14 April 2012

Destination: Philadelphia

What is Philadelphia? Where is it? Some might call it a brand of cream cheese but I'm going to recognise it as a great city. Located in the state of Pennsylvania, another new city awaited my discovery. My days off are precious so I want to use them to the best of my advantage, a nice bit of state hopping is always a great choice. Show me what you got Philadelphia! Go PA!

Yes, I had an idea what I thought Philadelphia would have looked like, I imagined it to look quite colonial with a raw attitude. Parts of Philadelphia fitted that bill but other parts certainly didn't, nevertheless my lasting impressions were positive. One thing that did strike me about this city was the contrast between tourist appropriate areas and not so polished ones. A definite colonial vibe could be felt as I discovered the Old City, more about that soon. My mission was to visit the areas that weren't meant for tourists, because I find that's much more fun! My only knowledge of Philadelphia was the Philly Cheese Steak sandwich that I ate when I was at Orlando International Airport in September 2011. Throughout my day in Philadelphia I saw many extremes but found each of them endearing even the ratchet tones. I look for historical qualities in a place but the devil that sits on my shoulder looks for urban realness. B!

Enough of the critical chat I had a super day in Philadelphia, it was super easy to get to from Newark's Penn Station by using NJ Transit and the SEPTA train. Philadelphia's got attitude for sure, so I needed to keep my wits about me. I live in Newark so I'm accustomed to seeing some crazy things going on around me, I'm definitely developing a fierce personality to fit in with these formidable places that I'm experiencing! Philadelphia was waiting for me, I feel that places that aren't completely squeaky clean should be given a chance at least once because like people having different personalities I would say this notion should apply to cities like Philadelphia? Logan Square was cool and I really appreciated the vibe of Philly's green spaces. Philadelphia is a city of museums and art galleries but I wasn't going to see those places. I covered some serious pavement that day in Philly because I didn't plan on staying overnight. It'll happen soo enough, I'm still new to this American travel lark!

From the second that I stepped off my train at 30th St. Station the walking began! I had broke away from New Jersey and New York to start my crusade of visiting new states that I hadn't previously been to before. I realised that Philadelphia's a walking friendly city, so much so I felt no need to burden my wallet with the charge of public transportation. With the sun-shining my Pennsylvania adventure carried on. From regal and grand museums to the site of snoozing vagrants, a sight that I didn't really care to see. The 'LOVE' statue stood in the perfect place with the blue sky setting the perfect vista. South Penn Square introduced itself in a quirky fashion, Philly's Center City showed me its inner core so well! I popped to McDonald's to grab a bite and I even witnessed some crazies go about their business whilst I ate my breakfast. Remembering South Penn Square, standing next to City Hall served its truth for certain! Slay, PHL!

Like I mentioned before I'm not a person who cares to trudge around art galleries and museums but I could have been easily persuaded during my time in Philadelphia. The mile long road that leads to Washington Square gives this city a feeling of cohesion and international kinship. I especially loved seeing the flags of the United Kingdom and Turkey as they are two places I won't be visiting for a long while yet. I actually enjoyed being a part of the action and felt that I could relate to this quite a lot, after all it was only impulse that brought me to this city for that day. Rewinding the clock back to a distant time I checked out the Independence National Historic Park to be acquainted with Philly's past, learning about the Liberty Bell that chimed around 1751 that outlawed slavery in the United States of America. Freedom seems to be a popular theme in Philadelphia for I did love the feeling of Washington Square Park. Knowing more about Philly enabled me to appreciate things.

As I made my way through the different districts the mood changed, the people on the streets changed quite a lot also. I found this change quite refreshing so that lightened my view of this city. The Old City provided some really interesting and quaint houses that screamed the British had made themselves comfortable here in Philly at one point during the city's founding times. Captured to the right I wasn't seeing American style condominiums, no it was very British looking indeed! A trendy vibe transcended upon this area, also it was apparent that tourists definitely flock to this area! I did notice that the local's of Philadelphia's Old City didn't appreciate the high presence of cameras, beggars can't be choosers! I didn't totally get to the waters of Penn's Landing during my first Philly, a second chance would prevail in the near future. I was hungry but in actual I no clue as to where the Cheesesteaks were good!

