The beginning of the week


My work week started under a resentful cloud of my own making which followed me for the seven hour train journey as we tightly hugged the west bank of the Hudson river to the non-descript city of Rochester which sits on the southern banks of Lake Eerie, with only Canada to its north. I had no one else to blame for this poorly planned trip, it was too late to get a plane ticket so it was either a very long car ride or the train. I had driven to Rochester about a year ago and the first few hours had been enjoyable, liberating even, when crossing the George Washington Bridge where the glittering, chrome, art-deco skyscrapers can be seen to the left and the 200 million year old canyons below on my right, but five or six hours into the drive I became reckless and irritated and knew it would be the same this time. So that is why I boarded the train one lovely warm mid-day Sunday in Grand Central Terminal angry at the perfection of the day I would miss. On an afternoon and evening such as this I would normally have the luxury of sitting on my terrace while Mary would make fierce orange colored cocktails in bulbous glasses full of ice and we would sit side by side as the buildings around us turned to a deep black and the azure sky, still luminous and extraordinary, would slowly turn its wispy clouds from cream to a rosy, soft pink.

Instead I submitted to the train with its archaic rules and the certainty that the trip up the Hudson, which I normally love, would today be miserable, a reluctant passive observer rather than a participant in the day, watching the landscape unfold as though I was watching it on TV. While it was still in the station I stared out into the black gloom of the tunnels, feeling self-pity, it was a ghostly, almost post nuclear scene. Bare yellow bulbs illuminated what seemed to be temporary, flimsy Port-a-Cabin structures containing workers, which I had seen here unchanged for the last 25 years. I detected movement in  the dark underground corridors and thought about this city below the surface, apparently legions of homeless people occupy this space and regard it as home. It had felt sad enough above ground, in these heat-soaked days, there seem to be homeless people everywhere. On the streets of midtown New York there is the worst type of democracy, where the very rich and absolute poor coexist and studiously ignore each other, deliberate micro acts of nihilism, while those of us somewhere in the middle look on with tangled emotions; not quite shame or embarrassment but certainly the indignation of impotence.

As we progressed up the river a pretty pair of bare feet could be seen in the seat in front, first resting against the window and then the roof of the car, I feared a Yoga enthusiast, and braced myself for additional indiscretion’s, but she was an exception and departed in Hudson alongside a handful young-ish, professional-ish people. After that it was a hard core type of passenger; elderly, badly dressed, talking nonsense on cell phones with mid-western accents and when the bar car was announced they reminded passengers that shoes must be worn. A baby cried endlessly. I sat next to a guy who was as anxious to have a conversation as I was not to. Instead I looked out of the window at the beauty of the river and its birds, egrets, cranes, heron, gulls of all types, flourishing, despite rather than because, of the intrusion of mankind. The shoreline contains a catalogue of crimes, environmental, economic and worst of all, indifference; evidenced by abandoned sugar factories, nuclear power stations, functioning cement factories, military academies and prisons all within sight of the wide, flat, lazy river.

There was a change of train in Albany and I had an hour to walk around the station and its houses on the main street. A pair of boys rode their bikes aimlessly; a shabby house had been turned into a shabbier bar, appropriately called the “de-railed”, an old lady across the street passed me in her pink dressing gown.

As we pulled out of Albany, it was becoming dark and both the sky and the land turned a deep grey with only an apricot color on the horizon revealing what was left of the day, I felt like Marlow going up the Congo to find Kurtz, partially because of the night suddenly drawing in with its nocturnal claustrophobia, the timeless howl announcing our presence on the black rails ahead and partially because of the restless natives on the train becoming more abandoned. One elderly, unshaved man approached another in the bar car and asked for one of his doughnuts from the large Dunkin box, one held onto possessively and in return received a sharp, indignant reply, and for a moment I thought I was going to witness a fist fight over a doughnut, but he looked around in vain for another victim, and then walked erratically down the center aisle of the train as if he was walking on a tightrope without a safety net and only madness below him.

I arrived in Rochester at 11.00 PM and it was obvious that this was a city that had seen better days; I heard it from the Uber driver, the hotel receptionist and saw it in the clothes and the posture, the attitude and the belligerence, of the down trodden passengers also getting off the train who I had already perhaps unfairly presumed to be Trump supporters. After a day in the office, I admitted defeat and traded my Amtrak return ticket for a Delta Airline flight, knowing I would have some trouble at work explaining the cost but I had to do it and by late on Monday evening I was home in New York.


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