Fifty-two years ago today I began my life as an immigrant in New York. I’d flown in the night before and had already found America was full of surprises.
By Reg Green
On the coldest night I had ever known, I’d checked into the Iroquois hotel, just a block or two from Times Square. I was elated to be here, my dream since I was a small boy.
But when I told the receptionist I’d like dinner, he shook his head mournfully: “The restaurant’s closed. It’s Sunday.” I know from Frank Sinatra that this is a city that never sleeps but it was news to me that it doesn’t eat either.
The street in front of the hotel was black and deserted. I had to try, however, so putting on every layer of clothing that would fit, I stepped outside. Almost immediately I caught a glimpse of light in a window on the corner. “That’s it,” I said out loud. Deflatingly, it turned out to be an office that had left a light on. But now another light became visible and I went there (another office! didn’t these people know you had to turn off lights you weren’t using?) and, like a ship going from lighthouse to lighthouse, I went to yet another and (oh, joy) it was an International House of Pancakes, every table empty. To this day every time I see an IHOP I feel again that thrill of discovery.
“Are you sure a halfstack will be enough?” I asked the waiter, “I’m very hungry.” “It’ll do you,” he replied reassuringly (another surprise: wasn’t this the land of the slick salesman?) and within moments he delivered what, to my just-off-the-banana-boat-eyes, looked like the tower of Pisa, the maple syrup available in unlimited amounts, the price less than it would have been in London and a waiter who sat with me and bantered good-naturedly.
“What a generous, warm-hearted and welcoming country,” I thought and after 52 years my gratitude is undiminished.
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