It's not every day you hear the following directions 'take the train to Babylon and change at Jamaica'. To New Yorkers there's absolutely nothing unusual in it, but every time the Long Island Rail Road announcer reminded us 'This is the train to Babylon', I failed to suppress a giggle.
Passing through Forest Hills and even Kew Gardens, our penultimate stop is announced: 'Country Life Press. This is Country Life Press'. I thought Country Life was a magazine that sold stately homes (aka property porn), announced society engagements and whose editorial content still included coverage of debutante coming out balls. This is a place?
The temperature outside was in the high nineties but the train was air-cooled and spacious. Either we had allowed too much time for our journey at the other end or the audience for the show we were travelling to see would not be commuting from the city. The people who were on the train had all packed fold-away chairs, parasols and cool boxes. The city feels so far away from the beach, but in fact it is probably much, much closer then Brighton is to London, if Brighton is the beach you would choose. One by one they filed out for a day of sea and sunshine, cold beer and ice cream, just like being on holiday. And us? We were on our way to an ice hockey arena in the middle of nowhere to see some dragons!
The tickets were not at the box office but the staff were persuaded, maybe by our accent, that we were telling the truth when we said that we were guests and eventually we took our seats in the Nassau Coliseum for a stadium-sized lesson in 'How to Train Your Dragon'.
As the lights dimmed, the horns on the child-sized Viking helmets flashed red and blue in unison and the excitement was tangible. Then the fire canons exploded into flames and the story began.
The last time I had seen an arena show was with my niece, Victoria, who must have been 5 years old. It was, of all things, Jungle Book On Ice and it still ranks as one of the unlikeliest entertainment experiences I have ever had. How far the arena show has come.... These dragons were acting, were real, were spectacular; they were most definitely not on ice.
After joining the line at a merch stand (afore-mentioned Viking helmet plus Toothless model purchased by Ryan, for his nephew) we went in search of interval refreshments. The ice hockey-friendly concessions made no concession for a theatre crowd (if indeed that is what we were part of). 'What is GATT-OH-RAAD?' I asked Ryan, out loud. A small diet coke the size of a champagne bucket and a half-baked pretzel was all I could find. Ryan risked nachos with a helping of unidentifiable sauce that, I kid you not, glowed in the dark.I don't think cheese had much to do with it.
The second half raised the bar even higher as the anthemic strains of Jonsi pulsated in time to our pounding hearts. I could have watched it all over again.
The taxi situation was a reminder that, despite the quality of the show we had just seen, we were a long way from theatre land and the only thing that would appear if an arm was raised in the air was a sweat patch. On arriving at Hempstead there was a cab available (Taxi Latino) but we knew it had been too good to be true when the driver announced he was collecting his wife en route 'she works near the stadium'. We didn't feel like we could argue. The same guy promised to collect us after the show but he didn't turn up and we were left stranded. A very helpful security guard gave us a another local cab number and we waited in a small tree's worth of shade, anxious to get back to civilisation.
When the city reappeared it was as though we had travelled through the set of To Kill A Mockingbird to get there. And there it was, tall and proud and hot as Hades (in a sexy and literal sense). Of all the experiences we had there that weekend, the journey (almost) to Babylon and back was by far the least London-like, the most American and the one, unfortunately, that will never be repeated.