(james benedict brown) on the road

On the road: Harlem, New York City

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 19 August, 2006


It seems too sensible to issue student residency papers in advance of a Canadian student moving to the USA to study, so we have to pull over after the first border checkpoint to go have inconveniently-sized pages printed out and stapled into Laura’s passport. The border guard steps out of his cabin to open the sliding side door of the van, perhaps with the intention going through our luggage. He looks over the boxes, bags and crates that fill the back of the car, raises his eyebrows, and decides that we’re not worth searching today. My perfect packing remains intact, much to my personal satisfaction.

The formalities take less than an hour, and we are soon en route again. Interstate 87 carries us the whole distance from the border to New York City. The road as far as Albany is quiet and spectacularly scenic. We climb and fall through the Adirondack mountains, majestic contours that are crammed with thick green forests. It’s certainly one of the most scenic routes I have ever driven on, and it’s status as an Interstate highway that only serves cross-border traffic and a few small upstate towns means that the traffic is blissfully light. Speed limits are enforced manually by state troopers rather than fixed radar checkpoints: we become adept at spotting traffic suddenly slowing up ahead, and the tell-tale silhouettes of low-slung police cruisers poised and ready to pounce from semi-concealed turn off lanes.

At Albany we join the New York Thruway, and traffic pounding downstate from Buffalo and Syracuse begins to weigh down on the lanes. The traffic remains fluid, and it’s an easy enough drive, even if most drivers seem blissfully unaware of the two second rule or even basic lane discipline. I yearn for faster, more orderly British motorways.

We turn off onto the Palisades Parkway by five-thirty, and by six o’clock we have caught sight of the George Washington Bridge, which will carry us across the Hudson and into Manhattan. It costs $6 for a car to cross the bridge and to enter Manhattan, but it’s free to leave. This incentive to leave doesn’t seem to work: as we make our landfall and turn south onto Broadway, New York City sucks in around us, and suddenly the lanes don’t matter any more. Yellow cabs and (more expensive) black cabs cut across us and stop without warning, pedestrians move with double the confidence but half the security of their Montréal counterparts, and everywhere there are signs that demand our attention. Every time that I have arrived in New York City, I seem to re-live those first emotions. It’s intimidating, crowded and slightly scary. That’s what makes it so much fun.

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