Thursday, November 05, 2009


Tuesday morning, the fourth official day of the j3 Family Runaway 2009. We awoke early needing to catch a 8-ish train from Boston's South Station to Penn Station in Manhattan. Big day for a Dallas girl and a high plains drifter like myself. This was the city. Not only that, it was our first time on a train that went faster than highway traffic and didn't just go around the amusement park all day. In fact, I spent most of the morning worrying about whether or not I would be spotted as that cat that's never been on a commuter train. It was really just a practice in imitation. I just followed what everyone else was doing. Plains, trains and automobiles, homie. Hell, we'd even sneak a ferry in there for good measure. When they approached the train, so did we. When they boarded, so did we. When they sat down and put their tickets up above their seat, so did we. And when people decided to knock out and take a nap, so did I.

The train was perfect for sitting back and listening to Mingus which is what I did as I drifted in and out of sleep. We were on the shady side of the car so it was perfect napping although it was difficult to not want to take it all in as Massachusetts and then Connecticut sped by. I'd be watching businessmen poised in their seats playing on their laptops and thinking, "Man, this makes my four-minute commute look straight-up heavenly." To think of doing it even twice a week is almost too much to stand. By foot, I'm only 25 minutes away. These dudes are crossing three states for work. Say what you will of the Panhandle and the Yellow, you can't front on a four-minute commute. For lunch everyday, I'm sitting in front of my television in my house for 45 minutes of Dan Patrick, a nice salad and a handful of peanuts. Would New Englanders/New Yorkers consider that a significant upward step in the "quality of life" scale? Not sure, Connecticut looks really nice as it flies past your huge eight-foot Amtrak window. Sure has something on West Texas there. Or was it Rhode Island?

At one point, I switched over to Steely Dan which went quite well with the ride into the City. Pretzel Logic to be precise. Some parts of the rail were a blinding and confusing series of tunnels, canals, ravines, bridges and otherwise unsightly areas. Worth sleeping through, really. But it was interesting because you knew you were nearing the big city by the quality of the tags. As you crept in on the city mile-by-mile, it became more intense, more inescapable and more vividly overwhelming. I didn't get much because, well, it was moving by so quickly.

Before we knew it, almost every crevace, nook and corner of everything in sight had been tagged. Nothing was off limits. These dudes would tag your grandma if she was within a block of the train. No where was out of reach.
This led to the cyclical argument that my lovely wife and I always tend to get into. What's graffiti worth? Who benefits? Truth be known, she hates almost everything it stands for. That's alright. I hate about half of what it stands for. The other half, I fully embrace. At one point, she just stopped talking and, instead, any time we passed a tag (which was every ten seconds really), she'd just look at me, pinch her lips together and then just shake her head at me. Like I was the one that did it. I've always loved graffiti. I don't love vandalism though. To qualify graffiti as vandalism before even considering to be art firstly is a tragic mistake. In my humblest opinion, some graffiti is undoubtedly art and then some is just vandalism. It's now a matter of where you did it, it's how you did it. If someone keyed my car, that's vandalism. If someone took white spray paint and wrote the word "chump" on my car, that's vandalism (and incorrect). If some cat bombed my car with a bumper-to-bumper burner with three-color faded fill-ins and shadows. I'd still say that my car was vandalized because, by definition, it was. However, it's art first and foremost. When you're sitting on train watching the countryside fly by at 60 MPH and no idea how close you are to your destination, the only indication that you're getting close is the underpasses start to become these flashes of kaleidoscopic colors. You can't read what any of it says because it's moving by so fast, but it's walls absolutely covered from the inch closest to the ground to 20 feet up the wall. It's like the city speaking for itself.

We ran into some nasty delays on the way in because there were trains backed up on the track. After about forty minutes, though, we were moving again and the city began to reveal itself to us as we snaked through the outskirts of Queens on our quest for Manhattan. I fired off pictures panickly as I saw more and more of Manhattan. I was fixated. Sometimes not blinking. From this distance, Manhattan looked small. I was pointing out landmarks that I recognized frantically.
This was likely the last good view of the city that we had before entering the final stretch of track into Penn Station. We'd disappear into a series of subway tunnels taking us under the city, under the river. Before any of us could blink, we were there.

We grabbed our bags and, again, just imitated what everyone else was doing. "Just do what they do. Go where they go." We needed to get a cab to our hotel. And MetroCards. First, we make our way up to the street. The City's not very friendly to luggage. Made me want to retire to a backpack fast. I've got my crazy-pimp suitcase with three wheels trying to navigate it through the crowds, halls and staircases. There's just no easy way around it.

Once we came up street level, my jaw dropped--momentarily, of course. You gotta keep moving. It's quite a sight for a cat from Lubbock, Texas where municipal codes prevent businesses from erecting signs taller than their building and billboards are strictly governed to protect "the flat" of Lubbock. When you see Manhattan and you stand in the middle of it, the City not only feels like it goes on forever laterally, it also feels like it goes on forever vertically. It's hard to not become slightly suffocated at first sight. I'll admit it. It was awesome.

We quickly waved down a cab which was much easier than I was anticipating. Hopped in and began heading uptown to our place which was just a stone's throw from Broadway/Times Square.
More on the cabbies later, but I gotta tell you, it's like a headrush sitting in one of those things flying through traffic. Amazing how traffic works in a city like New York. It's almost like objects floating in a rushing river except nothing ever touches. The traffic has a behavior all of its own. It's instinctual. It's anticipative. It knows every next move. And almost 70% of the vehicles are cabs. They absolutely rule the streets.
I was looking for the Cash Cab because, as it would turn out, we would need the cash desperately. More on that later as well.

