My original plan for my first week of vacation during anesthesia residency was to do something new and exciting: perhaps a week in London, a trip to Toronto, or a hike in the Catskills resplendent with autumn color. As the time drew closer, however, I realized that the thing I wanted most was to go home to Texas! My three months in New York City make the longest stretch of I’ve ever been away from my home state.
More posts will come regarding my whirlwind tour of the Lone Star State, with over 500 miles logged under the dizzying dome of the cavernous Texas sky, but I wanted to write first about what is most recent in my mind. Sure, since moving to the northeast I’d spent a night away here or there visiting family & friends in Philadelphia and Washington D.C. But this was my first real homecoming to New York City.
I’d requested a left window seat with hopes of another flightpath up the East River and phenomenal views of Manhattan. Unfortunately my boarding pass was printed with the seat assignment 12D…aisle, right side of the plane. An airborne preview of The City, however, wouldn’t have prepared me for the new sensation I experienced as I stepped outside of the terminal at LaGuardia Airport.
Leaving behind October weather in the 90’s in Texas, I stepped outdoors into a sunny late New York afternoon in the 60’s. A breeze greeted me as I gazed at the the purple and gray clouds streaked across the sky. In the distance rose the Empire State, Chrysler, and Citicorp Buildings. And the strange thing was that…that it was familiar. This airport was my portal back to “regular” life with my apartment, job, new friends, and church. Just a few miles away lay my bridge, the little grocery on 187th that I frequent, and the Dominicans playing dominoes on the sidewalk outside my building.
The M60 bus pulled up to the curb after a couple minutes, and it was all very normal to dip my Metrocard as I boarded and simply to read a magazine to pass the 30-minute ride into The City. Walking down the block in Harlem–past the African-American hairstyle establishment Kinky Twirls, I might add–the sidewalks crawled with humanity in the long shadows of the late afternoon. But best of all was what lay beneath the streets. Dirty, dingy, damp…New York City subways! The familiar rumbling, squealing, and screeching greeted my ears as I squeezed my suitcase, carry-on, and myself onto the packed car.
Little had changed in the apartment, except for some mail stacked on the dining room table. Enjoying my first hours of alone time during my vacation, I put on a sweater and went down to the little pub nestled halfway below street level at 181st Street. I sat alone at a tall bar table in the dark paneled room and watched college football while enjoying a burger and beer. And then, of course, the familiar fifteen minute walk home down Bennet: the bike shop, the Hebrew school, the little pastoral Lutheran church, and the semicircle of park-benches where older folks feed birds in the afternoons. I was home.