It's a matter of great regret to me that I didn't think to ask for a window seat on the DC-10 taking me to New York. Because of this I missed taking a last, lingering look at San Francisco, that beautiful city on the bay. No, my final glimpse of SF came as Rich Coad drove me to Oakland Airport by way of the Bay Bridge, a magnificent structure destined to suffer a partial collapse during the big earthquake five years later. Once over the bridge I'd made a few desultory notes, jotting down names from various road-signs (I added 'Yerba Buena', 'San Jose' and 'Alameda' to my collection) and also been amused to discover that on the airport approach road, Hegenberger Road, was a fast-food joint selling something called, inevitably, 'Hegen Burgers'. Rich and I had said goodbye to each other at the airport in manly fashion and now here I was, soaring into those clear blue Californian skies bound for the self-proclaimed 'greatest city in the world!'

The distance from San Francisco to New York isn't too short of that from New York to London, so I must have been in the air for a long time. Quite how long I'm unsure, thanks to the time zones we crossed and to the fact that a great fatigue was settling over me, a spaced out feeling that I'm now sure was a combination of delayed culture shock and a jet-lag still lingering thanks to the late nights I'd enjoyed at L.A.CON II. This was only my third ever time in a plane but I was already a little jaded with air-travel. Even had I had a window seat I suspect I would have ignored the view this time. Lost in reverie, I spent most of the flight staring into space.

It was early evening when we landed at New Jersey's Newark Airport, then the entry point for most Britons visiting America, and after collecting my luggage I went in search of my native guide. Arrangements had been made for Tom Weber to meet me, but as we'd never met before I had to rely on descriptions I'd been given. In the event this wasn't a problem since not only is Tom considerably shorter than most people but he was wearing a 'Forbidden Planet' T-shirt (from the store, not the film). We shook hands and then Tom led me outside to the bus stop, where we caught a bus to New York. It was while on the bus that I discovered I'd left my camera on the plane. I'd only shot a third of a roll, but it contained all the photos I'd taken at the party Rich and Stacy had thrown for me in San Francisco. A call to the airport some time later proved futile, as I thought it would. It's the loss of the pictures I regret more than that of the camera, which was only a cheap 110 anyway. I didn't know it yet, but this was to be only the beginning of my problems with cameras in New York.

The road between Newark and New York skirted some fairly uninteresting swampland and even more uninteresting industrial buildings. I couldn't help but think that, given the huge numbers of visitors whose first view of the state this is, New Jersey's administrators could do a lot to help their state's unfortunate image by sprucing up the view along that road. My heartbeat quickened when we were afforded a brief glimpse of Manhattan as the twin towers of the World Trade Center came into view over the tall grass. (New York! I would soon be in New York!) Tom quizzed me about L.A.CON II as we travelled over the New Jersey turnpike and, shortly after the turn-off to the George Washington Bridge, I caught my first sight of the Empire State Building and other sky-scrapers over the tops of some trees. There was a sign on the right pointing to Hoboken, and then we were barrelling through the Lincoln Tunnel under the Hudson River. Almost before I knew it, we'd emerged in Manhattan, traversed various nondescript streets, and arrived at our destination, the Port Authority terminal on 42nd and 8th.

The Port Authority was a bleak, unpleasant and threatening place peopled by derelicts and a number of suspicious-looking characters. I was glad that we didn't hang around there but proceeded directly to the nearest subway station.

This, too, was a vaguely menacing place, since the New York Subway Authority takes a minimalist approach to decoration. The station was all bare steelwork and exposed I-beams, neo-primitive brutalism made even more unbearable by the teeth-rattling cacophany produced every time a train thundered through. And those trains!

Subway car graffiti

Like most people, I'd seen news items and the like about New York graffiti, usually with various critics and poseurs waxing lyrical about how wonderfully creative it all was and how New York was the only city in the world that gets a fresh coat of art every night. This is bullshit. Given the brutal impersonality of the subway I can understand the urge humanise it with something like graffiti, but the graffiti on the subway only added to the dehumanising effect. It was not so much an artistic outlet as a howl of rage, a chillingly nihilistic expression of despair and the death of hope. Or so it seemed to me on that long ago day. The train we boarded was both unbelievable and typical. Not only was it spray-painted on the outside but also on the inside. The walls, the ceiling, the floor and the windows were all concealed beneath multi-coloured swirls of paint -- as were the hard plastic seats and the subway maps! Not only could you not see out of many of the windows, but you couldn't tell where you were heading from the maps either. Going down into the subway was like descending into Hell, and I was glad when we arrived at our destination.

