the day that didn’t exist
The worst thing that happens to anyone who lives in New York is geographic complacency: you give up on the mere idea of other neighborhoods and boroughs. I know people who grew up in this city and have never been to Brooklyn. We all know people who refuse to leave their neighborhood on the weekends. Sometimes this is thoroughly understandable, but the grey areas in between what’s reasonable and what’s ignorance about the place where you live are many.
When my friend Michelle invited me to Bayside for the day, I didn’t really understand why this was important. It is, after all, in Queens; Queens is a borough I would rather not commute to daily but can certainly get myself to on a bright sunny August Saturday. It turns out few others have the same mentality, and that life seems a lot more difficult when an LIRR ticket is required.
The problem with me, I guess, is that I’d probably rather go somewhere that requires a real ticket than walk ten blocks down the street. Bayside is a place I’ve never been, which means that it is by default a place worth going to.
“If you write about this later, you are gonna have to mention all the things we’ve run out of,” Mike laughed as we walked to the train station hours later. He was right: At dinner, the only two beers they’d tapped out were the ones we ordered. At the bar afterwards, the only song the jukebox refused to play was the one we’d chosen, Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own.” When we went to get Michelle a Ralph’s ice….you guessed it. Her flavor was sold out.
Is there something to be learned from these experiences? I think most people would say that it’s an opportunity to try things outside of your comfort zone, and that it’s likely that the choices we were forced to make opened us up to new flavors and new sounds.
I think that’s a really nice sentiment, but I also think that it’s bullshit. The chances are pretty high that if you can’t order the beer you want, there’s a familiar second choice to be had. If you can’t get the mint chocolate cookie ice, mint chip will do just fine. If you really wanted to hear Robyn, you will have to settle for the DJ who shuffles in to play Usher’s hits from seven years ago (you guys, is that the last time Usher had hits??) at a volume too loud for human comfort. That last part will not feel like any kind of learning experience.
But you will sit, later, eating cupcakes in the comfortable home of the friends who at one time were just a work acquaintance and her unnamed husband, and you will realize that when you accepted an invitation to Queens that didn’t seem like a big deal to you, you opened a doorway to the lives of people for whom your visit was a rather sizable effort. In fact, as you’re walking their dog and discussing certain former work environs, you consider that you and your friend are both the sort of awkward people for whom it’s a bit of a shock that anything comes together at all.
The good news is this: when you’re uncomfortable about everything, nothing is outside of your comfort zone. The train to Bayside is the least of your worries.
And PS: when you are on the train home, stuffed with beer and snacks and birthday cupcakes and love from your favorite kind of dog, “Dancing on My Own” will come up on shuffle. You will look around and notice that, because you are the only person in the world who travels to Penn Station from Bayside at midnight, you are alone in the train car, which allows you to literally dance on your own.
Everything else is really, really hard most of the time. When circumstances make it easy, you really should let them.