11 January 2010

THE City

To eclipse all other cities. U2 has a great song about the city on their All That You Can't Leave Behind album that I like to listen to on the train from the airport to my sister's place.

But you've got an unquenchable thirst for New York

New York, New York
New York, New York

In the stillness of the evening
When the sun has had its day
I heard your voice a-whispering
Come away now

New, New York
New York

Granted, I haven't seen all of the cities that the world has to offer, but NYC is THE city if you ask me, one of those places that I feel like I've come "home" when I get there. It is magical. Really, simply, magic.

I was in New York over the New Year holiday, with my two sisters for a few days. We had a great time. Mere words really aren't adequate for what I felt when the two of them called me and told me that they'd purchased a plane ticket for me for my birthday - stunned, and shocked, those both fit in there somewhere. Happy, excited.

The trip started out with me leaving my home at 3 AM. Yes, 3 AM. {shudder} That's an hour I don't really want to see, no matter if it is when I'm getting up or when I'm going to sleep. I didn't get more than about 5 miles from my house when my Blackberry rang with an automated call from the airline informing me that my flight had been cancelled and that they'd automatically booked me on another flight later in the day. The arrangements they made on my behalf were not satisfactory, and that's not just me being bitchy. The original plan was a direct flight from Pittsburgh, PA, to JFK airport in New York. Straight, uneventful, something I've done many times. The new arrangements had me flying from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati, Ohio, and from Cincinnati to New York, landing in NYC at 4PM instead of the 8AM originally planned. A near 300 mile westward detour to go to the east coast. alksdfjl;akfhakjlhg. WHAT? Who thought that was a good idea, really?

At 3 AM, there aren't too many customer service agents available at the world's largest airline. The first one I got when I called to protest this ridiculous re-arrangement was not helpful, or nice. I ended up telling her I'd have to call back when I was less upset, because she kept telling me that there was NOTHING that could be done, my only option, the ONLY option available was to do this 300 mile, 8 hour detour. C'mon. You're the largest airline in the world. That can't be the only option. (You'll note I'm not using the name of the airline here, but I suppose you could figure it out.)

I had stopped my car to talk to them on the telephone. I decided that the smart thing to do was to go to the airport and argue my point with someone face to face rather than on a phone while I was driving. So I did. The ticket agents were far nicer than the phone people, and they solved my problem in a matter of seconds, getting me on a direct flight that arrived in the city only a few hours later than originally scheduled. Deeeeeep breath....

The funny thing about my observation that the city is magic is that the realization of that usually comes back to me when I am in a subway station. Not the most beautiful places in the world, New York subway stations. Interesting places, yes. Beautiful, no. Not usually. But many of them have been around for a long, long time. Some of them have white tiled walls. White tile; laid by hand once upon a time. The original tunnels were dug by hand. Someone, somewhere, planned the routes and conceived the idea for this system, which has grown beyond that concept's wildest dreams. Someone now, today, right this minute is managing the routes the trains take; there are many routes that use the same rails as another route, and do you hear about subway trains crashing in New York City? No, you do not. Because it doesn't happen. Someone else plans the routes the buses take, plans for re-routing the trains when there is construction or a bottleneck. Sure, all of that is math, and some big, BIG brains. But it is also magic.

I've never heard the noise that the trains make anywhere else in the world. I've been on trains; Amtrack here in the states and SJ all over Sweden, even once in France. I've been in subway systems; Washington DC, Stockholm, London, Paris, Budapest, even in Pittsburgh, PA. None of them sound like the MTA. (Metro Transit Authority, the "real" name of the system. Don't believe me? Their website is www.mta.info.) That ka-thunk, ka-thunk sound that the trains make when you're riding in one, the screeeeeeching slowdown and halt at the station or mid-line to let an express train thunder by, the muffled and mostly incomprehensible announcements at each station that end with "Stand clear of the closing doors!", the peculiar smell underground, the relief from the wind in the winter and refreshing cool in the summer when you step on to an air-conditioned train...magic.

What did we do, where did we go? I think for once I'll be circumspect and keep my private life, well, private. I treasured spending the time with my sisters. "Sad" doesn't really describe the feeling when I have to leave them behind. I'm jealous, a very ugly jealous, of the time that the two of them spend together, and again, I'm not getting into detail here, but they get to spend more time with each other than I ever get to spend with each of them, and I'm super-jealous of that. When I say goodbye to them, I don't know when I'll see either of them again. And that? Sucks. *sniff*

Pity party for one, please.

OK, since I don't like to end posts on a downward note, I will end with a yarn story. I dragged my non-knitter sisters to Purl, one of the knitting world's super-star-stores. Not for the size - I think my dining room is bigger than that store - but for the amazing things they make from the yarns they sell (the blog is The Purl Bee). I'm working on an April Showers Scarf for myself and genuinely love the pattern (although not all of the stitching...knitting 4 stitches together every 7 rows is a MASSIVE hassle) and had decided that I wanted to make the same scarf for my sisters, with their choice of yarn color. So on the coldest day of the year (to date - it was January 2) we trudged more than a mile out of our way so that my sisters could sit outside on a bench in front of the super-crowded and VERY tiny store while I hunted down the yarns for their scarves. (This one and this one in a lime green for one sister and in an electric blue for the other sister if you're curious.) Near-pneumonia was avoided, however, by immediately hieing ourselves to the closest Indian restaurant in the vicinity for emergency infusions of curry!

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