A Brooklyn Chapter: Red Eyes, Honduran Colombians and Directions

When I decided that I was going to make the expedition out to New York, not only was I looking for a cheapest and most direct flight. What kind of flight fits that description? You got it, a red eye! Off I was on JetBlue flying out of Portland Wednesday eve at 10 PM and arriving in New York Thursday morning around 6:10 AM. I hadn’t traveled on a red eye before and of course I wasn’t going to sleep on the plane: I was sitting on the aisle and any movement would brush up against my shoulder causing me to jostle awake. While sleep was a no-go, mashing on the free snacks was the move as I kept my energy level up as best I could with the healthiest selection of Fritos, cookies and these things called Popcorners (snag yourself some, they are delicious). When we finally got taxi’d and linked up with JFK’s terminal, I was running on about 6 hours sleep from the Tuesday to this point and I was getting hungrier by the step.

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JFK —> Far Rockaway —> Brooklyn, just as it was drawn up.

Here is the first photograph I ever took in New York. Of course it was Instagram, how else am I going to show off stoic and artsy filtered photos with my friends? It isn’t like I have a blog or anything. Blogs are for losers and Instagram is (clearly) for hipst… I mean, winners: clearly for winners. Funny story about this photograph– it actually was not my first attempt at taking a picture in the city. My first attempt was terrible on two counts:

1. I couldn’t for the life of me get a proper angle of this skybridge that had a “Welcome to JFK Airport” sign that I thought, “Man, hipstagram will gobble this shit up!” (the picture only got two likes, sadface emoticon (Childish Gambino voice)).

2. When I tried to get the best possible angle that included the sign and some of the opposite platform, I was getting dangerously close to the end of platform I was currently standing on. So what do I do? Continue to get the best shot possible, it’s just what you do. But here’s what ended up happening:

[Intercom voice]: Good morning everyone, I hope you’re having a great morning on your commute. Thank you for choosing JFK Airport. If you could remember that we do have trains running regularly and for your safety we have marked where to stand.

I hear the kind voice over the speaker, but I’m still trying to get this shot. IT’S FOR PROSPERITY DAMMIT! 

[Intercom voice]: That means you sir on the opposite track, please stand away from the end of platform. Thank you.

I hear that and I think, “Psh, that person got told.” I lower the phone, look across the tracks to the other platform and see 5 or 6 people (and an incredibly larger waiting platform). I look directly in front of me at the platform I’m on: it’s deserted, and I’m the only one. And yeah, I’m that “sir” standing at the very end of it. Getting admonished and embarrassed by a transit authority employee after being in a new city for under 30 minutes? One thing off the bucket list.

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When I first got a look at the MTA New York Subway map at 6:40 AM, my eyes got big: the amount of ground covered looked immense, the amount of trains that shared similar stops were numerous and most of all, I had no idea what I was doing and how to get to where I was going. I had GoogleMap’d the directions on the iPhen, but even with that my confidence was that of Brad Lidge after throwing that hanging slider to Albert Pujols (long-winded analogy for “Clemente no tuvo la confianza”). I asked one of the MTA employees which train to take to get into Brooklyn, and he replied back, “Where exactly in Brooklyn are you going?” I said the only thing I remembered from the map, “I’m trying to get to Borough Park, you know, East 2nd St.” He didn’t know, and to show me he didn’t know he shot me a glance of “Boy, you better not get yourself killed after I drop this knowledge on you.” I showed him the directions the iPhen supplied me and he had a better idea of where I was going and told to hit to do exactly what it said, hit the A to the F and get off at Church Ave. Everything that happened next is chalked up to me being tired and being an idiot. I unfortunately didn’t have this song to pump me up as I sluggishly trekked to Brooklyn.

So many lines, so many stops, so much (not really) confusion!

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Upon leaving the ward of the kind transit employee, I set off to the A train going to Brooklyn. Below is a blown up portion of where I was at, where I needed to go and where I ended up going. I got on at the Howard Beach/JFK Airport stop, and from the picture you either go southeast to Far Rockaway or you head west to Brooklyn/Manhattan. Where did I end up going? Exactly right, Far Rockaway, because what’s the point of going someplace without mistakenly traveling in the opposite direction?

I was less than an hour in New York and I already made a rookie mistake.

I step on the train and as much as I don’t want to emit the “Hi, I’m a tourist who has no idea where he is and what’s going on” scent, I am sending off that vibe regardless thanks to the baggage and the fact I look haggard. I try not to make eye contact with anyone, but right as I walk 4 steps, this kid (couldn’t be older than 18) locks his eyes on me. “Fawk, are you serious? I just want to get to Casey’s without a hitch… and why is he eyeing me like this… oh man, if I jacked– quit looking at me, man.” As my mind races at the speed of life, all I hear is:

Quien eres tu? Huh? Again: Quien eres tu?

So I engage the the young man and I tell him about myself and my dad being Nigerian, and that I’m Nigerian-American and all those particulars.

So you’re American; that’s cool man. Can you guess what I am?, is what he replies back in his accent and with a breath that smells of Colt 45 (or some malt liquor; whatever it was, he most likely mouth-washed with it). He was Hispanic, and I can’t tell the difference between any of those countries, so I just say Mexican to further the conversation.

