New York: A Bite of The Big Apple
As soon as the Arik Flight W3 107, a roomy and comfy Airbus, touched down at the JKF international airport in New York, you get the hint of a state in a hurry. New York is indeed in a hurry, and it shows in the rushing cold wind that assails you as you make your way out of the airport after immigration formalities. Immigration here is strict especially if you are a Nigerian with Nigerian passport flying from Nigeria aboard a Nigerian carrier. This writer had a taste of it when an official, (I suspect to be from the Drug Enforcement Agency, DEA) a man probably nearing his 40th birthday, approached me on the exit queue after I had been cleared and my passport stamped by a US immigration staff. He demanded we go to his kiosk for a ‘little talk’. And a ‘little talk’ turned to some sort of interrogation. He wanted to know my mission in US. He checked my passport and discovered I was not a first timer to US. He asked to know what I had in my hand luggage. On his request, I opened it and he scanned through the content. “You don’t have drug in here?”, he asked rhetorically. I told him I am a journalist and have no reason whatsoever to do drug. At that point, the ‘little talk’ switched to a friendly chat. He said he tried his hand in journalism fresh from school. Then he asked to know my opinion on why Nigerians do drug and why they make US their destination. He wondered if they were motivated by the liberal laws of the US which merely send drug peddlers to jail from where “they can even earn a degree”. I reminded him of Singapore and other parts of the world where penalty for drug running is death, yet people still carry drugs to such places. Then I asked him to consider the economic principle of demand and supply. America consumes drugs therefore there must be a steady supply of the hard stuff. End of discussion and a friendly banter afterwards.
In a moment, the cold wind on a sunny summer morning ushers you into a cab and you are off to your hotel in the Brooklyn area of New York. The state of New York is called The Big Apple. Several controversies about the origin of this moniker for a restless state and former capital of the United States, but New York, doubtless, is The Big Apple. It is food for everyone. From the French to the British to Asians and Africans including Latinos and all of Europe, everybody calls New York home. It typifies most eloquently the American spirit of equality for all. Here in New York, there is no big man. You clean up your own mess, nobody does it for you. Eat in a restaurant, including your hotel restaurant, you are expected to tidy up your table and thrash the garbage. Once one morning, a Spanish lodger at the hotel had messed up his breakfast table, scattered the disposable plates and cup and remains of his food all over the table amid loud unrestrained persistent blowing of his runny nose (some folk do have bad table manners) and made to go, but he was politely reminded by the breakfast attendant that he has to clear his table. Feeling embarrassed, he yelled at the attendant ‘You should have placed a sign here to that effect’, but the obviously well-trained attendant answered in a cool polite manner “This is New York, you are expected to do it yourself”.
Yes, this is New York and you are expected to act, talk and walk like a New Yorker. Everybody here is in some form of haste. Like a band of animated souls, thy throng the streets in quick brisk steps…walking, talking, singing, chatting, eating, drinking all at the same time.
New York is the commercial capital of the United States and where there is commerce, there is crime. New York has its fair share of crime. Every day on television, one crime headline gives you the creep. A sniper strikes, a young woman is gang-raped, an irate junkie sniffs stuff and shoots through a mall. Take the case of ex-con Daquan Breland. The 23-year-old fiend shot and killed a 16-month-old boy in his stroller in Brooklyn and sobbed all through in court. Every day, gangsterism headlines the New York story yet everyday more and more people flock this America’s second most expensive state, only next to California. The Daily News of New York in its Monday September 9, 2013 edition described Breland as ‘Cry Baby’ in its exclusive jailhouse interview with the sobbing gangster.
If New York has its fair share of crime, it also has its good share of prisons. The Brooklyn Prison, for instance, is a skyscraper more beautiful than the magnificent buildings in Abuja. Napoleon, a Cameroonian, who drove me round town in his six-seater Chevrolet SUV said the jailhouses in America are finer than the best homes in most countries. The Brooklyn jailhouse is a pointer to this. “It is almost a motivation for crime for some fellows”, he said with a mischievous grin. New York has many districts and boroughs: Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Manhattan, Harlem etcetera. But Manhattan is the most enchanting of all. This is where America lost her innocence. It is home to commerce, from the World Trade Center on Greenwich Street to the biggest malls that the human mind can imagine. Here in Manhattan, as in all of New York, there is no stopping, no halting. Everybody and everything is on the move. Vehicular traffic snake through the busy streets made even busier by the swarm of humanity jostling for right of way. And everybody has right of way, so you don’t say sorry when you bump into another wayfarer. You just keep moving. Sounding apologetic gives you out as a visitor, and someone to be pitied.
Dateline: 2pm, Wednesday September 11, 2013. You are right there on the west end of 34th Street. Remember that day marked the 12th anniversary of the serial strikes on the US Pentagon and World Trade Center by Osama bin Laden and his merchants of pain. While relatives of the about 3000 souls that perished in that moment of madness clustered in small groups to remember their departed ones, Manhattan was throbbing with commerce. It is home to Madison Square, Empire State Building, Victoria Secrets, Macy’s, Kmart, Old Navy and sundry commercial hubs. All the known brands in the world congregate at Manhattan, and so does the whole of humanity. From the corporately spruced up to the barely cladded, America is a mix of the odd, the queer and the routine.
Yet, there is another set of Americans. They are shabbily dressed, unkempt, tired-looking and forlorn. They are the peripheral Americans, mostly blacks. They also came in chase of the American dream but crime and drugs and slothfulness conspired to keep them perpetually on the fringes, on the streets. They are the ‘welfare Americans’, whose daily meals are tied to social security. Some have totally lost their sense of history, no remembrance of their roots. They have no home, no hope. They live on social security token and what benevolent men could drop in their begging bowls. They, too, are Americans, and they are here in New York, in good number.
But whether you are on the street or inside the marbled high-rise offices, New York is a dreamland. You can make it here and make it big. Whatever your talent, skill sets, New York has a place for you. But if you choose the path of criminality and banditry, New York has enough space for you too…in its prisons.