THE BLESSED AMBULANCE & THE AUSSIE BENEFIT

We don’t blend in quite as well as I thought we might. Whether it’s because we’re Aussies or travelling around in an old ambulance, I don’t think I’ll ever know.

There’s times when no one bats an eye at the vehicle— perhaps they think it’s a functioning EMS. Driving through road works in NYC, a construction dude was holding his palm in the air, telling Abel to stay put. He did a little double-take and beckoned Abel to roll towards him, stuck  his head towards the driver’s open window, “An ambulance right?” Abel gave a slight nod, well it certainly looks that way, doesn’t it? “You can head on through,” he stepped aside to give way. Abel followed the rest of the traffic down the cone-edged road and we looked at each other wondering whether that man genuinely thought we could save anybody.

The thing with the ambulance is, you can spot her from a mile away. She’s tall, she’s got big, shiny lights, and red and white is one of those colour combinations that grabs your eye without hesitation. She just stands out. The previous owners definitely warned us that she would be a real conversation starter, and they tell no lies. Most of the time it’s when we’re parked somewhere surrounded by other road-travellers. They’re the type of people who are interested in this topic and take notice that it’s not just a random, old ambulance on the road, but a converted camper.

Aside from that, we pretty much assumed we’d gone unnoticed. For some time, parking on the side of streets caused no trouble. Often, we would google where the nice areas were in that town/city, and we’d park in quiet suburbia.

In Knoxville we had our first run in with the police. 6 pm, dinner had been consumed, pans had been cleaned. We were parked on a oneway street with  large houses planked alongside us— a university area. Most occupants were students.

A shining light came through the front dash, darted to the side windows, followed by a tap tap tap. “Police officer” didn’t register in my mind, more like “random weirdo”, so I paused. Tap tap tap. Pushing the door open, a police officer stood on the sidewalk and gave me a smile. Basically, he had a received a call about a “suspicious looking van”, and while he wasn’t too concerned, he was obligated to check it out. I explained we had been cooking dinner, which meant our door was cracked to avoid gassing ourselves and perhaps that explains why we appeared so suss. He said there was no problem with us parking here overnight, so long as we didn’t exceed the 24 hour limit. Being a oneway road, he suggested we move the car up a tad, to “tetris” with the other parked cars, in case a fire truck needed to pass through.

While it was a peaceful experience, I no longer felt comfortable parking on residential streets. Convinced we stood out and looked unholy.

Two cities over, we had our second police run-in. This time, it was the morning. We sipped on our coffee and discussed the day ahead. A maroon car slowed as it passed, turned around, pulled in behind us for all of 5 minutes before driving off. Abel was concerned, I thought it was strange but didn’t care too much. 15 minutes later, another car pulls in to park behind us. I glance in the side mirror and announce it’s a police car. “Really?” Abel asks me. Really, really. We watch as he exits his car, making his way towards the ambulance— in order to avoid a knock-knock situation, we hop on out, smile and say hello.

Again, “someone” (maroon car, for sure) had said there was a suspicious looking van with it’s door open. We gestured to the coffee and told him we’d be leaving soon. During our chat, another younger officer had walked over, made pleasantries and joined the conversation. After showing our driver’s licences, and having learned we were Aussies, this opened up a whole new window for chatter. Where exactly we were from, what we had been doing, our plans for travel and so on. I reckon we spoke to these dudes for about 20 minutes or so. He understood why we chose to park here— nice neighbourhood— but warned us to be careful on the rest of our travels, “Be safe. Look out for the people around you. Not every police officer is going to be as friendly.”

I’d told him I was a writer, blogging about our adventures, and a business owner. He bid us adieu, walked off and we began to pack things away. A moment later, he was at our door again, pen and paper in hand, “Say, what’s the name of your blog? I wanna check it out.” I wrote it down for him and we laughed as he left— did he really want to read our adventures or did he just want to double check our story? Officer Grigsby sat in his car for a little while behind us, having a peruse of my posts. Both officers asked if they would feature in the blog, and while this event took place a month or so back, I hope you’re reading this, Officer!

These few occasions make me question our luck. Perhaps all the officers and official people we have encountered are just pleasant, down-to-earth people. Or is it the ambulance that saves us? Perhaps our Aussie heritage? Because honestly, as soon as one is seen or the other is mentioned, all tension melts away.

After visiting Canada, and experiencing our rather strenuous entry, I was nervous to re-enter the US. I shouldn’t be, considering I’m a citizen and all, but I didn’t want Abel’s visa to be questioned the way it had been in Hawaii. For once,  Abel was calm as a cucumber and I fidgeted and tapped my fingers on the steering wheel (I mean, that is the norm for us, except for when going through border control— Abel usually takes on the nerves and I become super relaxed. What is there to be worried about?). As we approached the pull-up window, the security officer peered out, marvelling at the ambulance. He didn’t even ask us if we had any fruits or vegetables. We were loaded up with apples and bananas and all this man cared to ask about was the blessed ambulance.

