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Taxi Noir: Back in the New York Groove


Continuing the second leg of our Spring break, my wife and I flew from Reykjavik to New York.

We’d taken out annual worldwide insurance. We’d ten million pounds worth of medical cover, so we could take a few risks. Maybe we’ll visit the South Bronx, and a few Spike Lee film sites? Ten mil should cover gunshot wounds, and a few helicopter lifts out of war zones.

A couple of weeks before leaving, I discovered that you can no longer turn up at an American border, fill in a form, and get your passport stamped at Immigration. Since 2009 you’ve had to apply in advance for a kind of pre-visa (ESTA). Looking at the American crime rate I’d say it’s the people already in the US they need to worry about. I got to work on the internet. $28 and ninety minutes later I printed off two ESTA authorisation forms. This just gives you permission to queue at Immigration for the usual Visa Waiver stamp, mind.


No Covid restrictions in Iceland, but in the final week I confirmed we’d need to show vaccination certificates and negative test results to get into the USA. It was a simple matter of booking tests to take in Reykjavik on the morning we fly to NY. At the time, I didn’t know how much I paid. It was 1,300 Icelandic krona. I didn’t know if it was the price of a cup of tea or a new car (I now know it was about £85 for the pair of us).

We had to show our Covid test results twice before we could be checked-in. I showed these on my phone, in a fumbling old age way, rather than in the confident manner of a millennial. I don’t trust technology and I always print documents out, but it wasn’t possible in this case. I showed the copies of our vaccinations at check-in too.

My friend from Long Island advised we avoid any underground train trips, due to violent incidents (random passengers had been stabbed and shot before and after our trip). But I wasn’t going to muck about with buses. The Air Train took us from JFK to Jamaica, which is where the tube system starts from. It was a straight line from there to 53rd Street.


By following complicated signs we exited at 51st Street, where our hotel, Pod 51, was situated. The reception area was nice enough, but our 7th floor room resembled our compartment on the Caledonian Sleeper, down to the little metal sink. It wasn’t a bad room, just very small. No view. No breakfast. There was a nice roof garden. The East Midtown location is excellent. At £120, it’s about as cheap as you can get in NYC, and I’d consider staying there again.

On our first full day we caught a train downtown and walked around the Financial District. Walked north past the law courts you often see on TV, and around the corner into Chinatown. It’s bigger and scruffier than London’s Chinatown, but we had a decent meal at 11.30. The waiter asked us where we were from, then ensured we were on-message by pointing out that tips aren’t included on the bill. All right, already!

Walked Mullberry Street and what’s left of Little Italy. You can imagine Godfather 2 being filmed on the apartment blocks with their fire escapes. It felt touristy: Covent Garden with spaghetti. I knew the real Little Italy was now in the Bronx. I earmarked a possible visit for tomorrow.

Along Spring Street in Soho until we found the correct tube station and caught a train to take us back to the hotel. One bloke was lying asleep on the train bench. Another drank alcohol and muttered to himself, before he went for a full-length kip too. As in London, you’re not allowed to move between carriages; but lots of people do it here. A black youth swung between the carriages as we headed north. I was thinking of a trip up to Harlem or the Bronx, but I was put off by the freaks and weirdos on the tube system. Would I feel better about it tomorrow? (of course you would! – ed.)

To be continued…