Christophe "Bill" Henry, our snowman with the red Captain Marvel cape, melted last night, pounded by rain and wind in the wee hours. We found his carrot nose floating this morning in a muddy puddle that used to be his life.
Like Christophe William Henry’s nose, I too have floated in puddles like that, face down in muddy transformations, having moved too many times in the last four years ~ the first of which I found myself loading and unloading boxes in three different houses, in three different neighborhoods, in two different states. When you start over that many times, in that many places, there is bound to be a cesspool that forms around you, each place still clinging to you like algae, muddying-up the next “new beginning” that would much prefer to swim in fresh, clean, purified water.
So as I passed Christophe this morning after driving the kids to school, I slowed down and took a picture of him for posterity. I didn’t want to forget him, move on so quickly to the next place I had to be. I wanted to remember how handsome and strong he looked last night, even though the new morning had erased most of him. After all the time we'd spent building him in the late afternoon, we ran back to the warmth of the house in haste, forgetting to take a picture with him. Instead, we patted him on the back, kissed his soft white cheeks and wished him a peaceful night, leaving him all alone near the road. But he was a renegade snowman.. a pioneer, really. He insisted on going without a traditional scarf or a wool hat, preferring instead to brave his new, uncertain conditions on the East Coast with some of the favorite things he’d acquired along the way. I knew exactly how he felt. I just wish I had the guts to do it in a cowboy hat and a cape that said, "Shazam!"
Almost an hour into my very smooth trip into NYC from downtown Wilmington, Delaware, I look up and see that I am now on the New Jersey turnpike in Governor Chris Christie’s storm-damaged state, leaving the “driving to them.” Greyhound, that is, not the New Jerseyans or Chris Christie, they’ve got enough on their plate after Hurricane Sandy. The driver does look a lot like the governor, though, with a full head of hair, a fleece jacket, and a girth that’s about the width of the steering wheel. I immediately take a liking to him, realizing I might just need a no-nonsense driver on my first Greyhound bus ride.
He doesn’t say much, except to announce loudly and firmly that there is no smoking on the bus or in the laboratory. That’s the kind of leadership I admire from a seemingly bipartisan bus driver to his fellow east coast smokers who have all just thrown their lit cigarettes into the curb before climbing aboard… wait… hold up… the bus has a laboratory? So, either there are microscopes and tests tubes and Petri dishes in the back of this thing or there is an actual toilet on the bus. This comes as a huge relief, given I’ve just had a whole lot of coffee during my sunrise commute to the bus terminal.
As I settle into my seat, I’m pleasantly surprised to find there’s free Wi-Fi and electrical outlets in every row, my seat is super comfy and reclines, and the bus isn’t too crowded for an 8am departure. I even have a little footrest, not to mention both armrests and two seats all to myself.
During my short time thus far on the East Coast, a measly five months into my Northeastern lifestyle, I have driven into Manhattan a total of three times and have actually enjoyed the drive. Getting in and out of Manhattan via the Holland or the Lincoln Tunnel turns out to be much easier than I could have imagined – and on the weekend, it’s a cool breeze. Getting in and out of San Francisco, however, on a weekend is more like a slow, thick mist with bumper-to-bumper tourists trudging their way to the bay and the fogged-over Golden Gate for their long-awaited picture on the bridge, minus the Golden Gate Bridge, mind you, gone missing in the fog.
The ease of the commute in and out of NYC on the weekend is startling to me, particularly because I dreaded leaving San Francisco on a Saturday or Sunday to drive down to Silicon Valley to visit family because getting back into the city on time to score a decent parking space on Telegraph Hill was always a crapshoot, usually ending with me rolling a pair of “snake eyes.”
But, now, at 10am on a Monday, this Greyhound bus with a laboratory just breezed through the toll booth on route to the Lincoln Tunnel, no visible traffic in sight and not one delay, even though we passed several electric signs that read, “construction ahead, expect traffic delays.” Is this too good to be true? Will my surprise about the ease of getting into Manhattan on a bus on a Monday soon turn to frustration that I'm sitting stuck in traffic? I’m about to find out.
When I first arrived in Philadelphia this summer, I tried taking Amtrak from downtown Philly to Penn Station with my children in tow, because it was faster and easier than driving I was told. It turned out to be extremely stressful, however, and because of that, not worth the time it promised to save me... at least one whole hour, which is with young kids normally fighting in the backseat something to seriously consider.
