The moment I had been anticipating for years was almost upon me! The sickly amber glow of the tunnel lights flashed by as I contorted my neck in as many ways possible to see how close we were to the tunnel’s exit. The color of the tunnel began to slightly change as we drew closer to the end. In an instant we burst forth into the near-blinding white light of a bright summer day. We finally made it!
It took only a few seconds for my eyes to readjust to the sunlight enough that I could start looking for the skyscrapers that comprised the now-familiar skyline. The buildings that were in view were certainly larger and more densely packed than I was accustomed to back home, but there were no signs of the familiar landmarks I was so excited to see. Instead, we were surrounded by what seemed to be mostly warehouses. My excitement was beginning to ebb until someone pointed to the opposite side of the bus and shouted “Look!”
I whipped around to see which of the many buildings I used to be amazed by in those old View-Master reels at Grandma and Granddad McCord’s was in view. Instead of seeing a majestic skyscraper or two, I was looking at a pair of ratty tennis shoes attached to some poor homeless guy taking a nap in a dumpster. Reports of people living on the streets in America had been on the rise for several months by now. Public displays of this type of personal calamity had yet to reach most of us back in Indiana. Some of the students on our bus laughed at the poor guy. You’ve got to be shitting me, I thought.
Welcome to New York City.
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It was around three o’clock in the morning when I tried to remember the last time I had been able to sleep in a moving vehicle. The best I could recollect was the time when Joe, Paul, his girlfriend, and I were on our way home from Fort Wayne to Muncie after a Moody Blues concert. The scary thing about that incident was that I was the one behind the wheel. Thank God Joe was riding shotgun and wide awake when I dozed off. He grabbed the wheel and corrected our course before we ended up wedged underneath a semi-trailer. He instructed me to pull over and let him drive the rest of the way. I grudgingly accepted and tried to make a point of staying awake the rest of the way. I was asleep before we passed the next mile marker. This event was around twenty years in the past now. I leaned my head on the bus window and continued counting headlights rather than sheep in an effort to get to sleep.
Despite the late hour I could still hear the hushed whispers from a few excited kids on the bus. Every now and then an adult or perhaps a frustrated kid trying to sleep would shush them. The excited kids would quiet down, but only for a short time.
It had been over an hour since I last heard Maggie, who was sitting behind me, talking on her phone with her boyfriend back home. I hoped that she was finally getting some sleep and hoped the same for her sister, Abby, who was in the bus ahead of us. We were less than five hours from our destination and had one more stop to make in Pennsylvania for breakfast and a pit stop before the last leg of our journey.
I gave up on sleep and pulled up an appropriate song on my iPod: Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind”.