The default position for the comedian is to mock, criticise, or at the very least look on the worst side of things, but the USA defies this one at every turn.
Though it’s fashionable to deplore every McDonald’s drive thru that opens in Ahmedabad, or wring hands over Disneyfication of popular culture, I admit I’m a fan of the USA. It makes the biggest of promises, and delivers on more than most. Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist, has pointed out in his book of that title, that airports employ armies of interior designers – not to make first class more hip and comfortable, but to make economy class as unpleasant as possible, from the slippery seats to filling the public address speakers with sawdust to give it that perfect distorted squawk. The aim being to make every traveller spring for business class as soon as they can afford it. Frankly, dear reader, if the destination is New York, they are wasting their time: there isn’t much I wouldn’t put up with to go there. In fact, I’d be quite happy to swim the last little bit.
Sitting in a plane for seven hours plus is never going to be fun, though Delta got off to a good start when the security guard at check in decided that he ‘recognised’ me. This has never happened. Even after I’ve stormed gigs, the most I’ve got has been a grudging, ‘That wasn’t bad.’ This guy decided to go the whole hog: he asked someone to take our photo, pumped my hand, and I could only think: ‘Under similar circumstances, what would Michael Palin do?’
When we parted, he promised he was going to show the photo to his friends. Presumably to their bewilderment. But this cheerful meeting put a spring in my step until I got through security and realised I hadn’t asked his name. ‘Arrogant bastard,’ he was probably thinking of me as I looped my belt back through my trousers.
The flight was comfortable, and I passed the time catching up on a couple of movies I hadn’t managed to see at the cinema over the last few months. I am, fortunately, ‘economy sized,’ and slot neatly into whatever space even RyanAir get away with these days, so the extra comfort sized seat was an oasis of luxury in comparison to the standard short-haul European flight, though I don’t think the six-foot five Canadian next to me would entirely agree. The food was almost constant, and in the haze of dental paranoia that I’ve been living in, I was regretting stowing my toothbrush in the hold. My dentist has recently issued me with a dire warning and a bottle of mouthwash that has the smell and consistency of fabric conditioner, which I am now unwilling to let out of my sight.
At JFK, immigration officers made the terrible mistake of letting me into the country, and a car swept me into Manhattan. En route, the driver, Anwar, gave me a blow-by-blow account of the Australian cricket team’s weaknesses, where I could get a good curry, and why cricket was superior to baseball. Anwar has been in the States for two years, and drives people like me around in a black Lincoln town car, while evangelising about his favourite sport, like the MCC’s answer to Billy Graham. An iPad mini keeps him abreast of new jobs as they come in, his Samsung Galaxy tells him where he’s going, and I think I was paying more attention to the road than he was, but we arrived in one piece.
I made my rendezvous with L, my guide and host for the week. For him the night was young, but as I took in the crossroads upon which the Molly Wee Pub sits, I checked my English-time watch and saw it was three AM. I was finally in the City That Never Sleeps – and beginning to know how it felt.
My sleeping habits have the delicacy of a Japanese tea ceremony, and I once got jet lag from the Eurostar, but I pushed on grimly to the end of my Miller Lite before admitting final defeat, and the last thing I remember clearly was the sweet taste of Lenor.