I looked up from my magazine as the subway train made the smooth, wide arc towards Queensboro Plaza from Astoria. It’s a swinging movement so familiar to me after a year and a half that I hardly ever think about it anymore. But every once in awhile, I take notice. I look up from fiddling with my phone, reading a book, or scribbling in my notebook to take in the yellowish spires of the 59th street bridge and the Manhattan skyline beyond. Last year, there was a three month period when I couldn’t see it without thinking of Bane’s ghoulish Gotham wasteland reachable only by this bridge and the last glimpse of Batman from it as he supposedly exploded off into the distance. I lamented the fact that I’d missed the chance to see Tom Hardy and Christian Bale in person while they were filming on this same bridge months before, blocking off all traffic in either direction.
But today, as the impossibly blue sky glowed like a studio backdrop behind the familiar skyline and the, admittedly, less than impressive bridge itself, I thought of a quote from The Great Gatsby. I’d probably read that line three or four times over the years, having been assigned this classic in high school, undergrad, and grad school, not to mention reading it on my own. But this was the first time that I read it with the experience to understand what exactly was meant by them. As Gatsby speeds along from West Egg towards “town”, Nick rides shotgun thinking, “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty of the world.”
I’ve had this feeling riding over a number of bridges and through tunnels that began in what felt like another world, only to open onto the stunning yet familiar vista of Manhattan. But today as the train made its customary swerve towards the bridge, laying out the skyline cut through by the Queensboro bridge, I thought about how I hadn’t had that feeling for a long time. I hadn’t seen the city new again or felt like entering into it was the beginning of a mysterious adventure of infinite possibilities. More often, that feeling only came over me when I headed in the opposite direction, from the windows of a cab while my neighborhood slid away into dingy highways and, within minutes, the sprawling expanse of LaGuardia or JFK airports, a place that could take me literally anywhere. I watched the skyline slide closer before slipping back into my magazine, lamenting the fact that NYC had apparently lost its luster for me. That my sense of wonder was no longer piqued simply by entering onto its rushing streets. Rather than an enormous playground as open to adventure as Neverland, NYC was now truly home.
I thought back to my trips over the past year, to Atlanta, Florida, Shanghai. How each of those places continued to surprise me, sometimes in huge, confusing ways, other times in simple yet strange details. I giggled to myself thinking of my constant perplexed state as I wandered around Atlanta with Roo demanding, “dafuq is this?” when we stumbled across Civil War cannons primly parked in hotel lobbies, three-year-olds wearing more makeup than I’ve ever owned, and a still inexplicable woman walking around with a plastic fireman’s hat two nights in a row. I expected the bizarre here in NYC and so when it came, I shrugged my shoulders and wasn’t surprised. With a sigh, I put away my magazine and finished my coffee, ready to get off at my stop. I knew, and I’ve known for awhile that there will come a time when I will leave this city, the crazy place that holds so much wonder for others but apparently not for me. Standing up, I casually glanced to my left to check the time on the train’s digital screen…and saw a random Asian chick eating corn on the cob in the middle of the train with a look of complacency, even boredom. As I stepped out onto the station platform, I couldn’t help grinning to myself. Oh NYC, you still have a few tricks up your sleeve.
P.S. As if to prove a point, while writing this at the library, a guy sat down across from me looking like a straight-up Charlie Chaplin character. Hair, mustache, old-fashioned glasses and all. The only thing missing is a bowler hat.