Dear Mum, Dad, Nigel and Carol,
Well I have just finished another week at Saks I am very happy to say, and it’s lovely to think that we have two whole days off for sightseeing and relaxing. The weather has taken a turn for the worse having got much colder and we have had some rain too, for the first time since we arrived. The temperature at the moment is about 45F which feels quite cold.
I haven’t told you yet about my journey to work on the tube. The tubes here are much better than in London (although it is much easier to get lost – the other night we got on the wrong train and ended up miles from home).
Each line is duplicated and you have an express and a local stopping train for each line. I catch a down train express every morning which stops right outside our store and only takes about 5 minutes as it goes like the wind. As you can imagine this is the most popular train in the morning and when it comes in, you can see it bulging at the sides.
As soon as the doors open everyone charges forward with their shoulders and heaves. It looks like a rugby scrum outside each door and the people really push, I’m not joking. The doors then close leaving a variety of coats, arms, legs, and this morning a brief case – to travel outside. Inside is murder
This morning (the worst I have yet experienced as I was late) I couldn’t even raise my arms to hold onto anything. Lots of people who try to get out at stations are swept back in, and go on and on, getting madder and madder. The trains are all very nice and are all air conditioned.
The people in the store (Saks) take the mickey out of my accent. The most unusual thing to them is the word ‘Cheerio’ which they find very amusing. One chap I work with called Kenny uses all the English words I have taught him and thinks he’s great.
There is one little chap working at the store (he can’t be more than about seventeen, and very small) who has just arrived in NY from somewhere up north. He was on a train in Brooklyn when he was held up by two gunmen who took everything he possessed (watch, rings and $30). He was so shaken by this he sent home for his dog, which was duly sent down to him for protection and which he now takes everywhere.
Coming over on the Q.E. we met a woman who gave us the address of two English girls in NY. The other night we decided to go and look them up. They live in a great block of apartments, and when we rang the bell a little peephole in the door opened up and all we saw was an eye. We explained who we were and why we had called, but they wouldn’t let us in as they didn’t know us. This is typical of New York.
We were talking to a Cuban woman who clears the tables in a place where we have lunch. She said she couldn’t get a good job because she couldn’t speak English very well. I suggested she went to night school to learn English, and she said she was too frightened to go out at night, so this was out of the question. She left Cuba after the uprising and is all alone and virtually stateless.
There is a woman who lives over the road from us who continually does singing practice. She never stops. We have christened her Maria Callas. At weekends she stands at the window in her nightie and curlers and goes up and down the scales for hours.
Well yesterday we had another packed day of sightseeing. In the morning we got on the tube and went downtown to the waterfront and intended to go to the island on which the Statue of Liberty stands, and go up it, but we changed our plans and went to a place called ‘Far Rockaway’ a seaside place on the East side of NY, on the Atlantic coast.
We thought it would be a plush sort of place but in actual fact it was horrible. It was like Severn Beach only worse. There was a lovely beach and beautiful sea and a very nice promenade, but from then on it was a maze of thousands upon thousands of chalets and summerhouse all packed together like sardines.
There were even houses built on stilts out in the water and all shack like places making the place like a shanty town. The whole place was like a ghost town, all the houses empty and all the windows boarded up. All the shops stripped and empty and not a soul in sight, and the streets and pavements almost knee deep in rubbish and beer cans.
An eerie, creepy, sinister sort of place. You can get to it on the tube, as we did – when we got off the tube train we were the only ones!! Having seen the place we soon discovered why.
We then returned on an equally deserted train and went to the J F Kennedy International Airport. I have been conscious of using words in all my letters to describe things and places like ‘terrific’ ‘fantastic’ ‘unbelievable’ ‘incredible’ etc etc, but I can’t think of any word which accurately describes this airport – so I won’t try.
It makes both Colin and I very frustrated to see all this evidence of money and good living and the J F Kennedy Airport drives this point home about a thousand times over.
It is the most modern, lavish, and luxurious place I have ever seen. It is the end in modern design and ingenuity. Small features like public telephones are like something out of a science fiction film.
The airport buildings are formed into a gigantic circle. Each building belongs to a different international airline and it seems to have been a competition as to who should have the most futuristic design and best décor.
I should think the best was Pan American, which is circular and giant Boeing 707s come into it nose-first (like spokes of a wheel). And hydraulic stairways move out to the plane and passengers step straight into the building.
There are about 50 of these superb places, and in the centre of this circle is a control tower and the fountain of Liberty, a coloured, ever-changing lake with fantastic fountain combinations.
We went up the control tower to the observation deck, and it was just dusk and we watched the sun setting down on the sea, as the airport lights came on. There seemed to be hundreds of runways and planes arriving and taking off every minute.
It was all very impressive. The most interesting place was the international arrivals hall, where all passengers have to first go through customs (this is open to the public, who can watch from a balcony above and was very interesting) and then come out to meet their friends.
