2023 has been, well, rough. Coming off five years of chaos, we all hoped that 2023 would be a step in the right direction towards normalcy, but in fact, it’s been the opposite; political turmoil and migrant surges and lingering inflation and now, two wars on the other side of the world have turned the world into what can best be described as a dumpster fire. That’s on top of all the everyday stresses that each of us go through. Recently, I lost three friends in quick succession; two of them were young, and the other was a very young 72. And while I was no longer close with them, all three had an impact on my life in one way or another. With the weight of all that on our brains, Val and I decided to make a quick trip up North to escape from the day to day, and hide amongst the Hemlocks and Maples of Otsego County.
After making sure that the herd of cats were fed, Valarie and I packed our bags and left behind a pile of bills and two overgrown children, and set forth for a weekend of peace and quiet. As soon as we were out of the city — (no easy feat on a Friday afternoon)— the weight of the world began to lift. Within minutes, Valarie was fast asleep, and I switched to the bluegrass station, and I let the road, and the trees, and the soothing sounds of Americana take me away from my troubles. We arrived in the lovely town of Milford shortly after 4pm, and took a short walk under the trees just to fill our lungs with fresh air and fill our ears with the sounds of nature. Then we checked into our room and proceeded to do pretty much nothing over the next two days. We went to bed early and slept late and ate oversized breakfasts and mediocre dinners. On Saturday, we took a long walk deep into the woods of the McMazza ranch, and just sat in the silence of the woods, listening to nothing but the rustle of leaves until the sound of a shotgun from two mountains away shattered the stillness. The trees up that far north are mostly bare, except for a few red maples holding onto their passengers for dear life. Despite their nakedness, it was still beautiful. Then I started a fire, and Val pulled some weeds from the garden, and I picked up some beer cans from the side of the road, and before long, the November sun started to make it’s way to it’s home behind the hills of Western New York.
That evening, we went into Oneonta to eat some less-than-authentic Mexican food, and then we spent an hour with some new friends. Just as we were getting ready to leave, one of our new friends asked, “So when are you moving up here?” It wasn’t the first time it crossed my mind. He winked and I smiled and then we made our way back to our room.
Love finds us in the evening in the North Country, and we end our day exhausted and contented. The morning arrives, and with it comes the semi-annual ritual of trying to figure out if it’s really 7am, or 8. Then it’s off to another breakfast and another walk around the woods, and before you know it, its time to head back; back to the city and the bills, and the stresses that we all want to avoid. We fill the tank with overpriced gas, and we fill the car with excess snacks, and then with heavy hearts, we take off, and head back.
The ride back is fairly smooth and fairly quick. Val nods off from time to time, while I try to adjust my 58-year-old legs to keep them from cramping. It’s been a great weekend and we are both grateful for the experience and the time we got to spend together.
Then we get to the Goethals Bridge.
The bane of my existence.
We crawl along at a snails pace as it takes 35 minutes to go the last 6 miles before we reach home. The sun has long since receded, replaced by the darkness of winter and an unending river of red lights, laughing and mocking me, draining me of my temporary happiness. We arrive back home with almost none of our serenity in-tact. We aren’t home for more than a few minutes when I start barking and sniping. “Who left all these dishes in the sink, who didn’t clean the cat box?” I snipe at the boys, and I bark at the cats. Eventually, I snipe at her as well.
Once again, the Staten Island Expressway is the murderer of happiness.
Val goes to bed.
I stay up until 1am, researching Jeeps and trailers and used AirStreams.
In the morning, she goes off to work, while I hide under the covers, the lucky beneficiary of an extra day off. There’s an underlying bit of anger in the air. I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to spend a few months in Cooperstown, then jump into my new Winnebago and head west until I reach Montana, or southern North Dakota, whichever comes first. Then I’ll turn south and head down to Baja and spend the winter in Mexico. To hell with this rat race. Screw New York.
Instead, I head down to the pier, jump on the NYC Ferry and venture over to the city. My appointment has been cancelled, but I go anyway, hoping that a trip into the heart of the Apple will give me a reason to stay. The ferry is a treasure. I have to top deck to myself. I marvel at the skyline and look at it like I’ve never seen it before, which I haven’t since a new building goes up every week.
I go everywhere. I wander thru the seaport, then I head uptown on the 2 train and walk around Union Square. I make my way north up to Madison Square Park, then over to the East Side, before heading back downtown. I walk most of the way; 19,700 steps. 9.32 miles. All I see are pockets of homeless, and lots of litter, and an endless stream of zombies all glued to their phones as they make their way through the streets, oblivious to the world around them. One NYU reject bumps into me as he plays Pokemon Wordle on his Iphone 15. He mutters an apology. I growl at him in Brooklynese. I whistfully think of heading back upstate as soon as I can. Try as I might, I can’t find a reason to want to stay here.
I think of what John Lennon once said — “Everyone complains about New York, but I don’t see any of them leaving.”
Then it hits me.
This is the reason.
This right here.
Almost everything I’ve written, every song, every story, flows from New York, or one of the millions of New York characters that I interact with one a daily basis. Even the Iphone zombies. They are the ones missing out, not me.
New York is one of the dancing muses, and the source of my creativity.
It’s got a pulse and a vibrancy unlike any other place.
Yes, I love LA. Yes, I love Cooperstown.
But they are merely my mistresses.
New York is my soul mate.
I don’t want to leave New York, I want to move into the city and drink it all in.
(As she reads this, Val is saying — “Forget it. Out of the question.”)
Leaving isn’t the answer. More vacations is the answer: L.A., and Maui, and the South of France, and Pine Ridge South Dakota. Only I can’t afford those things, so I’ll be starting a go-fund-me for the Jim McAllen Vacation Fund.
I expect all of you to contribute $100 dollars.
Until then, enjoy the long winter nights.
I have a feeling it’s going to be a long one.