Chicago to Iceland by way of New York City

The camp was down to travel into the concrete jungle that is the Big Apple, Gotham whatever you want to call it; but only the brave few tend to venture into the seething masses that is Manhattan.  I haven’t been scared of anything since the summer of 2000; that was when I started to make a living of jumping out of airplanes.  New York City was a kitten compared to the straight-up combat that I was used to and a jaunt into its core was more than welcoming.  It beat sitting in the airport for damn-near 8 hours and I needed to release some over stock of surplus of energy from Riot Fest in Chicago from the Saturday before.

Flying into JFK, I looked out the window with child-like amazement.  My headphones blasted Bad Brains as the blond-haired debutant next to me was fixing her makeup.  I guess it only makes sense to dude yourself up before you touch down in Gotham.  Looking below, I could see the water was dark and the rapid decent brought on the feeling of spiral landing into Baghdad International Airport.  The white crests of the waves and the dark greyish blue water contrasted perfectly against the hulls of oil tankers and trash barges below.  As we drew closer to landing, I noticed the white sandy beaches were butted up against high-rise buildings and trash heaps.

After checking my bags, I hopped the E Train into Manhattan.  The New York City subway system rumbles underground like some metal subterranean worm.  Each hiss and crack from the tracks gives an air of speeding under the teeming masses above with a lightning quickness.  The subway car was filled with all spans of humanity, from the veiled Persian woman to the over-cologned Hispanic man in a Canadian tuxedo.  The speckle-painted floor was surprisingly clean dispelling the rumors of dirty New York subways; at least for now.

My tattooed arms caught the attention of the veiled Persian.  I watched her looking at me; her eyes scanning up and down my arms.  She caught me catching her and she dropped her gaze back down to her laptop.  My train rumbled to a stop in Midtown Manhattan and I’m up to street level.  I blew into an Irish pub called the Tempest and order up some adult beverages.  The thick New York accents, sticky tabletops and Rangers hockey on the TV tells me I’m in the right place.  This is the kind of dive that could last a million years, much like the cockroaches after the apocalypse.

After some beers, its back on the train, back on a plane and back into the air.  I touch down in Iceland and the cold weather greets me with a brisk embrace.  After a rocky start, it was good to get some music under my belt.  I sit down in the music hall called Harpa in downtown Reykjavík and am immediately blasted by the rhythmic, brass dominated styling’s of Orphic Oxtra.  They were an incredible step through ‘60s jazz with an Icelandic twinge.  The 11-piece ensemble was warmer than the weather and deeper than the dark water outside.  Their sound trimmed around the “7 Samurais” genre of jazz music and encompassed a multitude of French arrangements complemented by a deep pounding tom drum.  The accordion was an interesting addition to a well-rounded sound.  There was plenty of trade off between the piano player and the horn section, subbing out traditional jazz for a more bohemian sound.  The smiling gypsy behind the standup bass tied the entire group together as they rolled through song after song.

By the end of the evening, I was merrily stumbling through the streets taking in the sights and sounds of my first evening of Iceland Airwaves.  Strolling through bar after bar, I take in bands like Bárujárn, an Icelandic three-piece tooling around with a surf rock sound.  A perfect end to a busy day and a great way to send off a road-weary traveler.


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