America at Last – Part 5
By Parson Thru
When we returned to the hostel, there was something of a palaver going on. Voices were raised on the floor above ours. We decided to ignore them and lock the door. A few moments later, there was an urgent knocking. We opened up and two girls, about twenty years old, were standing looking traumatised. They apologised for intruding and told us they were scared, which we could see. They had arrived in the morning and been resting in their room during the day when two men knocked on their door flashing what appeared to be police warrants and told them that the hostel was illegal and they had to leave. Terrified, they had run out onto the street, slamming the room door shut and had only returned minutes before us.
In our excitement at arriving, we hadn’t seen a notice on the wall warning guests to be wary of bogus policemen with fake ID. We chatted in hushed voices for a while and suggested that they keep their door locked and spend as much time out of the hostel as possible. They were moving on in a couple of days anyway. We promised to keep an eye on them – they were in the room opposite. As they became more relaxed, they introduced themselves, telling us they were visiting from Norway. We swapped stories and plans. The men’s voices had died-down upstairs and eventually the girls bade us goodnight and returned to their room, turning the key in the lock.
As we settled down for the night, there was a firm knock on the door. We looked at each other. The knock came again. Natasha asked who was there. The manager’s voice answered, saying that he needed to speak to us. Natasha carefully unlocked and opened the door. The wiry little manager was standing behind two heavies. Their introduction was deliberately vague. They appeared to own the place, or were intimate with whoever did. One of them asked us if the police had come to our room that day. We replied that we’d been out since breakfast and hadn’t seen anyone. They seemed not to believe us. The other heavy told us that the callers weren’t real policemen. We glanced at the notice. He said they weren’t those bogus policemen, but City officials who didn’t mind people thinking they were the police.
They told us that the hostel was in dispute with the City authorities over its license. We just listened in silence. The manager stood quietly behind them saying nothing. There was a generally awkward atmosphere as we were briefed that if asked how long we were staying in the hostel, we were to say more than one month. The heavies apologised for the inconvenience, wished us a nice visit and turned to knock on the girls’ door. The manager gave us a weak smile. Predictably, the Norwegians didn’t answer and the men could soon be heard walking down the stairs. We were leaving in the morning and quietly packed all but washing things and tomorrow’s clothes. Surprisingly, we both had a sound night’s sleep.
We rose early and checked out. The hostel wasn’t so bad, I suppose. It was central – Greenwich Village; cheap – the prime consideration; clean – no bed-bugs; funny – the room safes were on wheels. And I had stayed in worse places. I spent three months living in a prostitute’s flat, sub-let by a local gangster. He wasn’t a bad bloke and she wasn’t there – she was in a house with the other girls, living on the job, so to speak.
Now we were aboard our first Greyhound – not one of the swanky new blue ones, but a big, solid old white one, headed first stop Pennsylvania Station in Newark, New Jersey. Through the window, New York City was sliding away behind us and the musical motif of the trip was kicking in as we rolled out onto the New Jersey Turnpike.