So as I set off on a rainy Saturday afternoon, one thing became abundantly clear. My luggage would have to change. You know how you pack and you think oh I packed so light; this’ll be no problem. Well, not so much. With the third time in two blocks that my duffel bag had tumbled off its precarious perch on my rolling suitcase, I knew something would have to give and it would probably be my sanity somewhere halfway across the African continent. I was not going to let the bag win!
But minor starting difficulties aside, I immediately knew I was setting out on an adventure when I heard a woman in the bus station talking about her travels, in which she’d seen a man get mugged and have to have his eyes stitched (yes, I think this is what she said, though it was early).
I set off on Greyhound through the rainy fall weather, wishing I could take a picture with me on my travels to show people what a quintessential October day in the Northeast was like. I rolled into NYC, met up with my friend Leigh out at his place in Jackson Heights. Whenever I come to NYC I know what it feels like to be run through with live current (for better or worse) since I always feel like I’m suddenly plugged into this hum and pace. I also forget that there’s so much individual style (which you’d think would be difficult in Ithaca since everybody seems to have their own thing going on) but it’s a very different, sharpish kind of style. (I noticed this in London too.) I also had to re-master the “subway stare,” that way of pretending you’re really not looking at anybody on the subway (or Tube or T or whatever you call it) while really everybody is just so varied and diverse and interesting and sometimes just crazy and singing that I really want to gawk like the tourist I am.
Also, Leigh’s neighborhood in Jackson Heights reminds me what I miss about the city. It’s primarily a South Asian and partly Hispanic neighborhood. Lots of little mom and pop stores, Indian groceries and restaurants and sari shops, pizza and Afghan restaurants check by jowl. Plus one of those everything stores (microwaves and luggage all piled in boxes) where I got one huge suitcase to combine my two smaller annoying ones for only $40—one of those great bargains that makes you feel like you win at life. We had an excellent Indian dinner at the Jackson Dinner with huge families in traditional dress (Hindu and Muslim) and hipster kids from the city all together. I had the best lamb korma and we shared samosa and huge piles of fluffy fragrant garlic naan. Mmmm. Then we popped into the Indian grocery a few stores down and got fruit and pistachio candy. Then I bid Leigh adieu (and good luck on his travels in Costa Rica) and headed off to JFK.
There’s not much more surreal than airports late at night. The overhead sound system was playing some pop ballad and nearly every security guard I passed was singing it—either, as with the first ones I met, heartfelt like she was on American Idol for her co-worker) or, as with the last guy I say with a vacant zombie stare. I watched the airport security guy run my baggage through the machine. I’d never seen it from the other side and it’s an oddly pop art (?) kind of display. He can successively peel back layers or make them more opaque and all in the oddest colors (orange and brown and pink and other colors all melded together into a strange electric no-color). It was like some strange guessing game—were those bowling pins or wine bottles? And even knowing what I had I was stumped. I was tempted to try yelling out guesses and clues but in this post-9/11 world I figured I’d keep my mouth shut and move on. Plus, I was distracted by the cleaning lady after me getting her ladder x-rayed. Then came the drama of the three women who had been bumped off a flight and then closed out of the other flight they had been promised would be held.