Prison Island in a Thunderstorm (USA Day 4)
I’ve been consistently stunned, so far, by the genuine friendliness of people we meet. I’d imagined, cynically I suppose, that the well-renowned American hospitality was in some small part an act, but having experienced it for even four days, I completely take that back. People are nice here. That’s the end of it.
(Also, even the locals here say people get nicer once you leave the East Coast, but I can’t really imagine how that’s possible. Will they throw delightful pastries into our panniers as we pass?)
I passed an elderly lady on our hosts’ roof terrace, admiring a honeysuckle. Jackson was her name, “like Michael”, she explained, “from North Carolina”. When I shared Amy’s trick of pulling the tip off a bud and licking the little nectar deposit, she was shocked.
“I thought that was just a Carolina thing! Where you from?”
“London,” I said.
“London? I do declare! To think it’s reached London…” and she tottered off, astonished.
We cycled through Manhattan and across the Ed Koch Queensboro’ bridge, a gargantuan double-decker construction of a scale that I could barely comprehend. It’s not even in New York’s top five bridges, I’m told. On the other side brooded the industrial, huffing grid of Long Island City, stacked high with dark green elevated train tracks and sooty brick buildings with chainlink fences.
On locals’ advice we emerged at John Brown Smokehouse, a cosy BBQ joint serving smoked brisket by the pound next to squidgy cornbread, tangy coleslaw (more of a sauerkraut really) and root beer. As we inhaled the food, the rain began and the locals piled in, half to cower from its torrent but also, conveniently, to nosh a rack of ribs while they waited. A quiet but determined employee left umbrella buckets by the door and every time a customer ignored them she tutted, smiling motherly(ly?), and wiped down the general area with a wad of paper towels.
The rain wasn’t scheduled to stop, and we had a day to make, so we donned our waterproofs which bloody well ought to work given what’s yet to come and found the bridge to Roosevelt Island, a sliver of land in the East River that was used until recently for prisons, paupers and the terminally ill. The big three. I can only imagine the mental torure, sat on that island from which you know you’d never escape, watching the giant of New York bustle away from every angle.
At the island’s very south tip was an abandoned Neo-Gothic smallpox hospital, now a hollow shell and garlanded quite beautifully with ivy and ambitious sycamore saplings. In the torrential rain, surrounded by tame geese and their goslings, we took in the view by slowly rotating and saying “Woah” quite a lot.
Dinner was Venezuelan Arepas, back in Astoria under an awning that merely moved the rain, not stopped it, but we gobbled sloppily and chatted to a businessman about towns in New Jersey we’d definitely not visit, then cycled home to dry off and sleep.