When, at the start of autumn, your boss tells you to go to New York on a shopping trip to acquire some new books, it’s inevitable that you pack a pair of trainers. The New York Marathon is one of the oldest in the calendar, and it was covering this race a generation ago, for the Observer, that Chris Brasher returned to London with the famous challenge – can London do the same?
When I landed at JFK, Hurricane Sandy had been and gone, leaving a multi-billion dollar bill, and snow was piled up against the airport terminal wall. From the coast to the Hudson River there were scenes reminiscent of the hellacious squalor of New York in the late 70s when the city was about to implode under piles of uncollected rubbish, ruined building and a broken economy, so brilliantly described in The Bronx is Burning.
As for Manhattan, at least, a few broken branches and some out-of-place sandbags aside – it was difficult to tell what all the fuss was about. But the marathon, which would have started out on Staten Island and provided a neat tourist guide to the devastation spots, had been cancelled. ‘There would have been riots’, I was told by one editor who had helped with the clear up.
From my apartment in the East Village, most of my running took me south along the East River, under the colossal bridges to Brooklyn, and downtown to Wall Street. This was East of D Street, as in ‘You’re Dead Street’, so-called by my cousin who lived here a while ago, because it was so dangerous. Clearly things have moved on, as the only sign of subversion was a bag of skunk someone had left on a park bench.
The best run of the week was saved until last. I met Aram at 7.30am in Astor Place to head over Brooklyn Bridge, and past the impressive Barclay Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team. Then it was up Atlantic Avenue to Prospect Park. Mrs H reckoned that there were deer and sheep here, as there had once been in Central Park. I couldn’t see any, but it was still early and the temperature a bit frisky.
Twice a year publishers gather – in London and Frankfurt – to chew the fat over the Next Big Thing. Nothing beats this way of doing business though. I would never have found out about Nick Clark in an aircraft hangar in Frankfurt, or about an unbelievable collection of American Boxing writing, or a book that I hope will be the new Will Fiennes. There is nothing like seeing New Yorkers in their native environment.
A week after arrival there was still water on the subway floor, and like post-1977 it’s going to a long while to get the city back to normal. But I will definitely be back – next year I hope, and just in time for the New York Marathon, storm warnings permitting.