From The West Side of Manhattan to Crocodiles of the Nile and beyond…

continued from Part I

So there I was, in line for the Lincoln tunnel, driving east, ready to plunge beneath the depths of the Hudson River. Visions of black water rivulets running past the tires filled my mind’s eye as I slowly crept in line, now trapped amidst produce trucks and angry gen-x SUVers. I remembered the stories of Caisson’s disease suffered by the builders of the Brooklyn Bridge as they labored for only four hours at a time under the East River, risking life and limb to connect Brooklyn and Manhattan via the most ambitious engineering project undertaken at that time.

I reemerged into daylight and followed the course of traffic into the west side of manhattan. Turning right onto 42nd avenue, I met a snarl of traffic the likes of which I’ve seen only near Fargo, North Dakota during a flood that crossed interstate 80. Three cycles of traffic lights found me only thirty feet further into the intersection. Still incredulous that I was in New York City…(that’s right, Shazam, you’re here, you’re really here)…I spotted several open parking spaces on the opposite side of the street. What? Parking in Manhattan? I did a U-turn and pulled up to the curb, payed my $2.00 in change for an hour of parkign and put the receipt on my dashboard. I stood close to my car long enough for the disheveled man examining a discarded piece of junk to move on without picking up the addressed, unopened envelope. I wondered if he thought there was a check for some undisclosed prize winnings inside.

Finally, I was afoot, my worst fears alleved…finding a parking spot in NYC. I strolled quickly along the street, not really sure exactly where I was, feeling like an alien drifting among earthlings. Few of these earthlings made eye contact, and I freely stared at couples, groups and individuals drifting and scooting along the sidewalks. I wondered where they were from, what they were doing, where they worked, went to school and what they were talking about. Where they people like me? ie Normal people? Or were they wierd? Odd city folk, the likes of which I felt I could never understand? No matter. I thrust my hands in my coat pocket…I had about 45 minutes to find The Supper Club and Steve Irwin, aka The Crocodile Hunter. I had my camera hidden from view in my pocket, my wallet in the inside pocket of my coat and the keys to my car in my pants pockets.

Adrenaline coursed through my veins, not unlike I was climbing an unknown mountain with my course roughly mapped to the summit, but finding the route with wit and intuition. Stepping into a sidewalk pothole, my ankle briefly gave out and I hopped out the other side as I hustled north up 8th avenue. The epinephrine secreted by my adrenal glands suppresed the pain until several hours later while I was making my way back through New Jersey. For the time being, I felt as though I was with the Croc Hunter on one of his venemous Snake and Lizard Hunts. My twisted ankle only an small inconvenience in my search for a rare individual from the species Homo Sapiens. I boldly led the way amongst my fellow intrepid adventurers of the sidewalks and crossed against red lights, anxious to get to the Supper Club in time.

Finally, 47th street was in sight. I turned right, hustled across 8th avenue and slowed my pace. I could hardly believe it. I looked for addresses. At 457 47th Street, a group of black teenagers gathered around a male/female couple, all twenty of them oblivious to the noise and commotion around them. I didn’t slow or pause to find out what was going on.

I spotted it ahead, a small, humble cardboard cutout of Steve Irwin holding a croc in his arms…about four feet tall. I wondered why the entire city hadn’t turned out to see him. What else was there to do on a Saturday in the City? Why else would you stay here on a sunny fall day? I stepped up to the entrance only to be stopped by four, huge, linebacker sized african-american bouncers. I wondered if my invasion of their personal space would cause them to instinctively step aside and let me enter the club. I didn’t know the routine here in the city…did I need ID to enter a dance club at 2pm on a saturday afternoon?

When they didn’t budge, I asked them, “What do you need?” Thinking they’d ask for ID or a cover charge.

“What are you offering?” one joked…

“If you have to ask, you’re in the wrong part of town,” anther chuckled.

“Can I go in?” I asked.

They finally stepped aside.

For a moment I paused while my eyes adjusted to the dimmed lights inside. I looked around and saw scores of young adults, some with guitars, others with woolen hats, backpacks and waterbottles. Many filled out audition forms and the young girl asked me if I wanted to audition. “I just want to look around,” I said, too shy to say I really wanted to see the crocodile hunter. I figured I would blend into the crowd a little and then, if necessary, simply succomb to the status of a groupie and wait my turn for an autograph or photo.

“You’re welcome to go inside and look around,” she said boisterously. “But Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, is gone. He left a little while ago.” I pretended I didn’t care. I smiled back.

“Thanks!”

I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t disappointed.

But I was. I stood in front of the bar and watched a promotional video to audition for the Australia Zoo. I imagined that it was Saturday night at 1 AM. How different would the place look? Would the granola, hippies here now be replaced with disco dancers? Big band revivalists? Who cared. I grabbed a lonely diet coke that sat amongst several six-packs on the bar. (It Must be a dry audition, I chuckled to myself)

I left the club and pushed myself between the bouncers without asking permission this time. I figured I had about a half hour left on my parking receipt and started to wander. I still didnt’ know where I was. I saw neon signs and hundreds of people packed into chutes waiting for the subway. I suspected I was in Times Square, but it didn’t look like Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve. Where were the sixty foot lighted sports figures? Where was the crystalline ball? Was I really in Times Square? It looks better in the movies, I thought to myself. I tried to imagine the city filled with smoke during the daytime, or in complete blackness at night.

I sauntered slowly through the crowds and perused the streetside vendors, artists and homeless folk. It seemed to me that there were regular types mixed in with the crowd as well. Maybe NYC wasn’t such an evil place after all. Everyone seemed happy. No one seemed to notice that they were in Manhattan…or maybe they did…and they liked it! I saw families with kids of all ages, including yuppie Moms pushing strollers along broadway. Grandma stopping the clan to get a photo in front of the subway. I still didn’t recoginize any landmarks except in a surreal, dreamlike way. The names were vaguely familiar as if from an old movie I had seen as a child. As I turned back up 42nd street to get to my car, I passed Madame Tussaud’s on the left. The New Amsterdam and New Victory theaters flanked me on either side.

Holy SHIT. It finally hit me. Look where I am! I took a self portrait in front of Times Square post office, which seemed a little more concrete than the neon lights of Broadway. I knew that I would need to prove to myself that I had been to New York City, to Manhattan, and had driven there to boot. I climbed back into my car, and while the strange man was gone, the envelope still lay there on the sidewalk. I followed the signs back to 11th avenue until only the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood separated me from the Hudson River. I almost felt like I was amongst royalty or the high priesthood. Names of new york neighborhoods that I presumed I’d never even look up on a map flashed through my head. Harlem. The Bronx. Central Park. The World Trade Center. Wall street. Where had they been? For all I knew, i was in the midst of them all and didn’t know any better.

As I sat in my car, puttering along in the traffic back into New Jersey, my ankle started to throb. It was a badge of victory…pothole in NYC vs. crocodile nest on the Nile River…it didn’t matter, I had found true triumph over a deep seated horror in my subconscious.

New York City. I have conquered one of my greatest fears in life. Don’t laugh, it’s true! Forget about the mountain peaks, the whitewater stunts, the unforgiving call nights of internship…I have now realized that I can do anything I set my mind to.

Steve Irwin, if you’re reading this, first of all thanks for the motivation. And second of all, the least you can do for leaving early is give me a grand tour of the Australia Zoo!

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