Thursday, August 01, 2013

The length of time it feels like I'm talking about approaching the city roughly equals how long it felt like it took to GET THERE. (From The Cheesecake Truck To The End Of The Line, 15)

I like to add actual photos from my honeymoon to these posts.  Those actual photos are not "digital" photos because in 2000, "digital" meant "WHAT? THE INTERNET BARELY EXISTS AND MY PHONE IS STILL ATTACHED TO THE WALL." So these photos exist in an actual photo album, and to get them into the Internet I have to scan them into a computer and then upload them, which was always a somewhat tedious process but is made all the more tedious now by the fact that we bought a new computer, which means I have effectively been working a second job as tech support for the computer. After 2 weeks, I was able to recreate Itunes. I still have not gotten the sound to work properly, and as for hooking up our old printer to it and using it as a scanner? I am DREADING it.
So instead, I took a picture of the picture with my "smart"phone, and that picture was upside down.  SO WHATEVER JUST ASSUME NEW YORK WAS UPSIDE DOWN WHEN WE ARRIVED.
Just before I got married to Sweetie, I made a mixtape to take on our honeymoon road trip to New York. The other day, I found that tape and decided to tell the story of our honeymoon through the songs on that tape. This is part 13; click here for the Table of Contents.

So when I last actually wrote about my honeymoon in this series (as opposed to writing about how I couldn't write about my honeymoon due to technical difficulties) Sweetie and I were just approaching New York, the city, after about 12 hours of driving.

If you've ever watched movies, or television, or driven to Chicago -- which was at the time of my honeymoon the only other big city I'd ever driven to -- then you may have this idea, as I did, of what it is like to approach a big city, and that idea is this:  the "city" is made up of giant buildings that just pop up out of nowhere, so that one minute you are driving on a highway and the next BAM! (not literally) the city is there.

That's what it's like to drive to Chicago, after all.  In the Midwest, a city like Chicago sticks out like a sore thumb (not literally).  While actually driving into Chicago requires that you go through some outskirts, it is very apparent that you are in the city, as you do that.  The transition happens almost immediately, from prairie to city.

New York the city I expected to be like that, too -- that we'd come around a corner, or over a rise, or something, and it would appear, and just be there.  I wasn't actually prepared for how big the city itself is, and for how unimpressive the city would be until you were actually downtown.

I mean, New York! That's really all one should have to say.  This is a city that you hear about incessantly if you live... I was going to say "if you live in America," but I'd bet it's universal: if you live anywhere, America, Europe, Asia, Ganymede, you probably hear about New York, the city, all your life and are ready for it to be something. And by "something" I mean "obviously a city," and by that I mean "like, you know, Chicago."

So as we approached New York, the city, I expected that we'd see giant buildings towering to the sky, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty,  possibly other buildings, I don't know, maybe Yankee Stadium? -- all those famous buildings were supposed to just exist, along with the Brooklyn Bridge and the 59th Street Bridge and the Staten Island Ferry, and all of them should have been visible at the same, at least in my mind.

Instead, this is how we approached New York (the city): as night came on, we got closer and closer, a fact that we knew only because we figured this must be true.  This was, again, the days before GPS and so we were going on a road map, one I'd bought at a grocery store, and so the only 'guidance' we had was a small reddish line that said that if we followed it, we'd get to New York.  We were still (in real life) on the road that was marked by that reddish line (on the map) and had been for 12+ hours, and going by the legend, which said that a length of line approximately equal to 1 inch was equal to some number of miles, I had calculated how many miles we should have to travel to get from Buffalo to New York.

(I had calculated this through the extremely scientific method of saying "the part of my index finger between the second and third knuckles is approximately one inch, so here goes," because who has a ruler with them, EVER? Even back in the dark ages like this, I never had a ruler, and I especially did not have a ruler when I needed one, like when I was supposed to measure the exact length of a line on a map to figure out distances, but even if I had somehow found a second-grader to borrow a ruler from, it still would have been approximate because the red line was curved.)

So we were using the honeymooners' equivalent of dead reckoning, and by that measure we would enter New York right...


We drove past a sign that said something like "New York next five exits" or something like that -- I don't recall ever seeing anything like you see in small towns in the Midwest, a "Welcome To..." sign followed by a sign announcing that there is a "Kiwanis" club in town and noting how many State Track & Field Championships that municipality has won -- and assuming that meant we were in New York City, we cheered.

We really did: as we crossed (we thought) into what (we thought) was the municipality of New York, proper, we cheered,  saying "Yay!" and high-fiving because we were there.

Then we kept driving, for about a half-hour, without seeing anything that looked like a city. We just kept seeing road signs that announced various things that meant nothing to us, and no buildings or anything that looked like a city.  Granted, it was dark out, but we were pretty sure that at least parts of New York -- well, those parts that weren't overrun with homeless crack-dealer muggerrapistmurderers -- would be at least partially lit and/or have buildings.

We drove on, wondering what they'd done with New York, and kept not seeing any signs of the city, or of our exit, although we did see a sign that said "Trucks Carrying Explosives, Use Exit --" which seemed worrisome to us: how many trucks carrying explosives were there, that they needed their own particular exit?