We saw some fantastic sights. People who had flown in from Italy, Russia, Poland, Hungary and other oppressed countries, to be reunited with their families. We saw old men and women crying as they saw their grandchildren for the first time.
We saw several women who had to lie down as the emotional shock was too much for them. There is no doubt about it at all, this is a great country. And if you want to work, you can make big money here, and have the highest standard of living in the world, and at the same time, save a lot.
There is a helicopter service from Kennedy Airport to Manhattan, and we decided to go home by this. But the last one of the day had left, so we had to go home by tube. Still, we saved ourselves $8 so perhaps it was just as well. But it would have given us a wonderful view of New York from the air as the heliport is right in the middle of Manhattan.
I am determined to either fly into or out of this airport at least once during my stay here, just for the thrill of it. Air travel here is very cheap and very commonplace. You can fly to Florida for $100 return, by 707, and also to Puerto Rico for the same amount. The fare to Boston is only $24 return, so I may go up to spend a weekend there with that girl I met on the boat.
We then went home and had a meal and put our suits on (for the first time in America) and went to Roseland, which of course is the biggest dancehall in the world (it just had to be) and spent a lousy evening. Hoards of horrible, painted, loud-mouthed American women, some about 60, all with flashy jewellery and dresses, and loads of Latin Americans, who danced as if they had rubber joints.
Lots of Latin American music and dancing, so we didn’t dance much, but watched instead. Poor old Colin thought he was going to be a hit with his British suit and his British accent, but instead he was refused by the first three girls he asked.
Today (Sunday) we got up at about eleven o’clock and had a quick shower (no baths here, all showers) and had a quick breakfast, jumped on the tube, and went down to catch the one o’clock ferry boat to the Statue of Liberty. The boat takes about 600 people and is very modern and fast, and we shot away from the pier and were soon out on the bay once again, seeing the marvellous view of the Manhattan skyline.
It was a typical November morning, cold but wonderfully clear with a slight haze on the water. We were very soon on Liberty Island, which is owned by the National Parks Commission, so we have been on our first national park, the first of many I hope, and gazing up at Miss Liberty.
I had no idea it was so big. To give you some idea of the size of it, the index finger on her hand is eight feet long, and from the ground to her head is the height of the Bristol Suspension Bridge.
It is made of beaten copper, over a framework of girders and was presented to America by France in 1889. 12 people can stand in the torch in her hand, and loads of people in the crown.
It cost $500,000 in 1889, so you can imagine what that meant in those days. There is a museum on the island telling the history and background of the venture, and a visitors’ book, which we signed. We then went up in the lift to the base of the statue, and then walked right up to the crown, via a tiny spiral staircase, which seemed to go on forever.
Finally, exhausted and hot, we were in the crown, looking out through the windows, which are the ‘jewels’ in the tiara on her head, whilst towering above us was her 42ft long arm. The view was good but we were glad to get back down and out into the fresh air again.
After a meal in the amazingly automated café, we went back on the boat. During the trip, we saw a woman desperately trying to control three kids, who seemed completely out of control (as all American kids are) and for most of the trip she screamed at Alvin, threatening that ‘I’ll flatten ya if you don’t shut your big mouth’.
We then did something that we were strongly advised not to do – we went to Harlem. We went on the tube and got off at 125th street on Broadway, and walked east into the middle of Harlem just as dusk was falling. Do you know, we were the only white people there.
We felt very uneasy as they were looking at us very oddly, and we didn’t particularly want to start a riot, so we walked on for about half a mile, and didn’t see one white person, until finally we saw two white cops and decided to have a chat with them.
One said we would be OK, and one said we were crazy. But they both strongly advised us to keep out of places like bars or restaurants or we would be asking for trouble. There is a colour bar here in reverse, and they said we would be treated very badly if we went in anywhere.
They pointed out well known ‘junkies’ to us as they passed by, and also one man who is a ‘pusher’. For Dad’s information, we asked them about life in the police force here, and they said that out of 26,000 men, five a year are killed and, as he said himself, die horribly. How does this compare with home?
We passed the famous Apollo Theater, where they do the famous Negro spiritual hymn singing on Sundays (I have seen that on TV at home) and I would have loved to have been able to have gone in. It’s funny to be the victim of a colour bar.
These cops gave us some details of the force. You can retire on half pay after 20 years, which if converted to English money, would be about £1,500, so if I was to join now, I could retire at 46 with a pension for life of £1,500 a year. Not bad, eh?
Note: My Dad’s father was a Police Inspector in the Bristol Police Force, which explains this curiosity in the terms and conditions of police in New York, which was for his father’s interest only. My Dad was certainly NOT considering joining the NYPD !!
Well, today, Kenny, my pal at the store, was fired. No week’s notice or anything like that, just the boss saying ‘you’re fired,’ and off he went. So I immediately started unpacking umbrellas like mad. I may only be earning $56 but I certainly wouldn’t like to lose it. This is just another example of the ruthless, cutthroat attitude here.
