soundtracks and road trips

My doctoral robes, 2003

The first time I left Texas for New York was April 2003. I had a job in Rochester, New York, with my new PhD. I’d fly back to defend my dissertation, a necessary formality, but I was finished. Graduate school was behind me, and a professional job waited for me in a place I’d never imagined. My first real professional job. I was 44 at the time, Katie was in college at the University of Texas, Marnie was at Smith College, and Will was living with his dad. I left on a really beautiful spring morning, very early, and how filled I was with hope and excitement. I had done this very hard thing, earned a doctorate, unfathomable, and everything waited for me. I’d made a CD full of songs I really loved, and as I headed up IH-35, and at the exact moment I drove past the apartment complex where my beloved Katie lived, Billy Joel’s song “New York State of Mind” came on. I started laugh-sobbing.

I remember such intense feelings, in two irreconcilable directions, one pulling me to stop, to stay, and the other urging me forward: almost unbearable pain at driving away and leaving my Katie behind, there in her little apartment and without me in town, and almost unbearable joy. NEW YORK. Never mind that it was Rochester; little old me, from where I was from, I had a PhD and I was moving to New York.

I think I pulled my cheek muscles on that long road trip from grinning. My favorite Spice Girls song came up and I started laughing almost hysterically. I think I called one of the girls, laughing like a maniac. I remember laughing out loud again and again, just out of the audacity of my life. My car had a bumper sticker “Bush is a Punk-Ass Chump” which I didn’t really think about, until I crossed into Ohio and more than once was threatened by a scary guy in a pick-up with a gun rack, trying to run me off the road, and red-faced screaming as he shook his fist at me. I should’ve thought about it, since upon crossing into that state the highways were lined with flags, and they hung on every overpass. (What? I wondered. This is the north, they aren’t ignorant here!)

Riverside Park, MY park. You can have Central, I’ll take Riverside

Flash forward 14 years, and here I am about to make almost the same trip, from Austin to Big Indian instead of Rochester. This time, I also have an apartment on the Upper West Side, the most unimaginable thing ever ever ever. This time, I’m not leaving my beloved Katie alone in a small apartment; I’m leaving her behind with her husband and two precious children in their own sweet home. She is a wonderful, solid, loving mama and wife. This time, she heads a family. This time, when I listen to “New York State of Mind,” I have intimate knowledge of the things he references — the Hudson River Line, the NYT, the Daily News, Chinatown where Marc buys good food for us and where we eat at Nha Trang II (not I, II is better), Riverside, my beloved, beloved Riverside. It’s not just a song anymore. This time, a whole new ‘everything’ waits for me, urging me forward.

And so my mind turns toward the soundtrack for my upcoming road trip. Of course Spice Girls will be on it, and Donna Summer, and Light & Day, and some John Prine and some Nina Simone, and KC & the Sunshine Band OF COURSE, and local goodies like Jerry Jeff Walker and Bob Schneider, but I think the song I’ll play as I’m pulling the truck away from the house will be an old Texas song, since I’ve been busy touching the old version of Texas I used to know, that used to exist. The old Texas dirt that my very bones are made of. The old Texas swing that pushes my blood along through my veins. I think I’ll pull out of town to Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys singing “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” It will be after midnight, so I will indeed see the big, bright stars in the sky, deep in the heart of Texas.

That high wailed a-ha! that he does is SO FAMILIAR. It’s as familiar as the grim old hymns we sang at the Loving Highway Church of Christ. Might need some Patsy Cline too, now that I think about it. And a whole bunch of bluegrass. And some yodeling, just for fun. It’s a 27+ hour drive, after all, so I can load up as many of the songs that have played on the soundtrack of my years as my phone will hold.

Now and then I want to get a map and just draw a line of my 82 moves, and see what it looks like, a God’s eye view of me moving around on the face of the earth. Sometimes when I’m driving on a long road trip, I kind of imagine that, I imagine God watching me toodling along on the face of his earth (so funny for me to be talking this way, I don’t even really believe it but still I kind of do), knowing that I feel grateful and happy.

xo

so very different

crowded
Yup. There’s nothing to do but plow into the crowd.

