riding the rails 18

Although I’ve been to New York City a few times, my dislocation is too loosely based in the west to ever approach it as anything but a tourist.  I’ve been there for stays of three to four days, and have probably seen most of the things that tourists go to see, but since I had twelve hours, figured I’d make the most of it.  After leaving the hostel, the first place I wanted to check out was the Chelsea Hotel, which was only a few blocks away.  I’d read about the Chelsea in countless biographies of artists and writers, and though it seemed to be under new management, there was still a lyric from Leonard Cohen on a plaque outside the door. 

I was carrying an umbrella, but the rain stayed at bay.  It was about a mile and a half to Times Square and I followed 8th Avenue to get there.  I passed the Empire State Building again, and then began to see the billboards, one announcing the Kardashians next season, another multi-paneled one promoting the new Duane Johnson superhero movie, Black Adam.  Soon the sides of the streets were covered with flashing screens and advertisements.  I’d arrived at the heart of America, the machine that keeps the dreams of the working class alive.  A lit-up version of the stars and stripes sat above an army recruiting office, right beneath an enormous GAP store and across from the Hard Rock Café.  There were signs for Paramount, Old Navy, and McDonalds.  Like most everyone there, I was hypnotized by the spectacle, but had fallen out of the demographic they were making their pitch to.  At the center of the square, I counted three Minnie Mouses and one Iron Man.

Like all the cities I’d visited, there was a small army of the dispossessed, squatting on the sidewalk, but most people were too busy looking up to notice them.  One man sat with a soggy sign; his head bent down in the light drizzle.  No one would be making a movie about him anytime soon, not unless he jumped up and stated shooting everyone.

When I got back to the hostel, there was still no one in the other bed, which seemed to be miraculous good fortune.  I got in bed and fell asleep reading the Times.  Later I got up and even turned the air-conditioner on, confident by now I had the room to myself.  I was torn about the next morning.  After three days straight on the train, I needed the sleep, but also wanted to see if I could walk to the Statue of Liberty before the Silver Star left for Washington DC at eleven.  It was three miles and probably pushing my luck, but once I got it in my head, couldn’t get it back out, so set the alarm for 7:30 and made sure I could just grab my bags and head straight to the station when I got back.

The directions to the Statue of Liberty were not exactly straight forward, and at one point I strayed from them and ended up on the Hudson River Walk, probably adding another half mile to the trip by getting diverted onto an exercise trail.  The cloud cover was heavy and though the statue wasn’t far, I could only see the faintest outline of it when I finally reached a viewpoint.  Just then, it started to rain, and I should’ve called it quits, instead of fighting my way down to Battery Park, where by now even less of the statue was visible, only a small, nearly shapeless shadow, against a backdrop of gray sky and sea.

It now began raining so hard that my socks were getting wet.  My route back to the hostel took me right past the World Trade Center Memorial, but once I reached it, was already starting to panic about the time.  Two guys were gathering up the white chain stretched around it and told me it was opening in a few minutes, so I waited and then hurried to the edge of one pool, with the names of victims of the 9-11 attack inscribed around it.  The design of the pool made it seem like the water, flowing endlessly into a dark square in the center, would never stop falling into black space.  The other pool, where the south tower had stood, was the identical.  As I was leaving, I noticed a shop where you could buy an American flag that had been flown above the memorial, complete with a certificate of authenticity.

It was still two and a half miles to the hostel, and by now I was practically running, so afraid was I that I might miss my train.  After what seemed like an hour, I finally got back to 8th Avenue, but saw that I was only at 12th Street.  The last eight blocks were like the last eight miles of a marathon, the longest blocks I’d ever traversed, and I still needed to grab my things and get to the station, another thirteen blocks away. 

When I got to the hostel I rushed into the office, just to make sure they didn’t need my sheets or anything, then hurried up the stairs, threw the door to my room open, grabbed everything out of the locker, picked up my bags, and then couldn’t find the keys anywhere.  That was not possible.  I’d just opened the door with them.  I tried to calm myself.  The least productive thing to do in a situation like that is to start to panic.  I started to panic. 

They weren’t in the door.  They weren’t in my pocket.  They weren’t on the bed.  They weren’t in the locker.  Could I have dropped them into one of my bags?  That wasn’t possible.  I yanked the sheet off the bed and flapped it in the air.  I lifted the mattress and shook it, listening for the sound of keys hitting the floor.  I started to shout out loud and rummage through my suitcase.  No.  No.  It couldn’t be.  I dumped out my backpack and almost broke down.  Oh, my God.  I was going to miss the train.

There were some women cleaning the rooms and I became convinced I must’ve left the keys in the door and that one of them, thinking I’d checked out, had taken them.  Grabbing my things, I rushed down to the front desk with this desperate line of logic.  A guest was just checking in.  I couldn’t help but interrupt him.  The keys were gone.  I just had them.  One of the maids must have taken them.  That was all I could think of.  The man behind the desk got on the phone and began to speak Spanish.  He informed me if the keys were truly lost there would be a ten-dollar charge.  That’s all I needed to hear.  I begged him to put it on my card.

Outside it was raining less than it had been, but my train was leaving in thirty minutes, and I was sure I wouldn’t make it.  Hustling down the sidewalk, running every red light I could, dragging my suitcase through puddles of water, I arrived at the station, half-dead, only to find that nobody else was in a hurry.  Not only was no one lining up yet, the gate hadn’t even been announced.  I looked at the hands on the big clock hanging overhead, and it didn’t seem possible.  Not even ten minutes had passed since I’d gone barging out of the hostel.

As soon as we boarded the train, I began a deliberate search for the keys, starting with my backpack.  Within two minutes I found them, nestled up to the keys for my lock in the top pouch.  Unbelievable.  As soon as we’d passed through the North River Tunnel and were approaching New Jersey, I called the hostel to apologize.  I hadn’t been trying to blame any of the maids, just trying to explain the unexplainable.  The guy told me not to worry about it.  He said it happens all the time.  I assured him those keys would never see the light of day.  He told me to toss them in the river.

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