There’s something about stepping off an airplane at LaGuardia International Airport, something about walking into perhaps the world’s most cosmopolitan city. There is this sense of energy, of limitless potential, of having a vast expanse of space to make your mark.
I called an Uber from LaGaurdia and was picked up by a man with a thick Cameroonian accent — at least I think it was Cameroonian. As he picked up my single piece of luggage to place it in the trunk, he locked eyes with one of the airport employees. They both unleashed boisterous, hearty laughs. He set down my suitcase in the trunk of his car and walked over to the man a few feet away to envelope him into a huge hug.
“You should listen to this guy for all your advice about New York!” The random airport worker instructed me. For the next few seconds they talked to each other in rapid-pace speech, as I remembered how I had been awake since 4:30 in the fucking morning.
We both finally got in the Uber, and my driver pulled out of the airport. The man cursed as his phone’s GPS wasn’t working correctly.
“Where are we going again?” He asked me.
“Brooklyn,” I said. “Williamsburg, Berry Street.”
“Ahaha! Berry Street,” he exclaimed while turning the steering wheel rapidly. “You got it.”
It wasn’t until I finally got to my company-provided apartment and unpacked my stuff that I realized how impressive it was that this guy knew some random street in the gigantic, sprawling, city.
The next day I woke up around 7:40am, got a shower, got dressed, and confidently stepped out onto the Brooklyn street. Going to work is always the part of being in New York that I am the most confident about. I know the three streets that take me my office very well. I know the three different coffee shops I can stop by on my way to the office. I know the familiar sites of the chic Williamsburg buildings, dotted with retail outlets, and residential inlets that I will probably never be able to afford.
Working for me has always been second nature. There’s something comfortable about doing a job that I don’t find when I hang out at bars or with people I don’t really know. When I finally clock out for the day, I am relieved that I already have plans and don’t have to feel guilty about going back to my apartment instead of having a crazy #NewYork experience.
I met an old high school friend at an authentic Ramen restaurant. I had only ever associated Ramen with the 30 cent noodles I bought for myself when I was too poor and/or lazy to make anything else. I didn’t recognize any of the words on the menu, but as I looked it over, my friend Viet walked through the door.
We hadn’t seen each other in years, but we started talking like it had just been a few weeks ago. Our friendship had sustained itself through social media, our like-mindedness held us together even while we talked only sparingly.
We both sat down and ordered, me trying to pronounce something on the menu that seemed to have a reasonable price.
We chatted about old friends, and old times, when our dishes finally arrived. To eat my bowel of delicious noddles they gave me chopsticks. I didn’t know how to use chopsticks.
My friend laughed, “Better you ask them than me — you’ll get judged less.” My friend was Asian.
We left the restaurant and went to get a drink somewhere else. People talk quite a bit about how expensive drinks are in New York City, but even in one of the most costly areas of Brooklyn, the prices didn’t seem that different from back home in Columbus.
As we stumbled out of the cold into the bar — a small place a few blocks down Bedford Avenue — we both yawned. It was only 9:00pm, but the two of us had notably aged in the four years we hadn’t seen each other.
We talked about politics. For both of us, the result of the 2016 election stung, hard. But we had both found stability, some level of sanity, by trying to rationalize Trump’s victory as something other than a revolt of the deplorable. Indeed, this is one of the main ways reconnected. We both argued with our leftist friends on Facebook and Twitter, urging them to assume the best of our fellow citizens.
“Don’t reduce them to racists or sexists!” or “You have to understand the pain of the working class” or “Desperate people do desperate things” and on, and on, and on — almost as if I was trying to convince myself more-so than anyone else.
“I didn’t mind Hillary’s flaws,” he explained to me, “Because I expect a politician to be a politician. She didn’t do anything that the rest of them didn’t do.”
I expressed admiration for my first pick in the 2016 contest, Senator Bernie Sanders.
“Yeah, who knows what would’ve happened if we nominated him…” my friend trailed off.
As we both departed that night, I considered how exhausted I was, how much repressed anger I had — all brewing under the surface. As my friends unleashed their fury on social media, I pushed mine deeper inside, urging people to feel compassion.
As my father called Trump “the devil,” as my friends unilaterally decried “straight, white men” for the terror they anointed, and the alt-right shot back at them as “crybabies” and “snowflakes,” I fancied myself a glue that could bring people together through dialogue and discussion and understanding.
But while standing at a street intersection, waiting for the light to change, it struck me harder and clearer than ever:
I was just a person. I am just a person.