I guess technically the day I arrived was my first experience of New York City, but I never emerged to the street, staying underground and inside buildings as I wended my way toward the train and Garrison, NY. Riding the subway felt quite familiar. How could I not know how it worked, having seen so many movies featuring the subway? The bump and roll felt just like my own city's light rail above ground. Of course, figuring out where to go was another matter. Looking for Grand Central, I was studying a map on the wall and trying to figure out just where I was. A janitor noticed and asked where I was going. He told me what direction I wanted. I thanked him and he said, "I love you" as he walked away. (Is this a New York thing? I got one of those squashed pennies at the Empire State Building, it said "I love you.")
I wasn't afraid to ask, and I still had my map from the hotel. The first person I asked said, "First you take the shuttle, then you take your local." (local? I figured I'd find out when I got there.) Then, there were trains 1, 2, and 3. I looked at the map. They all looked like they went to the same place, that's good. Wait a minute, the announcer just said something about express, I guess that means local makes all the stops? I approach the nearest person casually waiting alone. "Does the number next to the spot on the map mean the train stops there?" I showed him the map and he confirmed. We had a little conversation about why I was there, my first trip to New York, etc. Again the meeting of the eyes, just a little longer than expected. This was happening to me a lot this week. Yeah, I know what that means, but I didn't take it that way at the Gathering (but it sure stirred me up). Here, it made the day just a bit more pleasant to know this handsome tawny-skinned man was creating a conversation with me so he could keep that eye contact a little bit longer.
I was waiting for the right train. I got on, headed toward the Hotel Chelsea. No, wait, "wahh wa wahhh wah is express. This is the last stop for this train until 14th. 2 and 3 trains are local." (but this is 1, this is supposed to be local?) I got off. I asked somebody else, a young couple. "Are they saying the 1 is now express, and the 2 and 3 are local? Is that what that sign means?" I vaguely recalled a friend telling me it could get confusing because they changed things like this. I couldn't see any handy elevators so I dragged my wheeled luggage up and down to the other side of the platform. Soon the young couple followed, said sorry for almost steering me wrong. Another man who was quite convinced the 2 was supposed to be Express walked about stiff-legged in urgent confusion. So even the locals might not understand what's going on.
In hindsight I realized it might have been quicker and easier on my back just to walk at that point, but I had no idea how long the blocks were. I wouldn't trade that moment, though, when I emerged from the nether regions of the city up onto the corner of West 23rd and 7th. It was as if awareness of myself unfolded from my skin to meet a world that again felt familiar and close to me. I could say to some Buddhists or New Agers, "Maybe I spent a past life here," and they would take it seriously. I could also say, "Maybe it's because so many movies have featured New York street scenes, and that has bred familiarity." It certainly felt like something flat coming to full vibrant life to me. I'm not sure it matters, but it had a miraculous feel to it.
I know it had something to do with how happy I felt from the BPF Gathering, and that I continued to feel so connected even to strangers. The world buzzed with ripe potential. If I was a fruit, I was ready to be plucked. I was brimful of love with no particular object to rest it on. My bag of skin barely held me in from the sky.
I was nearly there. I crossed the street and walked down the block, passed under the scaffolding to reach the front door of the Hotel Chelsea. I approached the front desk, where two people waited. I met the eyes of the one standing, and I was transported into a notion that I should step forward and hug this man, hug him as I would a familiar friend, as I would a beloved, much like I had been hugging so many people at the Gathering. I caught myself, I didn't step forward towards this very familiar feeling. One didn't just greet a stranger, one who was just doing his job, with a heartfelt hug. The moment passed, how long it was I do not know, and our eyes disengaged and I looked toward the other man who held the list of reservations. I handed him my card, filled out my information, and the first man stepped around the desk and reached for my bags, leading me to my room on the 8th floor.