Looking back from the moment I reached the decrepit looking outskirts of this endearing city I don't quite know what pulled it out the bag for me? I do know that each parts of Philadelphia's Center City  gave me a different incite to city life in this Pennsylvanian capital. From the main shopping streets which were not quite tourist ready to the squeaky clean borders of the Old City, I sensed that a certain vibe makes me feel like I will be going back to Philadelphia soon enough. I even found a little magazine and bookshop that sold my Attitude Magazines, a Gay themed publication for the modern Gay man that is mainly published in England. I managed to get two issues that I would have missed from home, proving the perfect reading material for the train journey back to Newark's Penn Station. Philly was truly something indeed! Getting out of NJ and NY was just the thing that I needed! Will I go back to Philadelphia? I can't answer that question right now, maybe just maybe? PA, I'm done B! 

LOVE Philadelphia!

Joseph Harrison

12 April 2012

NYC: A Whole New World...

The United States of America holds expectations for many people, not to mention the thousands of people who risk life and limb to live in a country that's supposedly full of opportunity and prosperity. I went to Ellis Island and to the Statue of Liberty, both sites gave me an incite as to how yesterday's migrants were processed into the USA through Ellis Island between NY/NJ. 

So, this escapade showed me a slice of what the asylum seekers of yesteryear went through. The United States, well New York welcomed a large proportion of newcomers through the Ellis Island Immigration Centre. Along with Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty welcomes people to New York to this very day. Two monuments that are still standing proud making history and holding stories of people who mad their journey to seek a whole new world. As I took my Statue Cruises ferry journey over the Hudson River, a feeling of curiosity passed through my mind. Seriously, how many people had made the journey to Ellis Island with a dream of a new life in the promised land? The weather was perfect with the sun shining over the Hudson Bay my discovery would be effortless. My vessel, 'Miss New Jersey' sailed forward to the famous Ellis Island Immigration Centre and then onwards to the amazing Statue of Liberty. 

I admit that what I learnt from seeing these two landmarks proved to be a thought-provoking experience. I was so ready to be at one with one of New York City's most famous attractions. Who knows if I would find a long lost relative in the passenger lists of yesterday at Ellis Island's Immigration Centre? Unfortunately, I sadly failed! But even though my efforts didn't contribute finding a link I still know that a distant relative made her way across the Atlantic Ocean from a places like Poland to escape from the Nazi anti-semantic wave across Europe. It no secret that the United States of America has the title as 'the land of the free' but what seemed so alluring to the thousands of asylum seekers who wanted to remain in America? I'm living in America to work at Newark Liberty International Airport for one year on a visa that allows me to be here for that time only, I don't want to be an American citizen but I'm aware of the struggle that people still go through to seek the 'American Dream'. 

Ready for my new discoveries I explored the Ellis Island Museum to see what the arrivals experienced in their first moments of being the United States of America. It was an astonishing feeling to stand in the arrivals hall where hundreds of thousands of people were detained for screening the moment they would have viewed as a foreign and unknown setting. A sterile and still feeling passed through the air throughout the exhibits of the museum. Audio accounts of people who had made their way through Ellis Island spoke of their first memories of a life with a chance to start over again. These people chose to leave their homelands because of famine, war and hope for a new beginning. I learned that families made the perilous journey from places in Europe like Poland and Lithuania, but obviously people came from more places across the European continent. The movements made through Ellis Island help me see a richer New York!

