December 26, 2010

Miracle on 34th Street

The wind whips at fifty degrees lower than it did four months ago. I wait for the Acela train with 100% less anxiety than I did six months ago. Everything feels different and my trip has just begun. I slip into the fake leather seats and inhale the quiet, the clicking laptop keyboards, and the occasional buzz of a blackberry. The Quiet Car will live up to its name for the entirety of the trip. I knew enough to bring my laptop and pull it out - I'll be in D.C. in a little over 4 hours.

We cross over into Brooklyn and follow the east side of the Manhatten skyline. The Chrysler building catches my eye first and then the Empire State Building. I look back to the Chrysler building in awe of how tiny it looks compared to its nighttime stature from my brother's balcony. How lucky am I to have the many views to compare? When we pull into Penn station, I'm waiting for the urge to flee the train and run into the streets of NYC. It never comes. I'm content in my seat and looking forward to pulling into Union Station in DC. The Hudson River dulls under the cloud gray cover, and I lose the rest of the trip to the glow of my computer.

Union Station feels like a home away from home. Shadows that haunted the last time I made this trip disappear during this lunch hour. I choose my lunch from the food court area and slide into the corner of Starbucks with ease. My phone rings with people checking in with me - "Yes, I arrived safely, easily." "No, I haven't been outside; I don't know if it's cold here." "No, I'm not as nervous as I thought I would be." And it's true. I have a few waves of anxiety occasionally, but I'm calm and confident overall, surprising myself and feeding that stability. Before I leave for the office, I take a few deep breaths in Starbucks, check my teeth for food, and soak in the feeling of This Is Right.

I walk into and through and out of the interview with the feeling of This Is Right.

When I return to Union Station for the trek home, the 5:00, Friday station looks exactly the way I remember it - packed with black suits lined up for trains home or away. Lines standing still at departure gates and lines flowing through the walkways and lines moving up and down the escalators. I join the fastest moving line at the Acela counter and charge a train ticket home that I can't afford. But I know that it costs less than a four hour wait for the regional train, the imprint of the carpet covered train seats on my face at 2 am, and the loneliness of the arrival train station at 4:30am. I join the Acela departure line just as it begins to move forward, slowly uncoiling. I slip back into the fake leather, gray seat next to a group of European men traveling from DC to NYC. This car is anything but quiet, and my head pounds from Union Station to Penn Station. I'm exhausted.

At Penn Station, I almost turn around to get back on the train. I immediately feel for any traveler new to NYC who arrives first at Penn Station. The black lines of DC have transformed into colorful chaos moving swiftly in every. single. direction. I look up to find the signs that will lead me as far north and east as I can get. The homeless shout too loudly and the national guard members stand too still. The lights blind, my ears ring, and my head pounds. I'm exhausted.

The cold New York air stings. The Penn Station chaos pours onto the sidewalk. I make a calculated decision to avoid Times Square and head east before heading north. I wonder how messy a head explosion would be and pull my coat up over my ears. My heels meeting the pavement echo in my ears, and I keep my head down as I weave through Friday night cheer. Peers dressed up and heading out to a late dinner. Holiday parties ending on street corners after too many glasses of champagne. I'd rather not see any of it. A few blocks later, I run into a wall of tourists, stopped on the sidewalk, staring upward. I follow their gaze.

 I had been in NYC the week before visiting my brother and a close friend. We met for brunch at Macy's, and I rounded the building snapping photos of the Believe theme and winter lights hanging in the sunshine. I never stopped to reflect on what they would look like at night.

They took my breath away. The city fell silent and I kept my eyes upward, glued on them, until I found a spot on the sidewalk where I could feel their light on my face. Believe. I stood there for a few moments, soaking their message in without process or conditions. When I turned to finish the walk to Grand Central, the air felt cool and crisp, the city lights sparkling, the streets quieter with a low hum of holiday spirit. A smile on my face.

I grabbed a Starbucks latte for the train ride home and inhaled it before the train even left the station. The caffeine intake didn't matter; I still dozed off with my face in my hand. The train worker smiled at me softly and told me I looked exhausted. I only smiled. My headache had subsided and the train felt cozy, almost comfy. Almost as though everything, everything, everything was just Right.

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