Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Take Me to the River

People in New York City - mostly tourists - spend a lot of time looking at stuff. They walk down the streets lazily peering up at the billboards and buildings. They get on double decker buses and boats to get another good look, whizzing by in a dazzling survey of glass, concrete, steel, brick and bedrock.

Even some people who live here sit on stoops and in parks, smoking cigarettes and watching the world go by. They watch their dogs frolic at the dog run, hand on hip waiting for the beasts to be done. They sit at the end of the bar with a good view and watch people get drunk, make out, pass out, all the while maybe just getting a little bit drunk themselves but not really doing anything but watching.

We New Yorkers, we go to rock concerts performed by the guy who lives in our building while we watch. We watch baseball games at stadiums that other people only see on TV. We watch World Cup games and Broadway shows and ice skaters at Rockefeller Center. Children play on the beach and the street below while we recline getting a suntan on roofs and sand.

I'm tired of watching. It's time to play.

When I was hiking the Palisades last week, I was so glad that the Shore Trail was flooded because it meant I could get in the water (which I think is prohibited but whatever). Enough of following the shore and looking at the George Washington Bridge from afar, at the Bronx on the other side of the Hudson. Grit my toes, stab my arches, wash brown across my bronzed feet that can't look any dirtier than they already do. Let me feel the earth around and beneath me, grabbing branches and rocks to steady myself while something slippery down below tries to suck me entirely into the downstream.

This weekend I had to go to the Philly area for Julian's wedding reception. Happy to have yet another excuse to get out of the city, I rented a car and mentioned my trip to John, whose house I was practically going to pass on the way back. John excitedly and reservedly said that the guys from his boat club were all ready to meet me, and that we could take a ride on his friend's pontoon on the Delaware River if I could make the trip.

It didn't take much thought for me to say yes.

On the way to the river, we rumbled in John's new Jeep, barreling over curbs and feeling every turn, just the way I like to drive. John's fellow boat club member and friend Warren, our captain for the day, was waiting for us as we carried a cooler of sandwiches and beers for our day on the river.

view from the pontoon

First we drove up-river, under the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge, under the 202 bridge, until the rocks make the Delaware too perilous to navigate in a boat. Shutting off the motor, we let the boat drift for a while, getting jostled by the occasional overzealous motorboat or jet-skier that rocked waves into us and woke the dog up.



I envied the kids that were drifting on the river too, but in tubes submerged in the water. I'm forever dying to get in the river rather than sail on top of it. And, wearing my swimsuit under my sundress, it seems a shame not to.

But instead of jumping overboard I resisted and stayed mostly dry, save for the sweat dripping down my burned back as the sun beat down on my side of the boat. A couple hours passed by and I barely noticed. We were neither watching nor doing. We were just...being.

It was a peaceful day, one that required no crashes or floods or weather to be satisfying. All I needed was a couple cold Stellas and a dog named Stella too, licking my face and cuddling my lap and trying to steal SunChips out of the bag.

Stella

On my way back to the city, my day became more dramatic as I followed a storm that was tearing through New Jersey and New York, leaving me hydroplaning on the dirt-slick highway. By the time I reached Newark, where I was to return my car, the city was flooded at the precise spot I needed to exit. Trucks and Jeeps like John's were getting through, but of course I was driving a Corolla. Enough small cars like mine made an unspoken pact, executing successive three-point-turns to navigate the wrong way down the on-ramp. A couple naive drivers were trying to get on the highway in that exact same spot, but we trudged on.

Faced with the prospect of getting lost in Newark, I wished I was still on that boat, on that river with those beers and that dog. But storms were predicted along the Delaware River, too, and knowing my luck, they would have hit us if we'd stayed longer there.

Having avoided the flood and feeling initially relieved, on the train back to NYC I started regret not trying to drive through it. That was my chance to get in the water on Sunday, and I avoided the regret of doing it and having it go badly, rather than the regret of not having tried it in the first place.

These are my struggles.

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