July 18th, 2007

We've Landed

Wed, 07/18/2007 - 6:30am

Getting to New York was a breeze, even if it started out a bit on the shaky side. Out of all the options, a 7am flight seemed best to me. I prefer red-eye flights (you get a whole extra day), but there weren't any good ones, so the Supershuttle was scheduled to pick me up at 4:50 am yesterday. At 4:45 my phone rang and an automated "voice" told me that the van was 5 minutes away. At 4:49, it rang again and said one I hefted my luggage (God Help Me For What I Pack) and stepped into SF's cold fog and nostalgically gazed at the darkened sky as I patiently waited out the rest of my one minute. Brrrrr. I'd already checked the weather in NY, and I wasn't going to step off the plane into ninety degree humidity wearing a polar fleece, so in a tee-shirt and my trusty Adidas travelpants, I waited. Instead of the airport van, a Chevy pickup pulled up on the sidewalk on the opposite side of Green St. and newspapers arced upward starting from the driver's open window and then curved down onto stoops (until that moment, in the nearly 20 years I've lived in SF, I'd never witnessed a newspaper home-delivery). An early-morning jogger ran by. A BMW passed and I imagined the driver to be a day-trader. I wondered if Janis ever had reason to get up this early, what she would see...I wondered how Janis got to the airport when she interviewed for her job out there (reminder: Janis is my character) then, finally, I wondered, "Where the hell was my van?"

Nervous, I dragged the suitcase and duffel bag into a corner of the courtyard and ran into my apartment to call Supershuttle (the number was on my landline) and use that opportunity to double-check and see if I'd unplugged my electric tea kettle. Once through, the dispatcher sharply reprimanded me, "Your van is waiting for you, just called you in a no-show. Get downstairs right now." I responded, "I beg your pardon, but I've been waiting twenty minutes. I can see my street from my apartment and there's no van." She then said, "Either you go downstairs right now or I'll tell the driver to go ahead and noshowyou."

Threats? At 5:10am?

At 5:20, the van finally came. The driver proved to be an amazing talent. Not only could he drive a van with six people and tons of luggage, he also was able to talk on one cellular device while text-messaging on a second. While he drove.

A slight aside. My "spiritual" philosophy boils down this: every time I refuse to accept the reality of what's happening and invest in what I think SHOULD happen instead, I'm miserable. When I'm miserable I'm good at sharing misery. When I accept what's actually happening, whether or not I like it, I'm still fine, even if it sort of sucks and I generally stay off of other people's nerves. What Happens (versus what I think should happen) is the ruler.

How Zen, right?

Well, this is where I start. With the belief, the philosophy. I'd even call it a practice. But am I good at it?

No. First of all, there are the times when I'm uncomfortable with what's happening and I can change it (like leaving a terrible movie, quitting a job, ending a bad date, changing shoes, getting over myself and/or my ego). Sometimes I can not change What's Happening (when I'm on my motorcycle and its raining, when my upstairs neighbors are "making love", when the Netflix CD is scratched, when people get grave illnesses).

The Supershuttle thing lands in the gray area. Do I complain about the lady reprimanding me? Was she reprimanding me or was that only my perception? (As a teacher I know there's often a difference). Should I firmly request the driver to put down his phones? By the time I ran this through the web of my mind, we were already at a mile from the exit, so I decided to bite the bullet. As I write this I'm remembering another time with Supershuttle, the driver fell asleep at a red light. Only when enough honking horns finally banded together to reach a screeching level did he wake up and proceed. My co-riders and I shyly looked at each other, smiled like you do when you're about to die, and pretended, in silence, like it that didn't just happen.

Perhaps the thing I can actually "do" is stop taking Supershuttle and actually spring for a cab. (I'd asked my friend Rick to drive me, but he told me he'd rather give me a kidney than pick me up at 5am).

Luckily, I let the van/dispatcher thing go, too excited about this opportunity the grant has given me to write and live in New York for a month while researching the novel. So there I was at Continental. I checked in, went through security, found the gate, and got my Peet's coffee. All was good. The plane took off and landed on time, the turnstile spit out my luggage before my friend Sam finished telling me how to get into Manhattan from Newark (I'd always flown into JFK or La Guardia). As soon as I walked outside, I'd forgotten everything he'd said except the two words: Bus and Train.  So I made my way toward the buses carrying two huge suitcases and a messenger bag with a 20 pound laptop and did what I did in Italy. Ask a local. I chose a very good-looking one. He said, "Get on the 62 with me." (This particular person could've said Eat a Boiled Cabbage and flap your wings to get to NY and I would've done it). The fare? One dollar and thirty-five cents. & Plenty of room for my bags. Next Sam sent me a text saying to take the PATH train from Penn Station (Jersey) to Journal then transfer to the 33rd St. Train and get off at 14th. My companion excited the stop before me (apparently friendly only for friendship's sake). A woman who worked at the PATH stepped me through the ticket buying process (which was cheap and easy, like an ATM, but had I done it myself, she said, I would've missed the train) and then led me to the wheelchair entrance because of my luggage. From 14th St., I took a cab to my cousin's doorstep on Cooper Square. Seven bucks. I stepped off the plane one hour before I stepped into the lobby of the apartment building. That put me in a really good mood. I'd planned to spend at least sixty dollars with the Airtrain and a cab, and only spent ten. I'd prepared myself mentally to be in rush hour traffic. But it never happened. And, everyone I delt with reinforced my theory about New Yorkers. Here the theory: New Yorkers are friendly. They don't coddle and they don't pretend not to be pissed off (when they are), but they're proud of their city and generally helpful and friendly. I bet the stereotypical idea of the unfriendly New Yorker derives from people who either moved here or are visiting. 

Why am I writing about all this? 2 reasons: 1) it's a blog and this is what people seem to blog about; and 2) Janis has a very difficult time with stuff like public transportation. When we meet her in the novel (as it stands now/it might change), she's really sure that the whole world SHOULD be a certain way and it's interesting to see where that gets her. Turns out, she doesn't share my theory about New Yorkers either. 

Ok, back to my arrival:

The doorman had been expecting me, handed me the key, and I took the elevator into the gorgeous apartment and am greeted by Jetson and Jupiter, Greg and Michael's very friendly canines. Greg is out of town until Monday and so Michael and I met a friend of his, Rosa, who I'd met in SF years ago when she was interviewing for her internship at UCSF right before I moved to Italy. She and her husband are now practicing physicians and have a baby named Paolo along with a second bun in the oven. While eating fresh fish in a Brazilian restaurant, we discussed the dilemma of living within the city or on the outskirts. They currently live in Harlem and for the same price there they can buy a whole house for the same price as a small apartment in the East Village (we had dinner on Avenue C and 7th near where they'd looked at an apartment for sale). But the East Village is so close to everything and just because they have kids doesn't mean they want to stop living a Manhattan lifestyle. In the end, Rosa and Isaac forgot Paolo's carriage and called Michael to see if he'd bring it to his place. And we did. (Just in case you were wondering about the photo). Oh, and the reason I was walking in the middle of 8th is because we saw a rat big enough to hop in the carriage and start calling me mommy.

What a perfect day. Tomorrow I start the writing.