After what seemed like a hundred years, we still hadn't seen the city, or anything resembling the kind of place where Kevin McAllister gets lost or Kurt Russell escapes or people get to finally be a part of it instead of just longing for that, but we did see our exit, and so it was time to get off the highway and drive into New York, assuming it was there because honestly it still didn't feel right.

We were staying at a hotel that I'd booked several nights before, after the debacle in Cleveland.  The hotel was near LaGuardia Airport -- an airport I felt as though I was sort of connected to, having flown into it (twice!) on my trip to Morocco six years earlier, so I was like an expert on this area of the city if you don't pay attention to the fact that I hadn't, technically, left the airport buildings on either of those occasions, so I would really only be helpful if we were to have been staying in LaGuardia itself, which we were not.  This part of the city was "Queens," which I understand is a 'borough' of New York, which to me feels weird: how can part of a city have a whole name for itself and be like a whole separate city but still part of the city? If you just say that everything around you  is part of the city, well, then, yeah, it's a big city, but that seems like cheating.

The idea that parts of cities have their own nicknames, and their own identities, and a quasi-separate existence that somehow rises above the level of "the local residents are making it up" seems kind of weird to me, but that's probably because I was raised in a suburb and the nearest big city was Milwaukee, which really isn't big enough to have "boroughs," or even "parts," although they tried, in Milwaukee, because I remember from living near it, and in it, that Milwaukee wants to have 'parts' or 'boroughs' or something, and probably most cities do, but in the Midwest, owing to our farm-raised simplicity or our laziness or our German heritage or something, we haven't really progressed to the point where we can do the whole 'parts of the city' thing right, i.e., we don't really have them have their own identity or names or anything.

So in Milwaukee, there was the "South Side," which was loosely made up of the southern part of the city, something I always assumed meant "that part of the city which is south of I-94, the federal highway that runs through the city from Lake Michigan, on the east, to the western suburbs of Milwaukee County," but I was apparently wrong about that, as the "South Side" starts somewhere south of that natural dividing line, and is mostly confined to the easternmost part of the southernmost part of Milwaukee, the part that's south and east of the brewery/tanning factories that give Milwaukee its memorable stink when you first enter it from the west.

There was also "the North Side," which, if you were a suburban kid, was where you went if you wanted to get shot.  And the "East Side," which was where rich people lived.

That was the Milwaukee Geography I learned as a kid.  Once I lived there, I learned that there were other neighborhoods, too, places like "Downtown," (self-explanatory), which was always being 'revitalized,' starting with the Grand Avenue Mall 30 or so years ago, an opening of a mall so Grand that it even drew my parents all the way from the suburbs to shop at it, once, before they decided that they didn't want to risk going into the city to shop at a mall just because it had a glass elevator in the main atrium.  (The glass elevator back then was deemed the height of glamour.  Three decades in, I'm hard pressed to think of a mall anywhere that doesn't have one.  That's progress for you: we focus on the least amazing part of Willy Wonka's factory, and make it commonplace.  Where are my lifting bubbles, people?)

"Downtown" is still being revitalized, today: I was there (on business!) a few weeks ago and it looks much the same, only it was hotter than I remembered.

There was also the neighborhood known as "the Marquette neighborhood," called that because it was in and around Marquette University, which is famous for its basketball team having changed its name from "Warriors" to "Golden Eagles," something that is still controversial twenty years later because the kind of people who care about Marquette's team name have nothing real to worry about in their lives, and Marquette University is famous also for its proximity to where Jeffrey Dahmer lived, although to be fair he technically lived off-campus and had no formal affiliation with Marquette.

Finally, there was another "East Side" in Milwaukee, one that somehow was less East than the place I'd previously learned was the "East Side," but was still east of most of the city, and had "Real Chili" and a concert hall where indie bands would play a lot, and then there was "Riverwest," which was a neighborhood just west of the Milwaukee River where you would go if you wanted to get shot.

None of that prepared me for the fact that "Queens" was a part of a city that I hadn't yet seen, but it was also very late, past 10 o'clock, and we'd been driving a long time, and so we found our hotel and went and checked in.

And then assume it began SLOWLY to roll over.


Pat Dilloway said...

I should go to New York at some point but the prospect scares the crap out of me. I'd need to recruit a bodyguard/driver to go with me.

I think Toronto is the same way as Chicago where you're driving along the boring Canadian highway that doesn't even hardly have any billboards for entertainment and then boom there's the CN Tower and SkyDome and all the big buildings there.

Andrew Leon said...

Most of the cities I've been to just start. I've been to Chicago. San Francisco is the same way. So are Dallas and Fort Worth, although they bump into each other and are kind of like a mega-city, which is why it's called Dallas/Fort Worth. New Orleans and Baton Rouge are even places you "get to." And Boston. Mostly. However, I've been to L.A. a couple of times, and I'm still not sure exactly where "L.A." is other than that sometimes I was in it and sometimes I was not. Unfortunately, I've never been to any of the "cool" places in L.A.

Now, Houston and San Antonio are an hour apart, but, when you drive from one to the other, you never leave "city," so it's hard to tell them apart in any practical sense. Unless you're in one or the other, because they have completely different personalities.