With consummate (freakish?) professionalism, I awoke 30 seconds before my alarm went off at 6.30am. After a quick shower and change of clothes, I made my blood sacrifices to Bacchus, jumped in the waiting limo and sped off towards the CBS Broadcast Centre. I was met at the door and taken up to the newsfloor. Now this is more like it! A nice big studio for me to run about. The warehouse-y interiors looked a bit like my old office in Liverpool. I was a bit disappointed to discover that the brickwork wasn’t real, but this is television, folks! IT’S ALL MADE OF MAGIC.
Nicole joined me in the Green Room, as did Gayle King (Oprah’s bessie mate) and fellow guest Chris Jones, a journo for Esquire Magazine who was here to talk about a piece he had just published detailing the events on Air Force One in the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination.
I asked Chris what he thought of conspiracy theorists – he told me that he had purposefully not talked about the assassination itself in his article as he couldn’t cope with the tsunami of emails from every whackjob in the country that would no doubt ensue.
Chris actually recognised me from my One Second | Every Nation video, which is both cool and remarkable – three cheers for YouTube!!
The interview went really well! You can watch it here:
I was chuffed with meeting Charlie Rose – veteran anchor-man and star of this week’s (penultimate) episode of Breaking Bad.
After the interview I said my farewells to Charlie, Gayle and Nicole before heading off to Esquire Magazine HQ for an impromptu Q&A with Chris, which with any luck will be on the Esquire website sometime soon.
So! I’ve done what I came for. I headed back to Oscar’s and we grabbed lunch together. I was being picked up at 4:30pm to be taken to the airport, but first I wanted to see the UN building – or, more specifically, the flags outside. (I’m a bit of a flag aficionado.)
But I forgot that it’s the week of the UN general assembly, so getting anywhere near the UN building was nigh-on impossible. Does the US have to pay for all this security? Or does Nauru chip in? We should be told!
So I headed back to Oscar’s, tail between my legs, to pick up my trusty backpack (this trip marked the swansong of my trusty Lowe Alpine Pax 25) and was whisked away in a CBS limousine to JFK. Before I knew it, I was hurtling through the air on my way back to dear old Blighty.
So that’s New York out of the way, time to get ready for the next thing: SAMSUNG’S SOS ISLAND!! So here’s the deal: 16 contestants are flown out to Fajardo in Puerto Rico for five days of survival ‘Boot Camp’ with TV’s “Survivorman” Les Stroud.
Only 8 of us will make the cut to go to SOS Island itself, a mystery island off the coast of Puerto Rico where will be sleeping rough and foraging for food for two weeks.
At the end of the two weeks, a winner will be announced… a winner who will then go for an island adventure worth $100,000. If I win, I’ll be hiring a private island off the coast of Belize, setting up a solar-powered sat-link and pulling a real-life Robinson Crusoe for a year.
IF YOU’D LIKE TO SEE THAT HAPPEN I’ve got to impress Les with my survival skills! But also I need YOUR help!!!
There will be a LIVE WORLDWIDE BROADCAST from our training camp every day this week at 7.30pm GMT – that’s 3.30pm in New York, 8.30pm in London and 5.30am in Sydney (don’t worry Oz, you can watch it later). You can watch it by clicking below.
Today I went on a SECRET MISSION that I can’t tell anybody about or else I’d have to kill them.
It has something to do with this picture, but I can’t say what 😀
Although I can’t tell you what I got up to today, I can tell you that involved a LOT of scooting around on the New York Subway system.
When I was here back in the summer of 1999 (to watch a film that shall remain nameless), the NY subway was great – okay it was a little tatty, but hell, it was only $1 a trip and it ran all night!
In your FACE, London Underground!!
How things have changed.
A one-day travelcard for the Tube is around £7.50. You cannot buy a one-day travelcard for the New York Subway. You just have to pay $2,50. For each and every trip. And so over the course of a day I ended up spending $15 on the goddamn train. A 7 day pass is only $30. Not cool, New York.
