Showing posts with label walking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label walking. Show all posts

2.7.20

Feeling Sentimental About Living in New York for Ten Years: A Journal & Rant (Writer's Diary #3209)

Spilling out of the Roosevelt Avenue/74th Street Station, it feels like I am in Queen's version of Times Square.
IRT Elevate Station Roosevelt Avenue/74th Street
View of the 74th Street Elevated IRT station on Roosevelt Avenue

I Like to Walk Through Diversity Plaza
The elevated IRT line that carries the purple-signed seven train runs above on Roosevelt Avenue. In contrast, a gaggle of lettered trains, M, R, F, and E run under Broadway. The station is not difficult to manage, but the architecture is a series of green-tinted grids and overhangs, steep ramps, and an ugly bus terminal named after Victor Moore. You can Google him if you want. He was a film actor from the silent era and early talkies. Apparently, there was a business arcade where the gangly bus terminal sits. And the arcade was named after Moore, and the name just stuck.

I like to walk through Diversity Plaza. The area used to have bus traffic, but the city turned it into a pedestrian mall. Local shop owners did not like it because they felt only foot traffic would not bring in a lot of business. Jackson Heights is a neighborhood of family-run businesses — a ton of Pakistani, Nepali, Bengali, Indian and other South Asian food shops and clothiers. You can buy a wedding dress on 75th street, order a momo, or eat at Jackson Diner — an all-you-can-eat spot that has delicious Saag Paneer.

I'm More Comfortable With Difference Than With Sameness
I feel comfortable in places filled with diversity. But I grew up in a primarily white-laden suburb of New Orleans. I was just looking through my old yearbooks on a recent trip home. In 1998 in south Louisiana, no one talked about diversity unless it was in biology class. We learned about the diversity of animal life on planet earth. Pick up a glob of mud from the nearby ditch, and you can find variety, my teacher said. Life is everywhere!

I learned about difference in two ways, first — through reading. I had a teacher who said, try to read a non-European and non-American book. I read 'Nectar in a Sieve' by Kamala Markandaya. I was about sixteen years old when I read the novel, and I was struck by the description of poverty, despair. Still, the voice of the protagonist Rukhmani — stayed with me. Second — through my own coming to terms with my gayness. Growing up gay in South Louisiana was a don't ask don't tell society. Everyone knows it, but no one talks about it.

I have learned never to make assumptions about people. People have said to me, "You don't act gay." But how is a gay person supposed to act? So I understand when historically marginalized people, especially people of color, talk about microaggressions. I know what they are speaking about — because it rings true with my own experience.

Six Momos, Please
Greig Roselli Stands and Points to the Entrance of the Jackson Heights Post Office in Queens
I haven't finished my seltzer water!
I order six beef momos and a can of seltzer water for $6 from this place near Diversity Plaza. It's open late, and the dining area is small — I get a spot by the window. One thing I like about living in New York is that I can be anonymous. Or I can feel anonymous. I always felt growing up, someone wanted to know where you were from or what you were doing. Freedom is such a sweet taste in the mouth, but the flavor is so fleeting.

When you reach forty or so, they say that you begin to look for experiences that fill in the gap for things you did not get when you were growing up. So for me — it's enjoying quiet time. I was always looking for a hiding place as a kid to read a book or to be alone with my thoughts. But I was propelled to go outside! Be active. Be extroverted. Be aggressive. Play sports. Don't be such a wuss.
Once I walk beyond Diversity Plaza, Jackson Heights transforms into a dense, yet quiet residential block of six-story buildings and manicured gardens. It's funny to think that only in the early twentieth century Jackson Heights came to be. All of this where I walk was farmland. 

The advent of the IRT line from Manhattan in the 10s and 20s precipitated tremendous growth in western Queens. Queens is unlike Brooklyn — which had been its own city before New York annexed it in the 1890s. Most of what we call history is really recent. We call neighborhoods historic without realizing that time has a much more substantial, outstretched hand. I am never really tethered to a place. I keep my memories and my joys. But I am one to wander. So it's hard to believe that this month I will have lived in New York City for ten years! I moved here from New Orleans in 2010 — to pursue graduate studies at the New School for Social Research. After I finished my coursework, I just stayed. So here I am.

I'm Almost Home and My Feet Are Sore
A couple on a bike
Walking along 37th Avenue, the neighborhood opens up to a warm welcome of families, kids, people crisscrossing each other in soft, somnolence. In New York, we love how we promote unspoken conversations. A wink. A smile. A nod of the head. But a part of me often wants to join in on a conversation. Say hello. Make a new friend.

I arrive at home — it's a thirteen-minute walk from the station. But I feel tired, and my feet are sore. I love to take off my shoes and just throw them willy-nilly. What will happen when I have to share a space with someone I love? I go to sleep, and I have a mixture of dreams — one in which I am consoled and comforted; in another, I am sharing a bath with a lover — in another dream, I am running, running, running. Looking for a bus stop to take me home.

I don't want to wake up. But then I think. Tomorrow is Saturday. I don't have to work. I will stay in, eat Swedish meatballs, and watch re-runs of Dr. Who.

5.7.10

New York City Subway Stories: 238 Street Station

5:37 PM
In this post, I contribute to my series on the New York City Subway — "238 Street Station" edition.

