International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics
Each year, IGLA ( International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics) supports an aquatics event somewhere in the world. This year it’s in New York, home of TNYA. It’s also World Pride, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots which sparked Gay Liberation and Pride.
New York is cloudless and still from the sixty-seventh floor. A cruise liner nestles in the millpond Hudson River, a wisp of smoke emanating from its funnel. From a different angle, peeking between two towers the ‘neons’ of Times Square continue from the night before – New York never sleeps.
As far as budget airlines go, Norwegian, new to transatlantic crossing are luxurious. I’ve opted for hand luggage only and no meal. There’s still a check-in desk and there are isle seats left towards the front of the plane for a speedy getaway. The young man next to me has heavy stubble, wears headphones and keeps falling forwards into sloop. Eventually he rests his head in the seat in front of him, activating the screen. Opposite, a row in front of me, there is a man about my age with a grey beard. He’s wearing casuals a pink shirt and Crocks on his feet – not quite chic, but he does have a large phone and a laptop. He’s American from his accent, which surprises me because he’s so arrogant and rude to the young woman serving the meals – no ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ which is the norm with polite people in the US. He’s ordering soda water and ice and insisting on looking at the meat he’s ordered before accepting it, demanding to know what the sauce is. The young woman is being very patient, polite and accommodating. I’m seriously wondering why he’s traveling on a budget airline and in Economy, not Premium class at the front of the plane.
Eventually, after four or five hours of harassment, the young woman calls in her male senior. This man has been drinking his own duty-free alcohol which is illegal on planes. The senior, threatens to call the police when they get to NY. He tells him how to order his drinks from his screen. The man dismisses this but after half an hour of thinking about it he gets out the screen and orders a beer. When it doesn’t arrive immediately, he presses the call button. They’ve run out of beer, but some time later, what looks like fruit juice is delivered. I’m thinking that we’ve got a functioning alcoholic on board. Discarded sachets of milk are scattered in the isle and he makes no attempt to retrieve any of it when the young woman passes to collect rubbish. I try to lean forward and collect it for her, but am restrained by my seat belt. She’s touched by my gesture and thanks me – a recognition that she knows I’ve shared her difficulties with this customer. As a final act of defiance, he unbuckles while we are still taxiing towards the terminal, gets out of his seat and retrieves his rucksack from the overhead locker two rows behind me. This prompts an extra announcement for passengers to remain seated with seat belts fastened until we have stopped. He’s got away with it and the moment we do stop, he’s around the corner in a flash to the exit door, no doubt shoving ahead of the Premium Passengers who are supposed to exit first. That’s partly what they’ve paid for.
Although we are thirty minutes early, we’ve had to wait until our parking place has been vacated by the departing plane. There is confusion in immigration (JFK along with Heathrow is one of the busiest airports) created by poor signage. The staff suddenly realise that those of us traveling on returning ESTAs (Visas) are in the wrong queue. It takes the machine ages to recognise my fingerprints – I don’t think they have changed since I last visited the US two years ago.
I’m determined to make use of the subway with a weekly pass but I can’t buy this on the Air-train which cost $5 on a metro card. It takes me a while to work out that the weekly visitors pass is a different card from a different machine. Success, but there’s a replacement bus service for the first two stops and it’s now dark and I have to find my way outside to a bus stop. All is well and I’m delivered to the Union Turnpike station as promised. The carriages are empty, but one stop later a herd of young middle class-looking people crowd in. they’ve been to a concert and the young man next to me senses my anxiety as I check my destination on my phone subway map to compare it with the on-train indicator. He assures me that we’re going to 7th Avenue but I wasn’t expecting so many stops. It’s late and several lines are combined to stop at every station. It takes forever and it’s 11.30pm by the time I get to Stuart and Emma’s apartment. The guy on the desk (Chris) is super helpful and friendly with directions on where to by breakfast stuff at this late hour. The drugstore around the corner has everything I need.
The lift does not service floors until #46 where the apartments begin. The view from the 67th floor is magnificent but vertiginous – wow!
Sunday Morning: Still on London time, I meet the sunrise but doze on to recover from the travel. A short walk to Columbus Circus, a few blocks away seems like a good Sunday idea. This is one of the entrances to Central Park and the monument to Christopher Columbus (discoverer of the already discovered Americas) shrinks against glass towers of apartments. The statue celebrates this discovery of America by describing it as a gift to the world. Now, in 2019 this seems like irony (which Americans don’t do) but colonialists never benefitted from hindsight or an appreciation that other civilisations existed. Pigeons perch on statues which seem to be placed especially for their convenience. Homeless-looking people sleep on the monument steps, one with his legs entwined around his very new-looking bicycle, as a precaution against theft. I return to my tower block via a grocery store to stock up before more sleep recovery.
Team New York Aquatics have arranged for a training session at one of their pools in a very posh Convent School up on the East side. It’s a twenty-five-yard pool – a strange experience swimming less than the usual twenty-five metres I’m used to. Each length seems to be over so quickly and one length of butterfly is one stroke less. Quite a few have turned up including many of the Out to Swim team. I don’t swim for long, just enough to get the heart and lungs going for tomorrow. Later, there are welcome drinks at a bar called Industry. It’s great meeting up with old friends going back from Edmonton in 2016 then Miami and Paris. I’m the only Out to Swim competitor in my sixties, so it’s nice to socialise with my age group from around the world. I end up in a Pizza with a group of OTS youngsters but a salad and a slice of Pizza is too much and I end up taking half of it home to watch the sunset over the Hudson with a beer.