Next, there is the issue of cleanliness. You think the Tube is grubby? Think again – those white tiles positively sparkle when compared with the dark sooty mess that is the New York Subway. When the garish orange and cream décor of the Tashkent underground system is showing you up, it’s time to buy a new tuxedo, New York, if you take my meaning.
But these are minor quibbles when compared to the most outrageous part of the New York subway: the map.
Oh dear. I’ve only shown you a small portion of the map, lest your brain explode from the horror, the horror. Here’s the full nightmare in all its noodly glory, health warnings attached.
“True beauty is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away.”
And we can take away so much of this thing, I’m having trouble thinking where to start.
Okay – how about WHY ARE THERE STREETS ON THE MAP? Okay, the location of Goldhawk Street in London might not be obvious, but 14th Street in New York….? Just hazarding a guess here… is it by any chance north of 13th Street and south of 15th street???
Yes. Yes it is.
But… erm, how many stations called “14th Street” are there…? At least three, maybe four. They can’t all be the same station, can they. No? Oh. Right. NOTHING CONFUSING ABOUT THAT THEN.
And think “2nd Avenue” station will be anywhere near “3rd Avenue” station? Think again noobs – they’re miles away.
Next up, what’s with having all the boroughs on every map? Yes it’s very good of you to include Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Staten Island on there, but I’m a tourist, I’m staying in Manhattan. How about a map just… and I’m gonna push the boat out here… FOR MANHATTAN? I say this on the basis that 99.9% of tourists that come to New York do NOT stay in Queens, Eddie Murphy in Coming To America notwithstanding.
Okay, now so (in my imagination) we have a map that has arrows coming out of the top, middle and bottom of Manhattan telling you what borough the line goes to and the name of the terminal station. We’ll have another map to pick it up from there, yeah? Next up WHAT IS WITH THE NOODLES??
DEATH DEATH DEATH TO THE NOODLES!!!
THIS is how you do an Underground map:
STRAIGHT GODDAMN LINES, YEAH?? Harry Beck, take a bow.
Yes I’m aware that the distance from Leicester Square to Covent Garden is like 100 metres and the distance between Angel and Old Street is 50 light years BUT I DON’T CARE. Yes Mornington Crescent on the wrong side, Bank and Monument should probably be one station and why are there two Edgeware Roads?
BUT IT WORKS.
I can glance – GLANCE – at this map and suss out how to get from Gants Hill to Brixton. Central, Victoria, change at Oxford Circus.
Make a note of the time and then look at the NY Subway Map. Work out how to get from Colombia University to 2nd Street.
If you did it in less than 30 seconds, you cheated.
In short the NY subway map is a massive FAIL. I cannot, CANNOT believe that in a city of advertisers, TV people, designers, artists and marketing gurus nobody has set aside an afternoon to come up with something better.
I mentioned last week that I would be meeting with Cesar Kuriyama while in New York and after my jaunt around the city I did just that, in McSorley’s, the oldest Irish Bar in the city (that’s still going). Cesar is the guy who did this:
And that inspired me to do this:
As we drank too many light and dark beers (every round you get half a pint of each, it’s tradition, I think…) we talked movies, filmmaking, TED, travel and doing what you want to do in life rather than what people expect of you.
Around midnight, my old uni mate Oscar (also a filmmaker) rucked up, two hours late, naughty boy. Cesar cut off and Osc and I kept the British end up by heading off to another bar where he could drink something other than beer.
This is a short film Oscar made and it’s lovely. You should watch it.
We rolled back into Oscar’s gaff around 2am and I crashed out on the couch. I had to up for my appearance on national television in 4 hours…
Bright and early and what a glorious blue sky. I had two missions today, both suggested by Brits abroad: one (courtesy of Matt Lumby) was to visit The High Line and the other (courtesy of Danny Alexander) was to go see the USS Intrepid.