Thus far my first impressions of New York had not been very positive, so I was pleased by the familarity of the surroundings we encountered on emerging from the subway in Greenwich Village. Oh, the buildings were different and the billboards trumpeted brand names I'd never heard of, but for all that I was obviously in an alien environment the ambiance of the area was remarkably like that of the theatre district around London's Covent Garden. The hustle and bustle, the busy little cafes and the arty-types on the street were all very reassuring. It was with my spirits thus lifted that we arrived at the Chinese restaurant where some of the city's most active fanzine fans awaited me.

Moshe Feder and Lise Eisenberg I'd met at L.A.CON II, and Stu Shiffman I'd known for a couple of years, but this was my first meeting with the others. They were John Carl (about whom my notes say nothing, and of whom I'm afraid I now recall very little), and Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden, whose writing and fanzines I'd admired since first encountering them two or three years earlier. Patrick was short and dapper, bespectacled and moustached, and moved in a way that reminded me curiously of Groucho Marx. Teresa was also short and bespectacled, with broad, attractive features and had her hair styled in short, tight curls that (I hope she won't mind me saying) were the least attractive of the many ways I've seen her hair styled since. Still, these were merely superficial details and in what counted, in their personalities and conversation, they were as sharp and delightful as their fanwriting had promised they would be. As usual my notes fail totally to give any clue as to what it was we discussed, but then I hardly need notes for that. Apart from the sort of stuff any group of fans with a TAFF winner in their midst would talk about, the main topic was what it was during most of my trip: the Bergeron Affair. At this point most everyone still thought he could be reasoned with and the conversation centred on speculation as to just why he appeared to have gone crazy, and just what could be done to bring him to his senses. No-one then realised that over the next few months the affair would develop into the most damaging feud to hit fandom in twenty years, or that many of us at that table would find ourselves deeply embroiled in it. Much of fanzine fandom would be plunged into war, with effects that persist to this day.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Stu Shiffman

Chinese food is to US fans what Indian food is to British fans, and also better than the Chinese food generally available in the UK. (This was largely due to a difference in cuisine, I later learned, Cantonese being the dominant style over here and Sichuan in America.) After eating we returned to the subway station by way of a slight detour that took us past the building that once housed Towner Hall, the famous early-60s home of VOID boys Ted White, Terry Carr, Pete Graham, and Greg Benford. Located on the corner of West 10th Street and 7th Avenue at number 163A, the address was now -- appropriately enough -- a Chinese restaurant. It was called the 'China Taste Restaurant' and Patrick got me a copy of their menu as a souvenir.

"We bring lots of visitors here," said Patrick, as we moved off, "and I often wonder what the current owner makes of these groups of people that turn up periodically to stare at his restaurant. OK everyone," he announced, pointing to the left, "we bear right here."

At this point Teresa started laughing and fell down on the sidewalk. This was my first direct experience of Teresa's unique neurological problem, the result of a condition associated with her narcolepsy that makes it impossible for her to stay upright when something makes her laugh. We've all heard the expression about people falling down laughing, but I never imagined I'd ever witness this phenomenon myself. Though it shames me to admit it, I realised there and then that before my visit to New York was over I had to say something myself that was funny enough to make Teresa fall over. It's hell being competitive.

Somehow night had crept over the city and I began to feel just how tired I was. I was grateful, therefore, when we decided to take the subway to Washington Heights, the district at the far northern end of Manhattan island where Stu and the Neilsen Haydens lived. We got off at the relevant station, 190 Street, and Stu pointed out the 'Taki 183' graffito on a column, explaining that these first started appearing in 1969-70 and sparked off the graffiti explosion that had buried the subway. Historic graffiti! Whatever next?

The alarming buildings-on-stilts of Washington Heights

I was staying at with Stu at his famed 19 Broadway Terrace apartment while in New York, and I was quite curious to see this fabled fannish address. As we entered, Stu explained that he had earlier set off a "bug-bomb" which, he assured me, should have cleared the apartment of cockroaches. I almost wish he hadn't since, having never seen a cockroach before (and having been assured by other New York fans that Stu's was the place to observe them), I'd rather been looking forward to finally coming face to face with one of the hideous brutes. Oh well, that was one famous New York sight to save for a future visit.

Stu's place was as cluttered with mounds of old magazines and dangerously unstable piles of books as my own flat, and I felt instantly at home. I admired the fannish memorabilia about the place, chuckling at the image of Roscoe on the wall with the light-switch protruding from what Dave Langford once described as a "theologically debatable part of his anatomy".

The apartment was small -- four rooms -- but servicable and, after a brief chat with Stu, I settled down on the sofa that was serving as my bed. I was soon asleep. Tomorrow I'd be refreshed, and able to get out and explore this strangely compelling city called New York.