Of all the ways life in Austin and New York City are different, the most immediate one isn’t the crowds, the noise, the bustle — it’s the way you get around and live your life. Some people just take cabs everywhere, but like most people I take the subway. You see everything on the subway. People coming home from a big food shopping trip at Trader Joe’s or Fairway, schlepping several overstuffed grocery bags, standing with them all around and between their legs and feet on a crowded car, then fighting their way off the train through the crowds, having to carry all the bags at once. Carrying home a window air conditioning unit. Giant boxes. Huge bags of things from Target and Bed Bath & Beyond. Giant bags of toilet paper. Big flat screen televisions. And the ordinariness of it is what’s so extraordinary. What do you mean, how else am I gonna get my new flat screen TV home?

Last night I had dinner with my dear friend Craig, in the East Village at a vegetarian restaurant called Dirt Candy. It’s a sign of how much I love him that I’d meet him there because that part of town could hardly be more difficult to get to from where I am. I had to take the 1 to 96th, change to the 2 to 14th, then transfer to the L. WELL, changing to the L at 14th is one of the few places you can’t just transfer underground — you have to go up above ground, walk a couple of blocks and go back down into the L station. It’s bitter cold here, and extremely windy last night. When I went above ground at 14th I got turned around and couldn’t find the L stop and in my ordinary bass-ackward sense of direction I walked several blocks in the wrong direction. I finally gave up because I was a frozen popsicle and hailed a gypsy cab. I had no idea where I was, and no idea where the restaurant was relative to my location, so when I asked the driver how much and he said $20, I just waved him off. Nope, I’ll wait for a regular cab. “$15,” he countered, “I hate to see you standing there in the cold.” Well, mister, not as much as I hate standing there in the cold so we had a deal.

Turned out I was a very long way from the restaurant. A very long way. But I got there and so did Craig, and we had a wonderful dinner then shared a cab back to the Port Authority, where I easily caught a 1 train back uptown.

As I sat on the train home, full of delicious yummy vegetarian food and more than just a little bit of white wine and feeling plenty warm, I decided to watch people instead of read, for a change. To be honest, I decided to do that because of what happened. There were two young boys roughhousing in the aisle and the train lurched and one kind of fell on a passenger sitting down. The dad said to his kid, “What are you, a tourist?” That cracked me up. The youngest one wore a cub scout uniform so they were just heading home from a den meeting, perfectly ordinary night in the subway. You see these very little kids, 3 years old, 4 years old, and they are old pros at riding the subway. They have their subway legs, they know their stop without being told, the subway is just their normal transportation, as our car was for my kids. What a different world.

And you see young kids riding the train to school — if they’re very young a parent is with them, but by middle elementary school they’re alone with a few friends. Such a different world.

I have a folder full of apps on my phone for the subway — HopStop of course, to plan how to get from here to there and back again, another app that informs me of train delays, one that tells me when the next train is arriving, one with maps of all the subway lines. On the weekends right now, the 1 train, which is just at the next corner and goes up and down the west side of town, along Broadway more or less — and the train we use to go anywhere — is shut down for going downtown because of repairs or something. OH what a pain. To go downtown, we have to take the 1 UPtown 58 blocks to 168th, and then cross over to catch the downtown train. To take any other train we have to walk a lot of blocks east and up or down, and it’s a royal pain in the butt.

And then sometimes the local train will mysteriously stop running local and just go express, which means it may not stop at your stop, so you either have to get off early and wait for a local train that IS making local stops, walk or take a bus, or go uptown, cross over, and take the train back downtown. You just know these things, and you dial them into your plans for going anywhere.

OR, in Austin, I walk into my garage, start my car and drive to where I want to go. Traffic might make a 15-minute trip into a 1 hour and 45 minute trip, so it’s not like Austin is magic and better, necessarily. It’s not like “I have control” in Austin in a way I don’t in New York. I have my hands on the wheel, but that don’t mean Jack necessarily. My plans are at the mercy of forces bigger than me in both places, so in that way they’re the same.

I love the subway I hate the subway. I will always be a New Yorker.

Happy Friday y’all! I hope it’s a good one, filled with a whole lot of beautiful whiles. xo

Damocles

the painting itself
the painting itself

You know that big thing that’s been hanging over my head for the last few months? The reason I now have a lawyer? If I make it through today without being served, it all just might be over. I am apparently too superstitious to say more, so I’ll just say this and move on for now.

Counting down days, soon counting down hours. My good sleep seems to have vanished, but I always knew it was temporary and I enjoyed the hell out of it while I had it.  Seeing friends, finishing work, it’s all good and I am tired and distracted by the sword.