I’d like to believe the ambulance stands out more than our Aussie-ness, but it doesn’t take long. Every time someone walks pasts and looks in our direction, Abel nods and says something like, “Hey, mate,” or “How ya garn?” and we just don’t stand a chance. Even worse when it’s combined, How ya garn, mate? He may as well scream it from the rooftops. But, it has given us more smiles and muted “hello”s than not. Maybe it’s because we’re from a small town so we’re used to it, but majority of people over here don’t smile at you, don’t say hello or even acknowledge you– I assume because of the population difference. Then they hear that accent, and they either laugh with or at you, but a smile is all the same none the less.

Back when we were in San Francisco, my uncle Kurt had said, “Whenever you’re in trouble, just lay the accent on thick.” He knew what he was talking about. Turns out, everyone is fascinated by Aussies and Australia but, “Oh, the flight is just too long!” Mate. It’s a day of travel and then you’re in the great down under, land of the desert, home to the world’s best beaches— worth it.

Apart from the one man we encountered who didn’t seem to know where or what Australia was. He pulled into the field we (and other travellers) were staying at, slowed in front of us and yelled out to Abel, “You guys from Canada?” “Nah mate,” Abel replied, “Straya”. This old fella stared at Abel and asked again if we were from Canada. I sat back and listened as he continued to assume we were from Canada, five or six more times, while Abel tried to say “Australia” a little more clearly, before shouting “WE’RE FROM DOWN UNDA!” The man stopped asking then, but I don’t believe he understood a thing.

If the Australian heritage ever seems to fail us in a situation, when people basically assume we know nothing about this country, I can fall back and choose to be American, “Well, I’m actually from Connecticut so…” We’ve got ourselves a win-win situation over here. I only mention that fact after having spoken with someone for a little while. People still ask me where I’m from based on the accent and I’ll always say Australia first.

Regardless of the predicament or situation, we can count on the blessed ambulance or the benefit of being an Aussie.

OUR TIME IN NEW YORK

Every time I’m back in “the city” it feels familiar with a subtle air of difference. Although, it’s most likely I who has changed and not New York itself. Since I grew up in Connecticut, New York was always just “the city”, much like Sydney is back home. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been there. Five years ago on my last visit to the USA, I was 18 and NYC was very impressionable on me. No doubt people feel differently about it, but to me, New York forces you to dream big, feel alive and believe you’re capable of absolutely anything. It’s filled with 8 million different kinds of people and I think that’s where this whole lack of judgement among its citizens stems from. Everyone and anyone can find their niche in this city and that’s what makes it so great.

The Jane Hotel is over a 100 years old. I booked this hotel not just for it’s prime location along the Hudson, settled right into the West Village and not far from Chelsea, but for the atmosphere I knew it would have just from looking at the pictures. Total Wes Anderson vibes. Here’s some pics from their site itself, because I repeatedly forgot to take my own…

Lobby
Ballroom and Mezzanine
Rooftop Bar

 

Rooftop Bar Balcony (all images sourced from here)

The Jane Hotel is an old sailor’s cabin, men would come and retire here for the evening after long journeys at sea. Abel overheard one night at the bar, that back in 1912 when the Titanic sank, all of the survivors were sent to The Jane. They still host a remembrance night on the anniversary each year, apparently. I knew none of this, obviously, when booking, but these photos were enough to entice me and overlook the price. I booked us a sailor’s bunk (our cheapest option) and figured we would either enjoy the space away from each other, or I’d force Abel to squeeze into one bed together (we tried this one night and it only lasted a few hours). The cabin was a shoebox. Literally, we couldn’t lay any of our bags on the floor. One person was forced to sit on their bed and wait patiently while one of us dressed and readied for the day– then we would swap. The room also meant we shared a bathroom with others, but this didn’t phase me. I’ve done the whole hostel thing many a times (some nasty, some not) and these bathrooms were exceptionally clean (I knew they would be, take a look at more photos on the link).

Quickly after shuffling into our room for the first time, and stumbling over our bags, we deeply questioned an upgrade. Fuck it, we’re in New York baby! This idea deflated real fast when I checked and noticed a standard double suite would cost us an extra $200 a night. Not entirely in our budget. We wouldn’t be spending much time in the room anyway, so it didn’t really matter. And apart from the size issue (and the springy beds) the room was nice. We both had our own TV, fresh towels, robes and slippers each day– we really couldn’t complain. Besides, the allure of the hotel was in its public locations anyway. A ballroom, rooftop bar and restaurant all on site. The first few nights the ballroom was closed for private events, so we drank at the rooftop. All the while I was thinking, where is this grand room I was promised in the photos? After talking to the bartender, he told us it would be back in full swing by the weekend and he assured us it was a good time: “Literally there will be a line outside around the corner, it gets really busy. But you guys are guests so you get to come straight through and skip the whole line.” That made party-hunting a little easier, we didn’t have to go anywhere and no stress about late night subway or taxi rides.

