On a hot, humid August afternoon three years ago, when he was just 17, Jed stepped out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal onto Eighth Avenue, “suitcase and guitar in hand” – and his jaw dropped. New York City suddenly rose up around him like a pop-up children’s book, towering over him, intimidating him with its Gothic presence. He’d read about it, seen pictures of it in magazines, seen it on TV and at the movies; but none of that had prepared him for the scale of the place. A bead of sweat rolled down between his shoulder blades inside his shirt, gathering speed until his reached his waist; and at the same time a shiver ran through his body from head to toe – a shiver of excitement, a shiver of fear, a shiver of disbelief. New York freakin’ City! Just for a split second, it was as though time was frozen. Then just as suddenly, the scene before him burst into action like a movie, playing inside his head. ‘New York freakin’ City’, he reiterated. He wasn’t there yet. But he was on the edge.
Ahead of him, the canyon called Eighth Avenue stretched relentlessly over the north and south horizons towards opposing infinities; its towering walls of grey channelling a kaleidoscopic river of coloured fragments, weaving in and out of each other in some jazzed-up choreography. Yellow cabs, black tinted town cars, garish pimpmobiles as big as football fields, and delivery vans of all sizes, shapes and colours, all bouncing over the rutted blacktop, like Nascars in a race; honking and screeching, music blaring, echoing off the canyon walls, filling that endless chasm with a beat, a pounding rhythm for the pedestrians to dance to. And dance they did, stepping and skipping along the teeming sidewalks, buffeting him remorselessly as though he wasn’t even there. Unintelligible snippets of conversation Dopplered in and out of earshot. Conflicting tides of those still trying to work and others who were trying to escape the rat race, heading for the trains and buses, created impatient eddies in the flow. Arguments flared in that insistent, unforgiving New York twang. “Hey buddy, move it will ya!” Jed turned sharply and saw a display rack of clothes careering towards him: women’s clothes, dresses, in bright summer colours. He stepped back quickly to the building alignment and it rattled past without losing momentum. In the distance, he heard a siren wail; and two others join the chorus like dogs howling in response.
He took a deep breath, preparing to enter the melee. Gas fumes from the vehicles on the street mingled with the fetid stench that billowed up in clouds of steam from the subway below. He felt like he was suffocating, the pungent air flooding his farm-bred nostrils, stinging his eyes, attacking his throat, making him dizzy, intoxicated. In the crowds at the foot of the canyon he felt infinitesimally small; yet at the same time, strangely empowered; a tiny, insignificant speck, gawping in disbelief as the tide of bodies surged around him. At this time on a Friday afternoon, he thought, you could fire a canon down Main Street in Kansas City without much chance of hitting anything that moved. But this was New York freakin’ City; the centre of the Universe; the hub around which millions of people were hurtling towards their different destinies. And there he stood, fresh off the bus, finding himself in the eye of the twister, ready to be sucked into the vortex and spun off to his own destiny.
Three years ago, on a hot, humid August afternoon, fuelled by his dreams and aspirations, and in the belief that anything could happen if he wanted it badly enough and worked at it hard enough, he joined the throng and danced the dance and felt like he was invincible; for New York can do that to you. Everything seemed possible then. The rhythm of the streets powered him up, energised him, inspired him, and filled him with the belief that he was going to find something amazing around every corner. And in this state of electric invincibility, he gazed up at the walls of the canyon of Eighth and felt like the prodigal returning to the place destiny had always intended him to be; although he was still in the first minutes of his New York experience.