I can definitely say that working here has given me the opportunity to see certain things through other people’s eyes. Cooper, to an extent, has offered me similar chances, but not like here. Recent discussions, both with my peers in the department and ongoing discussions at my old high school, have made me look at my current situation with a different point of view.
Continue reading “Perspective”

They Were Here Before Your Grandparents Were Born

Every so often, I’m reminded of just why I liked New York and why I find myself missing it every so often.

Tell the truth, I get a kick out of commuting. In New York, it’s especially fun. Your train gets delayed–watch everyone whip out their phones to let people know they’ll be late. The stupendously long line for a taxi at Penn Station. Sidewalk maneuvering. Pre-walking in the subway. I miss it–but I am comfortable with the way things are right now.

The streets and sidewalks just pulse with life, all hours of the day every day. Some people might see the dense city as suffocating, but I look it as a constant reminder of being alive and living.

At night, the inhabitants pack into the bars and restaurants to hang out, socialize, nourish, and imbibe. Me, I spent many a night in one particular place, McSorley’s Old Ale House, a popular little spot on East 7th Street that’s been around since the 1840s. McSorley’s Old Ale House only serves one kind of ale, and that’s McSorley’s. McSorley’s comes in two varieties: dark and light. A round is composed of two mugs that can either be both dark or both light, or one of each. Waiter service is available at the tables, where you will be served by a right proper Irishman who will take good care of you. No matter how big your party is, he will bring all the beer that is due you in a round: it’s amazing how many mugs these guys can carry in one hand.

My friends and I went pretty regularly, usually on Thursdays around 5, which is the best time to go if you want to beat the crowds. At 5pm you will be served by a friendly man by the name of Tommy, who is one of the best waiters you’ll find at this establishment. In the grand tradition of Matty U!, we always left generous tips (so now you know where all my money went).

But graduation came, and we all went our separate ways out of the city, so our at-least-weekly McSorley’s runs came to an end. On graduation day, Gene, Joe, and I went to the saloon to drink our last round–as students, anyway.

On a recent visit to NYC, Gene and I dropped by McSorley’s to grab some lunch and some beer before heading back to his place. It was shortly past 11, so they were barely open. Besides the two of us and another couple that had just wandered in, the place was empty. What’s more, the sun was streaming in through the windows…strange. We ordered a couple of burgers apiece and a round of dark. Halfway into eating, who should I spot but Tommy, dressed quite suavely and heading towards the back. I acknowledge him with a nod. I expect him to just say “Hello, how are you fellows today?” but he stops and, having recognized us, turns around, extends his hand to me and Gene, saying “Good to see you fellows!” A few minutes later, he’s walking towards our table from the bar with four mugs of dark, sets them down with a flourish, saying “Here you are fellows, always good to see you,” and shakes our hands again.

When we get up to settle accounts, our tab is $7 less than what it should have been. Good ol’ Tommy bought us a round! It’s little things like that that make me feel all good inside. It’s little things like that that make me miss New York.

On crisp, cool nights and speedy trains

While I await the return of my pounding headache, I’ve got a couple of things on my mind.

I sit outside on a chilly metal folding chair on my balcony overlooking the rear parking lot, in full view of darkened houses and apartments, a thin layer of clouds obscuring the few stars that would otherwise be seen on a clear night. Inhale. Take in the refreshing smell of air relatively unpolluted by garbage, automobiles, and industry. Quiet, save for the occasional rush that marks a passing car on one of the streets nearby.

I look towards the sky. By doing so, I can push the images of man-made objects out of my mind’s eye, and only nature remains. I am taken back to the then-sparsely populated outer fringe of Aurora, Illinois, where a residential high school for the Land of Lincoln’s best and brightest sits, surrounded by cornfields that lay in wait for the developers’ bulldozers.

On many a night such as this one, I would escape the small population of adolescents, the beings that, with their insignificant worries and incessant noise-making, made me wish I were just a few years older. I would escape to a spot where I could tune it all out, where it was just me and the night sky. I would lie on the side of a hill and watch the stars, stars that are unfamiliar to a denizen of the city. There were no aural distractions. I was alone with my thoughts.

As I sit outside I remember how wonderful it felt to be able to escape like this. I remember, too, the feeling of sharing the experience with another, a single person, one capable of appreciating the emptiness just as I did. In those quiet times we shared, a great emotional link was formed. It seemed as if we had found the essence of life.

I miss that.

Earlier today, I left work early, miserable with a headache induced by spending another restless 90 minutes in the scanner bore. I caught a bus that travels along the East Busway, a two-lane road dedicated to bus traffic. Here, the lumbering vehicles can cruise at speeds up to 40 mph past scenic foliage that frame small pockets of urban here and there.

The experience tops the normal stop-and-go bus rides on surface streets. Such rides rank at the bottom of my good commutes list. After that comes riding local trains (here I’m thinking of the 6 train and the R train); then the bus rides on the busway.

But I absolutely loved my commute from Queens into Manhattan. I loved the stretches on the Queens Boulevard line between Queens Plaza (later 21st-Queensbridge) and Roosevelt Avenue, and Roosevelt and 71st-Continental Avenue. There, the trains rain express. Express runs, at least when the train is allowed to reach high speeds, are a thing to be savored. It allows for thoughts uninterrupted, the wheels maintain a steady cadence as it passes over seams in the tracks, and the lights that illuminate the tunnels whiz by your window, giving you the feeling of traveling faster than anyone has ever gone before. It is five minutes of pure speed, five minutes uncontaminated by unintelligible announcements over the public address system advising people to “stan clee da doe”…five minutes closer to home.

I miss that.