Thursday, 29 March 2012

New Yorkers


I am staying in the New York suburb of Queens with my former BBC colleague, Laura James, and her partner, Rich.
It's a long-established neighbourhood with attractive little wooden houses which have neat gardens and a lot of decking. It could be suburbia almost anywhere, with one notable exception. There can be few countries anywhere in the world who display their patriotism quite as proudly as the Americans. The Stars and Stripes flag flutters proudly outside a very large percentage of the smart little homes.


But I am not quite sure where the residents actually are during the working day. Certainly they don't seem to be running the businesses in the local shopping area. Most everyone seems to be Korean or Chinese and I have great difficulty being understood. Despite knowing how to say 'Hello, how are you' in Cantonese.
I am in search of a micro-sim for my iPad. I will be in the States for three weeks, so a pay as you go card will keep me in touch with emails without switching on the horribly expensive roaming facility on my tablet computer.
I also have to find someone to mend my glasses. I was so tired last night that I fell asleep before removing them. I awoke this morning to discover they'd not taken kindly to being used as a mattress; one of the lenses has become detached from the frame, which has been bent into an unwearable state.
I have a sore ankle and knee so it's a pity that I take the wrong turning and end up walking a mile further than I need. In fact, I seem to be the only one walking; the cars are not hugely sympathetic to their legal obligation to stop.
At the at&t store in Great Neck, Will Chaparro spends an hour trying to get the company's systems to accept me as a new subscriber. But despite Will's best efforts, they are unable to link my US bank debit card with a registered address outside the USA.
I discover that Will is a budding entrepreneur and is keen to take his music business, www.onesoundlabel.com, into Europe. I promise to put him in touch with my chum Russ Kane so they can help each other conquer their respective countries.
Almost next door to at&t is T Mobile, who get me up and running in just a few minutes. But the fantastically patient Trevor Mercer becomes almost demented (and the session takes him long into his lunch break) as a result of the incompetence of his customer service department who seem unable to understand that the registration process for an iPad is rather different to a phone.
After giving up in disgust, hungry Trevor and I repair to nearby Napoli Pizza where I discover that we are 20 minutes late for the 3pm deadline for the lunch special offer. Owner Coop says I have a great Italian accent. I think it's a joke.
But the slices of buffalo chicken and grandma square are each delicious and Trevor's recommendation is well-deserved.
Interestingly, he has no idea of the derivation of his surname and is fascinated when I tell him what a mercer originally did for a living. Somehow I don't think the tradition of taking the name from your occupation will work in the future Trevor T-Mobile doesn't seem to work at all.
I am in search of a Smoking Loon. It's not a chain-smoking idiot, but a really nice Californian wine which Laura has as her 'house wine'.
Stop and Shop supermarket doesn't seem to have it, but I find a lemon, a lime and some tonic to go with my Bombay Sapphire gin. The shop has the biggest boxes of Matzos I have ever seen.

The lady at checkout asks if I have a store card and despite my assurance that I don't, she types in a code and I receive a discount of $2.23 on my $10.51 bill. Well chuffed!
Almost next door I find an optician (Chinese) to mend my glasses and then almost trip over a Chinese-owned wine shop stocking up in advance of their official opening. There are bottles of Smoking Loon in abundance and an extra ten per cent off to mark the opening.
Even the newcomers learn the American way of how to drive business.