Now I’ll talk a little less about our hotel and a bit more about the city itself and what we did while we were there. We pretty much ticked most of the stuff off the list. I’ve done a lot of the main tourist attractions, so this visit was more about fuelling Abel’s NYC desires. He’s a simple guy though and honestly wasn’t too fussed. A lot of pressure was taken off as well because we know for a fact we’ll be coming back here, and at Christmas time too (!!), which is just magical. I really can’t wait to see the tree all lit, starry and bright, towering over Rockefeller Centre. A favourite spectacle of mine.

Since there was no pressure, we didn’t get around to visiting the World Trade Centre (I’ve been twice), but we will certainly go when we are back. It really is a must for anyone seeing the city. It’s moving and eerie, but you just can’t avoid going. We also didn’t go to the top of any buildings, such as the Empire State. I hate heights, although my dear friend Claudia dragged me up there last visit and it wasn’t too frightening. The elevator was the worst part, but the twinkling view was rewarding.

Instead of The Met (I have also frequented) we visited The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), mainly to experience Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Monet’s Water Lillies, both surrounded by plenty of other amazing artworks. Not that we really know much about art, but it’s nice knowing that despite the small amount of knowledge we might have on a topic or piece, it can still move you and make you feel a certain way. Often we don’t even know what that feeling is or what it means to us, but art is enthralling like that. It sparks something within you, allows it to burn for a few moments while you question yourself and everything around you and more often that not, we are left with more questions than answers. Answers are boring anyway, how we ask questions is what keeps life appealing. Here’s some of the works that did that for me:

I’m a fool for not remembering or taking note of this artist. Hopefully this isn’t illegal. Anyone who knows, let me know. Because I loved this.

Plus the two main attractions:

Claude Monet’s Water Lillies
Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night

Earlier this day we visited the Central Park Zoo and it’s not that I was disappointed– not at all, in fact– but Madagascar (the film), whilst it is a classic, is a total sham. There is not a single lion, zebra, hippo nor giraffe at the Central Park Zoo. The penguins and monkeys were definitely there though. The red pandas were the real highlight. Mischievous little cat-dog creatures, actually related to raccoons, constantly rummaging through the ground foliage and climbing tree branches. I wanted to take one home with me. It was like a boutique zoo, small in its overall size, but not in regards to the animals’ spaces or the quality. Walking all around were zoo workers offering facts and conversation with the visitors. It really was a sweet place.

Red Panda
Sweet sleeping grizzly. If the claws weren’t there, I could cuddle this thing forever.

One of the most exciting things we ticked off was a broadway show. I wasn’t too sure how I could drag Abel to one of these, since he’s not much a ‘musical’ guy. I don’t mind the simple breaking-out-into-song, I kind of wish life was like that, so musicals really do it for me. Not to mention there were some killer choices: Mean Girls, Pretty Woman, Frozen. Like honestly, any of those would have served me well. Not to worry though, on our first day I spotted a little advertisement perched on the top of a yellow-taxi. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Not a musical and pretty perfect for two die-hard HP fans.

We lucked out in the ticket department, because this show is actually a two-part act. Not your standard show with intermission, but two shows. I knew we couldn’t really see one and not the other, that just wouldn’t make a lot of sense, right? So I purchased the two-part tickets and damn, we got lucky. Orchestra seats booked the evening before. We had been mentally preparing to sit down for a good 5-6 hours of play-time. I thought that was pretty weird, but who was I to question these things. Part one ended and when everyone was up and leaving we asked the lady next to us when we would see part two, “Come back at 7:30. Your two part ticket gave you the matinee, part one, and the evening show, part two.” Now that made a lot more sense. A quick break for Chipotle and the whole time we were thinking, what will part two bring?! 

I had seriously questioned this play when it was first released. I remember flicking through it whilst in Kmart once and seeing names of deceased characters in speaking roles and I thought, well that’s just fucking stupidBut honestly, not only was it well-written, but the entire performance was top notch. I mean, we did watch it on broadway, but the acting, the music, the theatrics was all of such a high calibre. All that talent on display, while being back in the magical world of wizardry, was just sublime. Don’t question it, just go. And see both parts. I have no idea how someone could go to part one and that alone. You’d be left hanging in the middle of an epic tale… so that’s how they make the money!

