air. I would assume it a given that no-one would expect me to go on a package trip, so I shall take care of accommodation myself, through social sharing avenues: I hope to meet interesting people who I briefly stay with and perhaps make friends for longer.

My flight to the USA will be on Wednesday 7th September, to Chicago: Hello, my second favourite city in the world, at the moment; I fear you may have to assume another position.

Whilst in the windy city, I’ll take in some of the many great museums and galleries, as well as exploring once more. I wish to visit the zoo there. I want to see if some of the places I remember from my last visit are still there. If all goes well, I’ll enjoy a lunch of Gumbo prawns on Navy Pier, that stilted walkway onto Lake Michigan. While I’m there, I’ll take a ride on the Ferris wheel and have a cocktail on the boardwalk. I’ll travel The Loop elevated railroad and find a nice diner or liquor store to have brunch in. I’ll read The Chicago Tribune over crispy bacon, pancakes and coffee; then a 16 fl oz beer and a Chesterfield from a soft packet.

My last night in Chicago is Friday 9th September. Then I plan to see if Excalibur nightclub or something of a different name is on Rush Street in downtown. Just so long as Rush Street is there and I know that it is. Fifteen years ago, I found out first hand that it is absolutely true that American girls adore the English accent.

The next day, I will fly or take a Greyhound to New York. It will be at this point that I’ll have a better idea of how things are going to go. I have never been to the Big Apple but was nearby in Chicago when 9/11 happened. New York will be more exploration of arts, culture and life, including a Broadway show on the Saturday night. I’ll enjoy a bagel, whilst reading The New York Times and I’ll take a yellow cab ride down Wall Street. I’ll have Joe Jackson singing Stepping out, playing in my mind: “…and in a yellow taxi, turn to me and smile / We’ll be there in just a while / if you follow me…”

On Sunday 11th September, I will rise early to visit the Ground Zero memorial and remember. The plan at the moment is to return to the UK with American Airlines on Tuesday 13th.

This is a dream come almost true. It is one which I am committed to living out: it’s on my bucket list. I feel I’ve earned it and I will save up to make it happen.

But everyone knows: I’m not coming back, right?

We all deserve a break.

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