The Story Begins Here

I felt that I should probably explain what the title of this blog means in my first article. So, here goes.

It all started when I met an adorably-cute girl last summer, Krystal. I’ll leave the specifics of that for another time, but the short version is that we became very good friends and I found myself on a plane headed over to Philadelphia.

I was coming from London so it takes a fair amount of time, 8 hours to be exact, and I’d been up since 6am that morning having experienced my usual 5-6 hours of sleep.

That evening, which was on a Sunday, was wonderful and I headed to bed in my hostel in a very good mood and excited for the next day’s exploration. The plan was to head to New Jersey (where Krystal lives) and we’d go to the aquarium close to her school with one of her other friends.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of saving money by booking into a dorm room for the first few days instead of a private room. There were around 16 of us packed into there and throughout the night I was constantly being disturbed by people coming into the room, snorers (the guy in the bunk above was especially loud) and the most annoying person of all who’d have random coughing fits just as I’d be nodding off to sleep.

I got zero sleep that night.

Checkpoint: it’s now been 30 hours since waking up at my London hotel.

Krystal wanted to show me her school, Rutgers University in Camden, before we headed to the aquarium. For those of you who don’t know, Camden is one of the most dangerous cities in the United States. In a single day the other week, 8 people were shot. I’m not sure you’d call it a city either – more like a ghetto, or hell on earth. It’s probably worse than Detroit, but I certainly have no intention of confirming this.

Her school is just on the outskirts, which is a good thing, but we had the great idea of driving through some of Camden-proper on the way. I’ve never felt so uncomfortable in all my life. It was hilarious at the time, but if anyone had decided that these three middle-class white people driving a nice car looked like they were worth robbing, we’d have been in real trouble.

I only took one picture there, and it doesn’t show much. Mostly because it would be a little stupid to go pointing an iPhone at somebody’s house.

Eventually, we parked up and went to her school.

A big difference between American and British universities is that the American ones are often small towns in their own right. Rutgers Camden has it’s own police force, for example, who (I assume) would come racing down the street ready for action if you pushed one of these buttons:

Being shown around was really interesting; I got to see where we would often chat on Facebook while she was supposed to be doing actual work and where she’d have Cheesefries with a soda for lunch. I hugely enjoyed seeing all the everyday things that they take for granted but a tourist would never see. I made sure to specify before I visited that I wanted to experience American life as if I lived and worked there. I was not left disappointed.

So, that was all good fun. After this we went to the Adventure Aquarium of New Jersey. By this time, I was feeling terrible due to the lack of sleep. Here’s Krystal’s new best friend:

After this, the three of us went back to her house in the pretty New Jersey suburbs, which was a short drive away, to have dinner with her parents.

Her mom is an amazing cook; because they are Italian-Americans they like their pasta and chicken dishes. I had the chance to try her wonderful Chicken Florentine which is Krystal’s favorite. It’s now also one of mine, and I’ll actually be cooking it tonight at home.

After this, she called up one of her friends, Jess, and we hung out for a while and drove around. We went to a place called Riverside (or was it Riverwinds?), and Krystal showed me where people would go to “talk about things” when they wanted privacy. To my slight relief, she didn’t start any deep conversations. It was right on the shore of the Delaware river, if I recall correctly.

I was seriously exhausted by this point, and only just hanging on. I wish I’d had some sleep the night before because when I get tired I mentally shut off and get real quiet and introverted. This was the exact opposite of what I wanted, because I struggle with being painfully shy sometimes as it is.

At around 10, we ended up back at Jessica’s house where she decided to smoke a couple of bowls. She offered me one, and while I initially refused, I couldn’t really resist. Besides, Krystal’s argument was pretty compelling: “Come on, you’re in America, you gotta do it”. I only had just the one, but this was about to be the start of a near-disaster. American Law #1 broken.

I was drifting in and out of sleep by this point, and she drove me to the train station so I could get back to Philly. Before I got out of the car, she said “Are you sure you’re gonna be ok?”. What I should have said was “No”, but what I actually said was “Yeah, I’ll be fine”. She made me promise that I’d text her when I got home.

So, there I was: awake for 48 hours with no sleep, stoned, horribly confused, and in a strange place at midnight waiting for a train by myself. What I’d completely forgotten was that the trains run on a single track at night so I missed the first because I thought it was going in the opposite direction to Philly. After about 30 tortuous minutes, I saw the right train and got on.

Before I got out of the car, they said that it was the stop after the NJ-Philly bridge that I needed (8th & Market). I could have sworn that I went over a bridge but I couldn’t see shit out of the windows into the blackness, so I got off and found myself at a station called Broadway. Hey, no problem I thought – it sounds like Philly, right? I’ll just get a cab.

I went up the stairs, and saw a bunch of very dodgy-looking characters loitering outside the main doors of the station. I decided to go back to the platform and this is when I got a text from Krystal. All it said was “Worried”. I replied back saying I was in some place called Broadway by mistake and that I was waiting for the next train which was roughly 30 minutes away. I hadn’t actually gone over the bridge yet, and was still in Jersey.

Later she would tell me that I had gotten off the train in the worst possible place you could be at 1am in America. I was right in the middle of Camden.

I know we complain about having so many security cameras in the UK and how it’s all a big surveillance society, but trust me – I would have felt a lot happier if they actually had any on these platforms.

This is still not the end of the story, because after I got onto the next train I even managed to overshoot my stop by two stations in my confused state. I had to find my way back to 8th & Market without using Google Maps (data in the US is £6 per MB if you’re roaming) which wasn’t much fun. I asked a couple of guys who were smoking fags (chuckle) outside a gay bar or something, and they pointed me in the direction of Market St. It took me at least another half an hour of walking to find it.

Eventually I arrived back at where I was staying at around 2am and texted Krystal to let her know that I was safe. It had taken me more than 2 hours for a journey that should have taken around 20 minutes.

A lot of bad things could have happened that night, but I don’t think I really stood out as a tourist or anything, so I was probably just left alone because they assumed I was a native. I was also very careful about when I took out my phone or cash for any reason.

If anything like this ever happens to you?

Trust me – just stay at their house instead of going on a crazy adventure in the middle of the night in a strange city. You’ll thank me later. Or, even be able to.

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