The Northeast Compact

Somewhere over Ohio.
September 13. Day 1.

I’m not a comfortable flier. I don’t sweat or shake or anything, but I stew. I stew and I think. I realize, of course, that the odds of anything ever happening are slim to none – what I imagine to be akin to winning the shittiest lottery in the world. Given that my itinerary for the day reads bus, plane, plane, bus, train (in that order), I would venture a guess that a gruesome subway derailment or bus flip would be far more likely to occur. And yet, these are scenarios I hardly consider, much less concern myself with. Perhaps it’s the helplessness of being in a plane – even the mere mention of oxygen masks and cushion flotation devices seems outlandish, downright laughable. At a certain point, as Jerry Seinfeld said about skydiving incidents, “the helmet is wearing you for protection.” Should anything happen, God forbid, we’d be dangling, suspended 30,000 feet (or whatever) in the air. And perhaps that’s it. It’s the fact that flying is an altogether unnatural act for humans, that we don’t really belong anywhere near up here. That’s the glory and magnificence of NASA, after all. But that’s NASA. And those are astronauts. Which is why I stew.

The Brooklyn Q Train.
September 14. Day 2.

The city seems to have moved on somewhat. At the very least, it seems to have come to terms with it. Maybe it’s had to. The streets around Ground Zero bustle without impediment – it’s still the financial center of the world, after all. The space itself is packed with workers and vehicles – the construction process at a nascent stage. And yet, the skyline is simply incomplete without the towers. The view from the Liberty Island ferry is almost startling for its relatively pedestrian quality. Smack down in the heart of downtown, there remains an empty spot. It’s still hard for me to grasp, really, even six years later. For all the politics have have come since, for all the bullshit with the war and everything else, you find yourself almost losing track of 9/11 – as absurd as it may sound. 3000 lives in the blink of an eye. And the only real reason it all happened is that there is no justice in the shitty world we live in.

Manhattan.
September 15. Day 3.

The New York subway system really is a living stereotype. The pole I hold onto somehow smells like urine. I didn’t know that metal could even do that. I might as well be feeling up the homeless person no doubt responsible for this. Theater kids hop in excitedly, chattering amongst themselves – though loud enough for everyone to hear – then demonstrate dance moves or something. A couple of white guys appear straight from the 90s, baggy pants, sideway caps, and all. The overweight, unkempt man next to me, reeking of b.o., leers unabashedly at an attractive woman before telling her to come over. As though familiar with the creepy overture, she alertly moves out of his line of vision, telling him simply that her stop is coming up next (and surprisingly, it is). Tourists consult their maps, eyes wide and abound, as though ready to fend off the inevitable knife attack from lurking hoodlums. Or maybe that’s just me. And in the station, a single Chinese violinist plays deep into the night. Maybe in a tiny, tiny way, to some minuscule, less offensive degree, John Rocker had it right all along.

Boston, MA.
September 16. Day 4.

By all accounts (I guess that would just be this one), it’s been an amazing – though exhausting – day. The Chinatown bus, half empty, was smooth and efficient. The harbor was alive, the water shuttle scenic, the weather surprisingly beautiful. The long 3 mile Freedom Trail, through the heart of the city, had highlighted some of the most historic sights in the country, with the colonial-era landmarks blended in beautifully with the modern landscape. And here I was in Fenway. Clemens and Schilling. The Yankees and the Red Sox. The Sunday Night ESPN broadcast. Things simply could not get any better. And then, in a moment of temporary madness (or more likely, overwhelming drunkenness), some fan hopped out onto the field, apparently stole Derek Jeter’s cap, and made a mad dash towards center. An usher, hot on his heels, makes a dragging tackle. Four or five more jump in to restrain him. It’s one of the most awesome, exhilarating things I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the most awesome days I’ve ever had. And it would be a game, incidentally, that ended with Rivera preserving a 4-3 win by getting David Ortiz to pop out with the bases loaded.

Manhattan, NY.
September 17. Day 5.

The travel is not so tough. Everyone’s got somewhere to be – especially in the Big Apple, it seems. I’m always looking at a map, checking my cell phone for the time, or just trying to blow by people like Secretariat at the Belmont in 1973. Oddly enough, it’s when you get there that the loneliness starts to creep in. Most of it, I imagine, comes simply from the presence of so many others. They’re familiar with one another, bounded to one another, and closed off to everyone else there – save for the occasional polite nod or smile. It’s not exactly like the movie theater. Real-life never is. The lights don’t turn off, and a giant screen doesn’t shut everybody up. Instead, you’re out in the middle of Central Park, or at Yankee Stadium, or whatever. And yeah, you’re taking it all in, of course, appreciating the experience, but there’s a tiny ‘but’ at the end of it all. And sometimes, it’s a lot bigger than I wish it were. Then again, it’s nothing new.

Delta Airlines Flight DL574.
September 18. Day 6.

Ten minutes. It’s kind of funny. The whole reason I wanted to go to New York was because of Yankee Stadium. The second to last year of of its existence, you know? The House that Ruth Built. DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris, Gehrig. You don’t have to be a Yankee fan to appreciate that. And then, last night, I get there, and it’s ten minutes after Monument Park out in left had closed. I had just completely forgotten. But you think about it. I’m still sitting there, enjoying the game. I’d been to Fenway the night before. The Statue of Liberty for the first time since I was a kid. A Broadway show the first time ever. Coney Island, the Met, Central Park, and everything else.

Ten minutes. The guy at the Delta desk at Terminal E12 tells me I have 20 to get to A12. It’s the only plane to Los Angeles for two hours, and missing it would mean I wouldn’t get back until well after midnight. A little while ago, an hour and ten minute delay back at LaGuardia had put me into the ATL at 7:50 pm – ten minutes after my connecting flight to the O.C. had taken off. It was the last one of the evening. So now I sprint. I sprint, I catch the train between terminals, then I sprint some more. And I get there, literally the last person on board. This is why I’m on 574, going to LAX instead of John Wayne. But you think about it. I’ve got a cousin who’ll take me the rest of the way. I’ve got a week before my three month vacation is up. I’m not saying that these things don’t bother me. I’m human, after all. It’s that given everything else, they really shouldn’t.

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