Part 2: In which Everest's Elijah Thomson discovers the real New York, or at least one of them.
Traveling with a band of minstrels around the world in the name of performing arts is a peculiar way to encounter society.
After all, we touring musicians are some of the most prolific travelers the world has ever seen. Sal and Dean are novices, comparatively. Beyond just measuring sheer miles traveled, we encounter culture head-on -- not at all like a tourist, but (thankfully) like an invited guest, who is entreated to enjoy local customs.
Make no mistake, we are still weirdos, wherever we roll. But we're used to that.
Add another interesting dynamic to the equation: more often than not, the locals we meet are inebriated, and therefore laid bare without the sober-minded filters that might otherwise be utilized. So we hear everything. We hear all of the cruel jokes about the neighboring city/state/country, and why it’s so much worse to live there, wherever it is. We hear about the local economy and real estate values and crime and seasons and weather and history and soap operatic drama, ad infinitum.
Most musicians I know who have been enduring the troubadour’s lifestyle wind up becoming armchair cultural anthropologists of sorts. Many among our ranks are experts in the subtle differences in speech dialects and accents from state to state, or even neighborhood to neighborhood in certain areas (New York notwithstanding). Some are living travelogues who can tell you of every great bar and restaurant and boutique hotel and music store and local craft beer in virtually any city you choose. Others obsess about the topography and geology of a particular region and how it might have influenced growth or failures in varying economic circumstances over time… The conversation is literally boundless when you’ve got nothing but time to kill whilst traversing the nation in a bug-spattered Ford Econoline.
While our primary purpose for being on the road is performing music, a close second is finding new and intriguing things to experience in the world.
The other night I relished in something that was unique, I felt, to our particular situation this month, living on Long Island -- something that the average visitor staying in Manhattan or Brooklyn might not witness.
Imagine my supreme delight as I rounded a corner in an otherwise vacant Penn Station and set my eyes on a veritable sea of drunk and stoned Long Islanders. A huddled mass of ignominy awaited the track announcement for the 2:53 a.m. train to Jamaica Station and beyond. What a sight! Ladies with Clydesdale’s legs stuffed into Spanx, miniskirts still speckled with chunks of calzone and vomit… Dudes who use gel and wear gold and drink Jäger and smell like Axe and are still confused as to why they’re not being chased down the street by supermodels.
These, dear readers, are the moments I live for. This is the REAL New York.
On the highways and byways, as well as on the sidewalks and corridors, I have noticed a general lack of cooperation amongst New Yorkers. If 500 people (or, say, 50 cars) try to simultaneously enter a narrow lane or space, and no one is willing to compromise or give way, gridlock arises. If, in fact, you are so self-serving that you want to block others from entrance so that you do not have to give up precious space to someone else, you make it not only slower for yourself, but for everyone else as well. Everybody loses. (In California this doesn’t happen as much, because you’ll probably get shot in cold blood on the freeway if you try that shit.)
Likewise, on the Long Island Railroad, the vast majority of the crowd was trying to board the first car they encountered, even though the conductor was shouting out of her window: “WE’VE GOT TWELVE CAAAAHHHS!!! WALK ALL THE WAY TO THE END!!! THERE'S PLENTY OF SEATS FOR EVERYBODY!!!”
It made perfect sense to me, as the train extended like a silvery snake into the blackness of the tunnel as far as mine eyes could perceive. Walk to the back, plenty of seats, leaving the more self-serving of the bunch crammed uncomfortably in their hastily chosen railcars.
Within moments we were involuntarily included in a mad dash for the platform, an event that would hearken the exodus of the children of Israel in that DeMille picture. Peasants herding goats with staves. Crying babies in swaddling clothes on hay bales in wooden carts. Fashioning of golden calves, orgies, soothsayers; moaning and wailing, weeping, gnashing of teeth, cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria!
Crane and I took our seats, breathless from having survived such an unfamiliar affair… Devouring yet another slice of the infinitely diverse Big Apple.
Yesterday, our dear friend (and New York legend) DJ Uncle Mike came out to Long Beach and gave us a local’s tour of our area. We ate seafood and apple crumb pie at Bigelow’s in Rockville Centre, and drove up the Atlantic coast through Jones Beach Park and on up to Captree Park to watch the sunset in solitude on the sugary sand dunes. At this point, I couldn’t help but think of the Long Island railroad, and how starkly distant this serene slice of Long Island felt, compared to the madness of the LIRR at three in the morning. California is like this too -- a multicolored patchwork array of diverse landscapes and cultures that make up the whole of the metropolis. Not one more or less significant than the other.
As difficult as it can sometimes be -- living out of a suitcase and making a life out of being on the run, performing shows in the meantime — I try to open my eyes and mind to what’s around me. There are eccentric existences everywhere -- beautiful or ugly, enchanting or boring.
In the long run, there may not be any good reason to have a brain stuffed with useless details amassed over years of living like this, but I am grateful, and feel richer for it.
More to come next week.
Corona Extra joins you in supporting WFUV and Everest, WFUV's artist-in-residence for April, 2012. Corona invites listeners to see a show, grab a Corona Extra and find their beach. Imported by Crown Imports, Chicago, IL. Corona reminds listeners to relax responsibly.