Thursday, 31 July 2014

New York - Ball Of Confusion

The way to combat the lack of low seating in the watering holes of New York City is to find something else to do in the evening other than drink. As drastic as that may seem, it is the only sensible course of action.

With this in mind we visit the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on 46th Street on Thursday morning to see if we can get tickets for a show. We notice this theatre in particular because they are advertising their Motown musical in garish colours all over the outside of the building. I love all things Motown and have done from an early age. When we were kids Helen and I got into trouble for getting on the train to Liverpool without permission but it was worth the trip just for the fact that we came back with an album of 40 Michael Jackson songs from the Motown era. The Michael Jackson Mix, I think it was called. Old enough so that there was not a shamo in sight. I might not have spelled shamo correctly, to be fair. I never watched much of Bo Selecta. As someone wise once said, that lad hasn’t got enough material to make an advert. Ironic then that I’m quoting him in an attempt at humour in my own work.

Our luck is in this morning and we pay $59 apiece for the tickets. In the queue in front of us I hear a woman loudly telling her companion that she moved to New York from Philadelphia because Philadelphia is too violent. This strikes me as the very definition of moving between a rock and a hard place. Frying pans and fires spring readily to mind. I’m just glad that I hadn’t learned this little nugget of wisdom before our trip to Pennsylvania yesterday. It’s bad enough not knowing where you are going in an unfamiliar city without having to contemplate the possibility of getting shot to shit.

Breakfast had been an expensive and sickly affair at a place called The Blue Fin on Broadway opposite The Winter Gardens. We’ll be seeing the inside of that place tomorrow (Friday) when we see the much anticipated (and since unfathomably cancelled) Rocky musical. Emma had french toast that made her feel sick, and another hugely unreasonable bill was enough to turn anyone’s stomach. A long walk was planned for this morning and was now very definitely in order. We headed out down towards the Flatiron Building on 5th Avenue. Built in 1902 it is so named because its wedge shaping is similar to that of a clothes iron. It’s the centrepiece of the Flatiron District and is one of the most iconic and recognisable buildings in the city. We don’t go inside. The fascination is all in the curious looking exterior.

We want to find Little Italy. In two days time England will kick-off their World Cup campaign against Italy in the Amazonian city of Manaus, Brazil. I have this idea that watching it among a packed crowd of stressing, gesticulating Italians might be fun. A good atmosphere. Good atmospheres have been lost in the field of watching football at pubs in recent years. Remember Sol Campbell’s disallowed goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup? The Springy was packed, pints and tables flying all over the joint as Campbell illegally rose to nod England into the quarter-finals. Or so he thought. I’m not sure who was the slowest to realise that the referee had disallowed the goal. Campbell, or the hordes of people crammed into The Springy. What I do know is that we all got wet. Since then The Springy’s decline seems to have had a direct correlation with the increase in apathy among the general public towards the England team. Most of the time fans complain that England games get in the way of their preciously pulsating mid-table squabbles. Then every two years those same fans scream blue murder when another tepid England performance culminates in an early flight home.

We travel for about 45 minutes down 5th Avenue and stop for a drink and what tennis players call a comfort break at a Pret A Manger. That’s one of the pitfalls of moving fairly aimlessly down New York’s main avenues when you have mobility problems. It’s not easy to find places for comfort breaks so you end up going into places you wouldn’t normally bother with. Once, in Salou, I visited a hotel every evening solely for the purpose of spending a penny because the access in all the bars was so sub-standard. The pubs around New York with their high chairs aren’t open yet anyway. It’s another hour until our map starts to suggest that we might be getting within range of Little Italy. We pass through the varyingly beautiful surroundings of Union Square and Washington Square Park and are randomly spoken at by a local man bemoaning the cost of home owning in the area. The houses don’t look anything special but it’s pretty scenic in this neck of the woods. You can imagine it is not cheap to live here. Later in the week we would meet a bus tour guide who openly expresses his outrage that high taxation is driving rich people out of the area. If rich people left the area where I live because of high taxation I’d wave them goodbye. I don’t want to sound too much like one of Harry Enfield’s Self Righteous Brothers but if that Gary Barlow came around here….telling me Love Ain’t Here Anymore I’d…….