I walked through Greenwich Village, imbibing the sights and sounds and all the crap that travel memoirists are supposed to bang on about. New York is pretty much the place it is in all the movies and needs little in the way of introduction. Everyone you meet is from another corner of the world, which is great for me – I can say I’ve been there.
Although one day I’ll meet somebody from Greenland or Pitcairn Island and the wheels will come off my parade.
But until that day, I’ll still be the (Travel) King of New York.
Here’s a video I made of the High Line:
Good stuff, eh?
After that, I headed north, grabbed a greasy hotdog and clambered aboard the USS Intrepid, a MASSIVE aircraft carrier what looks like this:
Oh yes. AND there’s space shuttle and a ruddy great Concorde on board. How could I say no?
Impressive kit, no doubt. Although the BEST bit was this model of the ship itself…
There must be a billion dollars’ worth of hardware in this museum, but as always it’s Lego that gets the Charlie Sheen certified EPIC WIN.
At 6pm everybody was turfed out of the USS Intrepid so it could get some sleep. I walked to Times Square because why the hell not. Oo! It’s being pedestrianised. The usual massive TV screens advertising Coca-Cola and Glee were present and correct, damn I’d like to be here for New Year to watch the ball drop.
Back to Monica’s on the subway (more on that tomorrow), a quick freshen up and then it was a short taxi ride to The Marcel Restaurant at the Gramercy Hotel for a meal with Nicole, my contact at CBS. Considering Mr. Colombia Broadcasting System was picking up the tab, the cheeky Scouser in me fancied the $72 sea-bass, but I refrained from going all out, instead opting for the roast suckling pig. Two slap-up feasts over one weekend in London and New York? Damn my karma level is going to be in the red after this…
Nicole, an avid traveller herself, was interested in picking my brains over where to go, what to do, how to stay safe and whether Couch-Surfing is a good Idea (the answer: yes it is). I need a job where I get paid to sit on top of a mountain in Nepal and dispense travel wisdom like some backpacking Yoda. Any takers?
I had to be at the airport for 3pm, which meant I had to leave Wimbledon at 2pm. Danny and I grabbed a Subway and a coffee for lunch, and after saying my tatty-byes I jumped on the Tube and sped off into the distance.
Heathrow airport didn’t put up too much of a fight, although flying still feels a bit like cheating for some reason. Happily, Delta airlines still doles out complimentary beer and so my journey to New York generally involved eating peanuts, drinking Heineken and watching Iron Man 3 (okay), Pixar’s Brave (better) and an episode of Dexter (silly).
Arriving at JFK around 8pm local time, I was greeted at the airport, for the first time in my life, by a guy holding a sign with my name on it. Well, almost – he’d missed the second ‘h’ in Hughes. But it’s the thought that counts. Yes indeedy, your humble narrator here got Lincoln’d all the way to Manhattan, courtesy of CBS.
My driver was a proper old-school New Yorker – half Italian, half Irish and a great babbling, ranting, philosophising introduction to the wonderful world that is the Big Apple. His humour, pacing and gravelly NY drawl reminded me a bit of Doug Stanhope as in “I’m Doug Stanhope… and that’s why I drink.” As we raced through Queens and Brooklyn we talked world politics, the evolving face of NYC and where on the planet you could find the hottest women (he was going on holiday and had the choice between Colombia and Senegal – it was a tough call).
Flying? Chauffeur driven limousine? Ack, before you go accusing me of being a big sell-out, don’t worry – I’d still be sleeping on the couch. The couch in question would be Monica’s, my friendly Chilean backpacker that I met in Cambodia back in 2002. I crashed at hers last time I was in New York on a night that looked something like this:
I arrived at Monica’s in East Greenwich Village around 9.30pm and realised that although I had the building number I didn’t have her apartment number – a schoolboy error that could be quickly rectified by a quick tinkle on the ol’ jellybone.