I live in Newark's Ironbound District, a neighbourhood that boasts a large South American and Portuguese community that makes living within so exciting. The Portuguese and Brazilian settlers bring a wide range of delicious restaurants that serve amazing food and strong drinks. Away from the Ironbound I encounter a myriad of cultures and languages as I explore another new part of NYC each time I visit I have the opportunity to eat Vietnamese food in the Canal Street area of the city or have some Dominican food in the Bronx. I don't want to spiral into a deep trial of thought but all these people made a journey to reach the United States of America. Ireland had their depression with the potato famine so that brought unprecedented numbers of people from the emerald isle to Ellis Island to be processed into their new life. To be in such an alien situation in a new land, hearing new languages during the processing period at Ellis Island, truly remarkable! NYC's just getting started!

Not forgetting another meaningful sight on this discovery, a very special lady awaited me on Liberty Island. Standing tall with her bible and torch the Statue of Liberty stood tall before my eyes, a sight that stopped me in my tracks for a good few seconds. If I had to give her a second title to sum her personality up she would be the 'Glamazon of New York City.' Our Lady of Liberty stands tall protecting the harbours of New York and New Jersey poised with her torch to guide the lost ships that sail in the night through the nearby waters. Looking past the current building works that are currently going on it didn't take away the prowess that the Statue of Liberty possesses. I had to pinch myself! Referring back to the masses that made their way to Ellis Island, the many liners that passed the statue must have made people stop, look and then gasp? Bow down to the Statue of Liberty! Seeing that lady was amazing, living a dream B!

Personally, this adventure of mine left me thinking how inspiring it would been to arrive here in America, looking for a whole new world! So, saying that I want to search for 'a whole new world' too because I want to travel as much as I can throughout America and Canada this coming year! I'm going to be breaking borders, creating my own first impressions! I just couldn't begin to imagine how those then new immigrants felt as they entered the procedures of the Ellis Island Immigration Centre and as they captured their first moments and memories of the 'Lady of Liberty?!' I would just love to know if I had relatives that made their over the Atlantic Ocean or if they were planning to cross the pond but decided to settle in Liverpool, England. That's for me to delve into at another time. No, I don't think I'll ever forget my random day to see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, it was an experience I shall look back on and cherish for a very long while yet! Lady keep that torch burning bright!

Lady Liberty... You Better Work!

Joseph Harrison

4 April 2012

Life At The Airport

For the last two months I have been living the dream working as a 'Passenger Service Agent' for Virgin Atlantic Airways. Newark Liberty International Airport is now my second home and has been for some time, well it feels like it. I do try and bring a hand-full of glamour to my job everyday even if things get tough a smile has to be present. From check-in right through to boarding this job is getting more and more like the BBC One show 'Come Fly With Me' but my co-workers are definitely not Melody and Keeley. From Newark to Heathrow our two flights per day give me some interesting situations. As the saying goes 'there's never a dull moment at the airport.' 

From the first day at my new job the feeling of being at the airport was something that I can't describe, you could say that it was a dream come true. Might I add the Virgin Atlantic uniform is super slick, a pleasure it always is walking to work to catch the 62 bus representing my airline. To be honest I had ideas above my station, in relation of how I wanted to be with guests at the check-in counter that never happened the nerves were too intense.

My alarm chimes, the sun hasn't risen yet. I glance at my Ipod to see that its 02:30am, a site that greets me far too often. The shifts are crazy, compared to my previous job at Disney this beats no other. The morning shift is becoming my favourite for one reason, this reason is because the skyline of New York can be seen from the windows of Gate 55 as the golden sun rises over the Empire State of fabulousness! Whereas the evening shift brings its own perks, like the leftover cookies from the Virgin Clubhouse Lounge. Please! Being at the check-in counters is so interesting for me, on the moments I'm not smiling from ear to ear checking a passengers bags to Lagos I see the cabin crew file in from their 'Golden Touch' bus every inch the Virgin employees with the ladies made up in red and the gentlemen as camp as Alan Carr.

