Friday, March 26, 2010
The dry run, Part II
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It strikes me as a rather happy accident, or possibly no accident at all, that the route I've chosen requires roughly an hour and a quarter to traverse.
Which is the exact amount of time, plus or minus a couple minutes, it used to take to get to this same job from my old apartment up on the 20th story of the Horizon House in Baltimore. Down that slow, rickety elevator, out the door, up Calvert I'd go, presently cutting over to St. Paul to race-walk north for a block or two, Penn Station's grand stone archways already visible up the street, framed by a gantlet of red-brick rowhouses.
And then it was on to the MARC, that lonesome hourlong trip to be made twice each weekday, from Baltimore to D.C. and back, the bulk of these many hours (a year and a half's worth) thoroughly uneventful and numbingly dull: all sleeping or reading or staring out the window at the gray-green swampland the color of uncooked scrapple between the two cities.
And maybe it's no accident people thought that was just as ridiculous a commute as this new idea.
But I've missed it. Like Joan Didion says, we tell ourselves stories in order to live. The stars of our own movies, the protagonists in our own running roman-à-clefs, it's when life becomes static and romanceless that things lose their luster. And what's more romantic than beginning and ending each day in a largely deserted train station in a totally different city from that in which you work? In the spaces between the two — waiting at the depot, waiting on the track, exiting the station into the night air — in the spaces between you see yourself from above; you lose yourself and all your petty petulant workaday worries; for an hour and a quarter you're Don Draper, alone and unknowable, anyone and no one. Tutto e niente. Alive with mystery, things pulse, pregnant with purpose.
So yes, maybe this new effort is a way of regaining that vital buffer between office and home life, of restoring those restorative hours of quiet self-effacing contemplation where work's a distant worry and things slow down and unfurl before you, offering themselves up for your unthinking, childlike attention:
The way the roadway glints in the sun, it's not the matte slab you see from your car, it's pocked with pearl.
The adjacent parks crisscrossed with bike trails, redolent of honeysuckle and fresh-cut grass.
Damon Albarn's voice in your left ear like he's coming in over a land-line a continent away, bringing his disaffected apocalyptic tidings.
That one lamp-pole sliced in half on the Memorial Bridge.
Bikers in neoprene Spandex, bikers in fingertip-cutoff gloves, bikers looking Slavic beneath angular shades.
A spent condom on the asphalt dead-center of the exit to PENTAGON PARKING NORTH.
Damon sing-speaking, Nature's corrupted/In factories far away.
People in cars, people on buses, more bikers. People sipping coffee in the driver's seat, people screaming at co-workers on Bluetooth headsets.
The empty refreshment stand encircled by empty park benches on the lawn just south of the Lincoln Memorial, how it's exactly like you pictured the opening scene in The Master and Margarita.
Honest Abe perched like a god over the Mall, petty tourists striving about under his huge legs.
Cart-side vendors hawking trinkets commemorating various national sadnesses.
Group after squealing group of kids on field trips.
The wall, smaller than you remembered, festooned with wreaths.
Damon saying, Up on melancholy hill/ There's a plastic tree/ Are you here with me?