638 days ago, I went from a BrooklynJS meetup to a late night showing of Star Wars, and then took the 2:30am train back to Boston. We knew it was the final days of 2019, but we had no clue. And though I looked into it last summer, it’s only now that I came back.
The thing about New York City is, there is a rite of passage. No one is sure quite what it is, only that it is an ordeal. You hear a little hint here and there: it’s making it through the year in a shoebox apartment with an eccentric roommate, it’s when you cry openly on a train at midnight, it’s when you and a scammer run into each other again, but as someone who grew up in New Hampshire of all places I know I don’t have shit on a real New Yorker.
When I got lunch with my museum coworker and he talked about graduating into the 9/11 recession. When a friend was holding down the fort at the family restaurant during Sandy while I was in San Francisco.
You can’t trade in tragedies, but the lines were drawn when some people fled Covid and some stayed. Probably the best example was when a Redditor asked ‘How do you feel about people who left? (And are coming back)?’ in July 2021 — it’s clear what they meant about People Who Left (and the best response was a link to the May 2020 thread ‘Why do I feel a bit of resentment towards folks coming back into the city?’).
I’m not a journalist or anything; I don’t plan to ask my friends how it’s been going through it all. It was reassuring and it was weird to see KF94 and KN95 masks on the train. It was reassuring and weird to be back on familiar streets with new vaccination signs. But then today I got soup dumplings and General Tso’s tofu and mochi ice cream [I’ve been in Alaska for 2 months, please excuse] from one takeout place just a 10 minute walk away. And the restaurant didn’t have the same name as the online menu so I overshot and ended up in the car-free Open Boulevard and a lot was happening and I used a LinkNYC kiosk for the first time in my life to reorient myself, but sure, that’s New York City.
A funny coincidence for me was that after the airport, I connected to the subway at Howard Beach, the very same station where I arrived going to my first NYC Airbnb in 2014. And I hadn’t been here again, I guess because you can go to Jamaica for Manhattan and Queens, and when you have a company card you can take Uber [note: if you live in NYC try drivers.coop].
Now I know in my backpack I have a MetroCard. All pandemic long when I sorted through transit tokens and foreign bills and mementos, I knew to keep this MetroCard around. It’s got a little gunk on it — I brush it with my raincoat and hope that doesn’t scrape the magnetic strip. Expiration is 10/31/2021. There’s time. And that’s when I thought it, NYC, please take me back. I needed there to be money left on this card. It wasn’t going to be enough for the AirTrain 🙄 but if the machine accepted the card then I would feel good.
So when the machine said $2.75 it was the funniest thing.
Then: Could not read credit card, try again?
Could not read credit card, try again?
And so I was one of those obnoxious tourists digging through my bag to pay the AirTrain.