But there was no answer. In fact, Monica’s phone went straight to voicemail – it wasn’t even on. I knew she’d sent me her full address on Facebook, so it was off to the nearest free wi-fi place that didn’t require a US phone number to log-on. Ah, at least it wasn’t raining.
Actually, it was raining.
Drat. I got the apartment number and returned to the building. I hit the buzzer. No response. So… Monica was either a) out or b) the buzzer wasn’t working. Somebody entered the building so I ducked in behind them and clambered up to the 5th floor. I knocked on Monica’s door. No response. I assumed she was out.
Having been up since 9am UK time and considering it was now pushing 10.30pm Eastern Time (five hours behind the UK), I was understandably ka-nackered, but with the rain lashing down I couldn’t very well sleep in a dumpster, could I?
I’d get wet.
So I returned to the Moonbeam 24 hour Café on the corner of 5th and 2nd (whatever that means) and sent out an SOS to all of my New York chums. I also looked up youth hostels in Manhattan – the few that cropped up on Google were very far away and ludicrously expensive.
Oh come on, Mon! Where are you?
After a fruitless hour I decided to give Monica another go. I walked round and rang the buzzer, holding it down in crazed desperation, comeoncomeoncomeoncomeoncomeonnnnnn…
She had either forgot I was coming and gone upstate for the weekend, or she had been involved in some kind of terrible accident. At least the latter would have been forgivable.
Or maybe – just maybe, she had thought I was coming next weekend, had gone to bed at 8pm, had turned her phone off and was an incredibly heavy sleeper.
I returned to Moonbeam.
DING! A text arrived. IS THAT YOU BUZZING?
Monica: Sorry I thought you were coming next weekend! I went to sleep at 8pm and I’m an incredibly heavy sleeper. Come back!
For the love of……………..
Stomp stomp stomp (I should at this point mention that Monica lives on the 5th floor and there’s no lift – I’m glad I packed light).
I’ve never been gladder to plonk myself down on a couch. Monica’s boyfriend, Justin, was still in bed (possibly asleep) but after her all-consuming power-nap Monica herself was wide awake.
Yesterday was a long day and didn’t end until around 2am. Today started at 5am as I was booked on the 6am Megabus down to London… I have a plane to catch!!!
I’m still in the process of proving I went to every country in the world to Guinness and rather than take my edited videos, they want a copy of ALL my unedited vids to trawl through… that’s over 375 hours of footage, almost 7Tb of data.
Fair enough, but I can’t be sending that through the post now, can I? So I acquired a cheap 500Gb passport drive from Amazon and before I left I set up Any Video Converter (highly recommended!) to convert all 350+ hours of .avi video to much smaller .mp4 files – it should be done by the time I get back from the States.
I’m not flying out until 5pm tomorrow, but being chock full of precaution in these matters, I elected to get down to London a day early, you know, just in case. Like in case the M6 was closed between junctions 11 and 12 or something.
Which it was.
I arrived at Victoria Coach Station at 2.30pm after a journey of eight and a half hours. It wasn’t even one of the buses with wifi and power sockets, damnit!
After a quick trip to Shepherd’s Bush for important meeting (more on that in another entry) I ambled back to Victoria to meet with my old friends Danny and Penny and their friend Hayley for a drink at the amusingly-named Balls Brothers Bar.
Afterwards, I was treated to a meal at Mango Tree, a swanky Thai restaurant near Buckingham Palace. Hayley works for the British embassy in Nairobi in Kenya – a place that would be a fixture on the news all this week for all the wrong reasons. After a few after-dinner drinks in Wimbledon and a few after-drink whiskies back at Danny and Penny’s gaff, I collapsed onto their couch and dreamt of missing my flight to New York.
Once again, it was round to Leo Skelly’s gaff at 9am for a jolly day of website creation. Leo is great at coding and I’m good at layout, so we muddled something together which must have somehow worked, because you’re reading this now!
