Friday, March 19, 2010
It's impossible to come through the Holland Tunnel one last time (for now) without thinking about all the trips through all the tunnels and over all the bridges over the last 12 years.
The first time I ever drove to NYC was with my friend (I believe we've been calling him) Frank, driving my boyfriend's truck. We were meeting him to go to Twilo to hear Paul van Dyk (hmm ... I wonder if I should give PvD a pseudonym). I don't recall a single car trip from that period that didn't involve copious amounts of weed before and during the trip. For that reason, I usually preferred to be in the passenger seat. It wasn't so much that I had some moral objection to driving stoned (I was passing the joint to the driver, sometimes holding it for him). I just thought I drove too slow when baked. Plus, I had this habit of taking really big draws and then hacking and choking for a good five minutes at least once during the process.
No matter, it was my boyfriend's truck so it was my responsibility to get it there in one piece. We had to pick the truck up in some forsaken suburban outpost (maybe New Hope, I really don't remember) so we drove Frank's Jeep up there from the city. I have no recollection of why we just didn't drive Frank's jeep all the way to NYC, but I'm sure it had something to do with (we shall call him) Pat wanting his truck and needing to be in control of his (and our) schedule.
Anyway, after getting lost trying to find the NJ Turnpike, it was mostly an uneventful trip (save a foray onto the shoulder of the road for about 1/8 of a mile when I couldn't control my coughing or the steering wheel). Pat had told us to come through the Holland Tunnel and head uptown to meet him at 23rd and 8th. It didn't occur to me until we were getting off the turnpike that I had no idea which way uptown was (having never driven in NYC before). No problem. I'll just ask the tollbooth attendant when we pay. I rolled down the window, probably giving the woman an instant contact high (but also clearing the haze that had accumulated over the past 90 minutes). In my most polite voice, I asked her which way I had to go when exiting the tunnel to continue uptown. I will never forget her reply. Standing in that closet-sized booth, breathing exhaust fumes for I can only imagine at least eight hours a day, looking at one of the grandest man-made views in the world, she said, "Honey, I ain't been to New York in 25 years."
Before I lived in NYC, I would usually take the bus or the train when going. At the time, there was no Bolt Bus so it was either Greyhound/Peter Pan or the Chinatown bus (I will admit to a slight exaggeration when I said that the Chinatown bus was great as long as you didn't mind traveling with live chickens). The train was twice as much as the Greyhound (and four times as much as the Chinatown bus) and, except on Friday nights and other heavy traffic times, wasn't really even a big time saver. The only real upgrade you got on Amtrak was the class of people you traveled with and occasionally a café car. It wasn't until late in 2001 that I realized another benefit.
Taking the bus up to NYC could be a hassle, but if you got a Peter Pan bus there was usually a movie playing that helped kill the time. It was almost always crowded and noisy (I remember unloading on two poor girls for talking too loudly behind me on a trip down to Philly shortly before my father died). The one thing that made it worth the hassle, however, was that incredible view as you approached the tunnel. I always tried to make sure I sat on the right side of the bus because everything indignity suffered during the first 105 minutes (and usually there were many) melted away as the skyline appeared in a magnificence that only is New York.
Then on September 11, 2001 that skyline was permanently altered. Whether you lived in NYC at the time or not (I did not), the reactions and emotions surrounding that day were not only intense, but long lasting. For me, I dreaded that new skyline. The World Trade Center was New York when approaching from the NJ Turnpike. Those colossi literally towered over the rest of the city. I didn't even want to think about what NYC would look like without them.
So for months I shelled out close to a hundred bucks to take Amtrak. Because I usually went at night, and the train tracks are set back in almost total darkness, I didn't have to see anything as we neared Penn Station. It was late January before I finally decided to face my fear. Actually what happened was the company I worked for laid everyone off except two people -- a tech guy and me -- and cut the hours of the two of us that were left. Regardless of my trepidation, I could no longer afford my denial.
As the bus hit that point where the city comes into view, I realized something. New York's magnificence had nothing to do with two larger than life buildings downtown. It's something deeper. Something in the soul of the city that makes it so great. Also, I realized that it ain't so bad seeing the Statue of Liberty, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building standing tall as the sentries of the Big Apple.
"One hand in the air for the big city. Street lights, big dreams all looking pretty ... Let's hear it for New York." -- Alicia Keys