The morning express train we took, though, was packed with commuters and tourists, and a man in a hurry almost pushed my daughter into the gap with his heavy suitcase as he fought his way off the train, spewing x-rated adjectives at us to move. My daughter then started crying and didn’t want to get on the train. Once I convinced her that she was fine and she finally agreed to board the train, we didn’t get to sit next to each other because they weren’t enough open seats close together. More crying, more stress… until I finally appeased her by letting her play on my phone a few seats away, much to my son’s chagrin who also wanted to play on my phone. I did get to relax somewhat, though, once my six year-old son finally dozed off to the rhythm of the bumpy tracks below. We needed that rest, too, because as soon as we arrived at Penn Station, we had to do our own share of “pushing” to get through a wall of people going this way and that, my children and I becoming sardines inside a sweaty, smelly can of commuters pushing their way upstream into Manhattan.
Greyhound actually uses air freshener – ala Fabreze, much like what I use when my car takes on that smell that no one really wants to know the origin of or acknowledge. I’m not sure if the Fabrezing is Greyhound’s official policy or just our Chris Christie lookalike’s policy, but I’m diggin’ it and wondering which Fabreze scent he chose; Holiday Bloom and Cheer or, perhaps, Meadows & Rain? Regardless, it’s way better than the smell of whatever the lady in front of me is eating for breakfast.
Forty more minutes and I hope to be at the Brazilian Consulate in Midtown Manhattan.
I have to get my visa renewed at the consulate today and I have to do it before noon. Lucky me, the consulate is a short walk away from the Greyhound terminal in the Port Authority building. Score. That’s why I chose to “Go Greyhound” because I can’t drive into the city even if I wanted to today. I came down with pinkeye, conjunctivitis, although it feels more like “redeye,” both my eyes itchy and cloudy like it’s raining poison oak inside my eyelids. So, I am leaving the driving to them today while I rest my eyes and listen to Marisa Monte, one of my favorite Brazilian songwriters, singing about the Statue of Liberty and “Baianas down on Broadway.”
As we approach the Lincoln Tunnel we slow to almost a stop, but I can actually enjoy the view now of the Manhattan skyline even though my itchy eyes would like to stay closed. But, it’s such a sunny winter day, and I can’t resist the postcard pull of Manhattan and its magnetic energy. I sit up and smile, something I never thought I'd do on a Greyhound bus.
The drive through the tunnel takes only about ten minutes, and we arrive at the Port Authority Greyhound Terminal in two-hours and fifteen minutes, exactly the time quoted to go from Wilmington to Manhattan. The drive was quiet, relaxing, and I even napped for a bit, all for $40 round-trip on a Monday, as opposed to an average of $150 on Amtrak. If I had driven my own car, I would have had to pay for parking in Manhattan (likely $50 to park in Times Square for the day) plus gas and tolls (around $80) for a grand total of $130. By taking Greyhound from Wilmington, instead of driving in or taking the train to Manhattan, I saved about $100-110. Cha-Ching! Thanks, Greyhound. My pocketbook is refreshed (not to mention my body and eyes) because I left the driving to you today.
In addition, and in case you were wondering, a trip to the “laboratory” in the back of the bus is actually not as bad as you would think. Bumpy? Well, yes (and I’d bring your Purell along since there’s no sink, let alone soap) but very convenient if you plan on having 16 ounces of coffee before your two-hour trip into Manhattan like I did.
I can’t help but think of straight-talking Chris Christie as his lookalike announces we have arrived on time at New York City’s Port Authority.
“Don’t be stupid,” go Greyhound. I hear ya loud and clear, Gov, and I have a ticket to ride.
My coffee’s gone cold as the temperature in my new office hits a toasty 53°F according to Siri and my iPhone. My dog’s tongue is hanging out. She may actually be panting as she lies belly-up, her pink tummy facing the windows from beneath my chair, her new warm, cozy spot.. er..what's that you say, Siri? Come again? Tomorrow it’s expected to snow? Seriously, Siri? How can you go from a morning temperature like they're having in California to a Newfoundland weather report? What's gotten into you? Is there an iceberg waiting up ahead while I’m busy waltzing in the warmth of the ballroom, my first class ticket to winter on the East Coast tilting starboard? Better tell me now, Siri, because I'm not going down with this ship!
