Jazz and Smoked Salmon (USA Day 3)

If you want to ‘see all the sights’ of New York, you’ll need either a month or a helicopter, but we have neither. Today was about making sure we’d experienced, in some small part, many of those things we’d seen on telly anyway, but didn’t trust were there until we saw them with our own eyes, I guess.

So, fuelled by pure bagels and ambition, we cycled down 5th Avenue, with its Empire States and Flatirons and Trump Towers and spooky steam vents and worse road surfaces than 95% of Britain’s country lanes. We twiddled through Soho and Wall Street, then rolled onto the gratifyingly free Staten Island Ferry which took us past the Statue of Liberty, making the most of our stay on Staten Island by immediately boarding the return boat.

Having been warned about the sheer hordes of New York bike thieves by our host, we opted not to lock them up on the street while we dined and jazzed this evening, so we put our heads down and time-trialled the entire western length of Manhattan, on the bank of the Hudson, along a tremendous bike path that took us all the way home (and quite a lot further, as we missed our turn). Now unencumbered and dressed for a warm sunny evening, we re-emerged from our Subway ride into a thunderstorm and got absolutely soaked.

Our destination was a jazz club in Harlem, Shrine, with its ceiling plastered with record sleeves and its tables smattered with discerning music-fans. We ordered the most expensive beers in history and absorbed some pretty great New Orleans jazz, interrupted partway through by a drunk rotund man with a melodica strapped over his shoulder (ya know, those clarinet-sized keyboards where you blow into one end and it honks?) who wanted to join in.

“Thanks, but we’re good,” said the bearded trumpeter, very diplomatically. “This next song is–”

“Where y’all from then?” the melodica man shouted.

We groaned and adjusted our expectations for the rest of the evening.

“New Orleans.”

“New Orleans? Nah, nah, I’m from Houston.”

“Houston’s a great place. Got some good museums.”

“Says the guy from New Orleans!” retorted the drunk man, angrily.

(We’re still trying to figure out why having good museums was such an insult to his town.)

“Anyway” continued the trumpeter, “This next song is–”

“Why ain’t you in Houston?”

Eventually the melodica man distracted himself by chatting up a woman who clearly wanted nothing to do with him, so the music could continue.

We wandered home through late-night harlem, noticing (but not lingering by) front porch gambling rackets, dingy blues bars and gangs of lads lurking outside corner shops on bikes. One old man approached us with eyes of intent.

“Yo, you guys wanna smoke–”

“Sorry mate,” I interrupted, “I don’t smoke.”

“No man! Smoked salmon! You want a smoked salmon?”

And he pulled six large sides of luxury smoked salmon from a crumpled carrier bag.

Now there’s an illicit deal you don’t see every day. We were tempted, but thought there was something fishy about the guy and made our excuses.