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Sam Hawksmoor
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••• The International Writers Magazine: Hacktreks in USA

East Coast USA in the Fall
• Sam Hawksmoor

I hadn’t intended to be in the USA at all this year.  I had booked the Queen Mary 2 voyage as a bucket list thing on my way to my nieces wedding in Canada.  Quite a surprise to be refused a visa for Canada and of course there are no refunds on Cunard whatsoever.  So making the best of a bad job, I decided on a little holiday in Miami – a place I have visited a few times in my life and enjoy because of the autumn temperatures and the warm ocean.  It never disappoints. 

Photo: Essex House Art Deco - Miami

Essex House FLA

It was also interesting to be there during the mid-terms and what with pipe bombs being delivered to enemies of the President and shootings in Pittsburg – it was intense times there.  I missed seeing Obama in Wynwood Walls by a day - but caught his speech in support of the Democratic candidates and was shocked to be reminded of how wonderful it is watch a lucid, coherent, intelligent man speak, by contrast to the current incumbent of the White House.  I also discovered Rachel Maddows on MSNBC and wished we had someone like her in the UK to analyise politics here in such a rational manner with wit and wisdom to boot.

Swimming in the warm ocean is a perfect solution for people with fibromyalgia – it all still hurts but you sense it must be doing you some good. That and the 30c temperature most days.  I walked miles, reacquainted myself with the art deco buildings and wished my hotel hadn’t fibbed about being art deco.  It was only three blocks from the beach however, but I wouldn’t recommend the St Augustine hotel to anyone – ever.  Luckily there was a nice little Italian restaurant down the road on Washington Ave called Rossella and the owner is a very friendly sort who likes to chat to her customers. 

Delano Leslie Hotel South Beach
Delano/ Leslie/ & South Beach

You always get the ‘isn’t Miami full of old people’ thing from people you tell you’ve been there and they couldn’t be more wrong.  It’s young and vibrant and noisy, it’s clean and friendly and South Beach takes great pride in its tourist industry.  (Although if you look carefully there are a lot of homeless people bedding down on empty apartment balconies at night where they can get access.  If I had to be homeless ever – Florida would make sense to me.)  Downtown Miami is less attractive – although they are building like crazy there – so business must be good.  I particularly liked walking to Little Havana and the Design District where all that is new and fashionable is on sale.  If you ever wondered where all the Ferraris are sold in the world – Miami is where they all end up.  Which is odd since you can only drive at 25 mph in most places.  I saw one guy drive his straight into a palm tree.  No one hurt but the car a total write-off.  Strictly Posers – there’s an idea for a TV show right?

The beach is off limits after 10pm, but on my last night I went to the ocean to watch a spectacular show of lightning against the backdrop of low clouds.  Got drenched but it was worth it.

Bryant park NY
My memories of US cities are the wonderful delis and the newspaper stands and the urgency of getting to read the early papers.  Now finding anyone who sells newspapers at all is a hard job – let alone anyone who reads one.  When I got to Manhattan I had to hunt street after street to find a place that sold the N Y Times.  They don’t even sell it in the newspaper offices!  How they make any money I have no idea.  I read the NY Times in Miami and Manhattan and the quality of the paper really is light years ahead of UK papers. There’s actually long deep-sourced articles to read and the Sunday edition still takes three days to get through it all.  But who would be as determined as I to go find anyplace that sells it?  A tradition that is fast disappearing I fear.  Yes of course you can read it on your phone or iPad but it really isn’t the same experience. (Although a lot lighter).

Photo: Bryant Park N Y
Walking Manhattan is always fun.  Whether the hi-line from 14th to 34th or Central Park dressed in Fall colors.  I covered miles in the canyons trying to see how much had changed since I was last there twenty years ago.  The new pencil slim high-rises look slightly weird to my eye – the European coffee shops an improvement on what was there before.  Le Pain Quotidien for example and Paul’s on Lincoln Road in Miami.  They’re restoring the roads near the Whitney Gallery to stone, adding back the character that used to be there before and so many of the ex-industrial buildings are being restored with care and imagination.  It’s good to see – even though shopping with pounds is a crushing feeling. And will only get worse.

Photo: The Hi-Line Manhattan
Hi-Line NY

I caught a train from the amazing Grand Central to Connecticut to visit the University of Bridgeport as a guest of the Dean, Allen Cook.  It was fun to see the area and sample the food.  Heard a lecture on Mark Twain in the Middle East and briefly met some creative writing students (and social workers I think who were a bit bemused to get a talk on creative writing from me).  Ah well, what can you do.

In a dizzying few days I met people from all walks of life, saw Thom Pain, a hit one man play with a new friend met on the ship, Mary.  And then caught the Cunard home where I managed to catch bronchitis on the last day.  I really thought after the swimming and walking and sunshine I would be strong enough to be immune, but I guess not.  But was glad to have gone, though it all will rapidly fade into the background as real life takes over.  Pity about missing my niece’s wedding though.

I wonder if I’ll get there again before another 20 years goes by. More images from my USA trip here

© Sam Hawksmoor Dec 2018
author of Girl with Cat (Blue)

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