New York - Chicago

We spent our only full day in New York seeing plenty of it. Met up with Rachel (who after six weeks of living in the city looks thoroughly the part) and took the Staten Island Ferry, watching Manhattan slowly fade into the pale grey mist. We wandered through Battery Park City which is far more Docklands than New York, before heading off to the Lower East Side where Kass had tickets to see Mike Daisey’s one-man show about life as an Amazon.com employee. Actually, it would have been better if it was more about life as an Amazon.com employee, as the parts where he talked about working in the customer serivce centre and then the business development team were far more interesting and entertaining than the rambling monologues on wider and woollier topics. It was good, but it wouldn’t suffer if he lost some of the shouting and talkingveryquickly.

Monday, we packed our bags and headed for Penn Station, after a breakfast in a great coffee shop with surly staff. It is true what they say about New Yorkers being rude, and none more so than New Yorkers in uniform, who don’t even have the decency to pretend to listen to your problem before telling you you’re wrong. Hence, we received little sympathy when presenting what we thought were our Amtrak rail passes to the woman admitting passengers to the Chicago train. Or, after jumping the ticket queue, the fussy and flustered gentleman behind the ticket counter who worked his way through the process of converting these “passes” into actual passes and then into actual tickets for the journey. The rigmarole required a vast amount of sighing, shaking of the head, stabbing at the computer keyboard with increasing force, note-taking, underlining and highlighting before we received our tickets for the next train.

After a viewing of American Pie 2 to pass the time we were trundling North along the Hudson. Although the journey took three hours longer than the expected 18, it was pleasant enough, with an endless view of cities, towns, villages, farms and fields like the longest tracking shot in American movie history. Over dinner we chatted to a mother and daughter heading for the daughter’s first year at university in Chicago. The daughter was proud of being Welsh, although only one eighth of her could legitimately make this claim, and had eyes like Amanda Peet. The mother, a Spanish teacher, wore a t-shirt of Egyptian heiroglyphics and all her gold jewellery was made up of ankhs. Breakfast was taken with a couple on their way back home after dropping off a “ve-hi-cal” for a friend. They lived in a small town near Chicago, in the same county in which both were born and raised, and ran a family business of 35 women sewing body bags and other “pre-hospital equipment.” Both meals were miraculously free to us, after the maitre-d’ overhead us telling our dining companions that we built websites. In return for helping him with his theatre group’s site on his laptop that night, our meals were “taken care of.” As it turned out we didn’t really help him, probably only scaring him by insisting that learning HTML would be easy and more beneficial than buying and learning Dreamweaver or similar. He said he’d “take a class” in Chicago.

Once we arrived we met up with Sam’s friend Kim, who writes very clever software that does very clever things to do with options markets. Going from Kass’s apartment, dotted with books on bioinformatics, to Kim’s workplace of vast screens of red and green numbers and graphs is enough to make building mere websites seem like the dullest job going. We went to see the trading floor, which despite having seen pictures like this was even more manic, colourful and surreal than I expected. Now, Wednesday morning, we have 24 hours to “do” Chicago before heading for Denver.