Monday, November 07, 2005

Take the M5

"Here's 2 Dollars,"
The driver, a man whose face is permanently crinkled into a tight wrinkly grimace replies: "We don't accept dollar bills."
"You don't accept dollar bills?" I reply, hoping that by rephrasing his statement as a question the driver might reconsider and actually accept my dollar bills.
"We don't accept cash, that's what I said. Just Metrocards or change."
A line of people is beginning to accumulate behind me. A woman dangling what must be a dozen shoes by their strings shifts behind me uneasily. The driver smells like one million cups of coffee...with no cream. I make one last ditch effort. I play the stupidity card.
"I don't have either I'm really sorry I'm from Los Angel..."
"Just get in the back," he motions with an outstretched hand covered in thick black hair. Out of the corner of my eye I catch him smiling and shaking his head in disbelief. It's Sunday, some sunny day in November and I am rolling down the hot black cracked asphalt in a carbon monoxide filled capsule of plastic scratched glass. I have never seen so many different ears. Some are curved, some round, some spiral inward like fleshy shells. I have never seen so many different hands. Fat stubby flat fingers, long wiry wrists, curled dainty digits. They all stretch out over laps, grasping bags or cameras or other hands. I have never seen so many different faces. Mustaches, beards, moles, arched noses, plump lips-high cheek bone spectacle reflections of a motion blur. I am surrounded by strangers, and yet they don't feel very strange. There is an air of friendliness to the woman dressed in a grey blouse as she crunches the Wall Street Journal in her lap. There is a familiarity to the 50 year old man, as he lugs a bag full of cans down the center aisle, his face cracking with a smile so wide he almost appears to cry. There are two children climbing over the blue metal seats of this giant playground, laughing and screaming with glee as we all rumble and tumble down 6th avenue at an oh so speedy 10 miles per hour. Wait, did I mention we are only going 10 miles per hour? Yet nobody seems to care, no one complains. The caffeinated driver twitches as his glass boat twists and turns down the crowded city streets. Decals on the transparent walls of this vessel detail the danger of standing unless a stop is requested. Is a stop requested? Surely a stop must be requested some time? In this city, this hustling-bustling frenetic whir of color, nobody ever stops. The pavement glows with the heat generated by the feet of abuelitas and walstreet business men and next week's celebrity high roller as they all pound the street together in a brilliant dance of color, light, and motion.

In this city, this buzzing bubble, the ambulance drivers are Disc Jockeys. Sirens mix into the chatter of street vendors as hot sausages crackle and pop on electric grills. From outside the plastic shell a hum is growing. The hum pushes itself through the plastic exoskeleton of the bus and suddenly my ears are intoxicated with the rough coarse hoarse voice of the city. Cement mixers laugh hot gooey screaming cab driver-noisy-shrieks-of-joy. Car alarms sting silence as angry French bulldogs bow-wow grace notes through the air. Wine sloshes round back and forth chatter as cigarettes crackle the tap tap tap of a blind man's cane. Even the light, as it kisses the corners of every skyscraper, hums high pitched whispers throughout my cochlea. Is there a stop requested? In this city, this delicious vissicoise of sound, nobody ever stops.

I am shuttled up 6th avenue and into a blockade of yellow bricks, red eyes blinking as pedestrians weave in and out of an automotive maze. As the driver twitches to the left, the wheels of the vessel screetch across an intersection and suddenly we are across from central park and I no longer inhale carbon monoxide but rather the sweet smell of something new. A leaf floats through the emergency ventilation shaft on the ceiling of the bus and onto the rough corrugated black floor by my feet. I bend down to pick up the leaf and upon touching its veiny skin, I am instantly transported outside the glass boat. A pile of leaves engulfs my body, floating me across central park south and up Broadway. It is warm inside the crispy pile of green flakes and for the first time in my life, I inhale the sweet metallic aroma of fall. While floating along up riverside drive past the park I think back to the moment I moved to New York City. I remember lonely nights walking up and down 3rd avenue at 4am unable to sleep. I remember complaining to my parents that this city was too loud, that I was becoming claustrophobic and couldn't leave my apartment in the mornings. I remember a trip to the school psychiatrist on the Friday before Labor Day, feeling more lonely than ever. I remember all these tensions, all these bouts with anxiety and now, engulfed in the leaves of central park I realize how far I've come in 2 short months. I am so much happier now, having experienced the noise, the loneliness, the anxiety. Wrapped a green blanket of New York city foliage I slowly drift off to sleep.

The smell of empanadas and fried chicken-chop suey-pan dulce-brisket sandwiches swims into my sleepy nostrils. I crack open one eye and now it is night and 150th st is a blinking strobe of warm bulbs advertising every ethnicity of culinary delights. A multi-cultural beacon which signals constant activity to the rest of the city, there is a certain energy on this part of the island which I haven't found anywhere else. It reminds me of home, of downtown Los Angeles, but in a new exciting way. I finally exit my seat and move onto the street. I am ready to experience the city on my own again. I bid farewell to the driver, who is quite surprised that I'm still on the bus after 3 hours and apologize for my lack of exact change. He smiles and says: "That's you know what I do everyday." I leave the bus behind and as my feet touch the pavement, I am energized and ready to explore...for the first time in forever I feel new.

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