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LondonBus373570At 6am today, I was rudely awoken by a horrifyingly bad nightmare, although that was the least of my worries. It was an unforgivably dark Monday morning, unforgivable only because the usual organic tweet and twitter of birds dwelling in the Midwestern sunrise did not greet me as I slurped my coffee. My brain immediately reverted to it’s former 28 years of conditioning: Carolyn, there is an unrelenting torrent of rain banging against your window and an insipid grey, overcast sky hanging overhead. Which must mean you are about to grab your coat and brolly and walk 15 minutes to the nearest Piccadilly line station to cram on a Tube to work. The Family Fortunes’ buzzer sounded in my head: “ih-irr! Wrong answer!” No, I was in St. Louis, I was self-employed with a car parked outside and my half-asleep mechanisms were going to have to make an abrupt stop, right now. And this was where my frustration began. I was being forced to switch gears far too early in the morning and for something as apparently inane as torrential rain. As a result, I started feeling homesick for the miserable weather I fought to leave and the old reliable routine it induced; a ride on a leaky carriage, sparks flying off live rails, wet umbrellas ruining belongings, steamed up windows and the comfort of moaning Britons all around.  Yet when I last checked, my Facebook reported at least three London friends wailing and pining to live in New York City after their very first visit to America in said city. I was once in their shoes. I got as far as St Louis, Missouri–further than most Britons get, and I don’t overlook that. But what is this fascination we Britons have with America and what is it based on?

With all the grudge-holding towards the US that Britain received infamy for after the Declaration of Independance in 1776, it is a small miracle that our nations are still friends today. All jokes aside about the national stereotypes of surly Father Britain disapproving of the behaviour of it’s “immature” young son, America, our relationship to each other is a fortunate and beneficial one in both directions. For participants, Britons hanker after America’s “bigger, better” attitude longingly, Americans pine for Britain’s quaint richness for history, reserve and grandeur. Yet the current British public perception of geographical America is still, one only based on exposure to huge, popular cities like New York and LA. Not quite even viewing-range, given that these cities aren’t a reflection of the average American life. This is something that few Europeans are really aware of and the average American is quite aware of this. But who can hardly blame us? Our tellies inform us with American sitcom, romcom and dot.com businesses from these two prosperous cities day and night; we are dazzled with America as far as New York and LA have taught us, buying flights in our droves to return crying and pining with armfuls of currency-friendly shopping. We start fastidiously looking into visa programs and green card lotteries, seriously considering forsaking Queen and country. But the question remains, while life may be better when we switch countries, is life really better when we switch cities?

Many people have asked me if I am happy in my new country of residency. My response is that I am unable to answer that yet. Still speaking from a seat of transition, I can say with some surety that life is certainly better having switched countries and there are several reasons for this. Comparatively speaking, America is a nation governed in a fashion that has completely different reverberations at ground level. These aren’t always agreeable but generally speaking, it is sometimes a great improvement, having been born under a British government which operates in a way that affects the public differently. There is a marked quality difference in agriculture, farmed produce and many other necessary resources made available for reliable consumption and usage. However this is somewhat universal to the US, it is when we look at the city microcosm that things change. And quite simply because American life doesn’t merely hang on to the threads of existence on the East or West Coast, I have yet to find happiness in a US city that is not New York or LA. Thankfully, the search has only just begun.

It is no secret that I am a big city girl and a self-confessed urbanite. What I am doing in a city like St Louis confounds a lot of people, even sometimes myself. Living amongst 8 million people crammed into 609 square miles for approximately three decades has always been unequivocally normal to me. 25 million separate journeys are made everyday in the capital to and from work. In the 15 minutes before 9am, 200,000 people use London Underground and 8000 buses cover over 2000 miles of streets to get people to work. It is said that the average commuter travels the equivalent of 2.5 times around the planet to get to work: London’s Tubes cover 300,000 miles of underground tunnel. While astoundingly impressive, these are not statistics that Londoners have time to stop and contemplate, they are borne into the grain of everyday living. Unnoticed to us all, Londoners live shoulder to shoulder and move amongst people, people, people, everywhere, all the time, non-stop, unrelenting. To someone not born in these conditions, this is the ultimate worst nightmare; out comes the common hyperventilatory talk of claustrophobia, asphyxiation, suffocation, bombardment, panic. Yet to the rest of London, it is just an auto-pilot dance, business as usual, the hum of the concrete jungle, the nucleic energy driving the country, the rhythm that keeps the capital having the first say on everything (The chimes of Big Ben are transmitted to 183 million listeners across the globe). London is considered the hub of the trading world, not least because of the fact that London is in the centre of two major time zones. A trading day begins just as the Far East has reached close of day, and finishes just in time to catch New York’s market. 40% of the office space in Greater London is grouped around the square mile;  a typical day will see £640 billion passing through the trading system. And while I am sure that my current domicile has it’s own statistical boastings, any city has a lot to live up to when considering what I perceive normal. I won’t lie, living amongst 3 million people spread over 8,846 square miles is like living in a county bigger than Yorkshire—with LESS people: it is uncomfortably isolating and alienating.

