i should’ve done this in my twenties
A couple years ago, before I settled into my happy domestic groove and was still in vagabond mode, I thought I’d try to move to New York. My third try. Turns out, I think I liked the concept of becoming a New Yorker more than the reality. Attempt number three happened when I was forty-nine, so I didn’t have quite the energy I had the previous times that New York slapped me down like a damned dog.
I packed up my life in six bags and took a train to New York City. What I’m really saying is, at almost fifty years old, I decided to move to the most expensive city in the country with a bum hip, no job, two weeks of housing at a friend of a friend’s and three hundred dollars. In February. If anyone needs a life coach, I’m available.
Basically, having been evicted, I had to move somewhere, and my (at the time) flawless reasoning was that I might as well go to one of the few places where there’s still a standup comedy ‘scene,’ that having been my career. And as far as finding the inevitable mind-numbing, soul-sucking day job, well, although New York is obviously getting bitch-slapped by the economic meltdown (which New York was partly responsible for), I thought there would still be more job possibilities in New York than in, say, Minneapolis. It’s a numbers game. Yeah, at least for my particular skill set, I was wrong.
But I got there, and I was excited. And terrified. And excited. I mean, when I first wrote about this, I was looking out a new friend’s window down Broadway–freakin’ Broadway! Tempering my enthusiasm wa the realization that I didn’t know where I’d be sleeping nine days later. So there’s that. Forget about mood swings–I was on a freakin’ mood playground.
When I locked the door to my Chicago apartment for the last time, I realized I became officially homeless. That’s weird to wrap your brain around when you always thought you were just ‘bohemian.’ It was almost a badge of pride to live a kind of spartan life. I’m an artist, goddammit! Oh, how I wish I lived in the fourteenth century, so I could have a patron. I could write jokes for the king, and live fabulously. Of course, I’d have to write jokes that only showed the king in a good light, but hey it’s showbiz.
Twenty hours. That’s how long it takes by Amtrak to go from being a Chicagoan (“fuckin’ Cubs!”) to being a New Yorker (“fuckin Mets!”). The first stop of any length along the way is Toledo, Ohio. For forty-five minutes. For no apparent reason. All I was told is ‘it’s built into the schedule.’ So I’m in the Toledo train station at 3:30 in the morning chatting with a fascinating Orthodox Jew whose trip ended in Toledo (I’m sure many Passover seders end with the hopeful prayer ‘next year in Toledo’). Now a train attendant told me we would be leaving at 4:00, so at about 3:45 I start getting ready to say my shaloms to Chaim and I see my train…start to move.
Suddenly I’m in a bad romantic comedy, all slow-motion and muffled yelling, as I try to hobble after my train. Incidentally, on said train were my bags, which contained my phone, wallet and laptop. My entire life,or at least all record of it, was slowly, but inexorably, leaving me behind. After what seemed like, oh, half an hour, or at least enough time to ponder every bad decision I’d ever made up to that point, the train stopped. Great. Now my imagination has me thinking this was some colossal prank, like when you’re hitchhiking and the car slows down, pulls over and then drives away. Very funny, Amtrak.
Turns out they were moving the train closer to some air hose thing (sorry, I wasn’t really processing things well at that point), and I reunited with my life. Also turns out the attendant was speaking in approximate terms with the whole 4:00 thing, and that the train departs Toledo at 3:50. Really my fault for not saying to her as I got off the train “No, when EXACTLY do we leave, because I want to make sure I don’t end up having to stay in FUCKING TOLEDO!” Apologies to any Toledo residents reading this. I’m sure it’s a lovely city.
When I settled back into my seat, I told a guy I had been chatting up on the train the story, and he said the same thing happened to him at a stop in Cleveland recently. Which leads me to what I call the Toledo Theory. See, I think so few people choose to go to Toledo, or Cleveland, that the state of Ohio has paid Amtrak to leave a certain number of passengers behind, to help the local economy. I believe most of the residents of Toledo, Ohio were actually going somewhere else, and once they were stranded, basically said “Well…I might as well just stay here.” Granted, it’s not as sexy as black-ops helicopters or Area 51, but it’s my first wacky conspiracy theory, I’m kinda proud of it.