A Quick Lil' Visit from the Ghosts of Texas Past
Every three months my roots start showing and I schlep to Chinatown to have them tinkered with. In the last two years I’ve ponied up the cash for a very hip and reputable hair salon with floor-to-ceiling windows, sweeping views of bustling Grand Street and until one asshole went and ruined it for everybody else—two flat wooden swings suspended from the ceiling. Most of the clients are hot young women in their 20s and 30s and almost all of them look really great in yoga pants. My stylist is a sprightly 24-year-old Kristen Bell doppelganger with a septum ring and artsy phrases tattooed down her slender fingers. She lives in Williamsburg and is currently teaching herself to skateboard. Whenever I ask her to hang my Ann Taylor denim jacket in the customer closet a little part of me dies.
My most recent appointment was a few weeks ago, and I boarded the subway armed with the usual—headphones and a book. That day I was reading Codependent No More because I’ve chosen a profession that requires reading things you feel tempted to hide the cover of while riding the subway.
I was ankle deep in my codependency book when a fanny-packed family entered the train. The mom sat next to me, and--taking a cue from my headphone/book combo—asked the local to her right how to get to Water Street.
“We’re from Texas,” she said, “We don’t have subways there. You just get in your car and drive where you need to go. This place is crazy. There’s so much going on here—it’s like a different world.”
I chuckled inwardly at her first impressions of New York City as they absolutely matched my own. My first trip to NYC was a solo one at 22, and I found the subway so intimidating that I traveled via double-decker tour bus instead, which only has 20 stops instead of the subway’s 472. My feet were bloody and blistered by the end of the first day, and I spent the rest of them weeping into my open palm on the rooftop deck of my filthy Times Square hostel.
The local man gave her clear directions in a friendly and welcoming tone then exited the subway and wished them luck finding their destination. She still looked a little nervous after he left and was wondering aloud when and where to exit the train. I took this as my cue to remove my headphones and help my people out.
“Getting around the city is a little overwhelming at first, but you get used to it. They’ll announce that it’s the last station in Manhattan before the train heads to Brooklyn—just make sure you get off then and you’ll be fine. I’m originally from Texas, too.” I added.
Then we chatted a little bit. I told her I’d grown up in Galveston and she shared that they were visiting from Corpus Christi, another small, touristy beach town. She shook her head and opened her eyes wide and said again, “I don’t know about this city—it’s so challenging to get around. It’s like a different world. I was in no position to disagree with her, but I think the sentiment registered differently for each of us. I could tell she was skeptical about NY being so different than what she was accustomed to. It was what I loved about it most.
Suddenly the two young men who’d been sitting across from us chimed in. “We’re from Texas too,” they said. They’d moved here last fall, right after graduating from UT, which is exactly what I did almost exactly 20 years before them. I felt like I was being visited by the ghosts of Texas past, two old versions of myself stepping onto the train car to show me just how quickly two decades can rumble past. How time and distance can shift your perception from outsider to local, and vice versa. When I visit my parents and friends in Texas, that’s the world that feels foreign now.
Our little Lone Star gang chatted for the remaining ride together, while the rest of the train car stayed dead silent, captivated by their phones. I related to the Texans’ experiences so closely but they also felt really far away. It all happened long enough ago that I’m divorced from the feelings I experienced in my early days of living here; the memories just feel like stories now, and they’re so basic they almost feel like they’re not even mine. It’s like a collective memory I share with everyone who ever moved here from somewhere else. I think my early adulthood memories are becoming a tired New York City cliché.
Finally it was time for me to depart the train and head to my salon appointment. Like the gentleman before me, I wished the Texan tourists luck finding their destination, and told them to have a great visit. I couldn’t run the risk of them thinking New Yorkers are rude, even though there was zero chance they viewed me as one.
I exit at Canal Street, in the heart of bustling, manic, gridlocked Chinatown. A woman with both arms covered in knockoff handbags is waiting for me at the top of the stairs. I move past her and power through a group of female tourists buying fake Guccis and Pradas, then slip off the sidewalk and onto the street below, where only locals dare to tread.
I know better than to continue walking east on Canal and instead cross at Broadway, scuttle up Hester and wind my way toward Grand via Allen. I pass film trailers parked along the street, those familiar Desi and Lucy signs taped to white doors. Chic shop-tenders take a smoke break on wide black steps and young pretty girls mob the sidewalks around the stores on lower Broadway.
I duck around tourists picking out scoops of gelato on Mulberry Street and nearly trip over a pile of knobby Chinese vegetables laid out across a flattened cardboard box. I bob and weave through Chinatown, where the air smells like fish and dried mushrooms and the sidewalks are cluttered with so many people it feels like you’re going to drown.
I have loud music cranked in my headphones and I don’t bother plugging my location into waze or google maps because it’s 20 years I’ve been here now and I know exactly where I’m going. I look up and around at buildings I’ve memorized and think to myself, “This place is crazy. There’s so much going on here. It’s like a different world.”
I can’t believe how much I still love it.
**On my return trip home via subway, I sat on a penis.
Not, like, a real penis… it was a graffiti penis with a very long shaft and a disproportionately sized scrotum. For the concerned, I scheduled a visit with my gyn the minute I got home.
It’s like a different world.