The last big tourist thing we did was venture over to Ellis Island. Ellis Island is where, for years, immigrants came through for processing before entering the United States. I’d been here once before, in 5th grade on a field trip. It was nice to go back with a bit more appreciation for history. Our ferry over stopped at Liberty Island, but we didn’t get off. You can see the Statue of Liberty as you pull up, and to be honest, that’s the best view you’re gonna get of her. Out in the water while she stands tall in the distance.

Lady Liberty

Those were really the main things we experienced while in NY. I mean, we ticked plenty of other things off our list, most of them being food items. A good slice of New York pizza on more than one occasion. We frequented Village Pizza, a few blocks from The Jane. Serious authentic quality, the sauce was a treat to the taste buds. And on our first night we took full advantage of “the city that never sleeps”– we ordered pizza and hot cookies to our room, well past midnight, just because we could.

Village Pizza

I’ve been following a Chef (named Anthony, @chefanthony_ballatosnyc) who works at Emilio’s Ballato for over a year now on Instagram. I actually came across his page from, I believe it was Miley Cyrus. The photos he posts of their food is seriously mouth-watering. I used to scroll through his feed, starving for one of these authentic Italian meals. I knew it was of high quality, not only because of their patron Miley Cyrus, but the entire array of celebrities that go there. Obama included. They don’t take reservations, they operate on a first-come first-served basis, which made things a bit easier for us. I knew we’d have to arrive as soon as they opened to snag a table. Surely people in the city aren’t going to be feasting on their evening meal at 5pm, right? Luckily we got a table, because they were filling up fast. Not long after we were seated, a queue slowly started to form and snake its way onto the street. The food was exceptional. Simple, high-quality, fresh food. No wonder so many well-known people frequent there. Abel was seriously convinced that seated behind us was former vice-president Joe Biden. Any time we weren’t in silence from shovelling homemade pasta into our gobs, we were debating about the white-haired man. It was not Joe Biden. I repeat, it was not Joe Biden.

However, we did spot one ‘celebrity’, a man staying at our hotel. On our first night I saw him at the rooftop bar, turned to give a casual smile and probably held his eyes for a moment too long. I instantly recognised him, but for the life of me, I cannot tell you where from. I’m not crazy either, he’s definitely ‘known’, because a few moments later a young girl went up to chat with him and take a selfie. She shuffled out of there pretty quickly so I couldn’t catch his name. I spent a lot of my time in New York googling “actors with grey hair and scruffy beards”. One day I’ll spot him on the screen and squeal with pure relief.

It was really just nice to wonder the streets, ride the subway, and visit the hotspots (Washington Square Park, Times Square, the Chelsea Highline) like we were little live-ins. If you can get enough time to visit the city properly, you’ve kinda gotta pretend you’re a local. I mean, no doubt we gave off tourist vibes with the Aussie accents (although, fair warning, mine is becoming a pure hybrid at the moment), but you really have to do your best to live New York like a true New Yorker. Push through the crowds, walk fast, do whatever you want to do, how you want to do it.

But don’t worry, we still managed to stop and look up at the towering buildings in awe, and let the bright lights wash through us. Plus Abel got really excited about the squirrels in Central Park (way to blow our cover, man).

Squirrel! (He is still getting excited by them)
Central Park

Empire State

Chelsea Highline

Now we’re in my hometown of Fairfield, CT, staying at my Aunt Melissa and Uncle Michel’s place. This was always my second home while growing up, so it’s really nice to be back here. We have done… not a lot this whole week. Once again, we’ve been snoozing ’til about 10 or 11 am most mornings. But hey, why not? Most days consist of going for a stroll, starting a fire outside and reading by it for hours to warm up. The leaves are turning more orange and yellow with each day that passes. The air is fresh, a lot like our winter temperatures back home, but we’re slowly becoming acclimated. Abel has been wearing thermals under his clothes the past few days, but you do what you’ve got to do! It really is my favourite time of year around here. Halloween is creeping up and I forgot how much I loved that holiday. Just ask Abel, I can’t stop randomly chirping, “Happy Halloween!”, “Trick or treat!” Autumn brings so many things with it: the smell of pumpkin, cinnamon, apple cider and freshly fallen leaves. There’s nothing like it.

Though we won’t be experiencing it for too much longer. This week was meant to be our time to buy a van, but we’ve made slight alterations to our original plans. Since we’re going to have to register a car in the country, you need a permanent address, which my dad has in Florida. Buying a car down there, closer to him, makes more sense. Plus, there are a lot more options for vans/campers down there. Tomorrow, we fly to Tampa. This definitely changes our road-tripping route, but we don’t mind. I haven’t seen my Dad since January, so seeing him before Christmas is going to be really nice. Plus, there is a real funky vehicle we’re going to check out on Monday. Fingers crossed it all works out. Stay tuned, because I know y’all are gonna love it.

A