Saturday, 14 April 2012

Destination: Philadelphia, USA!

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

Thursday, 12 April 2012

NY/NJ: 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

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

NJ: Life At The Airport

Newark Liberty International Airport is now my second home whilst I'm working as a Passenger Services Agent for a well known British airline. From check-in right through to boarding this job has so far been great! Adjusting to my Industrial Placement, the experience carries on. From Newark to London Heathrow, the two flights per day ensures there's never a dull moment!

From the first day at my new job the feeling of being at the airport was something that I can't describe, 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 NJ Transit bus representing my airline. To be honest I had ideas above my station, in relation how I wanted to be with guests at the check-in counter that never happened the nerves were too intense. As 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  City can be seen from the windows of Gate 55 as the golden sun rises over the Empire State of fabulousness! Newark, NYC's little sister flies higher! Sure, the view looks great to me!

The evening shift brings its own perks, like the extra cookies from the Virgin Clubhouse Lounge that us ground crew can enjoy after the VS2 has departed from Newark Liberty! Being at the check-in counters has been very interesting for me so far, aside from the moments when I'm not smiling from ear to ear whilst checking a passengers bags to Lagos I see the cabin crew file in all of their red uniform finery from their 'Golden Touch'. The morning flight lands into London Heathrow at time that meets the connecting Virgin Atlantic flights that take the Newark passengers onto places such as; Lagos, New Delhi, Accra. With each connector group, the morning flight is always a quick-paced process from Upper Class to Economy with Premium in mind. Word is that Virgin will reinstate flights from London Heathrow with direct service to Mumbai, India. That would mean the evening Virgin departure will have some extra characters travelling with us. Each passenger is different, we are only human.

As the spring arrives so do the Boeing 747-400s, the larger aircraft serves Newark Liberty into the summer months. The Airbus A340-600s return in the autumn time, of course those G-V aircrafts serve the same Virgin Atlantic personality! As soon as I got my NY/NJ Port Authority airport I.D, a trip onto the jumbo was definitely in order. For the first time in my life I got to see what Upper Class was all about, I'm hopeful that I'll get a chance to fly in that class of service before my placement ends. 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. I feel blessed for this opportunity, I have to keep my feet on the ground and to remember why I'm doing what I'm doing! The university semester in 2013 will be back to get me soon enough, I will soak it all up!

I'm optimistic that I'll get the chance to rotate between the different roles that are open to myself and my colleagues. I am most comfortable with check-in right now, I would love to progress to Arrivals Lead and to Clubhouse in the forthcoming months. It's mad to think that I am working in America for the second time in less than six months. How those former Future World North days felt as if it all happened just yesterday! Yes, I am currently training in the Virgin Clubhouse, I'm learning the ins and outs as how to greet our Upper Class guests. Working in the lounge has so far proven to be an insightful experience. I'm realistic with my expectations, I am so far enjoying the roles that I have eased into. I can now recite the phonetic alphabet and remember those airport codes in my sleep, life seems unreal to me but this job is real indeed! I'm getting used to the early wake up calls and walking to the bus station, seriously my colleagues are the realest! Keeping it 100%, we serve!

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 get 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 doors. Yes, the Disney magic has stayed with me!

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 Liberty International Airport as each day brings a shiny new challenge. The airport environment has always been a place that I've loved being within, working at the airport has brought me close to some new friends who are from different backgrounds. I am hopeful to rub shoulders with some famous faces but those personalities shall remain a firm secret due to company policy. Putting those early hour get ups and split shifts into perspective, I'm going to embrace this airport work experience to the fullest. My respect for check-in staff has been secured, I now know what questions to ask when I check in for my own flights and I'm learning how much my carry-on baggage should weigh. I need to sleep, the morning shift beckons once again! The 62 NJ Transit bus will continue to be my work transport, I love the realness!

Enjoy Your Flight!

Joseph Harrison

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

USA: Basketball, Soccer & The Super Bowl...

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. Recently something strange has been happening to me because I have attended two sports events and watched the screening of the NFL Super Bowl Final. American life could change me, I'm loving these new discovers!

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 Super Bowl 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 snacks? Not at those prices Newark! No!

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 an 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 an 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!

A feeling of compulsion led me to scout down the next possible soccer match at the nearby Red Bull Arena. 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 NY Red Bulls verse Montreal Impact the first game of the season followed to be an experience that I would learn to love. I met Tom, 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. The seats that I had booked were high, I forgot about the height with my can of Red Bull. It was a new experience! Yes!

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? Thierry Henry led 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 NYC to build the Arena so they chose NJ! The match was a success with our home team winning it was an afternoon to remember for sure! I nearly forgot to mention that the Red Bull Arena is located in a town that holds close to my surname! Harrison is the town where the New York Red Bulls call their home! Sure, 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 Super Bowl 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! Madonna certainly came back with a bang! M.I.A, really? The Queen of Pop wasn't pleased!

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 Super Bowl 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. As I have mentioned a few times before this year is all about working and enjoying myself! I'm open to new experiences within my new American neighbourhood and further afield! Yes!

New Discoveries!

Joseph Harrison