Enough. We turn left off 5th Avenue and find ourselves in the part of town where the streets have names , not numbers. It would be much easier to get lost here. Finally we turn down Mulberry Street and we’re where we want to be, in the heart of Little Italy. The idea is a scouting mission for suitable England-watching venues but it’s not long before we are coaxed off the streets and into a café bar by a pushy bar owner. Two hours pushing around in the heat has worked up a thirst so we order a couple of beers and enjoy the rest. We ask about the football and he points to an underwhelmingly small television set in the back of the dining area. This is not Sol Campbell in 1998 material, even though the bar owner assures us that they will be showing the match. The fact that our Englishness hasn’t provoked him into any Anglo-Italian banter ahead of the game at the weekend serves as further evidence that this is not the place to be for it.

We move along Mulberry Street and I spot another bar which looks a little more like the sort of thing I’m looking for. But again access looks dubious at best. I keep it in mind without exploring further at this stage. We’ve covered miles and we need to get back in plenty of time for our night at the Lunt-Fontanne. We go into the nearest accessible subway station and are again bemused by the numbers, letters, gates, booths and platforms therein. A train comes along which we think might take us back up towards Times Square but we’re a little uncertain. Eventually we decide to take it so Emma takes a step forward to board. I try to follow on behind but the step up from the platform is just that little bit too high. But Emma hasn’t noticed. She turns around from inside the train and gestures for me to get on and just as I’m about to explain that I might need a push the doors close.

The next thing I see is the train pull away with Emma on board. Amid the mild panic there are nothing but 'What The Fuck?' gestures as the train trundles away. On the night we are heading for a slice of Motown, it's a Ball Of Confusion.

Had it not been for the incredibly fortuitous fact that my phone has available text credit this situation would be right up there with the LA to San Diego petrol debacle of 2011. Then, we hung around on the freeway helplessly like two dead cert victims from an episode of Criminal Minds until with the last shred of battery from Emma’s phone I was able to call 911 to get assistance. Having available text credit is by no means a certainty for me these days. My phone is an infuriatingly inconsistent entity which, whether I top up by the required amount to trigger my free texts or not, could leave me without communications at any time. Often it claims that there is not enough storage space to receive texts and I have to spend minutes of my life that I will not get back deleting data from apps that I never use. So I’m lucky on this occasion. I text Emma to find that she is at the next stop and I tell her I will try to get on the next train. Even that isn’t straightforward, and I have to be helped on by a random girl who sees my frustrated attempts to haul myself on from the platform. These two trains are the only two that I have any trouble boarding the whole time we are in New York, accessible platforms permitting. I think they call that Sod's Law.

While Emma rests I watch the Brazil beat Croatia 3-1 in the opening game of the World Cup thanks largely to the most dubious refereeing decision since W G Grace refused to leave the field having been clean bowled. Grace told his conqueror that the crowd had come to see him bat, not the bowler bowl. Brazilian striker Fred would struggle to make the same argument if questioned about the scandalous penalty he is awarded which turns the game in the hosts' favour. When we get to the Lunt-Fontanne there is a queue outside but it is not long before we are ushered in. I notice a sign that says that table service is available for wheelchair users. However, none of the staff appear to have seen the sign. I ask the lady who shows us to our seats and she looks at me like I have asked her to perform sexual favours. We’ll be getting our own beer. If the prices in the restaurants so far have been steep, the price of a beer in the Lunt-Fontanne is terrifying. Thirteen dollars buys you a Bud Light, but you get to keep the container. Refreshingly, they do at least have a low service area for wheelchair users so there isn’t any queuing involved when I go back during the interval. And I do, despite the price.

The show itself is a bloody marvel. It’s basically Berry Gordy’s story. Inspired by a radio broadcast of Joe Louis winning the heavyweight championship of the world in the late 1930’s Gordy borrowed some dough from his sister and set out to prove that a black man could be a success in the music business in America. Aswell as Gordy all the other famous Motown players are here from Smokey Robinson to The Supremes, to Marvin Gaye and The Temptations. The young lad playing Michael Jackson turns in a quite astonishing performance, albeit a little too fleeting for my liking. But this is very much Gordy’s story and centres heavily on his relationship with Diana Ross and the eventual ship-jumping that went on as artists fought to take their careers in a different musical direction. The story of Mary Wells is particularly unfortunate. The 'My Guy' singer left the Motown label for a better offer financially and faded into obscurity before dying of cancer before her 50th birthday. Sad stories notwithstanding, musically the show is sublime. Helen would love it.

