Will Self: PsychoGeography

The long walk to freedom
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The Independent Online

I've had some great walks in the States: bear pursuits (me in the front), in the Estes National Park, Colorado; promenading with rubber fetishists through the Tenderloin of San Francisco and then up Bunker Hill (you can read that sentence any way you like); and, of course, the obligatory high-stepping-moon-stomp from the Marine Corps's state-within-a-state at Twentynine Palms to Joshua Tree.

However, here are my most recent stateside fiascos:

Walk 1. JFK Immigration. Distance: 350m. Time: 3 hours. (Not advised for anyone with medical problems or jihadist convictions.)

I realise that this is a sensitive matter, but I think if recent events have established anything, it's that al-Qa'ida and its global affiliates, while being murderous, bigoted millenarians, are nonetheless not lacking in imagination or cunning. While having no desire to impugn the sterling work of the Department of Homeland Security, I put it to them that it's extremely unlikely that Osama is going to pitch up in the line-out at JFK, wearing a false non-beard and an Armani suit, then try to dodge the guy on the desk.

Sadly, as a US citizen, I was unable to take the three-hour walk into the US (aka "queue for Immigration") my wife and children had as a result of still more stringent security checks. Three hours after an 11-hour flight from Sao Paolo (and regular readers know what it's like down there). Three hours with two boys under 10, no water – obviously – and no place to sit down. Interesting that entry to the Land of the Free has become such a chain-gang experience.

I impressed on Mrs S that I would've loved to take the walk with her and the kids, if they'd have let me – she didn't seem convinced. Indeed, she didn't seem anything, being entirely mute, and unable even to rise to the exciting news that, having missed our connection to Albany, we would be staying the night in a Holiday Inn!

As the shuttle-bus clunked around the airport's elevated roads I noticed the exciting concrete defiles I had traversed on my walk to New York last year, and was on the verge of excitedly imparting this to Mrs S, when I noticed her "phone-your-divorce-lawyer" expression, and thought better of it.

Walk 2. The Springs Motel, Saratoga Springs to the Batcheller Inn. Distance (direct): 550m. (My way): 3kms.

To paraphrase Levi-Strauss on abstract painting: airline schedules have now become an expression of how airlines might timetable their services, were they by any chance to actually fly some planes. It took 40 hours by car, plane, shuttle-bus, cab, plane and hire car to get to Saratoga Springs from Paraty in Brazil. We arrived one hour exactly before my nephew, Robin Adams, was due to tie the knot with his charming girlfriend of longstanding, Julie Gedalecia, yet nevertheless failed to make the ceremony.

I blame Phred, the babysitter, but then I would, wouldn't I? I wonder what Phred will call himself when he gets his doctorate? Presumably: Phred Phd, or some such. Anyway, he told us to turn right down Broadway and we'd find the charming old Carpenter Gothic Batcheller Inn on the right. He neglected to mention that it was set back from the road, down Circular Street.

In my understandably zombie-like state, we strolled painfully on along the Broadway and into the downtown area of Saratoga, before we realised we'd overshot. I say we, but Mrs S, having long since taken a vow of silence apart from the occasional expletive, wasn't actively involved in the (dis)orientation. Charming town Saratoga, still possessed of great character – lovely place for a stroll, what with its fine, interwar spa area; impressively solid commercial buildings; and not forgetting the beautiful purlieus of Congress Park. Just not very lovely when you're on a jet-stream come-down.

We made the Batcheller eventually, and were in time to see Robin and Julie dance an impressive tango together. A dance inspired by their honeymoon destination: Argentina. Their flight south would carry them through the trail of my rapidly dispersed neurones.

Walk 3. The Chelsea Hotel Manhattan to the Empire State Building. Distance: 17 blocks. Time: 35 mins.

I always walk everywhere in Manhattan – don't you? It's such a friendly city to the pedestrian, what with its orderly graticule of streets and its wide sidewalks ... Well, yes. And then again: no. Driving in from upstate, only a day after landfall from the distinctly temperate southern continent, and with the Family drogue in tow, Manhattan's baking streets are no place to tread. The Flatiron Building looked as hot as a ... flat iron. When we eventually made it to the Empire State (it was the small boys first trip to NYC), Mrs S quite reasonably balked at the further walk (or "queue" as it's styled). Thank heavens for the Express Pass, which for a nugatory 50 bucks let's you jump up the building as fast as a superhero. If only all walks had express passes.

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