Nah man, I’m American too. You hear of Colombia? I have. South America, right? Yea (hiccup), and Honduras… you know of that? Yep, Central America. That’s an interesting mix. As the conversation continues, the train is chugging along in the Jamaica Bay and I start thinking, “Man, there is A LOT of water on the way to Brooklyn. This is not what I expected. Kinda like it, nice residence feel… not as many buildings or as much concrete as I thought.” Of course even that thought didn’t make realize I was on the wrong train.

So where are you going? What brings you here? Going to Brooklyn to visit a friend, hang out and see New York. Ah, a vacation? How long you staying… you know this is going to Far Rockaway, right? The last bit didn’t make a resounding impact until he repeated it again, to which I said, nah, this is going to Brooklyn man, that’s what I was told. He looked at me, and as sober as he was through the entire interaction: you’re on the wrong train man, this is going to Far Rockaway. Follow me, I’ll help you out. At this point we’ve reached Broad Channel and I hustle behind him and he points to the other track, which has a big and fat “TO BROOKLYN” sign. I thank him and his friend, they wish me well and I do the same. (Editor’s note: this young man spent a lot of time telling me how much he hated school and despised whenever his mom would ask him if he went to school. He asked if I went to school and when I said graduated and I was 24 he was taken aback. Lift more books and less 40s kid, do it for me  at least.)

It’s about 7:35 AM at this point and I told my friend Casey I’d be at his place by 8:30. I’m finally on the right track, but time is steadily slipping away. More and more people are getting on this train as they go to work or school and I’m trying to conceptualize how on earth everyone fits on these things. I haven’t sat down in maybe 30 minutes and… shit, my phone just died.

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My first experience of the subway was a great one, aside from going the wrong way, feeling cramped and crowded, feeling out of place and seeming to be half a step slow. OK fine: it was pretty intense. My first foray into navigating New York streets and city planning was about to be equally as tiresome as the rest of my first 90 minutes were. An observation I made instantaneously as I walked from the mezzanine up the stairs to Dahil Road was that there was a lot of trash… an inordinate amount, really. And there were recyclables that should be separated from the trash, but were ignorantly tossed together. I was having a really hard time not screaming, “why is this happening?!,” going into Hulk smash mode and trying to clean it all up. I finally poke my head to street level and there are cars zipping by, kids and their moms wandering to school as police officers are directing traffic, AND THERE IS JUST TRASH EVERYWHERE (more on why that is shortly). All I know is that my phone is dead, I’m looking for E 2nd Street, I haven’t the faintest idea, and I’m running on fumes of pure exhaust.

All I had to do was get from the start of the red line to A. 1.1 miles later, finally made it to the apartment.

As I begin to meander on my way to Casey’s apartment I walk towards PS 230 on the corner of Dahil and Tehama. I guess left and walk down the street until I hit another intersection and have the “I give up” look on my face. One of the police officers looks at me and in a kind, motherly “You look lost and potentially seconds from a breakdown” and asked where I was going. Stated my destination and she pointed me in the right direction, which was to walk down Ablemarle Road where I finally hit E 2nd St. Now all I have to do is find this house number, which sounds really easy but like most of the things on this morning, it (read: I would make it) was going to be arduous. I got halfway between 2nd and 3rd and realized I was on the wrong beat, so I doubled back to Ablemarle and 2nd took a right and I started seeing instant returns until suddenly everything tapered off and went lower. “You have to be kidding me at this point,” as I reach Caton Ave and building #101. There’s an older gentleman in paint stained clothes enjoying a smoke on this early morning. I ask if he can help me out and I give him the address.

You know, I can’t say that I know exactly where that is. Sigh, really? Well the house numbers here are confusing. Do they get bigger going south or north across this street? [Takes a drag] Well, I don’t know. If  they didn’t get bigger coming up here, I can only assume they’ll get bigger going that way [pointing south]. Ha, that’s a good point! And if they don’t, well, I’ll be seeing you again shortly. I thank him, he wishes me well and continues to enjoy his nicotine as a walk back down E 2nd St.

Right as I am back to walking down E 2nd, a garbage truck chugs on down the road stopping at every house and being filled to the brim with EVERYTHING and then systematically crushing it. The smell is putrid and seeing all the plastic and paper being melded with the actual trash is soul-crushing. I arrived on garbage day and it was awful because I was following a garbage truck the entire way to Casey’s apartment, trying with all my might to not lose the Fritos and cookies I had eaten (although I could have just yakked right in the truck and it wouldn’t have fazed the workers). Unbeknownst to me it’s 8:30 when I reach the apartment door, and Casey gave me the number of his roommate that would be home… but, you know, my phone is dead. I do remember he said to ring the doorbell, which I do. Walker answers, and I follow him up the steps that look eeriely similar to the steps that took Sam and Frodo to Mordor. I have a glass of water as I watch NY1 News and some Comedy Central before I finally sleep for the first time in 20 hours.

And thus ends the tale of my first 2 plus hours in Brooklyn. Come back in a few days for more of A Brooklyn Chapter.

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