During the interval the man sitting in the next wheelchair bay comes over to speak to me. This happens a lot on holiday. In Portugal it was Brendan, the Irish gentleman on the beach who along with his wife Gill managed to bump into us on several occasions. We had alerted them to the fact that there were free loungers to be had in the area of the beach we were in. I suppose other wheelchair users feel a connection, particularly in a foreign country where we’re all fighting against the same absurd access issues. Tonight’s kindred spirit is from Germany and he waxes lyrical about his love for Motown and musicals in general. It will be our only meeting, however, as he is setting sail for Folkestone tomorrow. It will take eight days to get there before he then flies on home to Hamburg. Rather him than me. Say what you like about American Airlines (and I do) but at least they will get me home in a matter of hours once I’m on board. The risk of wetting myself is worth taking for a swifter end to my journey. Eight days on a ship does not really appeal too much.

Not if it is going to Folkestone.

Saturday, 5 July 2014


What's the best film ever set in Philadelphia?

The city itself is the title of one contender. I haven't sat through it myself but if Tom Hanks can win an Oscar in the lead role then Philadelphia must have some merit. I could make a strong case for Silver Linings Playbook which, were it not for the fact that its main protagonists played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are stark staring bonkers, might otherwise be an ordinary rom-com. It is much more than that. It's a modern classic which I heartily recommend you watch if you haven't already.

But even that isn't the best. As we all know the best film ever to be set in the city of Philadelphia is Rocky. Not the fun but hysterically bloated sequels but the 1977 Best Picture winning original. Do you remember the scene where Rocky is on a training run around the city and all the children chase after him? It ends with him climbing the steps to City Hall (except it's not, more on which later) at which point there is much jumping up and down and air-punching. Right there is where I'm going today. We're going to Philadelphia.

We're risking life and limb again by taking yet another form of New York public transport. Following our travails with the subway we're going to dabble in the use of the regular rail system. Penn Station sits between 31st and 34th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue and, though the trains which leave from it are not subway trains, it is based solely underground. It sits underground because above the ground on that particular patch of land you will find Madison Square Garden. Madison Square Garden is not in Madison Square. It has been moved around New York several times but it seems that the owners just liked the name and wanted to keep it. Maybe they recognised its value as a brand but as noble as that would be it strikes me as very old fashioned to hang on to a name for that reason. Stadia don't have names like Petco Park, Met Life Stadium, The Etihad and The Emirates because they're recognisable and iconic. And that's not a cynical suggestion.

As is the way of things we have to carry on down to 31st Street to find the accessible entrance, and do so after initially getting into the wrong lift at 33rd Street. However, and brace yourself because I am about so say something positive about access in New York, the Amtrak rail company is several worlds better than those I have experienced in the UK. It takes a while to wade through the queue to buy the very expensive tickets ($98 or around £60 return per person) but once we have done that we find that there is a designated area for passengers who require assistance boarding the train. We are met by someone who leads us through several corridors via multiple lifts but within a few minutes we are right next to our train. I could board this by myself because the platform, unlike most in the UK, is at a sensible height in relation to the train. However, I decide it is more polite to wait for our assistant to get the 'bridge' for me. The bridge is basically a very small ramp which helps smooth out the path on to the train. Some wheelchair users might be glad of it but a lot would be able to do without. Either way it is a far cry from home, where you get left on the train and end up in Waterloo and they send you a £1 voucher by way of apology. You also get free Wifi on board an Amtrak train which allows me to annoy everyone by announcing my whereabouts and my destination on Facebook.

The journey to Market Street Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania takes around 90 minutes. We arrive around 11.00am and are directed by an unusually polite customer service person towards the city centre. It's a long walk before we reach civilisation. Having skipped breakfast to make sure that we got to the station on time the first priority is to find somewhere to eat. For what seems like miles but in reality is probably about 20 blocks there is very little except 7-11s and pizza places. A man stops me in the street and tells me to never give up. I'm not sure if he is talking about my quest for food but I ask him for some advice on the matter anyway. He says something about great beef steaks or something somewhere or other but even as he is explaining where we might get them I know it isn't my thing. We're looking for a cafe or a pub.

