In Search Of West 30th Street
Written by Alan Hancock
Illustration by Peter Clayton
We couldn’t have looked more like typical, lost tourists. Me, with a large camera dangling around my neck and my friend, Sarah, with a hefty bag on.
“Right” I said “let me just take a look at the map”
We were in search of West 30th Street and our Mega Bus stop. We were on West 41st Street. It should simply have been a case of walking south for eleven blocks and turning right but back then, as I unfurled the giant map, I was struggling with basic geography.
Amidst the discussion between myself and Sarah, fingers jabbing at the paper, a distinctly New York accent cut through the confusion. He said he knew the city, that it would be a bit of a walk and he offered to take us there.
We readily accepted thinking “what a lovely, lovely man. He’s taken the time out of his day to assist some wayward Westcountry travellers. And they say New Yorkers are rude”
John, our newly appointed guide, set off. I followed alongside with Sarah behind. Never one to miss an opportunity to hear from a native I immediately began quizzing John about New York, American politics and life in the USA. Despite its problems, I love America and I love hearing the perspectives of their people.
Now, if agreeing to go along with John in search of West 30th Street doesn’t seem like a naive mistake at this point, asking too many questions probably does. As I delved further into John’s experiences, he casually dropped in the fact that he’d just been released from prison. A revelation that admittedly left me with concerns but no doubt it was probably something minor, he’d done his time and it’s wasn’t for me to judge.
And that’s where I should have left it, remaining blissfully ignorant.
“What for? If you don’t mind me asking” I said, childlike.
“Murder” he replied
Brilliant. Of course it was. Of course. On our first solo trip abroad in the greatest city in the world, we couldn’t just pick a certified tour guide. We couldn’t even pick the New Yorker who’d been in for a petty crime, no; could we get the guy who shot his friend to death in an argument over money and then have him reveal it nonchalantly mid-way through leading us to a less populated area of the city please?
Inwardly, I began to panic. I looked at John a tall, powerful man, then at Sarah, none of those things, and I remember my first thought being “that’s it then, I’ve killed us both”.
But this was where two seemingly similar, but vastly different worlds collided, and this is why travel is amazing. Him, a perfectly pleasant, reformed convict and me, a not-so-streetwise rural boy from England who even allows spiders the opportunity to escape learning how the other lived.
Of course we were never in any danger despite my sudden panic. John, the friendliest local I’ve ever met, took us to the bus stop as promised and Sarah was completely oblivious to the whole thing.