Round-Trip from NYC to Guyana Via JFK in One Night

by Jason Roth on July 21, 2010

One of these days, maybe I’ll stop being so impressed about what you can see, where you can go, and what you can eat when you live in New York City. But it hasn’t happened yet.

That's me on the bicycle, holding the iPhone.

A recent weeknight bike ride turned into one hell of an adventure, culminating in a meal consisting of a subset of a cuisine I had never had before. It was like someone beamed me to another planet and I got to eat what half the population eats when everybody’s mother has the day off. The evening’s discovery? Guyanese-Chinese restaurants. Blocks of them.

In this case, my roundabout “discovery” of the restaurant where I ended up was the most exciting part. I say this as a former Jersey kid who finds it immensely cool to be able to get on his bike and find himself wandering around the JFK Airport. I also say it as someone who finds it immensely annoying to hear a permutation of the phrase, “the journey is more important than the destination”. You seem to hear this from people who are less than satisfied with their destinations. As if they like the process of journeying to the shit-hole, they just don’t like being in the shit-hole. Me, I try to keep my journeys generally in the direction of non-shit-holes. I don’t always succeed, but I try.

Jersey kid feeling at home.

Getting to JFK was surprisingly easy from where I live in Queens. If you can find your way to Lefferts Blvd., it’ll take you all the way there. Oh, and to other clueless ex-Jersyite bike-riders: I recommend an iPhone. Nothing beats having some idea of where you’re going, but short of that, GPS will do. It was actually seeing JFK on the map not too far from where I had already biked that convinced me to go for it.

Trucker takes my advice. Poor guy.

It turns out that just because you see a big sign that says you’re at JFK Airport, it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily at the airport. Not in the “this is where people go to get on airplanes” sense of the term. JFK is a big place. After I snapped the photo of the sign and continued past the gas-tank-laden swamplands (wait, is this Queens or Newark?), I suddenly became the official JFK groundskeeper. A trucker stopped me at an intersection and called down for advice from some random guy on a bike that could only, by the grace of Steve Jobs, find his way back home. Nevertheless, I had just gotten into this maze, I could tell him how to get out.

Incidentally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Apple for including a “snap” sound in their iPhone photo software, thereby helping to preserve the phrase “snap a photo” in the English language. I’ll be damned if I’m going to beep a photo.

Maybe they're on their way to Guyana, too.

Soon after helping the trucker get the hell out of the maze that is the web of JFK back-roads, I found myself on… well, let’s call it a back-side road, which was true in both senses. I soon hear a car approaching me from behind along the garbage-strewn, pot-holed pavement.

Let’s just say that whoever was in the sketchy, red economy car could have had my iPhone and these photos long before I left the damn thing in the cab. (Yes, I lost it recently.) The car slowed down next to me, and I had one of those “how do I want to live my life?” moments: ignore the bastards on the premise that they were up to something, or assume the best? Instead, I told them both to fuck off. Just kidding. Actually, it turns out they were at the wrong airport entirely and were really looking for LaGuardia. (I guess they only saw the word “airport” on all the “JFK Int’l Airport” signs.) They mustn’t have been fans of the fact that my directions consisted of telling them to drive the way the crow flies, because they stopped the first car they encountered to get a second opinion.

Dude didn't trust my directions. (Smarter than the trucker.)

All this time driving around JFK, and still no sign of passengers. Where the hell was the main terminal? I was discovering where every third-rate shipping company parked its airplanes, but still no terminals. Clearly, there was only one thing to do. Kamikaze highway time. The cars had their lights on by now, so there was a pretty solid chance they’d be able to see me.

Not exactly a bike lane.

It turns out a bicycle helmet is actually good for something. Those branches along the Belt Parkway can be a bitch.

Relaxing, midweek, evening bicycle ride officially gets out of control. Usually, I just get lost, but this is even better.

Wait… wait… I think we might have something here…

Hopefully, the eighteenth Kennedy Airport sign might actually mean that Kennedy Airport is somewhere in the vicinity.

Good thing JFK is located within civilization, because it’s starting to get late and I’m in a country that possesses working light bulbs. Would I see an actual airplane and be able to take a photo to prove it? At first, no. I was too late on the draw and/or was too busy thinking the words “Holy shit!” as the first plane took off over me. I was only yards from the fence around the runway. Cool. Still, I sure as hell wasn’t leaving without something. So, there I stood with my flashless iPhone (not that a flash would have helped, except maybe to blind the pilot) and waited while the sun went down. At last, I finally commit an image to memory at 8:44 PM.

Loud, powerful, and impressive. But maybe you had to be there.

Ok, time to blow this joint. Must be that way. No, that way. Oh, shit, just open up Google maps for Christ’s sake.

Yes, I'm on a bike. You think I'm making this stuff up?

Shockingly, I’m not the only idiot exercising at an airport. A female jogger passes by, truckers and sketchy LaGuardia guys be damned. And she didn’t even have one of those all-powerful airport weapons like I had. (It was interesting that they let me this close to all those airplanes with a water bottle. That thing could have blown at any moment.)

Look carefully, she's there. Crazy chick didn't even have a bike.

Nineteen minutes later and the sun has set. I’m really hoping at this point that the Guayanese place I saw on the way here hasn’t closed yet. I have a blog post title in mind and I kind of need the part about “Guyana”.

