Friday, March 14, 2014.
The monitor says the next local 2 train will arrive in 24 minutes, yet somehow one miraculously arrives in 3. The only people awake and traveling into the city at this hour are the construction workers and the MTA officers. And 24-year-old women fleeing for the weekend. I sit down next to a hard hat dangling man who smells of oil and it’s reminding me of my grandfather: the way he used to come in at lunch, plopping his hard-worked body into the blue vinyl-covered kitchen chair, his scent filling the room as I sat finishing my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cut perfectly in half—diagonally. As I close my eyes briefly, the scene changes. Suddenly the suitcase I’m holding steady between my ankles becomes your body looming over me. You’re holding onto the railing above my head and gazing down at me sleepily, swaying with the train in your worn-out Vans. My extremities are holding you close, my thumb running little circles around your skin. I once heard that this is an annoying habit, and I’m sure you agree, but it’s one that I do now without even realizing. It’s a habit I’ve adapted to assure myself that you’re real and actually standing there in front of me. I open my eyes to find that you’re not. Just another ghost my heart doesn’t want to let go of.
Penn Station is quiet this time of day. I recently read somewhere that this used to be a magnificent structure, before it became just the basement of Madison Square Garden. That makes me sad. For a city so great, we should have awesome structures to welcome our guests. The old school, grand New York style is the one I fell in love with, through Holden Caulfield, Jay Gatsby, and that nameless doorman who let 12-year-old Bridget play her first grand piano in the lobby of a Fort Lee hotel. It’s the New York that creeps up every now and then; sometimes at 6:30 on a Friday morning when Dean Martin serenades you over the loudspeakers and you enjoy an egg and cheese on a bagel. Ahh New York.
“If this is just the beginning, my life's gonna be beautiful.
I've got sunshine enough to spread.
It's like the fella said,
Tell me quick, ain't love like a kick in the head?”
I’ve done this enough times by now to know that I should head straight to East Gate 5 without having to wait for the schedule to alert me 15 minutes before departure. We’re standing in two separate lines: one Montreal-bound, the other Buffalo-bound. I find myself toward the front of the Buffalo-bound line, right in front of the heartbroken girl leaving a sentimental voicemail to what I can only assume to be her significant other who she ran out on this morning. I try not to listen in, but there’s something about the honesty and genuine aching in her voice that pulls me in. (I’m drawn to raw emotions and sadness; it’s the reason “Elizabethtown” is my favorite movie and Billy Joel’s “Nocturne” is my favorite song.) She relays the information to the girl behind her when she asks where she’s headed: “To Rochester, or Alaska as I call it now with it being so cold up there...my mother’s dying...she’s losing her battle with cancer...I’m just hoping I make it in time…” Would it be weird if I just turned around and gave this stranger a hug? I don’t.
Usually I just hop on a Greyhound when I’m heading upstate for a quick weekend, but this time I’m treating myself to a leisurely morning with Amtrak. I even took the day off so I don’t have to feel rushed. I love road trips of any and all kinds—they’re when I do my best thinking and unwinding. Because I tend to get nauseous if I do much more than watch America go by out the window, trips to Syracuse have become a nice way of unplugging for 5+ hours. At first it was because I didn’t feel like getting sick, but now traveling has become a kind of meditation time for me. It bothers me when people stare at a screen for the entire duration of a trip. If it’s for business, that’s one thing and I get it; to check the occasional text or email, guilty myself; but if it’s to constantly refresh Twitter and Instagram? That one kills me. I wish these people would just try looking out the window, put on some Springsteen, U2, and Joel and let their minds wander. I promise there are far greater things out there than anything these little boxes can offer. For all the people who I think are doing this whole train thing wrong, there are the few lovely ones that surprise me. Like the adorable little old woman in front of me who’s traveling alone and doing the Times’ crossword. Why is it that I would rather strike up a conversation with this 80-year-old woman than the same-age-ish guy sitting next to me?
“Now I know you’re an emotional girl,
It took a lot for you to not lose your faith in this world.”
This city has been testing my patience a lot lately. As much as I’ve always tried to convince myself otherwise, I truly am a country girl at heart. Syracuse no longer feels like home, but then again, neither does New York. Not really. Brooklyn feels slightly more like “home” than Syracuse does, but it’s still not the perfect fit. Do people ever find that perfect fit, or will I just continue to feel this restlessness inside?
“Give me a tin roof, a front porch, and a gravel road.
And that's home to me, feels like home to me.”