December 26, 2009: I’m on a train from Newark to New York. The sky is the color of a shark’s skin and it’s colder than a basement. People on the train are talking, laughing, gazing out the windows at the bleak scenery as town after town passes by. I feel a little like Arlo Guthrie. Good morning, America, how are ya?
I’m hunkered down in my seat with my best pals: a pair of ear buds and an Ipod. A slow, bluesy piano riff replaces the rattle and hum of the wheels on the rails beneath me. Billy Joel sings in my ear:
Some folks like to get away,
Take a holiday from the neighborhood.
Then I see a glint of steel on the horizon. Skyscrapers. For some reason it reminds me of the 1950s and I Love Lucy. I can’t help smiling to myself. Billy resumes crooning in my ear:
Been high in the Rockies under the evergreens.
I know what I’m needin’, and I don’t wanna waste more time.
I’m in a New York state of mind.
As a matter of fact, I am.
Grand Central Station is packed tighter than one of those tiny clown cars. People of every color, nationality, and political affiliation meander about, some carrying luggage, some wearing ear buds, most with cell phones. The smells of food, cigarette smoke, and sweat permeate the air. I navigate my way through the crowd and locate the nearest facilities before heading outside to the street.
There’s a reason they call them skyscrapers. As I crane my neck upward, my jaw instantly hinges open, blowing my cover as a native New Yorker. A quick glance at my reflection in a window reveals a huge neon red banner hovering over my head: Tourist. With my anonymity shattered like fine china, I trudge up the street, eager to see the sights in Frank Sinatra’s town.
I make my way uptown, (or downtown, it’s hard to tell in Nueva York) and after several minutes I find myself in the midst of a giant sardine can of a store called American Girl. As best I can tell, every living person in the state of New York and New Jersey, and parts of Connecticut, is inside this store. I am pinned flat against a wall, not an easy feat for a fellow like me. After what seems like an eternity, I manage to slide along the wall and bolt outside to freedom.
Gulping in a lungful of New York’s semi-fresh air, I flip the collar on my jacket and head uptown. My eventual destination is the Empire State Building, but when I finally arrive, I am told it is currently closed.
It’s dark now, except for the multicolored kaleidoscope lighting of Times Square. I’m cold and my legs ache from walking. I board the train bound for Newark. It’s been a long day, but a good one.
I’m in a New York state of mind. 78