As the spring arrives so do the Boeing 747's as the Airbus 340's mainly fly the flag for Virgin at Newark. As soon as I got my airport I.D a trip onto the jumbo was in order. You might have known what area I headed for first, the Upper Class bar of-course. Seriously this majestic aircraft lasts forever surely the flight attendants get tired walking up and down the aisles, need they not get tired as the crew rest area looked comfortable enough to refresh and rejuvenate the best crew members. Hopefully one day I'll be suited and booted pushing a drinks trolley through Economy Class, oh please more like pouring a Gin and Tonic in the Upper Class bar as a member of the Cabin Crew. I suppose the glamour doesn't make it past the uniform or the swanky overnight stays in the world's major fashion capitals, who knows?

Throughout my placement I want to move to different sectors of the Virgin Atlantic ground operation at Newark Airport. Currently my check-in skills are improving shift by shift, the accuracy of my passport reading skills are getting quicker and my script for the passengers is always getting better. Its mad to think I've been working in America again for the second time in less than six months, my Future World North days are a million miles away from what I'm getting up to now. Progression is the key as I'm training in the Virgin Clubhouse, greeting our Upper Class guests and taking their over-sized bags only a Economy passenger could be envious at the limit they are allowed. The lounge is proving to be insightful but I want to be a cabin agent next, the training looks more brain taxing but you know what I'm ready for a challenge and I'm going to do it eventually.

As customer care goes by I cannot be doing to badly for a customer gave me a $20.00 tip the other morning. A lovely lady was travelling to London Heathrow on the VS18, with her Nigerian passport already turned to reveal her United Kingdom visa it was a reassuring sight to see. Her check-in was pretty straight forward, with the overweight baggage charges taken care of and her suitcases on the way to the ramp it was a job well done and time to seek the next batch of guests. Well to my surprise five minutes later the passengers daughter ran over to me and gave a me a $20.00 bill saying; "You go buy yourself some breakfast, you were so lovely." I tried to refuse the tip to adhere with policy but this kind request wasn't going to be refused by the passengers' daughter! Before I knew it a green bill sat in my waistcoat pocket with the guest running off out of the airport doors. A job well done on my part, I was only being nice and if being nice warrants a reward then so be it. I'm looking forward to the rest of my placement at Newark's Liberty International Airport as each day brings a shiny new challenge, whether it be a pleasant or not so pleasant experience I would like to say that I shall be ready for it. I know deep down I will get through the unsociable shift patterns and deal with the constant lack of sleep but its all a challenge that I'm not going to give up on!

Enjoy Your Flight!

Joseph Harrison

3 April 2012

American Sport: A Whole New Ball Game

Now, I have seemed to surprised myself recently, if you have the pleasure of knowing me then you'll sure know that I detest sport and everything that it stands for. Well, recently something strange has been happening to me because I have attended two sports events and watched the screening of the NFL Superbowl Final. American life won't change me but I'm loving life right about now!

Firstly, I attended a basketball game at the Prudential Center and secondly a soccer match at the Red Bull Arena. I must admit that American football is great when Madonna is one of the players! I did love the Superbowl Halftime Show!! Back to last Tuesday evening my American sporting venture began with a really interesting basketball match. My local team the New Jersey Nets played Utah Jazz, to be honest the match started off quite slow and I felt my concentration leaving the arena but soon enough the buzz of the game brought my attention back to the action. Unfortunately, my team the New Jersey Nets lost 84 as Utah Jazz bagged a favourable score of 105. The general vibe in the Prudential Center felt quite positively American due to the chanting and silly little musical interludes when something slightly significant happened. Half time witnessed everyone descending on the over-priced food outlets, which lured me in to buy some rather unhealthy chicken, fries and soda. American life is treating me well!

