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.

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