I am going home for Thanksgiving and my ride starts Greyhound bus terminal in the already snow-laden Onondaga County. I sit about a third of the way back from the front, on the right side. Whenever I take the bus I have an internal debate over whether I want the window or the aisle. The window affords me the luxury of watching the scenery go by, gives me more of a sense of where we are, and allows me to imagine a little invisible guy who runs alongside the bus. (I cannot be the only person who does this on long car trips.) However, the aisle gives me room to stretch my legs, easier access to bags stored underneath the seat and I am able to get off the bus quicker at the end. For this ride, I end up in the window seat. As more people file on, I pretend to sleep with my bag on the seat next to me, hoping that they will be dissuaded from asking me to move it. My efforts are in vain, though I take consolation that my partner is not a 200 pound man with too many bags, but rather a short blonde girl who personifies the word ‘cute.’ I straighten up and let her sit down as we share an awkward smile.
Four hours later, we are on heading east through New Jersey. We reach the crest of a small hill and, as I watch out the window, I smile at what I see. Even after 9/11, the skyline is beautiful. No other city can match the uneven line of skyscrapers and towers. Peeking over the highways and rest stops of northern New Jersey, it’s a gorgeous sight. It is somewhat of an American cliché I guess: riding a Greyhound bus alone, bags packed alongside you, going home. But my home isn’t some dusty farm town in Iowa. It isn’t a suburb photocopied from Good Housekeeping.
Eminem’s Lose Yourself starts up in my ears. My temple presses in to the window, and it has given me a dull headache. I can see my reflection faintly in the windowpane, my glasses doubling, quadrupling the reflections. My arm is wedged underneath me, bracing me against the aptly-named armrest. It’s uncomfortable but I embrace the ache. It is a rite of passage, when asked about my ride, to proudly say that it was uncomfortable, but not bad.
My legs complain every time I shift my weight and I am restless as usual. My feet are currently wedged under the seat in front of me, my legs as straight as I can make. Normally when I am seated, my right leg bounces nervously, a descendent of some long-forgotten stress. My mom will often put her hand on my knee without looking at me, to tell me to relax if we are in public and it happens. My jeans are stifling and constricting and I once again make a mental note to wear sweatpants on the ride back.
The girl slumbering next to me wakes briefly to send off a flurry of texts before settling back down to sleep. Her blonde hair curls around her face and she clutches her now silent Blackberry to her chest. I have a brief vision of her head drooping to rest on my shoulder in her sleep, which would lead to unneeded apologies when she woke up, an awkward first date when we reached our destination and then a month-long romance capped with angry tears and slammed doors to put a glorious cap on the semester. I snap back to reality (oops there goes gravity oops there goes Rabbit he chokes he’s so mad but he don’t, give up that easy). My nameless love beside me coughs in her sleep before burrowing deeper in to her black Northface. Just like that, our torrid 30-day romance so quickly imagined in my head comes crashing back down to non-existence, just like so many other visions that have flitted through my head.
My white ear bud earphones finish Lose Yourself before the shuffle starts a Talib Kweli song. Talib Kweli, a proud Brooklynite. My mouth forms the words as the bass hits. I’ve been told by my brothers that when I do this I often actually sing very softly. With that thought in mind, I now self-consciously close my mouth with a wary glance at my neighboring passengers. I need music when I make this trip, otherwise I get carsick, bored or both. Before the trip, I always charge my iTouch battery obsessively, not using it for two or three days beforehand. One of my greatest fears is facing this five hour bus ride without the gift Steve Jobs gave me (for $399, and two trips to the extra trips to the Apple Store).
The bus rattles and my face bounces slightly against the window as the exit for Wayne, New Jersey slides by. My friend Laura lives in Wayne and I briefly contemplate texting her with my location, but I quickly decide I would rather not move instead. I think back to past trips and mentally acknowledge we should be hitting the Lincoln Tunnel in about 45 minutes. From there, it’s a few short blocks to Port Authority. Another 15 minutes or so and I’ll be walking East on 23rd street, passing the Flatiron building and towards home.
But I’m not there yet, and still a sense of excitement bubbles inside me. The skyline winking in and out of view as the bus travels up and down beckons me. I love being home in the city. The energy in the air that whispers that regardless of time of day or season of the year, something is happening somewhere. The idea that no matter when I get hungry, I can walk three blocks to 2nd avenue and eat at Cosmos Diner, where the waiters all know me and bring me soup before I can ask.
It’s my city. No matter where I go, where I live, or even where I die, New York City will always be my home. I will always be comfortable there. It is not only mine of course, but it is mine nonetheless. Something about growing up in this geographically tiny but culturally enormous group of five boroughs marks a person. No other city seems quite the same. When I first ventured in to the city of Syracuse, my friends from Kansas, or Oregon, or even California were shocked by the lights, the public transportation or even the many ghettos filled with abandoned buildings and questionable characters. But I was confused. This was a city? This was an urban center? This was a few small parks scattered amongst buildings. It felt like more people lived and worked in a five block radius of Times Square than in this quote unquote city.
No, New York stands alone. It has affected every atom of my being, every remote corner of my consciousness. Because I went to school with Chinese kids and black kids, Haitian kids and Dominican kids, I am shocked by casual racism displayed by my rural or suburban counterparts. It’s hard to hate a race when you played kickball with them in 2nd grade. Because I spent a childhood dodging taxis and town-cars, I cross the streets of Syracuse against the light with a small smile on my face, moving in gaps in the lanes as my Americana-blessed friends stand stricken with fear on the sidewalk.
From a backwards Yankees hat with the obligatory flat brim, to earphone wires snaking out of my pocket every time I travel, being a New Yorker has molded me. And I am almost back there.
But I’m still not there. I rest the hand not cramped on the armrest on my backpack, assuring myself that my laptop computer is still there, still safe and sound. I have a suitcase full of clothes when I come back for winter break, but since I will only be home for five days, I only brought my computer, a couple pairs of clothes and some bare necessities.
My phone buzzes in my right hip pocket, making an odd sound against the side of the bus. I pull out my slide-phone and read the message. My little LG Cosmo pales in comparison to the girl’s purple-skinned Blackberry, but I couldn’t afford the monthly internet charge. The text is from my brother Jonathan, asking me how long I think I’ll be. Jonathan, his girlfriend Amy and my mom are waiting at home. They all have work tomorrow and my mom is staying up late just to see me get home. My fingers crack from the cold as I shoot off a response.
Talib finishes his verse and the music dims. There is an interminably long interlude of silence when I am suddenly aware of the sounds of the bus. The low hum of the engine, a few people clacking at their computers and the muffled sounds of a movie. A kid across the aisle is watching something on his PSP, and the sounds leak out through his earphones. I stretch to see what movie it is and my muscles groan in protest. I can’t see what he is watching.
A smile slips on my face as the next song begins. The guitar strand brings about a burst of applause, both recorded and in my head, and I recognize the opening lines of the Simon and Garfunkel tune. This album is actually from a concert they put on in Central Park before I was born and I vaguely remember my dad saying that he went to it. I love to listen to live recordings of songs. I always enjoy when the audience recognizes the song and explodes in to applause, or the brief moments when the singer stops and lets the crowd sing the chorus. The sound of thousands of people singing and cheering together is an intoxicating thing, and I once again wish I was a musician or athlete so I could experience it first-hand. I have never gone to a concert myself, but I want to some day.
Paul Simon begins to sing and I settle against the window again. My blonde friend next to me shifts in her sleep and my eyes begin to trail across the landscape. The skyline rises up again and I see the lights peeking at me once again.
Homeward bound. Oh how I wish I was. Homeward Bound.