A lost child's mottled gray marble rolls across the car floor like a cliché. A Dominican woman I've seen before on the train remarks to me with rapt concentration, her eyes on the stray marble, not on me. "Someone's lost their marbles," she says and laughs at her own joke, rapping her head with the brunt edge of her umbrella.


The heat in the train is suffocating. Two girls in summer dresses apply makeup and talk about a party on 168th street. It's the Monday after the Fourth of July and the town is still on holiday. The evening has done nothing to slake the heat. Shirt sticks to skin. The dry heat sits stale. The air conditioning is barely enough to keep us alive. A female conductor's voice reminds us all that it's hot and if we see anyone passed out, let a MTA employee know. Isn't there a subway car that serves beer? I thought I had read about such a train in the newspaper. The train offers a poem by Robert Frost printed on an advertisement called "Train of Thought".
“Dust of Snow”
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
The subway is a cacophony of bodies in motion. Every station is a change of mood. Most people look angry. But it is a quiet anger. A guy about my age, reading War in Peace, totes a cat carrier, but I don't see a cat. He looks up from his book and glares out the window. He seems to say, to no one in particular, "It's fucking hot in this car." It is. I agree. But heat is nothing exciting to write about. The marble rolls by again, hitting against a boy's skateboard. No one else seems to watch its trajectory quite like the familiar Dominican woman. Every time it rolls by she laughs and points to her head, then at me.

An announcement blares from the conductor, "We're being held in a state of supervision." The guy with the cat and Tolstoy rolls his eyes as he reads. I think I heard the conductor correctly. A state of supervision? I knew New York was a nanny state, but come on, this is ridiculous. I situate myself in the seat and prepare for what can only be a state of supervision. Nothing happens. The train sits in its own heat for thirty seconds and then lurches forward again, Bronx bound. Seasoned New Yorkers remain upright. The marble rolls again. If this were the Marble Hills Station, I'd add another joke to the already stale punch line.

I disembark at the 238th Street Station, the next stop on my writing tour. A Manhattan-bound train enters the station seconds after the Bronx train leaves. The train's shadow sparkles light on the exterior wall of a Rite Aid. The structure of the track allows light to flicker through the duvets to create a modest spectacle of sound, light and movement. A policeman guards the platform. I am reluctant to linger, for fear he may ask questions. I carry a black Moleskine to take notes on my subway rides. I am a bit paranoid that he may ask me what I'm writing, so I take the stairs to the street level. This station is similar to every elevated platform station on the 1 line in the Bronx. The façade of the station is the same train station-depot-look that parades the station at Van Cortlandt Park and Kingsbridge.

This station does not sport the same scenic look as Van Cortlandt Park did on the Fourth of July. In fact, I immediately get the sense this station may perhaps be the least populated station on the one line, if not, the entire MTA system. The buses are packed, though, and people seem to navigate mainly in cars.

I  am not an investigative journalist type. I do not intend to riddle people with questions about their neighborhood. My subway writing project is simple: I am not so much interested in description, as I am in impression.

My stomach growls. I am on a budget so a pizza looks good at Mario’s. Two Italian adolescents chat on a bench in front of the restaurant. The pizzeria is empty. The beeline bus to Riverdale careens by filled with passengers. When the boys see me they jump up and walk briskly inside to the check out counter. “Hi,” the younger guy says, obviously revealing to me that not only does he relax on the bench outside like a customer, he also works at the place. His accent is most probably Bronx. I can't tell the difference between the Bronx and Brooklyn, New Jersey or Queens. It all sounds similar to me. The guy talks really fast with a cheerful lilt. A quiet Chinese guy sits on a bench in the kitchen. A weathered woman with bleach blonde hair, perhaps pretty in 1981, sits at a booth with two girls. I order the Meat Lovers. I’m hungry. And a meringue soda. I love glass bottles. Bottled in Brookly, the label reads.

“I got to cook up the bacon and sausage for your Meat Lovers, OK?” the boy says. I nod in acquiescence and take a seat to jot down some notes. The boys and the Chinese man (who never emits a word) make my pizza pie. The place is empty, as I said; it is not the typical New York scene. Few pedestrians, if any, walk by. I eat the pizza with menace. Drown the meringue soda. Get up to pay, and the weathered woman gets up with me. I think she’s going to ask me for money. She doesn’t. She goes behind the counter. Her kids sit in the booth and play with each other’s hair. The boys are on the bench laughing and playing with their cell phones. “That’ll be $3.50.” After I pay the weathered woman, figuring what the hell, whom I assume also works here, the Bronx boys come back in the store, grin, and tell me, “Stay cool buddy, cuz it’s hot.”  I imagine this joint is their summer job. They’re happy to have a customer. Maybe they just graduated from high school? The woman stands proud at the cash register. A silver sedan pulls up to the curb with several of the boys' friends. I wonder if I am the only customer they’ll have tonight? Feels like I just ate a pizza pie in a Bronx house on 238th street instead of a restaurant. Despite the heat, I am in good spirits. The shadows of a moving train appear again on the Rite Aid façade. I dance a bit in the street, the Merengue flavor still hot in my mouth. Sitting down again in the subway card, the air conditioning has never felt this good.
Read more stories just like this one in my book of essays "Things I Probably Shouldn't Have Said (And Other Faux Pas)"