I also received some terrible news from my friend Kendra in Egypt. A few days ago she posted a news article on her Facebook feed about a Frenchman who had been arrested in Cairo for breaking curfew. He was beaten to death in the jail cell by his fellow inmates. We worked out today that the victim was Eric, the crazy Frenchman we went out drinking with back in January 2010.
Poor Eric. He must have been terrified. I was just writing about him the other day as well, for an article on interesting people I met on the road. Kendra still lives in Cairo. I’m now thinking it’s high-time she gets the hell out there. Egypt is not the place it once was.
This awful event brings into stark relief how during the lowest points of The Odyssey Expedition, I was damn lucky to get out alive.
At this rate I’ll have Week 201 in the can around 2713AD.
The website had to be up and running at the end of today because I’m going to New York at the weekend. Calm down, it’s not a jolly – I’m being interviewed on CBS This Morning next week. But what’s going to be BRILLIANT is that I get to see my old muckas Monica and Oscar and meet Cesar Kuriyama, a fellow TEDster who made this jolly video:
Which led me to make this video:
Which went totally bird flu over the summer and (at time of writing) is posed to hit 900,000 views – and is the reason I was interviewed on BBC News… and Japanese TV…
AND the reason CBS is flying me to New York! I reckon I owe Cesar a drink, don’t you?!!
Phew! It’s been a while, and for that I’m sorry. It’s been a rather, erm, peculiar year for me.
I dunno – maybe I expected something at the end of my monumental journey to every country in the world, maybe I thought I could take my foot off the throttle for a few months and let somebody else do the hard work, but that hasn’t been the case. If you want something in this life it’s up to you, no matter what you’ve achieved.
Yes people want you to answer their questions, appear on their TV shows or speak at their US$4,000-a-ticket event, but they’ll be damned if they’re going to pay you for it (or even pay your expenses cough splutter TEDActive cough).
And so I found myself the only person to have visited every country in the world without flying, flat broke, living with my parents (at the grand old age of 34, that’s how cool I am!) and slowly losing the will to travel, inspire and entertain… instead I contemplated giving up and becoming a teacher, because you know, money.
But then a competition that was being advertised on my YouTube vid One Second | Every Nation came along and I thought sod it: I wanna go to Puerto Rico.
So I filled out the form like this:
Although in my mind it was more like this:
And within a few hours I had a reply from the production company asking me to fill out a long-form application and supply them with a video explaining just how frikkin’ AWESOME I am.
The application video looked like this:
The rest, as they say, is history. Although I’m the oldest (and quite possibly fattest) of all the 16 contestants, I’m going to Puerto Rico, because fuck it I’m me and I deserve a holiday. If I pass Survival Boot Camp with Suvivorman Les Stroud, I’m going to have two weeks living on a desert island with seven other lucky so-and-sos, documenting my daily struggle for survival (and hilarity) on a Samsung Galaxy 4 Zoom and a Samsung NX camera.
Although I had been told I was a finalist a few days ago, today was the big announcement on the Samsung SOS-Island.com site. I realised it was time to get off my arse and get my website back up and running – something I’ve been putting off for too long!!
In the morning I headed over to see my old webmaster Leo Skelly, who was instrumental in setting up theodysseyexpedition.com and we got cracking on firing up this site. That’s when I came up with the idea of riffing the “Say My Name” scene from Breaking Bad, so this afternoon I met up with Ste Webster and Tom Lox, two Liverpool filmmakers and headed over to New Brighton. I beat Ste in the Liverpool 48 hour film challenge back in 2006 and he’s just about managed to forgive me.
I know you just watched it a couple of minutes ago, but it’s worth a second watch:
Spurred on by this brilliant collaborative effort, we headed over to Tabac to meet with another couple of Liverpool filmmakers – Adam and Owen, the Tomfoolery Boys. I also beat them in the 2006 48 hour film challenge and since they had a much better film than me, I don’t think they’ll ever forgive me. And so the inaugural meeting of the Wizards Club was brought to order. Individually we’re all shit-hot film-makers. Together… we might just change the world.