Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A River Runs Through It

Silver cities rise,
the morning lights
the streets that meet them,
and sirens call them on
with a song.

We’re coming to the edge,
running on the water,
coming through the fog,
your sons and daughters.

Let the river run,
Let all the dreamers
Wake the nation.
Come, the New Jerusalem.

                -Carly Simon

I left my house in darkness.  I boarded the train in darkness.  I emerged from the tunnels of Grand Central in darkness.  It was the end of December and everything was very dark, and cold, and dark all the time.  It was a Monday, or a Wednesday or a Friday, one of the days I go into work super early so I’d soon be at my desk before the sun rose.  December 31st is our fiscal year-end so I was going in super early to get things done.  I don’t work late any longer.  I have day care pickup.  So I work early.  But early or late, in December, everything is dark.  And cold.

But this day I was going to take a little detour before going to work.  I swung west towards Fifth Avenue and walked past Rockefeller Center, past the big, illuminated tree.  I didn’t stop, I didn’t cross over Fifth and actually go into the plaza, I just kept walking, looked at the tree and that was it, my big holiday season viewing of this giant, midtown arborous tourist trap, check that one off the list for 2014, move on.  Christmas was over and now it’s just dark December. 

I kept walking north, past St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and as I got to the corner of 53rd street, pivoted right, while keeping the pace of my brisk walk, and turned east.  And there it was. 

The beauty and order of Manhattan’s grid system, lends the vantage point that some cross-town streets have the perfect setup for catching the sunset, or sunrise.   And in the early hours of this cold, dark, but clear and crisp winter morning, looking directly eastward I saw morning’s first light rising behind the tower of doom. 

And there it was:  the tower of doom.  Or specifically, our Long Island City office tower, a fifty-story greenish glass tower of urban zoning mismatch and corporate mayhem. 

With the sun beginning to rise behind the tower, it looked almost ablaze, and part of me wished that the building would just burn down.  I mean, let’s be clear, I wouldn’t want it to burn down with anyone inside.  I do not wish for anyone to be injured.  I’ve ‘evacuated’ that building when summertime brown-outs were putting high-rise elevators out of commission a few years ago, and nobody needs a panic.  But if that building, that stand-alone glass house in western Queens, could just disappear, just be swallowed up by the Earth, if it could just implode, or perhaps be engulfed in a Sharknado, that would be great.

I had worked in that building from 2005 through 2011, and in three weeks I would be moving back. 

As I walked through the hallways of our current office, still happily located in Midtown East, I zigzagged around moving dollies, dumpsters and pallets of flattened cardboard boxes yet to be assembled, labeled and filled with office treasures.  We were preparing for the move as a group, but some were more ready to pack up and go than others.  Everything would have to get packed, including the file room (which was a small library), personal effects, such as a favorite stapler, tchochkies celebrating system roll-outs (for example I have a ‘magic wand’ for the roll-out of Client Wizard, but it has no magical powers when it comes to getting discontent coworkers to co-operate.  Trust me, I’ve tried).  Some coworkers have the ‘Balance Sheet Pyramid’ knick-knack.  The pointed tip of this thing could easily be used as a weapon, and its base a true blunt object.  People should consider the impalement factor when designing these things, or else it’s death by accounting toys, that is a horrible way to go.  The crap that adorns everyone’s desks has no real monetary value, but we all love our stuff.  I had to pack up my recent purchase, a mint-green pencil holder I found in the dollar bin at Target, a little something to brighten up my lack of moving enthusiasm.  And I still had to pack my drawer of black dress shoes, because like many office workers, I commute in my sneakers every day. 

I’ve been through a company move before, and that one went quite well, and that whole office building had just undergone a fantastic, modern renovation.  But I’ve never moved with one team back to the floor and building I used to work on with another team, and this is what I was not looking forward to.  Not only was I aware that this floor had not been renovated in forever, our relegation out of Manhattan and into Queens was basically a reinforcement of where our group sits in the grand hierarchy of people who matter.  We weren’t worth our high-rent district any longer.  I had told one of our managers I felt like I was going backwards, as if place is an indicator of position and going back to the same floor I had been on was like my whole career was going backwards.  He reassured me that where you sit is not an indicator of what you do, and the whole company is being shuffled around as leases get renegotiated and contracts change, this was only temporary.   And I knew that was true for everyone, but we move to a fifty-story building and we have to go to the one exact same floor I had been on prior, what is the chance of that?  The one exact same floor that is home to the team I left three years ago on my own volition.  Nope.  We couldn’t pick another floor.  Out of fifty.   We.  Couldn’t.  Pick.  Another.  Floor.

