I was expecting the commute home to be tricky. The school I work at most often, the Pratt Institute, is deep in Brooklyn. I live at the north end of Manhattan, in Harlem. What this means is a) the commute can take anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes on average, one way and b) I will be going with rush hour traffic for most of the ride. These are the constant irritations to the trip, and I think I handle them pretty well.
But then Friday, you see, there was some moisture in the air. I don't mean there was actual RAIN, mind you, though it had been predicted. Okay, to be fair I think there had been some in the early afternoon. At 5pm, when I was getting on the train in Brooklyn, however, it had been dry for a while. As I think I've written before, any kind of precipitation, indeed even the suggestion of precipitation makes the trains and a substantial portion of the population go spare. Fridays often have their own special craziness, for reasons I've not quite figured out. There just always seem to be more people on the trains on Fridays. This one was no exception.
So we all see where I'm going with this, right? I managed to make it to 59th ST (just past the mid-point of my journey) in reasonably good time, and what's more, I had been able to sit most of the way. Score! For those of you who don't know, 59th St Station is a major transfer point. When I went to the platform for my train home, it was packed to the rafters with people, to a degree that told me a train had not been along in some time. This actually happens a lot during rush hours, particularly the evening rush, in my experience. Something goes wrong with the train, that delays it even a few minutes, which means that the crowds on the the subsequent stations have time to get bigger than normal. When the train shows up, the vast majority of people will force their ways onto the already packed train, and in doing so delay it even more. Often the conductor will tell us that another train is RIGHT BEHIND THIS ONE, but for some reason only a few people believe this, or think it's worth waiting for. As you may have guessed from my snide tone and sarcastic caps, I am one of those few people. If I'm not in any hurry to get where I am going (and usually at the end of the day, I'm not), I routinely let as many as three trains pass me by before getting on. Usually the first one will be, as I said, jam-packed and lethargic, crawling from station to station, collecting more and more surly people, so even once you've made it on, you know that the trip is only going to get slower and more uncomfortable. The next train (and often it is right behind the first one, though sometimes the conductors lie, which is probably why most riders don't believe them) will still be pretty packed, the riders still pretty surly, and the ride still slow because it, of course, has to wait for the first one to clear the station. Usually by the third train, there will be seats. It will still be a slow ride, since now you're behind two slow trains, but sitting down changes everything. You can get off your feet, read, write, basically treat the time as your own in at least a few small ways.
I was fully prepared to adopt the 'minimum three train' policy on Friday. I left for work Friday morning knowing that I would probably have to adopt this policy. When I got to 59th St that night, however, I knew immediately that this was not going to be a three-train wait. Nope, I was prepared to wait for at least five, and the gaps between them would be extra long because there were that many more people getting on.
40 minutes later, after train number seven came and left bursting at the seams, Mr. Crankypants was firmly in charge, and now I would not be riding the train UNTIL I could sit down. By train number nine, I was able to, in part because I didn't mind sitting near the only slightly whiffy homeless guy who had built himself an enormous nest at one end of the train with trash bags.
Door to door, my commute took two hours, twenty minutes.
Any thought I had of going out again that evening was snorted at derisively. I also realized there was an insistent little voice in my head saying I now deserved a treat, perhaps several treats, as consolation for my miserable ride home. Said little voice seemed of the opinion that such treats should include a large order of General Tso's chicken from the local Chinese take-out (if you're not familiar with this dish, it is basically a whole lot of deep-fat fried chicken nuggets swimming in a rich, sweet, oily sauce; I'll usually get it with brown rice. You know, to make it healthy), a truck load of cookies, and I'm talking 18 wheeler, AND a vat of a nice Shiraz. Not a truck of wine, that would be tacky.
When did I become the person who cheers himself up by hardening his arteries and destroying his liver? I swear to god I never thought that way before living in NYC. I've always loved food, mind you, in all its varied and glorious forms, but I don't think I went about medicating myself with it. Maybe my memory is faulty, but I really don't think I did.
Having identified this course of action as perhaps not in my best interests, I decided I would buy a box of Entemann's chocolate-chip cookies and some chicken quarters which I would cook (gasp!) WITH THE SKINS ON. I decided against the wine; I really don't think using alcohol as a means of breaking me out of a cranky mood is a habit I want to get into. I want to enjoy my booze when I have it. Besides the liquor store was too far away.
This compromise with my little voice then led me to think "when did I become the guy who obsesses about chicken skin?" Sure, one reaches a certain age and has to recognize that cholesterol is a concern, that excess pounds gained are harder to lose, that heart attacks do run in the family, that being a grown-up means recognizing consequences... but I mean come on.
Well, navel-gazing aside, I followed through on this plan, and had a great time. I had hoped to have my roommate's assistance with at least the cookies, but he was out, thus leaving me to do some serious damage to them on my own.
And it did help. I was much more cheerful an hour later, as I shoveled cookies into my mouth and contemplated having the whole apartment to myself for another week. What also cheered me up was looking at photos I took last Sunday, during a walk with my sweet Melissa. Her new place is right across the street from Inwood Park, which is all that remains of the old growth forest that once covered this whole island. Just the idea of that thrills me. Then when one walks in it, it's very easy to forget the city is all around.
This is my sweet girl just after we've entered the forest. Already all buildings are out of sight, and most street noise is gone.
(Don't you just want to squeeze her? She gets that a lot.)
This was a carving in the rock we both liked. Despite the sharpness of the edges and the uniformity of the shape, we're both certain this was formed naturally. There is no sign of tools, and besides, why would anyone bother?
Here's a closer look. In Ireland this would be some sort of sacred well, with an ancient name and a thousand year history of magical healing.
I don't know what these flowers in the foreground are, but I can't wait to find out. That's the Hudson in the background. I'm also rather fond of that larger tree. I seem to be turning into my mother. Like her, I now feel compelled to hug trees on a fairly regular basis. One of the odd benefits of living in a big city is, when I was doing this in Central Park a few weeks ago, I knew I didn't have to worry about ever seeing again any of the people who looked at me oddly as they went by. Lately I'm particularly fond of oak trees for some reason. Mom's morning walk includes visiting, and hugging, a catalpa and an ancient pin oak.
At one point, Melissa and I found a clearing in the trees where we got incredible views of the river. The picture on the left is looking north, the one on the right looks south.
These two shots are taken in almost the same location; I've just stepped forward about two paces. Suddenly you can see the city. Again, the left one is north, the right one is south. In the latter, you're looking at George Washington Bridge. My place is just about twenty blocks further south.
This is a picture Melissa took of me, while I was taking one of the pictures above. She took this with her camera phone. That's a damn good phone. Or Melissa really knows how to work it. I'm getting a better average number of focused images with my digital baby, I just don't know how I'm doing it. Generally taking two or three shots seems to be useful; the latter ones are almost always better. My camera's ways remain a mystery to me, and contrary to his original assertion, Tommy is no help. Still, I'm having fun. You just may not want to enlarge any of my photos, if blurry images make your eyes go all wonky, like they do mine.
So once again, it's trees to the rescue in my world. I could ask myself if this is something that needs closer examination, but for now I'm just grateful to have so many places nearby that help me regain my sanity, and such good company to do it with.