To those who are considering moving to the US, I say come, it’s beautiful, there’s nowhere else in the world like it and I am sure you’ll succeed–it’s the American motto. But please, for your own sakes, study the demographic before hurriedly selling off your wares and applying for visas: there are at least, approximately 20,000 cities in all 50 states and you’ll likely only have money enough for one. Patience is a virtue; exercise it and you may learn a little more than what you thought you knew about what makes you tick.

Yankee_Stadium_1928-1936

Not one for keeping track of the pot of gold behind every sports’ team in the Western world, I surprised myself when looking at a friend’s holiday shots of New York City, and almost vomited in disgust at an apparently innocuous photo of the new Yankee Stadium. Shocked at my own reaction, after some thought, the penny dropped, as I recalled a previous conversation with a wise owl in the family, regarding the price New Yorkers had paid for such a photo. It was all I could do to withold the vein in my forehead and my passionate stance from my wide-eyed, innocent tourist friend, bless her; her pupils had been dilated for a week, it was her first time in America.

It is transparent even to the most sport-shy that this is a time where government expenditure on sports ventures has surpassed the burnt hole in the pocket of the public. Conditioned as we are to reading about the now customary financial ‘sport within a sport’ in European football (insert soccer), in the wake of the “celebration” of Cristiano Ronaldo’s cool £80 million transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid,  you would be hard pressed to believe that this was where the controversy ends with all sports worldwide -NFL included. No, one of the worst outrages pervading the baseball game since 1980 has not been simply about unmerited six figure sums exchanged for players. Venue construction costs have long been the source of discord in government budget meetings both in Britain and America, so it comes as no surprise that the much heralded Yankees stadium was at the helm of one such public mayoral spat for the last two decades.

After suffering the aggressive, exhausting renovation petition of the 80’s, infamously wielded by George “The Boss” Steinbrenner, New Yorkers will remember the subsequential outpouring of disgust at mayor Giuliani’s ludicrous $1.6 billion “tentative” proposal scheme for the Yankees and the Mets’ stadiums respectively. In comparison to the investment that original owners Huston and Ruppert forked out for on the first 1923 Yankee stadium, this made the original $2.5 million look like small change. NYS had accounted for the approximated $160 million 1974-75 renovation of the stadium in The Bronx, five years before the traumatic 1981 recession hit the United States. Irony has it, that while successive mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly redefined the terms on which the new ballpark would be built, construction was already underway just as this recent recession had begun to explode across world markets. My thoughts are that this has less to do with the Castignoli curse -thankfully since removed- than it has to do with government budgeting foresight; building began in 2006 (of which a horrifying $320 million went towards garage parking, of which $70 million was taxpayer-funded) and no less than 2 years later an impending recession had leaked its way out of the NYSE to the rest of the world. More than anyone else, my thoughts go towards communities in The Bronx; what it must feel like, to live across the street from a building that is valued over seven times more than the rest of property in South Bronx. You have to wonder if Bloomberg did at all much but reshuffle the cards Giuliani had cut for himself.

Londoners like myself can read this and wonder if there was a conspiracy going on in 2007 between then-mayor Livingstone and Mr Bloomberg; every Londoner remembers the incredulous £798 million spent doing EXACTLY the same thing with Wembley Stadium. After London taxpayers were burnt for a project that hardly needed complete reconstruction, the boast we have for this, is that the new Wembley Stadium is now the largest stadium in the world. Myself now living in baseball city, I have also grown accustomed to the groans of St Louisans who clink glasses with both New York and London regarding their new Busch stadium. The $365 million construction cost of demolishing the old stadium to bring in the new stadium plus the surrounding ‘Ballpark Village’, has hardly generated the revenue St Louis City had hoped to use rebuilding it’s dilapidated downtown image. As most of us cry out, what sort of nutcases are we paying our taxes to?

But as long as sport and fan loyalty thrives, our governments know they can get away with stubborn financial decisions like these, for people will continue to show up to games, matches and tournaments, begrudgingly paying inflated prices for tickets, hotdogs and beer. For every hattrick scored, every penalty shoot-out won or lost, for every home run we celebrate or concede, on the merry return home with face-paint, friends, chants and songs, the house always wins.