The halftime dancers made me laugh as much as the antics of the crowd that were awkwardly captured around the arena, it wasn't just the match that provided entertainment believe me. With a unlikely victory on the cards for the Nets the crowd went kind of wild in the last quarter of the game for Utah Jazz topped a unbeatable score. Looking back the New Jersey Nets losing didn't quite dishearten me but simply made me want to watch another sporting event in the supposed 'land of the free.' I guess now that I can just admit that live sporting events aren't really that bad, lets see what the future holds, shall we? Who knew that living in America would open up the chance for me to become a sports fan? I'm just going to take this next year whatever way it goes I honestly don't want to stress about what I do because its all going to work out just fine. I knew after my basketball game I wanted to seek another sporting event so I got one of my friends inspired. Bad luck New Jersey Nets I know you'll slay your next game! 

So, I tell you a feeling of compulsion lead me to scout down the next possible soccer match at the nearby Red Bull Arena. Thankfully the soccer season had just begun when I started looking for tickets. I immediately thought that there was no way that I was going to go to a soccer match on my own, no way! Thomas, my friend from work joined me to watch the game. With the tickets booked and seats assigned for my first American soccer experience I was ready for kickoff! Along came Saturday 31st March 2012, the New York Red Bulls verse Montreal Impact the first game of the season followed to be a experience that I would learn to love. I met Tom and we set off for the match, thankfully we lived down the opposite streets from each other so we walked to the Arena after the morning shift from working the VS18 flight. If truth be told the seats that I had booked were quite high, I soon got over it as my can of Red Bull made me slightly forget about the height. Had I gone absolutely mad? Its just a new experience! 

Kick off prevailed to be as cheesy as my previous experiences at the Basketball, the national anthems of both Canada and the USA were equally over the top, I suppose you could call me unpatriotic. No one sings their national anthem quite like the United States of America! Maybe us Brits could get some pointer from the pre-match performance? Arsenal's former French player Thierry Henry lead the way to a 5-2 victory to the Red Bulls. Throughout portions of the match I sat on the edge of my seat waiting for the next development of the game. I think maybe if it wasn't for our victory my match experience could have been a different story. I love that there wasn't enough room in New York City to build the Arena so they chose New Jersey! The match was a success with our home team winning it was an afternoon to remember for sure! Oh, I nearly forgot to mention that the Red Bull Arena is located in a town that holds close to my surname! Yes, Harrison is the town where the New York Red Bulls call their home! It was a family affair! 

Let's rewind back two months to my first encounter with American sports! I sat in a Newark bar called Hell's Kitchen with my two housemates. I was ready and waiting to see my first Superbowl Final game which, was live from the Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis! The football game itself was really quite something indeed! Competing were the New York Giants and the New England Patriots, I was torn between the two teams as New York has basically became my new home, but New England naturally felt more like home due to its history with the pilgrims from England. Anyway, the halftime show was nearing and I knew who would be wowing the audiences in the stadium itself, let alone the rest of the world! For Madonna, the reigning Queen of Pop made her comeback after almost a four year break from music! It's never totally been about the football because the Superbowl Halftime Show has always caused controversy and did Madonna raise some eyebrows? Yes she did! Don't ask me who performed last year, who does? 

The pop icon performed a mixed bag of old and new songs, teaming up with Nicki Minaj and M.I.A for Madonna's new single that's called Give Me All Your Luvin'. Not wanting to just push her new record too much Madonna went back to her roots by performing two classics such as 'Like a Prayer' and 'Express Yourself!' It was an utterly fabulous show but being Madonna she made things quite controversial as per usual. I know she's not the best live singer but at the end of things she's been an entertainer for over thirty years so she's been doing something right? Judging from her show I just can't wait for here new album! Being my first Superbowl game and halftime show I say that it was amazing and I will definitely be watching in 2013! I actually enjoyed the game maybe because of the novelty factor but like I've mentioned a few times before this year is all about working and enjoying myself so I'm open to new experiences within my new American neighbourhood and further afield! Who honestly knows what the future will hold? 

Here's to New Discoveries!

Joseph Harrison