Yesterday I made a trip I’ve made so many times before. I wondered if I’d remember all the little tricks — the 1 to Times Square, the shuttle to Grand Central Station, the 6 down to 23rd. That’s not the tricky part. Hell, Hopstop can route that trip, or even Google Maps. The tricky part is remembering that I need to walk to the uptown end of the platform and get in the very last car on the 1, because that puts me right by the stairs at Times Square and it’s a short walk to the shuttle. The tricky part is remembering to hang back a little and wait for the announcement about the shuttle — track 1? 2? 3? — and then making a dash for the right platform and getting all the way down to the far end because that puts me in the right place in Grand Central Station. Walk through GCS, past the place musicians always play (yuck, the one today was disgusting) and head to the far end of the 6 platform so I exit right by the turnstile to put me by the correct set of stairs. It’s those kinds of things you learn when you take the subway all the time — which particular car, which particular door, how to position yourself at the last express stop before your local stop so you aren’t trapped in the middle of car and can’t get to the door. You learn that when you transfer across the platform from the express train to the local (or vice versa of course), you just walk straight across the platform and you’ll be lined up at a door when the train pulls in.

You learn that when there’s a very long delay for your train and there’s another one 1 or 2 minutes behind, you don’t take the first one, even though it’s been a long wait. No, you don’t do that. It’s going to be jammed up, so crowded you’ll be miserable, if you can even get on. No, you wait a minute for the next one, which will be almost entirely empty.

You learn that if a particular car seems strangely empty but the others are not, there is a reason, so you don’t get on it, even though the other cars are full. Perhaps it’s boiling hot. Perhaps someone puked and it’s sloshing around. Perhaps there’s a true homeless guy sleeping and the whole car is permeated by that specific gagging fungal smell that characterizes the poor people who are truly, truly, truly in trouble. If you’re on the 1 and you’re headed to South Ferry, you absolutely have to be in the first couple of cars or you won’t be able to exit there.

You learn how to walk straight through a buzzing chaotic crowd where all the subway lines are intersecting at Times Square or Grand Central — you just look straight ahead, not around you, you don’t look anyone in the eye, you just walk straight through and somehow we all do it and no one crashes into anyone else. This prolonged practice made it so easy to cross the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh City, or Phnom Penh, or even Hanoi. No crosswalks, no Walk signals, just thousands of motorbikes coming from both directions and you just start crossing. Yeah, walking through the Times Square station taught me how to do that.

I wondered if I’d remember all these tiny little things that used to be entirely automatic. There is that old bicycle metaphor, but getting around Austin couldn’t be more different, and driving my own car has been part of my experience for decades more than taking the subway. Which would prevail? Would it be like riding a bicycle, and I’d somehow just remember? I did remember, even if I didn’t know I would remember as I was going along, and was just kind of following myself a step behind. My body somehow remembered and put me in the right place before my mind remembered to tell me. That felt pretty great. Yep, still a New Yorker. A part-time New Yorker, maybe, but still a New Yorker. And that made me really happy. What is it about this place? We dwell on the allure of it when we are away, but what’s really strange is that we dwell on the allure of it even when we are in the midst of it.

Anyway. Hoping that hair holds the sword steady just one more day……brunch with a friend, dinner with another friend, and then home safe, no more sword. Fingers crossed, y’all.

oh the insanity

My computer is going so slowly because one program is using up all the resources: Chrome. Why is Chrome using up all the resources? Because I have 30 tabs open. Insane. And they’ve been open all week, too, the bulk of them. Every day I add one, maybe two, and here I am. Thirty tabs. You know where this is going: link love! They seem heavily slanted toward long form pieces I really want to read:

 

*shiver*

  • And finally, the other great video thing that came out this week. Stephen Colbert making the best of being stood up by Daft Punk. I love every second of it, but that first scene on the dance floor with Bryan Cranston may be my favorite moment of them all. That Colbert is a good dancer!

Wow. That’s a lot of great stuff. Your Saturday is taken care of now! Have a good one y’all. We here in Texas will be h.o.t.  Guaranteed.

my last day as a resident of New York City

When I was in high school in Texas, in the 1970s, the idea of New York was frightening. It was Taxi Driver, and random violence, and decay. Muggings. Bankruptcy. I had less than no interest in living here, or even coming as a visitor. I didn’t think about New York for a very long time, until I was in graduate school and facing the question of finding a job when I finished. I’d think, “Oh, I hope it works that I end up in New York.” By that point (I was 44 at the time) New York City had cleaned up its act, and so had I, and the literary scene, the art and theater scene, well…..it was clearly my kind of place. I daydreamed that I’d hang out in Central Park every weekend, I’d go to plays and museums, I’d soak it all up. If only it happened that I got a job there, I hope I hope I hope. It didn’t occur to me to seek a job there; my passive way of being left me just hoping that it worked out that way.

