Walking South Flower Street.

I’m riding up the elevator. There are four others in this box, and I’m pressed against the back. The three outer walls are glass, floor to ceiling. My chest tightens. I have a need, I mean a real need to shift closer to the center but there’s no room to move. I squeeze the handle on my roller board, averting my eyes from the concrete floor 29 floors below me. Get me out of here.

It is a Westin. Fond memories of Los Angeles are anchored here. An infinity roof top pool. Chill music. Aquamarine mood lighting. Warm evening air. You were younger then. Work travel was a benefit. Dining out on the corporate card within your daily allowance. Lingering at the hotel bar for a nightcap. Watching the Lakers on the overhead T.V.

The elevator door opens. How many times in your life have you been in this exact spot, dragging your luggage (and your a**) out of an elevator, late evening or night, eyes desperately scanning for the room number on the wall, body craving sleep, body yearning for your own bed, your own pillows, your own comforter…Home.

There’s a large stain on the carpet. And then another. And another. I reach for my key. I step in. There’s a faint smell of tobacco. And then industrial disinfectant. I set my bags down and step into the bathroom. No separate shower from tub, caulking around the tub has separated. The faucet is dripping, splashing around the drain and a soft brown stain. My hands reach for a towel, the same towel used by hundreds of patrons, I pause, searching for blood stains, discoloration of any type. When I can’t find it, I advance – it’s coarse on my forehead and my cheeks, the industrial washers scrubbing out the remaining useful life. I breathe in the fabric of the towel. Smell? Nothing.

The air conditioner is a dated, large wall unit that’s better suited for a 2-cycle lawn mower engine. It’s emitting non-stop, soul crushing bedlam. Intolerable. [Read more…]

Walking Backward. From The Road.

Think back to when you were a child, it’s Christmas Eve, and your eyes scan the packages under the tree. “Not before 7 am!”  The hands on the clock are stuck in some alien, viscous slurry.

Now, place yourself at the gates of Epcot, the opening day of the International Food & Wine Festival. It’s 7:45 a.m., the gates open at 8 a.m. Throngs of tourists mingle anxiously. Selfies. Smartphones. Strollers. And, Scooters, so many scooters, for the less mobile. (And I’m being kind here.)

There was the new ride  Soarin‘.  Warnings: Motion sickness? Fear of Heights? I look left and right and find no one but me griping the armrests. When did you get so fearful? So timid? Then there was The Seas and the Bomouth Guitarfish, a scary looking cross between Shark and Manta Ray. Then Frozen. Then Nemo. Then Living with the Land, a ride through horticulture and aquaculture. This was followed by a one-hour guided tour called Behind the Seeds. Hydroponics, a subset of hydroculture, a method of growing plants without soil using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. And Aeroponics, the process of growing plants in air or mist without the use of soil.

It is here that the tour seems to hit bone. We are walking through four greenhouses. Plants spinning on mechanical pulleys. And, plants growing in white sand, being fed nutrient drips. And fish, in tanks – sturgeon, bass, catfish, tilapia. Circling round and round, being fed on the clock.

This World, sterile, Man-Manufactured. No insects. No birds. No dark, rich soil. [Read more…]

Walking Mid Town. With Keats…

Early evening. Heat shimmers from the asphalt. I stand waiting for the Don’t Walk sign to turn…I’m three blocks from the entrance to Grand Central and my Metro North train ride home.  Hulking skyscrapers, mid-town Manhattan Gods, offer shade, a welcome cover to a day that needs to end. You are spent. 

And…as I stand waiting, here they come. Non consecutive lines from the Keats’ sonnet Bright Star

The moving waters at their priestlike task…
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors —
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell

And why Keats? Why this poem? Why these lines? Why now? What algorithm upstairs decides it’s time for this?  Here on 42nd Street, so far from the glacial waters of Home, so many galaxies from The Rockies, so many months from snow.  Yet, and somehow, and for some reason, it’s pulled up.

I feel the pillowy softness of snow in August, and the cool melt of crystals on my tongue. And I’m swept away, miles from the cacophony of horns, engines, tourists and the sweltering August heat.

The light turns. I walk. I cross the street and the smell of fried chicken fills my lungs…I inhale deeply…tantalizing. Keats’ grip on me vaporizes. [Read more…]

Flying over I-40 N. With Roy Orbison.

I’m in the same seat, 24E Exit.
On the same plane, an Airbus A321.
On the same airline.
On the same flight.
Returning home from same city, AA1263 DFW to LGA.

To my left, across the aisle, and up one row, is same lavatory.

And here they come.

Wife, I’m guessing, is guiding him. They are 10 rows up, and shuffling down the aisle. He’s tall, 6’4″ est.  Middle aged, gray hair. Collared short sleeved shirt. Khaki pants.

Thick, black framed Roy Orbison glasses.

Blind.

The two of them make their way down the aisle. I set my iPad down to watch. She’s smiling. He’s grinning. Not a care in the world these two. And, You? A billion interconnected miracles happening every second for you to be you, and for you to see this moment. 

