22 – 23 Oct 64 : Gangs and jobs in the Big Apple: New York, USA 

22 October 1964

YMCA, 356 West 34th Street, New York City, New York

Dear Mum, Dad, Nigel and Carolyn,

Well, we are now settled in and have been here two and a half days. Quite honestly I don’t know where to start because so much has happened. Anyway, to cut it short, I have a job and we are still at the YMCA.

We have been walking the streets for two days looking for jobs and have been turned down time and time again. This is because there are thousands of recent immigrants from all over the world, after the same jobs and will work for next to nothing.

So we are competing against these all the time. Also it seems that you have to have licences for everything. I’m not an engineer because I haven’t a licence. The girls are not teachers because they haven’t licences (only BA’s) I can’t drive a truck because I haven’t an operators licence. I can’t be a chauffeur because I haven’t a licence. Also we’re up against unions. 90% of jobs seem to be out of the question because we’re not in a union, so it goes on and on and on.

I was offered a job yesterday by an agency in engineering. Good job too, for $85 a week, which is quite good, but the agency wanted $260 out of my first month pay as their fee, which is fantastic (about £80), so I turned it down. So agencies were out, and we had to resort to walking around. Very degrading joining queues of people all looking for jobs (because the World’s Fair has just finished until April and lots of people are out of work).

Anyway, went to a departmental store this afternoon, and after being interviewed and taking an exam, got a job each. I am in the receiving department and Colin is in the dispatch department. Five days and $56 which is barely enough to live on. We now have to find a cheap room somewhere. Flats are out of the question as we have to sign leases for two years!! So as you can see it’s not all milk and honey here, but at least it’s a start.

We have met the girls each day (they are at the YWCA) and we have had a million laughs believe me. They can’t get jobs and have almost no cash left and we all go out at night looking for the cheapest possible meal. We had a meal for $1.19 with a steak the size of a plate.

New York is a wonderful place. I can’t describe it, it’s impossible, but all I can say is that it is more “American” than I ever imagined. This may sound funny but it’s true. The accents are fantastic – and much more American than on TV.

When we say we want work the reply is: “There ain’t no woik”!!

We arrived in the middle of a gang battle. A gangster called ‘Joe Bananas’ was kidnapped by a rival gang, and this has caused gang war. Joe Bananas is apparently one of New York’s top gangsters and his kidnapping pushed the death of Edgar Hoover right off the front pages. Also news flashes keep coming on radio and TV with the latest.

(NOTE: Tony vividly remembers how he and Colin stared at newspaper placards with the headline: “BANANAS RUBBED OUT,” and being completely baffled. Later, a local explained that a notorious gangster called Joe Bananas had been kidnapped, and probably murdered.  As Tony says now: This kind of headline would never have appeared in the Bristol Evening Post!) 

Shootings and murders are very ordinary here and nobody seems to take much notice. There was a shooting match on 5th Avenue this afternoon shortly after we were there. And, while I was waiting outside a store for Colin two shots rang out.

All this may sound unbelievable to you, it really is happening here.


I’m sure we’re quite safe really. The only thing I shall die of I think is central heating. It’s terrible. Everywhere you go is like a blast furnace. My lips have been chapped since I arrived, and I’m sure it’s due to this. no wonder all the Yanks look so pasty and wrinkled.

We are finding our way around quite well as New York is very easy to get to know due to the system of street numbers. On our first night we walked up Broadway which was fantastic. Just like Piccadilly but it goes on for miles.

All the shops were open and each shop blaring out its own recorded advertising jingles. Added to this are the blaring noises of the car horns. Every driver in New York is horn happy and leans on his horn at the slightest reason. Also there is a continual screeching of tyres as these monster cars accelerate away. Added to this there always seems to be a troop of fire engines or police cars or ambulances, belting around the place with sirens that almost burst your ear drums. Then of course you also have the Presidential campaign in full swing with more jingles, songs and music. So, all in all, it’s a crazy place but well worth seeing.

The food here is very different from home and some things we’ve never even heard of. I can’t say I like the food, but I suppose I will get used to it.

Another strange thing is that every building has a fallout shelter. The girls at the YWCA have a room which is bare of all decorations except for a huge notice pasted on the wall telling them where the ‘Fallout Shelter’ is.

There must be thousands of English in New York but heaven knows where they are. We haven’t met one yet. And everyone turns and looks when we speak. Everyone thinks we are cute!!

TV here is fantastic. There are 82 channels to choose from and 24 hours a day viewing on each.

Tonight we have got free tickets to go to a television show as members of the audience, which should be interesting. I inquired about jobs in TV but this is out of the question due to Unions again. We are still looking for jobs although we have accepted the one at the store. We are after waiters jobs as there is definitely money to be made in that line.

One funny incident I forgot to tell you, was when I was getting off the boat. I had just stepped off the gangplank and had been on American soil for about five seconds when a fellow came up and asked me if I was tiddly. I said ‘no’, and he said OK, and walked up to another chap and asked him too. I was so surprised that I watched him for some time.  Then, several minutes later he asked a chap just stepping ashore if he was tiddly, and this chap said ‘yes’. Whereupon they shook hands and embraced each other warmly. Apparently they were relations and the chap’s name was ‘Tiddly’ and tiddly doesn’t mean the same thing out here. <NOTE: In the UK tiddly means a bit drunk.>

You will be pleased to know, I’m sure, that we haven’t had a drink since we arrived, and it doesn’t look as if we shall bother either. All the bars here are real shady joints (although there aren’t many bars at all), so we’ve kept out. We’ve been warned by so many people to be careful that we’re sticking to the bright lights until we know the ropes. We have been approached by loads of beggars who ask for money. Another amusing thing is that the YMCA keeps giving us notices telling us when and where Alcoholics Anonymous meets.

Well I must end now. Drop me a line soon. Colin has had two letters from home so far, so get writing.

Cheerio for now, will write again soon.

Lots of love,


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