Eastbound and down.

The only thing that could prevent me from getting home at this point is a hotel bar. If anyone loves a hotel bar, it’s me. Fortunately, though, it’s going to take more than Courtyard by Marriott. (Plus, the driver of their airport shuttle honked at me while I was taking the photo and it kind of spoiled the whole mood for me.)

The lure of the almighty hotel bar quickly loses its allure.

Getting back to Lefferts Blvd. took some time, with a brief visit through some immigrant neighborhood where post-sunset pastimes were sitting on the front stoop and driving cars through stop signs. I had a helmet, what did I care? But I kept peddling.

An iPhone Hansel and Gretel moment.

Eventually riding through a more populated area along Lefferts Blvd., I passed by a bus stop. Wait, was that…?

I tightened the brakes and drove back. Sure enough: there was the night doorman of my building in the process of commuting. I was only five minutes from a questionable neighborhood, one he might have lived in, and feeling like I was about to live out the beginning of Grand Canyon and/or Judgment Night. (Just seeing the latter movie was bad enough, believe me.)

So many Guyanese restaurants available, I had my pick. (Saving this one for another day.)

Approaching the Guyanese section of South Richmond Hill, a neon sign advertising “Fish Juices” and “Live Cricket” tempted me. Eventually, I understood the “live cricket” part, but I’m still not sure whether “fish juices” also involve a English-derived sport or if they are, in fact, the juices of fish.

I proceeded along Lefferts, and arrived at Kaieteur Restaurant. (Check out their snazzy website.) I must have been hungry, because, alas, I have no photo of the restaurant. I locked my bike and went inside.

A dark, sports bar atmosphere, with one of those friendly, square bars which patrons can sit around. About a dozen people inside, at one time or another, and the mood was lively. (Not counting the near-comatose drunk guy I sat next to.) I quickly discovered via the stereo a genre of music new to me. I’d later find out it’s called “chutney“, which is a pretty cute name for the Indian-flavored, Caribbean dance music. (I guess, technically, I might have been listening to chutneyish pop music, but don’t ask me.)

Sherry, the smiling, friendly bartender got me a Carib beer and kept them coming. Not my typical way of rehydrating after a bike ride, but this was a special occasion. The real question was: what to order?

Start with the fried shark, or the banga mary? The banga what??

“Spicy chicken wings” were calling my name, but with things like “lamb black pudding” and “jerk pork lo mein” on the menu, I wanted something a little more exotic. I had just come to this place via JFK Airport, for Christ’s sake. I went with the jerk pork lo mein. The idea of combining two things I love, jerk pork and noodles, was hard to refuse in itself. But when I asked whether hot sauce was available and was promptly provided with a small, plastic container of homemade scotch bonnet sauce, I was pretty much in a state of bliss. Along with the Caribs, Sherry refilled my hot sauce supply as I finished them, without me even having to ask. As I write this, I’m wondering: why haven’t I taken my wife here yet? I need to get back.

Oh, and the actual food? This was about to be my first encounter with Caribbean Chinese food, after all. Well, I guess I’d say it tasted like pork lo mein. The noodles were slightly below average and the pork slightly above. At the moment, though, absolutely perfect.

Just like they (the Chinese) make it in Guyana.

It was dark and I had a flashless iPhone, so I’m allowed to pretend to be artistic with the photo. And besides, in this case, I think it’s fair to say that the journey really was more important than the destination.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff July 21, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I love reading these tales of foodly adventure. There are all kinds of little hole-in-the-wall ethnic “restaurants” (I use the term loosely) near me on Long Island, and I keep meaning to just go into one and try something one day, instead of passing them by and thinking “Huh, wonder why I never noticed that Thai/Greek/Indian/whatever place before.”

Whenever you post about stumbling across some interesting eatery in your travels, the desire to just give one of these local places a try manifests itself all over again. If the weather’s nice this weekend, maybe the girlfriend and I will take a walk…

Geoff July 21, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Also: I kind of like “Judgment Night.” It’s one of those “flipping through the channels, catch it midway through, sit and watch til the end” movies for me. Like “The Shawshank Redemption,” except not nearly as good.

Jason Roth July 21, 2010 at 7:13 pm

I saw Judgment Night in the theater and was so infuriated with the over-the-top PC depiction of “the ghetto”. I seem to remember it looking like a cross between war-torn Kabul and one of the lower levels of Hell.

But back to the food. The great thing about little restaurants in unknown neighborhoods is that they’re both an adventure and usually low-priced. If the food is great, then it’s just an added bonus. It’s fun to “discover” them. Let me know if you find something interesting.

Geoff July 21, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Your description of the way the ghetto was portrayed in the movie is spot-on– but that’s actually one of the things I liked about it, how absurd it was. They made the ghetto look like a dead and haunted alien landscape, and I always thought that was kind of cool. No movement except the occasional paper trash rustling by… You’d think it’s completely uninhabited, but the few residents are actually just barricaded in their apartments, fearful of the unseen monsters that roam the streets… it was laughable, but I still ended up getting a kick out of the almost science-fiction-y atmosphere.

Anyhow, before I start giving “Judgment Night” too much credit… I really am looking forward to just picking a little local lunchcounter and giving it a shot this weekend. Hopefully we won’t witness a murder and then get hunted down by Denis Leary!

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