Eventually we find one. In Panero Bread they call your name out when your order is ready. Over a microphone for everyone to hear. And they sell cookies and cakes for 99 cents. The only other thing it is possible to purchase for 99 cents on this trip is a generous slice of pizza. You take the bargains where you can find them. We head back out on to the street and almost by accident come across the main visitors centre. The first thing I notice is a small statue of Rocky, not like the one from the film which we will get to later, but more like how he is on that training run. With that gray jogging suit on that he says brings him luck and which Mickey says brings flies. Then I notice a man dressed in full Founding Fathers get up walking around the centre. He's trying to drum up business for a walking tour of the city. This is something we do in a lot of cities we visit and since we haven't really got a clue where we are going, only an idea that we want to see the Rocky statue, the steps and the Liberty Bell, we decide to join him.

His name is Clark De Leon. That alone makes him a suitable tour guide. We almost get a freebie as he starts telling us the first of a thousand tales of Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately we're too honest for our own good and so Emma points out that we haven't actually paid yet. It's $19 each, about £11.50. From the moment that Clark discovers that we haven't paid to the moment we receive our tickets he doesn't say another word. Almost as if he is coin operated. No money, no information. Once we are on our way he takes us outside the building and points out the building where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Philadelphia is often desribed as the birthplace of America. It was the original capital city before Washington was built and housed all of the important political buildings. Independence Hall is where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Consitution were debated, while just across the square you will find the former residence of George Washington, the first President Of The United States. Congress Hall was the seat of the United States Congress until 1800.

On top of City Hall which is the house of government in the city there is a statue of William Penn. Penn founded the state of Pennsylvania when King Charles II awarded him a huge plot of land west of what is now New Jersey. The statue made City Hall the tallest building in Philadelphia and, according to Clark, it was agreed that no building in the city should ever be taller. This agreement was forgotten about in 1985 with the start of the construction of One Liberty Place, a skyscraper containing offices and a shopping centre. It is said that Penn, who lest we forget had been dead for 267 years by this point, was neverthless so miffed at having his statue usurped that he placed a curse on the city so that none of its sports teams would ever win a national championship. Or a world championship as the more hysterical and insular Americans like to call it. For 23 years after 1985 Philadelphia's sports teams failed miserably to carry off a title until finally, the Phillies won the 2008 baseball World Series. It is said that the curse had been lifted when a group of men working on the 975ft Comcast Center in Philadelphia placed a small figurine of Penn on one of the beams.

All of which seems a likely story. As do several of the tales of Benjamin Franklin with which Clark regales us throughout the tour. One of the original Founding Fathers, Franklin was apparently an inventor and a scientist aswell as a politician and the founder of Philadelphia's fire service and university among many, many other things. Ironically the fire station is currently closed because it burned down a few months before our visit. That wouldn't have happened in Benjamin Franklin's day, you imagine if you listen to Clark for long enough. He just loves the bloke. I doubt today's politicians will enjoy that level of popularity over 200 years after their deaths. If they are not remembered for their infamy then they should be forgotten about altogether. Unless they invent something, maybe.

Now normally there is no place for the church in this column but I should point out that we did enter Christ Church during our walk. This is the place where Penn was baptised and which still, to this day, brainwashes otherwise intelligent adults with the foolhardy notion of creationism. There's a man there who seems to know Clark and he stops for a chat with us. He might be a religious man like a priest or a vicar or something I don't know. I'm too militantly atheist to care. He might just look after the place. Good on him for that if he does because, as much as I dislike religion, rather like the monarchy churches have historical value. Also, amid the God bothering there is one interesting artefact, one of the original bells which rang to signify independence from those pesky Brits. When he learns that we are from England the man is keen to let us know that he is a big Liverpool fan. Clark looks mystified by our brief conversation and even more so when the man turns to him and says that Liverpool has 'the best motto in sports';

"You'll Never Walk Alone" he says proudly.

