Part Two, of The Long Journey Home.
I last left you having just gotten on the flight to New York City. It was part of the Song Airlines fleet, which merged with Delta. This meant each seat had its own video screen, which I didn't use because I was so tired. I got on the last row, middle seat, but I was airborne heading east. Luckily, I was wedged in between two very good looking young men who were also fit, so they didn't smash me between the two of them.
Before I'd boarded, I'd told the other stranded standby passengers about the flight in case they wanted to hop to New York and try to get to their destinations from there. One of them took me up on it and I saw him boarding after I got on. I think he filled up the last seat, as there were none left as far as I could see, and being in the back, I could see the entire plane.
As we took off, I began to doze off. We were going forward in time, and soon the outside began to dim as we met the descending darkness halfway on it's journey across the country. It was a four or five hour flight to New York, and by the time we landed and deplaned, it was around 11:00 PM. JFK was a ghost town, at least our terminal was except for the bustling activity around baggage claim for our flight. Knowing my bag was either in Baltimore or Cincinnati, I concentrated on finding where to catch the bus into Manhattan. I stepped outside and was met with stifling humidity. I asked an airport employee where to get the bus, and he directed me to a bus stop. Families, singles, couples walked to the parking garage or met cabs. They were at their final destinations, a place where they had somewhere to lay their heads. I was still in the middle, not having planned to be here, but here I was.
By the time we picked up all the passengers in the terminals and got into Manhattan, it was closing in on midnight. I walked several large Avenue blocks to Penn station. While waiting for a light to change, I looked up at the Empire State Building glowing against the night sky and laughed at the randomness of life. In fact, relished in it. I'd navigated one major city and was now navigating another one, standing under a famous landmark. I both cities, I knew my way around very well. When I reached Penn Station, I found that the next train going to Baltimore was at 3:00AM. I bought my ticket, then rested a bit.
That's when I saw the crying girl in her little black cocktail dress. When I first saw her, she was with a nicely dressed man. Both were extremely whitebread and looked in their early twenties. Obviously they had spent a night on the town together that had ended up in a heated conversation. I don't know why, but he ended up leaving her at the station. She sat crouched, horrified at being stuck in New York City with no way home for the next few hours. She obviously wasn't from the city and I wanted to tell her that it would be fine. Instead, I took her picture.
After that, I hauled back out into the humid night to find something to eat. Luckily, being New York, I had my choice. However, I was so tired and walking around in the humidity had stemmed my hunger. I ended up at a 24 hour Starbucks in Times Square. When I walked in, I said to the employees, "God bless you and your ancestors for being open. I'll have a venti iced mocha please."
Mocha in hand, I walked to another 24 hour Starbucks just off Times Square where they had seating. It was there that I met the Moroccan who invited me to sit at his table. I'd asked him the time, and after he told me he took his "in." I had nothing to lose, so I moved over. He was a French speaking Moroccan who spoke English, of course, and during our conversation his friend called. After an animated conversation in French, he put me on the phone with the friend. I spoke to him, a lively accented voice on the line who was also Moroccan. He probably thought the man I was sitting across from was going to score big time, and I let him. I knew I was a trophy voice on the phone and played along. I made the guy look like a stud to his friend and he laughed at my game. There are worse things to be a party to.
However, time came to go and even though I'd said many times that I was in a relationship, the Moroccan wanted to accompany me to Penn Station. He tried every angle, and I finally said it was best that we just say goodbye here. Luckily, he knew this but figured he would try, and I didn't fault him for it. He was a man, I was a woman. As for his friend, he can tell him anything he wants.
I was way early back in the station, but figured it best to wait the last hour there. The crying girl paced back and forth in the passenger waiting area. She was no longer crying, but still flush faced. A few minutes later, a call went over the P.A. system for someone. She walked away and I never saw her come back. I don't know if someone arrived in the city to pick her up, or it was just a coincidence. It made me glad that cities aren't scary to me. Not even when I was her age. There are always options and ways to look like you are supposed to be where you are. Penn Station, though not a luxury hotel room, is not a dangerous place if you stay within the confines and sealed off areas for passengers waiting for trains. You have to show a ticket, or be a crying girl in a black dress, to get in. Plus, there were cops galore there and national guardsmen with M-16 rifles. Speaking of hotels, there are plenty where the lobby offers shelter. She wouldn't be asked to leave, especially in the big hotels. But, I think she was afraid of the walk or to take a cab to "The Hilton" or "The Essex" or "The Marriott" or other well known hotels. Who knows.
The man at the desk took me and two other girls to the train for pre-boarding. It was a nice gesture on his part and gave us first pick of seats. I sat down, and took this picture.
That's after traveling almost 48 hours straight.
Three and a half hours later, waking up periodically to look out the window and see a blue heron flying up from a river with a fish in its grasp, to open my eyes to a man's knee inches from my face, to be annoyed by the snoring fat woman behind me, and sit up to see the flooded areas from days of torrential rain, I was in Baltimore, just in time for rush hour. I'd come in a metal tube from the depths of the night to greet fresh faced rested business people congregating on the platform in the light of morning. It was almost as if I'd taken a portal from one world to another. I walked the few blocks home, seeing most of my neighborhood hadn't woken up yet. The streets were bathed with remnants of pink light from sunrise, and I looked at my feet, willing them to get to my door faster. When I entered, my apartment was cool and clean, the cats well fed and groggy. I stripped, climbed into bed after washing my hands up to my elbows, and slept.