My index finger reaches for the volume button on my iPad to turn off the device. You can see the button. You can see the text on the screen. You can see your bag under the seat. You can see the zipper on the bag as you open your bag. You can see the compartment where you wish to set it in. You can see the two of them approaching. [Read more…]

Running. With light that falls.

6 a.m. Friday morning.

I’m running. Down the hill, around the corner, and down the sidewalk on Post Road.

I adjust my stride to miss the cracks between the concrete slabs. Grass sprouts up from the cracks, asparagus colored green, bushy clumps – it was a Simone Weil moment: “Only the light that falls continually from the sky gives a tree the energy to push powerful roots into the earth. The tree is actually rooted in the sky.”  How? How does this grass push its way through the concrete? The light, roots the grass to the earth, pulls it upward to the sky.

The street is empty but for a big city bus a few hundred feet up the road. Its body is dark, a hulking silhouette, its interior beams, illuminated. It’s odd to see a large bus in our small town, so early, so far from Manhattan. The bus is full, passengers lean their heads against windows, their mornings started in darkness some time earlier followed by…

A long walk to the bus stop.
A long wait for the bus, delayed.
A slow tip of the hand to release coins into the dispenser for the fare.
A long ride on the bus to work, seats worn, cushions flat, flush to metal.
A long walk from the bus stop to work. 
And do it all over on the return at the end of the day.

It’s a few feet from our back door to the garage to my car. The gas tank is full.  I push the button for ignition, the cool air conditioning envelopes me in the cabin. I adjust my position in the soft leather seat. Always have a seat. Never a long walk. Never a need for coins.

I pass a bus on the street on my drive to work. Passengers look down, with blank-eyed stares.

Yes, Simone. Yes. The light. The sky. The trees. The roots. The earth.

And…The Lottery.


Notes:

  • Post inspiration: “I honestly believe that…things can change in an instant, and made it key to my philosophy of life: neither money nor my work define me. I like them, they allow me to do many things I enjoy, but if I did not have them, I know I would be able to find something else to do, I would be able to survive, I could be happy…I never take anything for granted, and I never forget how lucky I have been, and am.” ~ Alan Cumming, Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir
  • Photograph: Skogrun
  • Related Posts: Commuting Series

Walking Cross-Town. With the lid popped off.

“Bring an umbrella. It’s going to rain.”  She follows the weather. She barks out the forecast. It will be 35 years in September, and I’ve found she’s right 50% of the time. And I remind her of the 50% on the wrong side. It keeps the wheels on the bus going round and round. I mumble under my breath: How hard can it rain? Do I really need to haul an umbrella around, another 1.5 pounds in my already overstuffed bag.

I take the umbrella.

It didn’t have to be this tight on time. It really didn’t.  I could have postponed an 8 a.m. conference call, taken the earlier train and given myself ample wiggle room to walk, to take an Uber or to catch a cab. I even thought about it, at length.  But no, No Sir. Why defer, when you can do it now, right now. Pack it tight, pack it in.  The Counselling Blog (I need it / I read it / I won’t admit it) shared a quote yesterday that was shared anonymously:  “I try to contain my crazy but the lid keeps popping off.” I get it. I do.

I have a 10:30 a.m. training session that I am leading with 20 colleagues. The train is scheduled to arrive at Grand Central at 9:59 a.m. It’s 10 minutes late, and it’s a 13-minute walk across town if you hit the street lights just right. Tight. Too tight for a guy who likes to arrive early, set up the room, sit and relax, and review my presentation notes.

I exit Grand Central Station. It’s raining. No. I mean, it’s Raining. Sheets. I stand under a covered area and look for Cabs. Are you kidding? Waiting for a Miracle. I pull up the Uber app and it says no availability for 12 minutes. I don’t have 12 minutes and it would take another 15-20 minutes to get across town in this traffic.

I pop open the umbrella. There are streams of rainwater rushing down the streets into the drains. Monsoon on Madison. Puddles are accumulating at the cross walks. The marble in front of the major hotels is smooth, gray and slick like ice. I need to slow my pace as the umbrella in my right hand is stretching me up, my overstuffed backpack in my left is pulling me down and my smooth, leather soled lace-ups are struggling to stay anchored to the concrete slabs – an off-kilter Rickshaw teetering on a single wheel. Treacherous. [Read more…]

Running in Michigan. With a stumbling block, or a Stepping-Stone.

71° F. An intermittent breeze blows off Lake Superior.  Upper Michigan…a half step slower in pace, and a full step-and-a-half ahead in balance.  With skies so blue, clouds so white, water and air so clean, you can taste the Pure emblazoned on the license plates on the cars that pass me by.

