13.05.2012 - 17.05.2012 28 °C
After a brief trip back to New York City to catch up with a visiting colleague (eg: prove I still exist, discover If I am still employed. That sort of thing), I headed West. Normally in the world, I head East. East is new, foreign, potentially exciting. I have never really been West before, anywhere. Except maybe Cornwall, and that doesn't really count. So I was looking forward to experiencing this West thing.
I took an Amtrak to Buffalo-Exchange, which turned out to be a small building with a heavily cracked and uneven pavement built underneath a concrete underpass. Yes, as miserable as it sounds. I had taken the train partly out of a wish for variety (not another bus), and partly because the tracks run right alongside the Hudson for the first hours and I had hoped for a scenic ride. It wasn't bad.
A friend of an old friend was picking me up, but all I had was a name 'Von'. I had no idea if it was male or female, black or white. Once I arrived and realised that it was a small station and only a dozen people got off, so I would let them disperse and Von would be the person left. Cunning. Except that everybody left. Hmmm. So I sat on the curb by the locked building in an empty parking lot and waited. I read a free paper about housing (prices are cheap here) and another on cars (which are more expensive than I would have guessed) and was just about to ring Von, when I received a message 'are you at the bus station yet?'. “Ah-ha!” I thought – though not in the Norwegian sense – that explains a great deal. We exchanged messages, whereupon I was asked where the station was. Hmmm. “you are the one who lives in this ******* city!” I thought. But soon we had worked it out, and I was sat in a flat in Elmwood, a nice suburb of Buffalo, where a nice, period, large 3 bedroom flat with porch and all costs significantly less to rent than a single room in a house-share in London.
The following morning, my friend having finished her night shift and slept, and my having wandered the neighbourhood, we caught up for the first time since the happy days of Christmas in Beijing, 7 years previously. Then off we headed, as you do, to Pittsburgh. I had been relaxed on what we did on her two days off, she wanted to visit to go to the Andy Warhol Museum (he is from Pittsburgh). That sounded good to me. I thus received a 2day crash course in 'real' American life, being introduced to assorted food emporiums, provincial American wonders, and asked lots of stupid questions. To many, I discovered, there simply are no answers.
Yes, welcome to America. I'm not sure if i find this more depressing or disturbing!
Pittsbugh skyline, or, at least, bits of it
The bits of the Museum we saw were great. We were, however, kicked out after 90minutes and only 2 (of 6) floors due to a “sewage issue”. Bummer. At least we got our money back. Some assorted wandering later and we headed back to Buffalo. An evening tour of city followed – several beautiful old buildings but a dead city centre area, plus some pretty areas in the suburbs, including several large museums, and a strange sense of loss that can only come from a city whose population has halved in the last 50years, and is still shrinking alarmingly today – before I was introduced to the “man-cave”, a strange and dangerous place owned by my friends landlord, and which seemed to distort the rules of time and could also potentially lead to some serious alcoholism.
I also almost bought a house. In fact, when I awoke, I thought I might have actually done so, but checking back through the paperwork, no, I hadn't. I think. But it was a serious idea. Whilst larger, better condition places in nicer areas were available for the sort of money that I still would be hoping to pay off a mortgage within 5 or 10 years, not 25+ it would take in much of Europe, I had plumped for a cheaper 2 bed flat. Sure, it needed work, but 8,000usd for a decent sized flat in an ok – if not great – area seemed insane to me. In London, you would spend more than that in a year simply by renting a (very) small room in a shared house. It's scary. Now all I need is a job and reason to move to Buffalo...