Escape from New York (part 2, the return)
Last week I went back to New York City for the first time in over a year, to empty out my storage space mainly, but also to show Allison my version of the city. My old haunts, such as they were. Bars mainly, like Scratcher on E. 5th Street, and Rosemary's Greenpoint Tavern on Bedford Avenue. My old apartments, also in the East Village and Williamsburg. We were staying way the hell out in Rego Park, Queens, at my brother's apartment, while he and his wife were out of town visiting friends (and megachurches, apparently, as I learned from their Facebook pages) in California. Allison and I are night people, drinkers. My brother and his wife are not, and their apartment is not situated in an area that's conducive to late-night carousing, so we had to walk many many long blocks in 90 degree heat to get the subway to Brooklyn / Manhattan and take a several fairly pricy Ubers on the way home. I had to keep reminding myself, and Allison, that this is not really what living in New York is like, at least not my version of it. (My brother lives a very different, though actually no less "New York" lifestyle than me.)
We saw a bunch of my old friends, the ones who remain in New York, but not everyone I'd hoped to see. It's the same old story, I suppose: people in their 30s getting fed up and leaving New York for less expensive, more convenient cities.
"My girlfriend got a job in L.A., and we just said fuck it and went."
"I found out my wife was cheating on me and said fuck it, I'm getting a divorce and riding my bike cross-country."
"It was always a dream of mine to live in New York, and now I have, so fuck it, I'm going to chase another dream and travel the world."
That last one was my friend Todd, after just a year in New York, but it could also be me. I think Todd's in Estonia now. Before New York, he lived in Seattle for like 20 years. I guess a year in New York set him free. It took 17 years for New York to set me free. I was born there, and after my parents moved our nascent family to Vermont when I was less than a year old, then to Rochester after my brother was born, I spent my entire life wish I'd grown up there, in the Concrete Jungle, the City So Nice They Named It Twice. I returned as soon as I could, for college, and didn't seriously think about leaving again until I was 30. I started traveling in fits and starts. India, China, Europe, random road trips around the U.S. Sure, I've been a few places. But it took five years for me to work up the nerve to actually leave New York.
I'm circling back to the beginning of this blog now, to the time last summer when I finally gave up my infamous East Village apartment, above the meat market, where I'd entertained and upset so many women, before I put all of my things in storage, bought a car and drove West.
New York, that beautiful, disgusting, impossible city—I haven't missed it. The world is so goddamn big, there's so much more to see, I'm almost mad I squandered so much time in one place, even if it is, inarguably, the best place. But Allison was thrilled to be there with me, and I love it when she's enthusiastic about anything (hell, she even makes watching The Bachelor/ette (in Paradise) seem like riotous good fun). We agreed that the MoMA has gone inexplicably downhill, dinner is insanely expensive, and the last week in July is so murderously hot it's almost not even worth going outside. Except that it is. Somehow it's all worth it ...
I love seeing Allison so happy, but I couldn't allow myself to get sucked back in. Even so, by the end of our last night in town, after spending $200 on Japanese small plates and Sapporo beer with my old friend Andy and his wife, Sabrina, and even knowing that we had to be up at 7 a.m. to head into Manhattan, rent a truck in Harlem, drive it to my storage facility in midtown, pack up the remains of the last 17 years of my life, and drive it six hours to Rochester, we didn't want it to be over.
"Just one more beer."
"OK, one more."
"Maybe we should just say fuck it and move here. We could do it. I've done it before."
Mercifully, we went home instead, I mean back to my brother's apartment in Queens, on the train, the longest subway ride of our lives, and by the end, thank god, we were both thinking, "This is horrendous, we can't live here, at least not here."
Five short, brutal hours later my brother was ringing the doorbell, waking Allison and me up.
They were home!
Phillip and Sandra looked strangely refreshed for a couple of people who had spent the night on a redeye from California.
"Is that what Jesus does for you?" I thought as I holed up in the bathroom, wishing I was alone, wishing I didn't have to face the long, fraught day before me.
Allison had promised she would rally, that she would "help me" in my time of great anxiety and need, as I closed this final door on New York City. And to her great credit, she did. She drove the Budget truck, that tiny behemoth, from Harlem to Midtown (her first time driving in New York City, amazingly), where we split an Adderall and loaded all of my stuff aboard in about an hour, then hit the Lincoln Tunnel, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York state. I finally took over the wheel somewhere after Binghamton when Allison said her back hurt too much to drive anymore.
We made it back to Rochester by dinnertime.
I couldn't have done it without her.
Now we only have the rest of the world to see.