I run under the bridge which towers overhead. Rail cars roll out on the ore docks.  A massive freighter sits silently waiting for the iron ore pellets to fall down the chutes into its belly. One can’t pass this scene and not be filled with Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of Edmund of Fitzgerald:

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called ‘gitche gumee’
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty

I enter Presque Isle Park. I’m hearing horns through my ear buds. Can’t be.  I tuck my earbuds into my pocket and follow the tune. A man, in his 70’s, in a kilt, stands in the woods with his bagpipes – he’s alone and belting out Scotland the Brave. Goosebumps pop on my forearms. I must have Scotland in the gene pool, must have.

Genes. Family history. Family trees. DNA testing. The purpose of this family get-together was to celebrate my Father-in-Law discovering his full Sister on a genetic service. What’s bigger than meeting a sister you never knew you had? [Read more…]

Walking. Solus, with the Light-House.

It was a week ago. An otherwise unforgettable day, but for a moment, a single firefly with its other worldly bioluminescence, which keeps circling back.

“Do you want a ride home?”

It’s a short walk home from the train station, ~2000 steps. One hour in the quiet car on Metro North didn’t quench it, the thirst for more solitude, more Alone, more decompression. I walk.

The torso leans forward, the feet step one-two-one-two.  Lean forward? A tip from a Youtube fitness coach who explained that it propels you forward. So I lean forward. If he told you to hop on your right foot and rub your stomach round and round with your left hand, you’d do it.

It’s humid. God, it’s Humid. Torso leans forward, thick air pushes back, slowing forward motion. Thunderheads build in the distance.

The neck tie is in my brief case. The slim fit button down shirt soaks up the sweat on back, arms and neck.

Black leather lace-ups wrap tighter and tighter, and pump like pistons (up, down, up, down) – a squishy, pus filled blister, like the thunderheads, is ready to explode. Humidity. Sweat. Blister.  It’s a scene out of Beau Taplin’s “Run Freely“: “Human beings are made of water. We were not designed to hold ourselves together, rather run freely like oceans, like rivers.[Read more…]

Riding Uptown. Man on Venus. Man on Mars.

“How long to Grand Central?”

“20 minutes, maybe 30, it’s Rush Hour.”

Uber driver. Black Toyota Camry. Leather seats worn. Dashboard tanned with thousands of hours of direct sunlight.

“Your English is good. Where are you from?”

He glances at me in the rear view mirror. Reticent.

“Ethiopia, Sir.”

“How long have you been here?”

“9 years.”

“And your family? Are they here or back in Ethiopia?”

“Oh, they’re all back in Ethiopia. I’m here with my wife.”

“Do you miss home?”

Long pause.

“People think it’s easy. Here in America.” He pulls up. Polite, respectful.

I shift the conversation. We’re a few minutes out.

“You have a 4.94 (out of 5) driver rating. Wow. That’s something. How do you do it?”

“I don’t know Sir.” He smiles.

“I’m curious. Out of 10 rides, how many riders tip?” [Read more…]

Flying to Michigan. With best-laid plans.

You made a tough call. You considered the various alternatives and consequences, and it turned out badly. Accept it, and move on, right? No. You b*tch at your stupidity, you stew in it, you try to find others to blame, and then you grudgingly lurch into resignation, slide into acceptance, and then drop into peace. But not until you proceed through the steps, one by one by one.

It’s a White Plains, NY to Detroit to Northern Michigan flight plan.  A major storm sits on top of Detroit. Our pilot circles around the perimeter hoping it clears.  It doesn’t.  We divert to Cleveland to re-fuel.

We all sit on the plane as it re-fuels, the pilot looking to get back up and to Detroit.

The scheduled layover in Detroit was short. I fumble through my Delta app to learn that I will miss my connection.

I then proceed to make a critical (and flawed) decision. I ask to get off the plane to see if I can catch a Cleveland to Minneapolis to Northern Michigan flight and arrive late, but on the same day. (I learn that this is a major deal for security reasons as my luggage is in the cargo hold and cannot be retrieved – and, separating passenger from luggage is a no-no.)

They let me off. (After taking a photo of my ID, my boarding pass and my luggage receipt.)  They make the same offer to the rest of the passengers. Noted, no one else follows me. The attendant explains: “Sir, now you know that you will not have your luggage and it will be shipped on the original flight path arriving tomorrow.” I shrug, smile: “No problem.”

It’s 2:30 pm. The flight to Minneapolis is scheduled at 6pm, then connecting to Michigan at 8:30 pm.

The storm moves on from Detroit, and guess what? It slides on over and camps right on the top of Cleveland.  And it sits, and sits, and sits. Torrential downpours, lightening strikes, and rumors of funnel clouds.

It’s 8:00 pm. With delay after delay after delay.

It’s 9:00 pm and we take-off.

I find a Delta Service Center in Minneapolis to assist in re-booking my flight the next day.  The airport is emptying out. I find a McDonald’s (Open 24 Hours!) and wolf down three Cheeseburgers, the highlight of my day. Is there anything more satisfying than a McDonald’s cheeseburger on a empty stomach? My fingers tremble as I unwrap the yellow wax paper.

I find a cab. He’s annoyed. “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting in this cab line for a long ride?” [Read more…]

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