I’ve always loved coming into Manhattan from the outlying boroughs. Approaching and crossing the bridges or coming through the tunnels always has a certain feel of anticipation as if traveling to a fantasyland. In the past I’ve always come to the island via the Newark or LaGuardia airports, but this trip I landed at JFK. In one of those oddities of air fare arcania, I had a choice between two Northwest flights, each leaving Minneapolis at the same time on the same day, one arriving at LaGuardia and the other at JFK, one minute apart. The LaGuardia flight was some $650 more than the one that landed at JFK. That’s math that even I can do. (Heck, I can even do it in story-problem form: if two planes leave at the same time for the same destination, arriving at almost the same time, and if the Night Writer selects the one that costs $650 more, how long before Corporate Accounting comes down on him like a herd of flesh-eating frogs?
Approaching Manhattan from Queens especially enhances the sensation of being backstage at a big show. Nearing the Queensboro Bridge I noticed a cemetery resolutely holding its ground while the highway, roads, brick warehouses and homes pressed round its perimeter like a river coursing past a boulder. It occured to me that cemeteries tend to be a reflection of their environs. When I drive through rural areas, for example, cemeteries have lots of empty space around them and seem to jut up from the empty fields suddenly, without transition, much like the communities they serve. Squat stones and tall stones break up the lines of the earth in the same way the houses, barns and silos do. In Queens the headstones – squat and tall – are compacted together, their straight, tidy rows and random heights and shapes looking like a modeler’s panorama of Manhattan’s grid. I thought of these headstones again this morning as I had a bagel and coffee while looking out the window from the 44th floor of the Hilton in mid-town (yes, Corporate Accounting knows about this, too); the stone rectangles of differing heights and colors running row after row below in straight lines below my feet.
That’s about all of Manhattan that I saw on this short trip. Yesterday I went directly from the airport shuttle to a 13th floor conference room overlooking an inner courtyard off of Park Avenue. From up there, though, I could hear the filtered sirens and honkings from the streets below and the miscellaneous crashings and bangings that are a constant part of the background noise of the city, much like bird song on a country morning. Six and a half hours later I followed our little group out of the conference room and across the street to a restaurant; three hours after that I walked the half-dozen blocks to my hotel.
Though that was still “early” – especially by New York standards – it was still 18 hours after I had woken up that morning, a sleep that itself had only lasted about 3 ½ hours. By the time I got up to my room last night the 20 oz. Caribou coffee in the Minneapolis airport, two cans of pop and one cup of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee (now that’s what I call a conference room!) in the afternoon that had provided life-preserving stimulation earlier were exacting their payback in the form of palpitations and twitchy muscles in my forearms and fingers. When I was younger I might have thought, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Last night I was more interested in sleeping like the dead. The neon lights may be bright on Broadway, but they were nothing compared to the ones going off inside my head — and it was definitely time for lights out. I might as well have been in Des Moines or Owatonna except that way down below, the New York City serenade was a soothing backdrop.
You really can find anything you want in New York, including a good night’s sleep.