I'm not sure it is a motto exactly but he's right about its unique significance. Also, I'm charmed by the fact that he can make a reference to walking without feeling the slightest bit guilty or embarrassed about it. And then he loses all credibility as a Liverpool fan by declaring that he loves Sir Alex Ferguson.

"You have to respect what he's done." I admit reluctantly, and he nods as if he agrees that 'respect' might be more appropriate than 'love'.

When we get back to the visitors centre we pass a large queue. Hordes of people are waiting to get a look at the Liberty Bell. After a quick drink in the centre café we join the queue. A woman is loudly and wrongly telling anyone who will listen that Ryan Giggs could have played football for England but chose Wales instead. It's nice to think that we might have been able to avoid all those years of Stewart Downing and Darren Anderton but it's just not true. The Liberty Bell used to hang from Independence Hall and it is widely and perhaps wrongly believed that it too was one of the bells which rang following independence. Perhaps the woman in the queue with the Ryan Giggs story started the rumours about the Liberty Bell too. What we do know is that it was taken down when it was cracked (exactly when and how it was damaged is unclear) and was subsequently adopted as a symbol of freedom by abolitionists in the fight to end slavery. Funny how things turn out. When we reach the front of the queue we are led through a small exhibition detailing the bell's history before reaching the bell itself. It is a small wonder that it has not fallen to pieces completely such is the size of the crack running through it. Yet somehow it survives and attracts millions of visitors worldwide. Most of them in that queue today.

For some reason we believed that the steps made famous in the Rocky films where outside City Hall. They are not, but had we not made this mistake we may not have got a close look at the place. With time running out until our train back to New York we decide to take a bus out to where the real steps are located, the Museum of Art. The museum is also home to the Rocky statue. You might remember its unveiling being rudely interrupted by Mr T, or if not you may recall Rocky throwing his motorcycle helmet at it in anger at some point further along, well after the whole thing had got a little too Thunderlips crazy for my tastes. But I still want to have my photograph taken with it. The bus ride is nervy, not just because of our track record with American public transport, but because I don't know how far it is to the museum and whether we will have enough time to get back for the train at 6.50pm. If we miss that train we will be looking for a hotel.

Fortunately we don't, and I get that photograph with the Rocky statue. Most people of a similar mind are adopting various boxing poses but I don't go in for all that. It's enough to just be in the photo with an iconic cinematic prop. And I look silly enough in photographs without giving it 'Rocky On Wheels'. It's a little less shiny than I remember it from the films. It's old now, I suppose. Across the park is the museum and those famous steps. The statue is on top of the steps in the film, but they have dispensed with that idea here. Presumably they don't want hordes of people standing outside the entrance to the museum posing for photographs with Rocky before buggering off home without learning a single thing about art. Disappointingly, not one person runs up the steps punching the air and pretending to have a stitch. While wearing a fly-infested gray tracksuit.

We still have an hour to get back to the train station so we skip the bus ride and get there by ourselves. We're not completely sure of the way but again the block system helps and we're back in good time. Again the Amtrak staff are absurdly helpful, heaping more shame on Northern Rail as the minutes go by. Knackered but enlightened we stop for a late meal at Pigalle next door to the hotel having ticked off another on the list of American states to visit.

"She turns and says are you alright, oh I must be fine cos my heart's still beating"

If anyone can work out the significance of that they get a free pint......

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

New York - Tuesday Night Baseball

Each and every time Emma and I have been to the United States together we have been to see a baseball game. Sometimes two, as with this trip. It's become a traditional part of our transatlantic treks. We've been to the homes of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres and tonight we are travelling to Citifield, home of the New York Mets.

Which is at least in New York City. The Rays play in St.Petersburg while New York's two NFL teams share a stadium in New Jersey. A different state! The Dallas Cowboys play in Arlington while from next season the San Francisco 49ers will play in Santa Clara, some 45 miles away. This is the equivalent of Manchester United upping sticks to Leeds. In American sports teams are located wherever their already rich owners believe will make them the most money. It's not about the team, the fans or the city they represent but about the 'franchise'. Franchising is the single worst thing that has ever happened to sport in which there has been no loss of life. Forget about diving, spitting, biting, top eight playoff systems, Grand Finals, rugby union as a concept and even Eddie Hearn. The smug parasite. Placing sports teams in the hands of capitalist greed-hounds and allowing them to move those teams to wherever they like is utterly anti-sport and shows a complete lack of regard for the many rich traditions and histories that have been built throughout all sports. Progress, in other words.

