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dave waits in the big city – month four

May 5, 2010

Waiting in New York City

So April had finally arrived, the month presenting my pilgrimage to New York City, wrapped in layers of anticipation and promise. April hds finally arrived, the first two weeks feeling like obstacles in the way of destination. Now those weeks had passed and I was here, with my wife and my little Yellow Peace camera, on the other side of our continent, in another nation. It was the end of our waiting.

Or perhaps it was just the beginning.

Truth is, we had more waiting to do before we even made it through New York’s gates. We had come all this way to spend one more night outside the doors, just across the river in Newark, New Jersey. To save money, we flew into that third New York airport late. The sunlight waking through windows, we gathered our things to find the train station and … wait. It seemed almost too much, to be so close and still at the mercy of a train’s arrival. To almost smell New York but not yet be able to taste. An elastic band stretched near snapping, I could not remember such acute anticipation since childhood Christmas mornings. That’s how I knew this was the moment to capture my April photo for “The Art of Waiting” project. Each month I’ve been capturing one or two images to epitomize waiting. This particular shot, looking upwards at the massive unlit New Jersey sign from down in the depths of our train platform, seemed the most appropriate yet. To know that the waiting is almost over, but it is not over yet. This, perhaps, is the hardest waiting at all. This, perhaps, is where hope stops helping and begins to choke out your last calm breaths as you feel your insides racing to the finish line but sense your feet stuck steps away. This is New Jersey waiting.

But New Jersey waiting’s got nothing on New York waiting.

For a city as fast and frenzied as New York, there’s a whole lot of waiting going on. It is as if Gotham’s people are so rushed that the city herself feels the need to step in and press pause, pull the reins and create room to breathe. Perhaps with waiting she will force upon her citizens lessons of patience and of peace. Or perhaps it’s just frustrating. Either way, the waiting is not welcomed, but avoided whenever possible. Lunch hour sprints toward falafel stands or hot dog stands or soup stores with little to no seating begin eating that is brisk and sometimes done in motion. There are nearly no public washrooms to provide, at least, some place to sit. But New York is moving. Traffic is moving. Not quickly, but constantly. Yellow cab and yellow cab and SUV and yellow cab and sedan and yellow cab. Walk lights are ignored. To wait for the light to change seems an incredible insult on these swift streets. So people do not wait. They watch and plot and eek out a labyrinthine path through cars that never completely stop, even inches away. They creep, to tell you that they are not really waiting, either. That is, perhaps, the privilege earned by living in a metropolis. You leave waiting behind.

But of course you do not leave waiting behind. It is a mirage. The rush and flow pushes toward bottlenecks and one starts to see why waiting is loathed. The waiting done here is the worst kind, foisted upon you as a reminder that this system doesn’t really work as well as we’d all like to believe. It’s the kind of waiting that shows us there are limits. It’s an admission New York does not make easily, I’d wager. Walking up Broadway through 42nd street towards 49th street and beyond, you must wait. Times Square multiplies pedestrians and sights and sounds. The crowds are intense, pushing in from every side. You fight for your right to sidewalk. Construction throws detours upon the walkways here and there and everywhere, as you bob and weave and wait. Take in a Broadway show and you wait. Walk in the morning and you face the crowds. Walk in the night and they have not left. One must learn to factor in waiting for travel. A trip from the airport, my inflight magazine tells me, can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half by taxi. It depends on the wait. Waiting for the single public washroom we found one afternoon took 20 minutes or more. Sometimes, I was told, it takes 45. Visit MoMA, on a random Wednesday morning in April, and you may wait to get inside once it opens, as we did. I would have had to wait 4 more hours to view the feature exhibit from Tim Burton. Each floor and each room sardines citizens and tourists into chambers filled with clouded beauty. You wait your turn to spend five seconds with Van Gogh’s Starry Night. You wait for the smoke to clear to catch a glimpse. You wait to view a massive Warhol because someone is taking a photo in front of it. It was here, in MoMA, that I took my own photograph – the second portrait of waiting in April for the project. The photo takes in a massive inflatable Tim Burton character, displayed in the lobby. It was only part of that exhibit I could even see because I just couldn’t wait around long enough for the rest. It seems such a waste to rush beauty. I have a feeling she is slow by nature.

A big city, it turns out, is just that. Big. In four days, it can overwhelm you. Even with it’s line ups, New York does not compel you to stop and wait with intention. And that intentional waiting, that wandering and meandering, is perhaps what I missed most about my own small life in my own small city back in Alberta. My art gallery is quiet. My river valley parks are solitary. I can wait when I choose to wait, and wander when I choose to wander, and not feel like I am stopping the flow of some massive stream. Should I choose not to wait, I most often don’t need to. Except, of course, at our walk lights. They actually mean something here.

I now find myself waiting to return to that big city. I feel more prepared for another round in the ring. But until that day, whenever it may be, I think I like it this way.


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