“Boy, this is really a great city. I don’t care what anybody says, it’s really a knockout, you know?”
These words, along with the soaring melodies of “Rhapsody in Blue,” followed me as the Jitney rolled toward Manhattan. Pick up shoes left for repair three weeks earlier, collect rent from the tenant of my Brooklyn apartment, see a few friends — that was the plan. That, and a brief escape from the solitude of January in Amagansett.
It’s been eight months since I “took a summer vacation,” free, for the first time in many years, of attachments and responsibilities in New York. I fully expected and intended to be back in the city by autumn, surely by November. But life, after all, is full of surprises.
Things didn’t work out at Spring Close, but that’s another story. Catering and backbreaking labor on the docks in Montauk kept me afloat, and, now, The Star and a couple extracurricular projects keep me busy.
I love being back where I grew up. I love the clear skies, the crisp, fresh air, the beautiful silence and starry nights of winter. I love the striking scarcity of car alarms, of fire engines screaming out of the firehouse around the corner at all hours, of car stereos pushed beyond their limits late at night, and of the parade of drunks screaming at the top of their lungs shortly after 4 a.m., when the bars have finally turned them out.
But these certainly are the lean months here, and I find myself missing the relentless energy and stimulation of the Capital of the World.
As always, I enjoyed walking the streets, doing a bit of shopping, and, in the late afternoon, chatting with a friend over a few beers in my old neighborhood, Williamsburg. But then it was time to trek back to Midtown, where the Jitney would return me to my once and present home.
That’s when a strange thing happened. As I changed trains in the labyrinthine complex where the L, N, R, Q, 4, 5, and 6 trains intersect underneath Union Square, I saw no fewer than six clusters of well-armed, grim-faced policemen. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, police presence in the subways has been both abundant and conspicuous, but this seemed especially heavy, as if there were actionable intelligence of danger afoot. I felt a familiar surge of adrenaline.
Once on a local No. 6 train, crowded but mercifully less so than the packed No. 5 express train across the platform, I relaxed a little. Until, that is, a scuffle and ensuing argument broke out in the car when a man entering the train pushed past a passenger who was rudely blocking the subway doors. One was white, one African-American, and the resulting standoff was as tense as it was juvenile: “Stop talking.” “No, I won’t.” “Damn, you’re still talking?” “Yeah, I am.” And so on.
Would it escalate? Would a weapon be drawn? The entire car was riveted and, though I’d witnessed countless such contretemps over the years, I was scared. But one was well over six feet tall and obviously athletic. The other had the good sense, finally, to shut up.
Safely back on the street, I discovered that the next bus was 90 minutes hence, and was calmed by a languorous sushi dinner and bottles of Japanese beer.
Boy, this is really a great city. But it’s good to go home, too.
Christopher Walsh is a reporter at The Star.