Daily Story Digest #3

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“To the Massachusetts Institute of Technology”

Cultural dissonance #1: Taxi drivers who don’t know where they’re going – no really they don’t, you have to tell them, they’re not just faking it because they don’t want to go south of the river this time of night.  In London of course it happens too, but there you just wait for another one (or @tweetalondoncab !).  but it’s snowing, you have jetlag, you don’t really know where your going either, you’ve just upset an internet blue blood – can’t we jut get there?

No, tantrums won’t work, that’ll just get your luggage thrown in the snow.  Deep breaths and we can work this out together…

And the reward for patience and perseverance is #TuttleMIT – we’re at the MIT Sloan Business School and we’re drinking coffee and chatting with people we’ve only met before on the internet and suddenly the spirit of Tuttle is there.  Wow.  It works, it just does.  And then people arrive that we weren’t expecting and we didn’t know.  But they know us, well, they at least they’re curious enough to travel for an hour through the snow to find out if we’re for real.  And we’re making new connections and having interesting conversations – about Bangor and Haiti and Kazoos – hurrah! It’s home from home.

“Livestreams and Ukulele”

In the evening, we did #TuttleBoston in the lovely DigiLounge.  Mike and Kera did us proud with food and drink for all.  Brian tucked himself away in a corner and then proudly announced that we were livestreaming to the internetz – he then carried on a great tuttle tradition of talking to people somewhere else in the world while attending a face to face meetup.  I think we all had a go at manning the live stream, with the bizarre thing being that practically everyone watching was in the UK and it was 7pm EST/midnight GMT when we started.  We also witnessed the emergence of a new livestreaming double act in the shape of Heather and Steve Garfield.  Fortunately for the cultural edification of future generations, the whole thing is archived here.

This was one of the things I wanted to really test out on this trip, whether people would come out on a snowy evening in March to meet some crazy English (OK and Irish) and Canadian folk,  just because they’d seen people talking about it on Twitter – yup, people are just as funny in America as they are in London!

It was also time to try out the “thank you” present of entertaining them with my singing and ukulele – you can hear how it went down on Heather’s audioboo.  All too soon it was time for bed, we had a train to catch in the morning.

(photo credit cc by-nc-sa Steve Garfield)

“All Aboard!”

So just as I was starting to feel I knew where I was and that things were OK and working as expected, we throw ourselves off another cliff.  It’s time to get our first train.  Why is this difficult?  I did a 40 minute train commute from Surrey into London pretty much every day for about 15 years.  I’ve travelled on all the mainlines in the UK and delved into some of the most obscure branches too.  I spent a couple of weeks last year travelling around Europe on an Interrail pass.  I know how to travel on trains, I like travelling on trains, why am I restless and irritable waiting for this Amtrak from Boston down to New York City?

Because I don’t know what I don’t know.  My fear of making an awful faux-pas is heightened.  Have I got the right ticket?  What are those Red Caps up to?  Do they expect an extortionate tip for taking your luggage to the train?  Will they set fire to it in disgust if you give them a couple of bucks instead of five?  How do we know which is our train?  Do we really need to be here 30 minutes before departure?  What will happen if we aren’t? How does queueing work in this country?  Am I in the way?  What don’t I know that is suddenly and unexpectedly going to get me into trouble?

Then it hits me.  I am one of those people that, back in London, I stand behind and tut at. I am a foreigner who hasn’t a clue and I forgive every stupid Italian I’ve ever wanted to strangle, every Yank whose baseball cap I wanted to stuff in their loud mouths, every Yorkshireman that I’ve wanted to scream at “WAKE UP! LOOK WHERE YOU’RE GOING”.   I am filled with forgiveness for them all and for myself and I’m ready to just go and see how it all works.

OMG, they really do shout “All Aboooooaaaard!”

“Next Stop: Big Apple”

“The Amtrak trains are like big tin cans, they look like they’re just slats of aluminium stapled together.”  I wrote as we juddered our way down along the New England coastline.  Of course they’re not.  They’re actually slats of aluminum stapled together.

This first leg reminded me how difficult it is to actually write while  you’re on a train.  When rushing around a city it feels like the train time’s going to be a great time to “get all this down” – actually, there’s still plenty going on that you don’t want to miss.  What does the countryside look like between Boston and New York?  I realise that there are lots of big empty chunks in my conceptual map of the United States that are going to get filled on this trip – I knew Boston was going to be a little Good Will Hunting, and I expected NYC to be Kojak and Starsky and Hutch but what’s inbetween?   Well it turns out, for a British Rail traveller, that it’s quite like that bit of the South Wales coast beyond Cardiff – Port Talbot and Swansea, tired old industrial ports and factories interspersed with breathtaking natural beauty – not lush mountainsides of course, still gorgeous, but different, American.

Then before we know it, and just as I was ready for a little snooze, there’s the island of Manhattan our of the right hand window.  Rarely photographed from this angle, and I can see why – it didn’t inspire me to leap out of my seat and snap away.  Approaching from the north-east by rail doesn’t capture it’s best side, but yes, that’s definitely New York.

“Welcome to 7th Avenue!”

So this is my postcard-y shot from the BBH offices down towards the bottom of 6th Avenue.  Don’t talk to me about postcards.  if you want to hear my postcards from New York story, talk to Dana – she tells it with great relish and glee…

Anyway, back to getting off the train.  Penn Station isn’t really like any station in London.  I guess its closest British counterpart would be New St in Birmingham in that it’s dirty,  mostly underground and you come out into a tired shopping centre full of crazy people whose accent you can’t understand.  Classy.  Which  reminds me of Big Cultural Difference #2 – the significantly larger number of people clearly suffering from mental health problems and living (or at least begging) on the streets.  My assumption is that the NHS tidies much of this away – it’s not that we’re any less crazy, just that we can get our drugs for free.

My senses already heightened by men wearing two overcoats tied up with string, I emerged onto 7th Avenue ready to see what the isle of Manhattan had to offer.  Well the first thing was a couple arguing – not the sort of low-level passive aggressive bickering you see from couples in IKEA – no, full on, sassy. “you ain’t nevah gonna see yo’ children agin mofo” screaming match – just marching straight through the tourists.  Tired, jetlagged, uptight and suffering from an imagination overfed with way too many nights under the blankets reading Amazing Spiderman as a youngster, I really didn’t know whether to laugh out loud or hit the deck because the shooting was going to start.  So I looked to Dana.  Who was laughing.  Not at the couple but at me, for being such an out-of-towner. 

Oh New York!