Now that the politics is out of the way the important point to make is that this will be the first time we have ever taken the subway to a baseball game. Emma's dad drove to St.Petersburg, while Emma herself did the honours in LA. We took the tram to Petco Park in San Diego. It was all every easy. But getting to Citifield in Queens promises to be a little more problematic. As I have alluded to in earlier entries the subway station serving Citifield is not accessible to wheelchair users most of the time. Mets-Willets station only has one accessible platform. That is one platform which can be used to reach a lift or a ramp to get out on to the road across from the stadium. Feeling rightly guilty about this, MTA have decided that they will use that platform (and therefore make the station accessible) from 90 minutes before every Mets home game and for 45 minutes afterwards. That is the plan in any case. The reality, as regular readers currently sighing into their coffee at this moment will already know, is somewhat different.

You have to take the 7 train to Mets-Willets station from 42nd and Times Square. Except there are two 7 trains. You can't take the 7 express because it doesn't stop at the right platform at Mets-Willets. You have to take the 7 local. Figuring this out is easy enough if you do your research, but the problem with it is that, not being an express, it stops at what seems like 746 stations on the way. It takes well over 45 minutes to get to Mets-Willets this way, which may have been a little shorter if there had not been a delay of at least 10 minutes due to signalling problems. At least that is what I think it was. The announcements on board the train are quite muffled and hearing them is doubly tricky when you consider that they are delivered in a heavy New York accent.

Eventually we arrive at Mets-Willets station and the doors to the left of the train (if you are facing the front) open. We disembark, feeling a wave of relief at having reached our destination. It is short lived. This platform is not accessible. Unfathomably, the doors have only been opened for the inaccessible platform. We needed to have exited the train on the other side. We're stranded. The advertised access within the 90-minute time frame is exposed as a lie and the words to the letter of complaint are already forming. At this point we have a stroke of luck. Ordinarily the 7 local would leave Mets-Willets and carry on to Main Street in Flushing. But today it will not. Today Mets-Willets is the end of the line. After a brief and exasperated discussion with the platform staff about how the feck we could have been led out on to the wrong platform they agree to hold the train and open it up again. We will get back on board and be allowed to exit on the other side where we can get out towards the ramp leading to the road across from the stadium. It's a narrow escape and leaves us even more apprehensive about the journey back. We already know that we will have to get back on the 7 local travelling in the wrong direction before coming back on ourselves because of the access situation. Now we are having doubts about the feasibility of even that.

A very nice and helpful gentleman greets us at the ramp. He wearily listens to the wrong platform tale as if he has heard it all before, which if the level of access we have experienced is anything to go by he probably has. Then he reveals to us the secrets of the wheelchair user exits at New York subway stations. The swipe cards are for wheelchair users who live in and around the New York area and so therefore are regular users of the system. Tourists have no need for them. It turns out that either your companion can swipe through and then open the gate, or you can do it yourself if you know how to follow the incomprehensible instructions. You are instructed to roll your arm over, which sounds like something Shane Warne used to do. However, you are also told that if you open the gate an alarm will sound, so why wouldn't you think that there was some sort of swipe system in operation for everyone to make sure that fares have been paid? It's all very confusing. That roll of the arm they mention is more like a roll of the wrist as it turns out, and whether or not an alarm goes off seems to be pot luck.

Once across the road and on the stadium grounds we are directed to 'Hodges' which is the posh bit. The VIP area. We pass a dog dressed in a Mets cap and shirt with a fake pipe in its mouth. Really. Then we are checked over for explosives and ushered through to a large lift. Its operated by stadium staff and we are advised that we need the fifth floor. We get off and head straight for the food and drink. We pay $29 for two hot dogs and two Bud Lights. That's about £18. This is where wheelchair users attending alone might have a problem. From the kiosks on the fifth floor you then have to head down another long corridor which is heavily sloped. Difficult to do if you are carrying a hot dog and a Bud Light. I'm sure the staff would have been happy to help but that isn't really the point. It would have been nice to have a kiosk somewhere nearer to our seats.

