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No, not the gorgeous Caribbean island, alas.  Speedy and I made our way to Italy via JFK.  We hadn’t been to that airport in years.  And what did we see when we exited the American Airlines terminal?

What a pleasure it was to see the famous terminal designed by Eero Saarinen and completed in 1962 (it’s been closed since 2001).   Readers who know Speedy personally will know that this was his ‘office’ for many years.  It was rather emotional to see the old sign lit up (TWA ceased operations on Dec. 1, 2001, and its assets were acquired by American Airlines which, in an odd twist of fate, is now in reorganization/ bankruptcy.)

After taking a night flight from Arizona and the bus that deposited us at Federal Circle (JFK’s public transportation hub) at 5 a.m. we wanted to sleep for a few hours, but we wanted to stay close to the airport.  Do you know what you can’t do on any of the automated travel services?  You can’t book a day room!  We were so surprised, and not in a good way, because we wanted to check in at about 6 a.m. and check out again at about 3 p.m.  The only way to do it was to call hotels one by one and request a very late check-in from the night before as well as a late check-out.  Many were not willing to accommodate us – the latest check-out they would allow was 2 p.m. – too early for us, as we needed rest before our evening flight to Europe.

The Sleep Inn in Jamaica came to the rescue.

I’ll be honest with you. Jamaica is not exactly the garden capital of greater New  York City.  In fact, it could be described as rather gritty.  But we had a marvelous time there.

First off, the staff at the Sleep Inn were incredibly helpful and friendly.  They sent a carry-van for us as soon as we arrived at Federal Circle, and the same van carried us to the airport on our own schedule that afternoon.  We awoke from our morning nap starving, so we inquired about nearby restaurants.  There’s nothing 4-star in the vicinity, or probably even 1-star, but we ate a delicious breakfast at the Jamao Restaurant, a joint with true island influence. The proprietress is from Domenica, and in addition to normal American breakfasts, she cooks up and serves a large selection of hearty Latin dishes.  Speedy couldn’t resist- after his breakfast sandwich he had a nice helping of lechon.  He didn’t think it was an appropriate breakfast, but it looked so fantastic he had to have a bit of early lunch.  It didn’t disappoint; it was as flavorful and succulent as it looked.

We took our stroll on streets that are mostly commercial, but there are large residential areas.  Jamaica (which has nothing to do with the Caribbean isle of the same name, other than the fact that lots of people from the island live there) was settled by the Dutch in 1656.  Today it is home to some 200,000 people of widely diverse backgrounds.  The ‘white flight’ that took place in the 1970’s is in the process of reversal as some neighborhoods become ‘gentrified.’ Where did the name come from?  The Lenape tribe gave the area their name for ‘beaver,’ which sounded like ‘Jameco’ to the English colonists who took over in 1664, according to Wikipedia.

Our visit centered on Liberty Avenue, which runs parallel to Jamaica Avenue, the main artery of the city.  Here are some ‘postcards’ from our visit to Jamaica:

The walls of the cement plant are the canvas for a block-long painting of what goes on at a cement plant – very colorful and engaging.

If you need anything at all for your car you can buy it on Liberty Avenue.  We must have seen six different auto parts stores.

And if your car is beyond repair, perhaps it will end up at this patriotic establishment.  Nearby there was a large plant for processing ordinary household recyclables.

If you want to learn to be an automobile mechanic you might want to attend the New York Automotive and Diesel Institute, as this group of young men are doing.  To tell you the truth, they gave us quite a start when we walked by.  One of them said, in what seemed to be an aggressive voice, “Where are you going?!”

Gulp.  “Nowhere,” we replied, “we’re just going back to our hotel.”

“Oh, okay,” he said. “I thought maybe you were lost and needed help.”  Well, isn’t that just like Jamaica?  A class act in work clothes.

As we continued we had the pleasure of meeting Shaheem “The Dream” and one of his pals who were getting ready for a spirited handball practice in Detective Keith L. Williams Park (also known as Liberty Park), home of handball courts, tennis courts, basketball courts and, we suspect, a baseball diamond, though we didn’t see that.

They had organized and were preparing for the Park’s first ever Opposites Tournament, designed for men and women to play together (but the men must use their non-dominant hands).  We spent a pleasant ten minutes learning about Shaheem’s prowess on the handball court, and continued on towards the Sleep Inn to prepare for the next leg of our journey. (That’s Shaheem in back wearing gray sweats, a cross and a huge smile.)

The Sleep Inn’s service did not end with our departure.  One of us left our toiletries kit hanging on the back of the bathroom door.  They are mailing it back to us.

In conclusion, while some might look at Jamaica and think this:

we would have to disagree.  Our visit was short, but it was packed with interest and with people who were kind and helpful.  Anytime people offer unsolicited help and conversation in the space of three blocks, you know you have found a real community.  And where else will you find an existential auto?

So if you find yourself needing a quick night’s sleep near JFK and you don’t want to spend a king’s ransom, we recommend the newly built (2010) Sleep Inn.  The rooms are well-appointed, the staff is superb, and the beds are very comfortable.  No, it’s not a five-star hotel, but the service rivals that which you will find at any other hotel.