That first Monday came around, our first day in the new building, or the old building or I guess 2015 is truly the year of Back to The Future.  Backwards.  Forwards.  Whatever.  I had my metrocard and it was back on the subway for me.  I hadn’t owned a metrocard (or one with actual money on it) for a while, I just had my commuter rail pass and my sneakered feet to get to and from work for 3 and one half years.  The timing of all this is funny because I spent both pregnancies commuting to work without having to take the subway, except for a one-off trip here or there.  I thank God every day for sparing me from having to be pregnant while having to take the subway.  I missed out on a whole smorgasbord of vile smells and odors, pushy people, extreme personal space invasions, probably not ever getting a seat, escalators that don’t work, elevators that are death traps, vermin, nutjobs, crowds and, did I mention, bad smells.  Now it’s as if post-partum life ended, and my freedom from the subway has also ended -- fateful timing. 

I bought a coffee in Grand Central (the biggest size they could legally sell me), as a little ‘umph’ for having to go further underground and get the seven train.  Little did I know Long Island City has zero (0) breakfast wagon carts.  Zero.  As I walked down the flight of stairs to the 4-5-6 trains, and then further down to the 7, I passed a woman with a shopping cart selling hats and scarves.  Apropos for January, but I had remembered a woman with a shopping cart in that exact same spot selling churros.   Granted it was over three years ago, but what happened to her?  Or was this woman one and the same with new merchandise?  Or did the rats get all the churros?  I’d have to get filled in on 7 train life after my hiatus.  What else did I miss?

As the seven train pulled into the station, I noticed it was more crowded at this time of day than it had been in the past.  More people are reverse-commuting into Queens than before, no joke.  One face on the train stood out and I quickly realized it was my former manager.  I knew I would be running into him on our (new/old) floor but on the seven train, already?  And why was he on the train before me?  He comes into Grand Central like I do, he should get on where I get on.  I was suspicious and I was not ready to deal with awkward circumstances, so I hopped into another train car and laid low. 

It would only take about two minutes for the train to slide under the East River and emerge into this once-upon-a-time dockland area of the western-most tip of the land mass that is Long Island.  But those two minutes represented a world of change.  And the East River, technically not a river, but rather a post-glacial salt water tidal strait, was my natural boundary between good and bad, between relevance and obsolescence, between opportunity and isolation, between energy and stagnation, between professionalism and crazy town.

Two stops into Queens, the train rises and traces an elevated track via a ‘S’ curve.  As the train emerged from the tunnel, I noticed much had changed to both the LIC and the Manhattan skylines.  Long Island City, which had been constructing high-rise apartment towers here and there, now had residential towers by the dozens, and a few old industrial brick shells re-fabricated into apartments and lofts just the same.  Some looked inhabited, others were still works in progress.  And as the seven snaked its ‘S’ curve left, then right, it was easy to spot the slim silhouette of Park Avenue’s new 89-story apartment tower on 56thstreet to the northwest, and the thick metal girth of the new World Trade Center to the southwest.

I exited the seven train and walked towards our office building.  When I got to the building, I hoped that my ID card would not let me through the turnstile.  But it did.  When I got to our floor’s lobby, I hoped that my ID card would not let me through the doors.  But it did.  I guess I was supposed to be here.  I guess I was really here.  This was really happening. 

A yellow and gray sign bearing my name hung from the ceiling above my cubicle in our somewhat open-plan workspace, but I already knew where my seat was, and I already knew who had sat here before me from my prior tour of duty on this floor.  My boxes full of desk treasures, dress shoes, files and a magic wand were waiting for me next to my new workspace.  I began to unpack and re-situate my stuff in a workspace layout in which I had already spent five years.  But this time I had a few new accessories to add to my desk.  My $1 Target find.  Knick-knacks from our corporate sponsorship of the last two Olympics.  Business cards stating a rise in corporate title.  A framed photo of a baby girl.  A mousepad chock full of photos of a little boy.  

A yellow and gray sign bearing my name hung from the ceiling above my new cubicle.  But my last name on that sign was not the last name I had when I moved out of this building a few years ago.  Landscapes were changing.  Cityscapes were doing what they do best: reinventing themselves.  Maybe I would do the same.  But first, I'd have to secure a new coffee dealer in my new (old) world.  And maybe a churro too!

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