TITLE: Spent our Weekends on the Jersey Shore
DATE: 11/20/2004 11:21:00 AM
Coming to you live from outside my comfort zone.
I'm visiting my college roommate Heather at her domicile in New Jersey, the first time I've left New England in close to four years. I drove five hours yesterday through first Massachusetts, then Connecticut, then New York to get here.
I found myself on the Cross Bronx Expressway. "FOR YANKEE STADIUM TAKE EXIT 1C." I have Red Sox logos all over the back of my car.
I thought, suddenly and with startling ferocity, O my God I want to see Yankee Stadium
And then the exit passed and so did the feeling.
Under and over, the roads go up inclines and back down under arching bridges, a tapestry of cement, that's what New York is.
I'm full of shit. I don't know what New York is just from having seen it from the highway, the highway where I saw exactly one New York Yankees logo on the back of a car, or any other kind of logo or bumper sticker for that matter, and yes, I was a bit disappointed with that. I don't know what I was expecting, perhaps to have some kind of war of shouted epithets and raised middle fingers with some stereotypical Yankees fan who took offense to my sporting my loyalty on his turf.
I'm just another typical non-New Yorker, expecting the extreme from New York and then lookling like a hysterical fool. No different from the addled suburban soccer mom who sees New York as one big place full of muggings and terrifying (gasp) minorities. Thinking some Yankees fan was going to harrass me on the George Washington Bridge.
No different from being on the Mass Pike, actually, sure, you pass by the hallowed halls of Fenway Park but the only people on the Mass Pike, especially on the weekend, are people coming from or going to the airport, and then usually coming from or going to Someplace Else. Most of the hardcore Red Sox fans don't exactly hang out there of a Friday afternoon, know what I mean?
Next to New York, Boston looks downright quaint. I don't like that. I'm not content to think of myself as parochial, ignorant, a bumpkin. I don't like acknowledging New York's superiority, in size if nothing else. But that city is vast. It is an entire continent of glass and metal and asphalt. It goes on forever. It seems grown into the ground, as if the massive structures all around are no less natural than the Grand Canyon.
The George Washington bridge would be suited by a loudspeaker blaring maniacal, TV-villain evil laughter. You can understand why they call New York Gotham.
My, my, all these sensitivities being called up simply by sitting on the Cross-Bronx Expressway for about forty-five minutes. That's New York for you. Passive-agressive. Calling up all these associations and then raising its eyebrows at you, offended, calling them assumptions.
To the left as I merged from I-95 onto any number of Parkways and Expressways (no highways here) was the infamous notorious George Washington Heights, the grandaddy of all housing projects, buildings a hundred stories tall, chock-full of little windows and lonely balconies poking out into the abyss from a thousand feet off the ground, lonelier than Sauron's tower and more menacing.
To the left as I crossed the George Washington Bridge, just past the EXIT 1C FOR YANKEE STADIUM was the skyline, draped yesterday in a grey-blue smoke, who knows, it could always be that way, last time I was actually in New York was in 1998 on a Girl Scout trip, and we stayed at a camp just outside White Plains. And at the end of the island was the upturned dagger of the Chrysler Building and then...nothing.
I did a double-take. I looked again. I realized what was missing.
New York bears its wounds without apology. But they are startling nonetheless. I realized I hadn't been...I hadn't seen...I hadn't laid eyes on the city since...it looks like half the city is gone.
Newark bristles with smokestacks and plaques and tangles of piping and round tanks of some nefarious chemical oozing suggestive brown streaks down their riveted sides. Planes coming in to Newark Airport fly so low over the highway, it looks as though they're going to land in frot of you in the southbound lanes, sparks flying, nose dipping, tossing cars aside like sheep, barreling toward you. But they just barely manage to coast over your roof, heading for the runway off to the right, and then you look up into the overcast sky and there's another one coming, its landing lights dropping out of the cloud cover like an out-of-place meteor.
The guy at the toll plaza gave me a whole lecture about how I should've gotten a ticket at the start of the parkway, it's $3.40 without a ticket. I shrug, hand him a $20. "All I got's a twenty, sorry," I shrug.
"I'm not from around here."
Stupid! Why make a note of that. As if he gives a shit.
I feel like it's important. My whole identity is absurdly caught up in where I'm from. Coming down to New Jersey feels like I've been coaxed down out of a warm perch, safe and familiar and full of my own smell. I feel cold and naked, just driving on the Garden State Parkway. I feel like an alien.
Then I get to Heather's little house on a little suburban street--an actual, free-standing home all to herself, can you imagine?--and then I feel at home again, so at home that all we do is watch CSI all night and then fawn over Tommy on Letterman and somehow, it feels completely comfortable even though I only talk to Heather now what? Once every two months? And I know that even though I haven't been here since before the towers came down she's one of those friends you can pick up with where you left off, precisely, and that such people are not to be taken for granted.
At night I sleep on the air mattress in the tiny spare bedroom, a closet-like space taken up almost wholly by the bed on the floor, and I think to myself, what would you even use a room this small for, and then an answer occurs to me before I can stop it, and then I close my eyes.
I fall asleep to the ticking of an old-fashioned clock on the shelf. I love sounds like that. They soothe me. I don't know why, but I'm grateful there's a clock ticking as I fall asleep.