After arriving at our hotel, we found that, as luck would have it, our room wasn't ready, but it was cookie hour and I learned in my travels, if anyone offers you a free cookie, take it. We chilled in the lobby, made phone calls, dropped off our luggage with the concierge to lighten our load and then, my lovely wife reminded me to tip. It's at least a buck a bag anytime someone touches your bag. Lesson learned. Only I'm touching my bags from here on in. The city's an expensive place to live because everyone expects a tip, it seems. And I'm a cheapass. So you can see where this is heading.
I just put on Jeru the Damaja's Wrath of the Math. An old dusty vinyl copy that I haven't played in ages. That good ol' Brooklyn illness.

We headed down to the subway to grab the train out Brooklyn for dinner and sights. We're attempting to buy a MetroCard and the damned machine is saying that my debit, which is all I carry, is invalid. In fact, so is my lovely wife's. So not only do we find in Boston that you can't rent much on a debit and credit's king, now our lowly debit card isn't even working. So I fork out another $50 or so for two MetroCards. I inventory our cash flow--good enough for dinner and dessert, but not much else. Maybe the machine just wasn't reading our cards right. I mean, for one, it might make sense, but both cards not reading was a little unsettling. Anyhow, boundlessly, we boarded a train bound for Brooklyn.
Once arriving, we took a short walk through the neighborhood and ended up at the highly recommended (thanks, George) Grimaldi's Pizzeria.
Once again, we're seated next to people we don't know. Like at the same table. Takes a little getting used to. Good thing about NYC though, is that there are so many different languages, they're more likely to not even know what you're saying and, if they do, changes are they don't care enough to listen. It was pretty amazing, though, that the majority of people we ran into spoke something other than English. You were almost expectant that someone wouldn't speak English. It was almost everything but. English is still the most prominently spoken language in New York, say, 60%, but the other 40% is split amongst a hundred different languages. I'm from Texas. It's predominantly English and Spanish. That's about it. And that's about a 85/15 split.
Nonetheless, my lovely wife was looking, well, lovely. I was too hungry to think about much else than a nice warm pie and a tall Brooklyn Lager which I hadn't had since the Sox whooped the Yanks back in 2004 and an unfortunately Yankee fan lost a little bet to yours truly.That pizza was the real deal. Makes me kinda jealous of New Yorkers. I mean, being from Texas, we don't really have anything super cool to claim as definitively Texan. I mean, barbecue? Is that definitively Texan? Cowboys? Hmm. Okay. Anything else? Country music? I mean, Nashville's the capital. You can get damned good barbecue in Memphis--probably better than Texas barbecue. When you're sitting under the Brooklyn Bridge chomping on a big ass piece of pizza with a nice tall beer, you feel pretty special.

We exited out into Brooklyn and walked around a bit before ending back up at the Bridge for some ice cream and enjoy the sunset as well as the beautiful view of Manhattan as the night draped the city in darkness. From this vantage point, you feel pretty small as the skyscrapers of Manhattan tower into the sky.

Likewise, Lady Liberty looked tiny just sitting in the harbor. She was absolutely dwarfed by everything else around her. You grow up thinking she's the size of fifty Godzillas and then you realize that's she's not even the size of one. That little excursion was on the second day.
Also feeling pretty small in Brooklyn was probably the only other Texan under the Brooklyn Bridge at that same moment: Country recording artist Jack Ingram. He was there attempting to break a world record for the most consecutive radio interviews. I don't think there was a previous record though. If there was, no one was talking about how much that was. Jack was just shooting for 24 hours. Does that mean that the previous record was 23? Who would stop anything at 23 hours with 24 is just such a nice round number? It's such a cool number. Divisible by two, three, four, six, eight, twelve. Twenty-three? Lame. So I don't think there's anyway that there was a previous record. So Jack set up camp under the Bridge and people were just calling in and asking him questions. What's funny is that if he did this in, say, College Station, Texas, he'd be surrounded by drunk and hollering college kids until the last minute. Here, though, in New York City, no one cared. There was a lingering manager, publicist, label rep. I met him a long time ago and I was thinking of reintroducing myself until he mentioned you pick up his new record at Wal-Mart or Amazon. Thanks for nothing, Jackass. Hope you sell two units. And both to your parents.
We walked back to the start of the Bridge near sundown so that we could begin our walk back to Manhattan as the City was lighting up.

I love Brooklyn. It was much more my steez. Manhattan's cool, but Brooklyn was just the right pace. Just the right people. Just the right view. Just the right attitude. And, man, there's some crazy music that came from Brooklyn. You'll just have to peep that NYC MetroCard Mix that I threw up a while back. As we walked on the Bridge, the City offered its money shot.
The Brooklyn Bridge, while enjoyable, was a panicky and frantic affair as cyclist and joggers ruled it's wooden footbridge. I almost watched a child get obliterated by a cyclist who was about to take flight he was moving so fast. Guess there's very little slow in an urban environment of such a size. There's no loafing lane. It's go fast or go away.

We did find time to snap a few shots as we handed off the camera to a German couple. Or was it French? Slovakian? Who knows.
Shirt courtesy of Daunda. Thanks Wil. End day one.


sarahsmile3 said...

This post makes me want to go back to NYC. That last picture is freaky, but in a good way.

wil said...

repin' fo real good lookin'