I suddenly see my frightened reflection in every window. There are eight distorted faces staring back at me. The bright beams of light that shine through the floor to ceiling windows seemed like the perfect solution to a writer’s crowded mind, scrambled most days by too many distractions. The “sunroom” was the reason I chose this house when we were East Coast house hunting, hoping it would remind me of my days on the sunny West Coast. I could picture myself working here in the winter in plenty of light, happily cranking out new material as the sun warmed my bare feet through the big windows. I even made sure that my new prescription sunglasses were polarized so I could work on my laptop without any glare in the brightest room in the house. But, now, here I am working in my "sunroom" in late November, producing nothing but fear about Siri's forecast and what tomorrow’s temps will do to the natural light I crave. Siri, where will I work when the clarity of the sunlight fades?
"I don't know your work address... In fact, I don't know anything about you."
Oh, terrific. It's been almost a year now and suddenly Siri could care less about me or our relationship. I bet she doesn't even remember meeting me on Christmas morning last year. Not even the wrapping paper you were dressed in when I ripped it open and freed you? (It was a penguin theme and they were throwing tiny snowballs at each other. )
I turn back to face the half-blank screen, shiver then completely freeze. I know absolutely nothing about winter.
And "winter on the East Coast" poses an even bigger threat to a native Californian who has never spent a single winter here – a native, Southern Californian who regularly replaced her previously warm California winters with blazing hot South American "summers" spent with family in Brazil.
Therefore, if I am to write about the season that is upon me here now on the East, as Christmas and Santa and the elves quickly approach from the delightful North Pole, it will have to be today while the sun still pours ‘enlightenment’ onto the glass panes of this room and, hopefully, into my brain.
Stage right. Backspace. Edit. Cut.
Okay. Start over.
The starboard side of the country will just have to show me what winter really looks like, because I am completely left of here and green. East Coast? Hello? Anybody home? Nothing. Apparently, I will have to sniff out my own clues about how to survive the freezing temps that will soon encompass me and this lovely sun room. I look out my windows again to scan for something, anything, that might resemble signs of life inside the bitter cold that is barreling down the Baltimore Pike right now and then ...
Pop! A blast of color and flavor ignite! Is this the clue I’ve been hoping for? The sign that winter on the East Coast has more to offer than I had originally thought? Has the key to understanding and appreciating an actual winter been hidden in my yard all along? Could it be the llex verticillata, aka, the Winterberry Holly growing along the right side of my new home? It seems to be actually thriving out there when all the other shrubs and flowers are brittle and broken, wilted and forgotten. But this stuff's mighty regalia stands up strong and proud like royalty, its plump red branches rubies along a scepter that points to her Majesty, a robin’s egg blue sky.
These berries are juicy and ripe and look ready to be picked, but can I eat them or fold them into a winterberry pie, Siri? In California we make pies out of just about anything that hits the ground. However, Siri says that winterberries are not edible, no Sir-ee, and they rarely fall to the ground in the dead of winter, preferring instead to cling to the branches that gave birth to them. The tiny fruit is considered toxic to humans and animals, but wild birds depend and survive on them in the winter. Apparently, wild birds love the bitter, highly caffeinated berries (this explains A LOT). I love highly caffeinated berries, too, only my berries have been dried, roasted and brewed, and usually my “barista” offers me two pumps of vanilla syrup to go with them so I can start my day and navigate my car out of the crowded parking lot.
The berries do look delicious which also tells me it might be time for lunch. I reach for the last few sips of my Starbucks caffeinated berries to find that what’s left of them is now freezin-ars cold and my bare toes look somewhat blueish. My dog is nowhere to be found. In addition, Siri has just informed me that the temperature outside has dropped eleven degrees. Thanks, Siri, your heartfelt concern is appreciated, even though you “don’t find it particularly cold outside.” (Siri must be some kind of Eskimo name). One thing is clear, however, on the East Coast, winter waits for no one, and this naive Californian, better hurry up and find herself a thick pair of socks and a new pair of boots: FYI, Siri... please find me ones with heels and slip guards for snow covered streets. A girl could slip and fall out there.
Good work, Siri!
Winter, here I come!