The story of my 43 hours in New York City really begins at the end, as Aimee and I rode the subway out of Crown Heights in Brooklyn toward Penn Station. Feet sore, eyes rolled backward, speech garbled and brains short circuiting, we jostled listlessly to the back and forth of the subway car, our painfully heavy bags at our feet. I looked up and noticed a Mexican man, serious and sombreroed, standing against the door. Two more appeared and…
It’s not that important that the first time I saw New York City from the ground happened when Aimee and I emerged from the subway onto the streets of Crown Heights. I felt a bit overwhelmed. Pedestrians filled the streets in all directions–coming at me, away from me, crossing the street, exiting doorways. Four-story apartment buildings lined every avenue with countless markets, cleaners, coffee shops and mystery establishments beneath them. Each building had a front stoop, fence, and bars on the door. We walked toward Aimee’s old friend Joe’s apartment about seven blocks away where we stayed for the two nights, and the bustle never let up.
Nor is it important that the guys where we stayed were playing Magic the Gathering and watching a live feed of the Mortal Kombat World Championships from Las Vegas. They were good guys, and I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions about them or the city. Aimee and I set our bags down in their flat and went looking for excitement.
It hardly even matters that a couple hours later, while searching frantically for a bar to a buy a beer so Aimee could use the bathroom, we stumbled into Trash Bar, rated by The Village Voice as the number one punk bar in NYC. When I found out about their distinction, for fear of getting my head butted in, I turned to Aimee and said, “let’s chug this and go.”
After the Trash Bar we were in the Williamsburg district, known as the hipster capitol of NYC. We walked through the hipster bazaar and saw a collection of the tightest jeans ever worn out on a Monday night. Then something happened, something real. Aimee and I wandered into the House of Ales, heard CCR’s “Fortunate Son” playing over the sound system, grabbed a table, and ordered craft beers and nachos. All the sudden I felt so good over that Stone IPA, I thought we’d found America. I deduced that it lay in Fogerty, fermentation, and finger food. The sensation was fleeting, of course–as transitory as the music playing overhead. The essence of America slipped from my hands like soap in the shower. Can one ever find America? I mused. Or is the search but a facade for the search for self? Does America not differ from each viewpoint that appraises her? Can we ever know the world beyond ourselves, or are we forever mapping the inner cosmology of our souls?
- Careful Timmy. Don’t go over the rim!
I’m still working that one out. In the meantime, we carry on. The next day we strapped on our walking shoes and went over to Manhattan. We got off in Grand Central Station, found the New York Public Library, took the bus down 40 blocks at which time I witnessed the utter enormousness of the size and commercial activity of the city. I marveled to see each block full of sparkling storefronts, plentiful customers, street-walkers and floor upon floor stacked high above. Down we went toward the 9/11 Memorial Tower, still in the works with two cranes jutting out the top like your daredevil friend sticking his leg out over the Grand Canyon. We walked all the way around the building, sizing it up from all angles, then headed to Wall St. where I hoped to find the Occupy Movement.
I’m not bitter that no one told me the occupiers had moved out–I mean, Tallahassee’s is still going weak, so why wouldn’t New York’s be? I found the one occupier left, a young dude in a black t-shirt with a table full of 3″x5″ sheets of literature, proud of the fact his people had gotten so much attention that the Feds kicked them out. He told me the movement had taken to showing up only for marches and special events. “We’ve got something special planned for the RNC in Tampa,” he said with a wry smile that showed me his protruding gums.
It’s your call whether it matters the occupier claims Ron Paul will win the nomination. An “unpresidented” situation, he said three times unironically.
Moving up the island from the occupier, we took the subway to Central Park and walked more than half its length from north to south. Aimee claimed her feet would explode, but we still had some miles to walk to find the hidden Whole Foods in Columbia Circle, meet Aimee’s friend from high school, check out Times Square, and meet my friend Julia from college down in the West Village at a bar where she claims Jack Kerouac used to hang out.
I’m not one to turn down a chance to chase the ghost of Jack Kerouac.
Long story short, Julia and I did a car bomb in an attempt to recapture the zest of our college years while Aimee looked on. We didn’t get out of there until almost 1pm, struggled to navigate the limited train schedule in place late at night, and I started falling asleep on the train. Aimee kept bopping me awake but all I could do was grunt I was so tired.
The Last of the Occupiers
Not until 2:30 am did our heads hit the pillow and our butts hit the futon. The next morning we applied liberal doses of baby powder, put our shoes back on our tired feet and lugged our way back to Penn Station and onto DC. For the purposes of my story, it doesn’t matter that we conquered the Brooklyn hipster night, or that we squeezed Manhattan into a day like Williamsburg’s hippest dude squeezes into his favorite pair of jeans.
What matters to me and my story is this: I saw that Mexican man in his sombrero by the door. He held a guitar. I looked down the aisle and saw an older Mexican man in a fancy vest with an accordion hanging from his neck. A third, taller man appeared with an acoustic bass. Oh sick, I said in my head. They looked at each other and with a nod and a “hup,” they launched into their mariachi song, singing in Spanish and playing at a quick tempo.
I sat up and looked around. Many people diverted their eyes but a few in the car watched the band and moved to the beat. After a minute and a half of the cheerful music, the man with the accordion turned his short-brimmed sombrero over and, with grace and gratitude, collected the spare dollar bills held up by passengers around the car. I reached for my wallet and pulled out a dollar, put it in his hat and felt good again, like when Fogerty’s soundwaves had washed over me two nights before.
The train reached its next stop and the mariachi trio hopped off to ply their craft on another car. “That was sick,” I said to Aimee. “Like having Los Lobos on our train car.”
“It was close,” she said.”
“Yes. Close Lobos.”