The seats themselves are in a fantastic spot in terms of the view. Being up on the fifth floor we are way up on a platform (an accessible one with no sign of any trains) just in front of the broadcast booths. We can see the stadium announcer as he warms up the crowd and tells us all about who is in the line-ups for the two teams. Just along from him, possibly working for a radio station is Bob Uecker. Bob played Harry Doyle in Major League Emma tells me, but I don't remember him. I have seen Major League once or twice, but the only thing I can clearly remember about it is a character in the crowd shouting 'wild thing, you make my butt sting' at an off-form Charlie Sheen. The Mets are facing the Milwaukee Brewers which leaves us in the possibly unenviable position of away supporters. Emma has been a Brewers fan since she first saw them in Wisconsin many years ago. And why should we support the Mets anyway given their pitiful level of access? We would have gone to Yankee Stadium had the world's most hated sports 'franchise' been playing at home during our stay. Surprisingly we are not on our own as a large group of Brewers fans get louder and louder as a direct consequence of their alcohol intake. By the end they are rivalling the barmy army, but perhaps with a little less wit.

Being at baseball is fun. Those who carp on about how it lasts too long are missing the point. The reason I don't watch it on television at home is that it is currently covered by a broadcaster who's channel I don't subscribe to and who have to put it on too late because of the time difference. Also they play a jaw-dropping 162 games during the regular season, a fact that Greg Dyke's barm-pot commission might want to consider next time they are discussing burnout as a possible reason for the disappointing performances of the England football team. In the end we are a little disappointed ourselves as the Brewers go down 6-2 to the Mets, but we know better than to express any dismay. In the lift on the way out a woman explains how she was happy for an opposing player because he had hit his first home run of the season. I try to imagine myself feeling happy for any player who had just scored a game-winning try against Saints or a goal against Liverpool and I can't find it in me. Maybe like the movement involved in franchising, wishing an opponent well after a notable achievement is a part of American sports that I'm never going to fully get.

The journey back is mercifully uneventful. The 7 local takes us to Main Street in Flushing, where we have to wait for it a while before it begins its journey in the opposite direction back to 42nd and Time Square. We are back here on Sunday for the visit of the San Diego Padres, another team we have a slight affection for after our hugely enjoyable stay there in 2011.

Something tells me that journey won't be simple.

Several weeks later we received this fob from MTA;

This is in response to your e-mail message to MTA New York City Transit regarding an incident you experienced at the Mets-Willets Point station.

We care about our ADA customers and make every attempt to ensure accessibility at our ADA-compliant stations. New York City Transit, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has a long-term plan that provides for making a total of 100 key subway stations accessible. In connection with federal guidelines and in cooperation with ADA advocacy organizations, the MTA identified 100 key stations and facilities where compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) would benefit the most people, analyzing such factors as high ridership, transfer points, and service to major areas of activity. These stations were given priority in our station-renovation program. This will create a network of stations which, when combined with our fully-accessible bus fleet, will make almost all of NYC Transit’s service area accessible to senior citizens and persons with disabilities.

The Mets-Willets Point station is not an ADA-compliant station. However, on game days, No. 7 trains open onto a “special events” platform on the south side of the station which ramps down to the overpass to Flushing Meadows Park. This creates a wheelchair accessible route to Citi Field. Under normal circumstances, we would not have scheduled a service change on a game day, but the sheer volume of work on the No. 7 line this summer required this change. Nevertheless, we have procedures in place should a customer in a wheelchair detrain at a station other than at an ADA accessible station, or at an ADA station where the elevator is inoperable. In this situation, you should have been advised to ride the train one more stop to the Flushing-Main Street station which is ADA-accessible and then ride the Q48 bus back to the Mets-Willets Point station. We apologize for any incorrect information you received from our employees.

In the future, we will post signs on our trains when the ramp is not accessible.

Please also note that the MTA Guide to Accessible Transit, which includes accessible station information, is readily available on our website at

We take the concerns of our customers seriously and thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.

Caroline Morgan
Customer Services