We have today started on a very clever racket. The girls work in a very deluxe store, something like Harrods, and they have a staff canteen, and they are saving much more money than us, because they have such cheap lunches. Whereas we don’t have a canteen at all.
So, at their suggestion, today, at one o’clock, we walked out of our store, up 5th Avenue, and into theirs. And brazenly walked into the canteen and had a huge meal for 25 cents, as opposed to the $1.20 I was paying last week. Nobody knows we don’t work there, so we shall continue eating there until we leave, which will save us quite a bit of money.
Talking of the store, the clothes here are absolute rubbish, especially women’s clothes. We haven’t seen a decent shirt yet, and men’s shoes are the cheapest things we have ever seen (cheap and nasty, I mean).
I’m sorry to hear that you (Mum) are still shedding a few occasional tears over my departure. There is no need to for my sake, I can assure you I am having a whale of a time. To be seeing and doing the things I am doing is a wonderful thrill. Things I never dreamed I would really see or do.
You know, I have been threatening to do this ever since I was 16, and now that I am finally doing it, it is like a dream come true (although the Saks part is more like a nightmare). But you know we really appreciate our two days off for sightseeing after five days of hell to pay for it.
In answer to Dad’s questions… 1. I don’t know whose gloves they are. 2. The road tax has run out on the moped. 3. No, we haven’t done anything about the suits. It is very difficult as we haven’t a phone number (or energy or time) but we are thinking about it.
4. We haven’t been able to gauge the cost of living yet. We started out by converting everything into £.s.d. but this is crazy as it doesn’t mean a thing. You have to compare things to your wages, and judging by this, the cost of living is quite low, I think. I read on the back of the cornflakes packet this morning, that Americas spend 19% of their money on food in comparison to England’s 26% and Russia’s 50% which might give you some idea.
PS. The weather is very warm again.
Had pay today and was able to save $16 out of last week’s pay without a great deal of effort or skimping, so we are doing quite well. Work at the store still the same, soul destroying and tiring. When I think of my little Hillman Imp and my office and my boss saying ‘don’t work so hard’ it all seems like a dream.
Last night we had a great night out for next to nothing. We put on our best suits and decided to go to the Rainbow Room at the top of the Rockerfeller Center. This is a mass of 16 large buildings (skyscrapers) and includes business, commerce and the arts (all the RCA, TV and radio stations are in it and when we were there a queue was going in for That Was The Week That Was, but we couldn’t get in.)
We went up in an express life to the 65th floor, which is a very plush bar and we lashed out and I had a glass of beer (only seven shillings) and admired the view of New York at night. It was very spectacular.
We could see all the various bridges lit up, leading off Manhattan and the patterned roads of Central Park showed up very clearly. We stayed about ¾ hour and then left. Colin gets trouble in these lifts because of his bad ear. They go up and down so fast that the pressure affects your ears just as it does in an aeroplane.
We then had a whale of a time. We went to the Waldorf Astoria hotel and went everywhere. The dance, the banqueting rooms, the grand ballroom (looks just like the Theatre Royal) and generally had a good look around.
I saw a sign saying ‘gentlemen’ and as I needed one, decided to go in. When I went in, I thought I had made a mistake and went out again, as it appeared to be like a bedroom. But when I asked a porter, he said it was the gents. So I went back in, and it was. I have never seen such a plush place.
They were dressing tables with every type of hair cream, aftershave, deodorants etc etc you could imagine. So I helped myself to some while an attendant ran me a bowl of water, and brushed me down as I wiped my hands on a towel he gave me. Fabulous. The way some people live! We then repeated the same procedure at the fabulous Hotel Americana, one of the newest and biggest hotels in New York, which is saying something.
An example of the way people talk to each other in New York. Colin was in the bridal department at Saks and a woman was trying on a wedding dress in a cubicle. And the saleswoman was in with her, telling the customer she looked awful in the dress.
When the woman said she liked it, the saleswoman said, ‘listen lady, in that dress you look like a goddamned Christmas tree. If you want to go down the aisle looking like a Christmas tree, OK. Go ahead and buy it.’ Needless to say, the woman didn’t buy it. I can’t imagine you saying that to anyone in the Skirt Shop, Mum.
The Beatles are very popular here and seem to be on TV nearly every other night. Who is at the top of the British hit parade now, is it their new record? (As yet, we haven’t heard it.) Well, I will end now as I don’t want to start another sheet of paper.
In answer to your questions about a Christmas present, you don’t have to send me anything. If you really insist you can send me one of those C&A shirts like Dad has. Check and with rounded collars, 15½”, exactly like Dad’s. (Bri-nylon of course.)
Well, that’s all for now. Thanks for your letters and I hope you are all well and happy. All the best for the weekend and give my love to Carol and my regards to Chris.
More news next week. All my love. Tone.