I graduated with my PhD and got a job in New York…..but Rochester. About as far away as you can be from NYC and still live in New York (well, there’s always Buffalo…). That job was pretty miserable, stressful, and not the kind of work that justified my $50K in student loan debt. It left me unhappy and dissatisfied, although I did make some very good friends there. Accidentally, I scored a job in publishing, as an acquiring editor, at a small press in northern NJ. Closer! I took the train into the city every week or so, I met my friend Sherlock there for sushi and concerts, and just thrilled at being so close. The idea of driving to and in New York terrified me, and I was too timid to imagine living there — but I was close.

Then I met him, and moved into the city to live with him, in a co-op apartment on the Upper West Side. I learned the beauty and pleasure of Riverside Park, and learned that I prefer it to Central Park. I went to plays and concerts, I visited museums. I went to talks and readings. I became a regular at Symphony Space. I went to see a taping of Saturday Night Live. I ate pizza, and so many kinds of food, and became much more cosmopolitan. I learned that New Yorkers are really nice, it just doesn’t take the same form as Texas nice. I learned the subway system. I became a New Yorker, eventually. I wore black. I dealt with winter and summer, each with their own pleasures and miseries. I went to transcendent events, like the Winter Solstice Concert at St John the Divine. I get all the in-jokes on SNL now. When I watch television and movies — so many of which are filmed in NYC — I get a thrill: that’s my neighborhood! I know that intersection! I’ve been there, and there, and there! That’s really Queens, that’s not Manhattan, they didn’t fool me.

I made friends — so many friends, it’s bitter and sorrowful to say goodbye to them. Friends in the book club. Friends in poetry group. Friends at Oxford University Press. Friends of friends who became my own friends. Clients who became friends. Friends who will live in my heart the rest of my life, friends I’ll continue to see, somehow. They’ll come to me, I’ll come to them.

In all my years of life, I have never lived at one address as long as I’ve lived here — August 2005 to mid-November 2012. Seven years. That’s about 5 years longer than I ever lived at the same address, throughout my entire life. The “him” part of my life here is too wrenching to talk about, too sad, too filled with too many things, too hard right now, so for now I just talk about New York City, a great love of mine.

I will be back. I’m returning mid-December to see friends, to come to a party being organized by dear friends so I can see as many other dear friends as can attend. It’s an inconvenient time, a Friday night in the heat of the holiday season, but the excuse to return is enough, even if it’s just me and the friends organizing the party (though I’d love to see everyone!). I will see my husband, I will finish packing up my things. And I will come back again and again, because now New York is mine, it’s in my heart and bones.

Saying goodbye is the hardest damn thing in the world, even when you are coming back. I don’t quite know how to do it.

the surest sign

​This was parked outside my living room window this morning:

Surer than any robin longing to be the harbinger of spring, surer than any yellowing, oranging, or reddening of a leaf, surer than the shift of light, surer than a cooling of temperatures, the oil truck means the season is changing. Winter is coming — even before we get the pleasures of fall, the oil is here. Even though the temperatures are really wonderful, perfect during the day and sleeping-cool at night, the co-op board will have the super turn on the boiler, and it’ll run until next May (and late May, at that). And when that happens, air conditioning season begins in earnest.

Even though the season mentioned in this quote is spring, not fall, I thought of it this morning for some reason. It’s Joan Didion:

“I remember walking across Sixty-second Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while. I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out out of the West and reached the mirage. I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later—because I did not belong there, did not come from there—but when you are twenty-two or twenty-three, you figure that later you will have a high emotional balance, and be able to pay whatever it costs. I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month.” 

​Isn’t that so lovely? And we who saw 22 or 23 in the rearview mirror a few decades ago probably remember that sense of having a high emotional balance in the future — I sure do. And here I am, chock full of emotional balance. I wouldn’t mind, just for an hour or two, having her feeling once more, although I do know and experience the sense that something extraordinary could happen any minute, here in New York. That doesn’t go away.

​Happy Tuesday, y’all. We’re autumn drizzly today, which isn’t too bad now and then. Hope it’s whatever you want, wherever you are.