clap clap blog: we have moved

Thursday, October 14, 2004
Finally got moving around 4 today and walked to the drugstore to get some supplies. Crossing 179th street, I caught a glimpse of one of the towers of the George Washington Bridge, sheathed in white plastic. So after I made my purchases I walked up a block, past the lower vehicle exit of the bus station, to the northwest corner of 179th and St. Nick. I opened my Pepsi and drank it while leaning on the metal railing in front of the solid metal fencing separating me from the Cross-Manhattan Expressway.

It was a distinctly weird sensation. Something about how, if it was the pre-auto days, there would be this herd of people passing below me, making people sounds and kicking up dust. It would feel busy and crowded. But as it was, it felt...something else. "Crowded" seems like the word because there really weren't any people around; "noisy" is accurate but not all-encompassing. Like being in a factory somehow, I guess, like standing up on top of the scaffolding and surveying the floor below, the machines all working away. I don't mean this in a negative sense, exactly. It's just that if there were no cars there, if there were just people, exposed to the elements, and all lined up, waiting to go through a major transportation nexus, I would be noticed, I guess--the guy up there, up on high, status beside the point, I would be a landmark rather than an anomaly. Now most people couldn't even see me with the roofs blocking their views, and with the choked-up tangle of offramps and bridges surrounding my vantage point, I might not have been visible anyway. It's that same sense of barenness, of somehow seeing a hidden process revealed, that I think all of us feel when we're close to a highway but not in a car. It's something I've always loved, but I don't entirely know why. On my one day off from my summer job a few years back, I spent a decent bit of it sitting by a freeway, playing with a yo-yo and watching the cars.

As much as a car can be liberating and energizing--as much as it can convey that sense of openness and possibility you might feel at the start of a journey--there's something fundamentally sad about auto travel, isn't there? Something different from traveling on a train or by foot. Sure, you might be annoyed at your fellow passengers, but they're there, right next to you. You are traveling as a group. Whereas in a car, you're cut off from the people right next to you. Technically, it makes no sense to feel alone when commuting, but we do. We feel alone when we're running errands or coming back from work in a car, in a different way than we might otherwise.

I stood there and I looked at the cars driving away from me, under my feet, and the buses coming off the precarious-looking ramps into the line-up for the bridge out of this state, off this island. I looked at the Express Service mini-buses running to the shopping center, ferrying loads of people from the bus station either to jobs or to shopping, or both. I wondered where I would go if I could, if I was free of committments and all of that. But probably nowhere. Who wants to go to New Jersey, anyway? I mostly just don't respond well to gray weather, I suppose.

Walking back I saw a girl in a plaid skirt with a backpack, coming home from school. I looked across the street and saw a library. It's all the same, isn't it? School, library, corner store, cars, roads, drugstores, video rental, bedrooms, TVs. Sure, the corner stores smell different, and the libraries are more vertical than horizontal--so's everything--and the bedrooms are smaller, and the cars are alien things now. But it's all the same, fundamentally, isn't it? Isn't it? The same as where I came from, the same as where I'm going, the same as everywhere else. Isn't it?