The ticket attendant, too cheerful for this early morning, wishes us a safe flight and thanks us for flying AirTrain to Atlanta, or wherever our final destination may be.
What exactly did he mean by “final destination?” My final stop on this trip? Or was he referring to something deeper, more meaningful — my Final Destination actually meaning my place in life, my purpose, my raison d’être? If that’s the case, how can he wish me a safe travel to a destination still unknown to me? Maybe he knows something I don’t. Perhaps he’s seen my future, divining my destiny through tea leaves or entrails or voodoo. I must approach this sage and plead for at least a glimmer of guidance.
The attendant calls my boarding zone. I approach the mustached sage with excited caution.
“How are you today?” He asks.
“Horrible. I’m 24 years old, have no idea what I’m doing with my life, hopeless and fruitless in my pursuits of love, lost, directionless, a wayward passenger at a crossroads outfitted only with a broken compass and a torn, tattered, illegible map, a lone shipwrecked passenger clinging to a piece of driftwood that I’m pretty sure used to be a part of a cabinet with no idea of which way to paddle. I’m told this is normal for my age, but this is of little comfort. But you. You — wise, ancient, all-knowing — have answers I seek. You can show me my purpose, my Way” I want to to say.
“I’m fine, how are you?” I reply.
He responds in kind. He scans my ticket. I scan his eyes for answers I so desperately seek. I find none.
It’s possible he’s just a ticket attendant.
Last night I dreamt my cell phone sucked me into the picture displayed on its screen — a roaring storm in some treacherous, uncharted waters. My cell phone screen occupied the entire skyline. The dolphins and whales, once imprisoned in an animated state on the screen, swam to life, swarming me.
It’s possible I’m still not completely awake.
There’s an alarming lack of electric outlets in the airport. I’m half relieved, half disappointed when the electronic, automated trash cans don’t begin to hover, grow antennae and threaten to exterminate me.
The plane bursts out of the clouds to reveal a postcard-perfect panorama of Manhattan. The Statue of Liberty greets us, as does the new Freedom Tower. All passengers on the left side of the plane reach for their phones and cameras. Immediately, I feel it — not love, nor seduction, but an inevitable sense of reverence. This is America — not the Hollywood sign, not Las Vegas, not Texas, but the undying lights and towering structures of New York City.
Yet at the same time, a sense of dread combats that reverence. I’m to navigate this city (only for two days, and with the help of Jared), a daunting prospect.
I’ve come to New York to see friends, eat food, and yes, watch basketball.
I’ve also come to New York to fall in love, or at least discover why others do. The beauty and romance of New York has always eluded me — I’ve never fallen victim to its bright-light seduction.
Those who live there never want to leave, and when they do, they always want to go back. Even former natives, those long-escaped who claim to hate the city, speak of the things they detest in loving tones. Every time I’ve visited, I’ve felt trapped, claustrophobic even. This city overwhelms me, the sounds natives find symphonic ring cacophonous in my ears and brain. My midwest mind either can’t or won’t comprehend this city — it rejects it and longs for greenery and quiet and pleasantries. If I don’t fall in love with this city, if I don’t find what draws people here time and again, maybe I can at least conquer my discomfort with it.
If there is a place for me to find love in/of New York, it’s likely on the hardwood. Few fanbases are as fervent, as dedicated (as tortured) as those of the Knicks. I have to wonder whether the love of that team is somehow intertwined, or at least related, to the love of the city. I’ll find out on Sunday, when Jared and I go to the Knicks/Pelicans game. I’ve been to NBA games in Denver, Cleveland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, but never in such hallowed halls as Madison Square Garden. I’m excited, giddy even, as much for the atmosphere as the game itself.
I help a lady lift her luggage off the conveyor belt. She thanks me and wishes me a safe travel home.
I’m not sure I’ll make it.