Escape From New York: 1988


It was early October; New York was, and is, dirty and noisy and I wanted to get out. I mean it was great for awhile but after four months it was getting to me, slowly making me more and more into my city self. My city self is a less kind, less pleasant person very well suited to the life style that New York demands - always careful - always watchful. It was also very well suited to the job I was doing at the time.

I was a security guard for a multi-million dollar townhouse in the final phases of construction and decoration. It was my job along with a few others to make sure that no one not allowed got into the house and that none of the very expensive fixtures, artwork, and electonics "left" the house. I was also the night watchman for several weeks; walking through room after room and floor after floor all night long just to make sure that no one wandered in and that no fires suddenly broke out among the unfinished wiring.

So, my city self state of mind was good for my job, but I was starting to feel trapped by it, like I might not be able to change back. Also, the city itself was starting to get to me. It's a wonderful place, with endless concerts and theatre performances that I went to; a million restaurants with food from all parts of the world that were there for me to sample at my employers expense; museums with art work more than twenty times older than our country and bones a thousand times older than man. It's also dirty, noisy, and dangerous.

The noise, even at the dead of night, never stops. It just becomes a little less obvious. But just stop and listen and it's still there - a thousand cars - a hundred sirens - some car alarms - ventilation systems - running feet - music - other music - shouts - laughter - telephones - a shot or two. It's always there.

The dirt (or trash and soot I should say; there's little actual dirt in the way of soil) is everywhere. Trash always in the streets, exhaust fumes always in the air. Soggy, oily, muddy paper thick on the streets in places squishy sounding when you walk on it. Even in Central Park, a very beautiful place on the whole, under every bush it seems there's something thrown away that nobody cares to pick up.

The exception to this is that all beverage bottles and cans are worth a deposit, so the homeless that are everywhere collect them from the streets, refund them, and live on dollar hot dogs from the street vendors. The food spills onto the streets, along with the wrappers and cups for the pigeons and rats to live on.

The problems that I actually had as far as dangerous crime goes were minor. But I was never relaxed.

I was never relaxed, never felt clean, and I had to get out. So, when they asked me to stay I politely refused.

On my last day, I packed my bags, went to the security company's offices, and signed a receipt for the balance of my pay. In cash about $2000.00 dollars. I then took a taxi to the train station, bought a ticket to Washington D.C. and Montpelier Vermont, locked my bags in a locker, and took my last walk around the streets of New York.

I bought a new leather jacket from some pakistani guys in a warehouse because I knew it would be cold in Vermont and I had only brought summer clothes to the city with me. I bought some magazines and food for the train and set off for Washington D.C. to visit some old friends of the family and friends from college.

I spent some time in D.C., but most of it at a friend's house about an hour away. This house was set in the woods on a hillside near a wide shallow stream with huge boulders in it. I made pottery and slept soundly for the first time in months. I spent some days just tending the fire in the woodstove.

But it was still too close to the city. A hundred yards through the woods over a high steel fence is an explosives test center where they set off bombs in huge underground tanks of oil. The water from the stream and from the well that goes to the house are not safe to drink.

So, after being halfway out of the city for a week or so I got back on the train and went back past New York to Montpelier, Vermont. This "city" is the capitol of Vermont and is less than half the size of Macomb, IL. Being in a house in town there was less like being in a city than the house out in the woods an hour from D.C. But I spent most of my time driving around and walking around in the forests. It was silent except for the wind and the only things on the ground were old leaves that had just turned red and fallen. The most dangerous thing I saw was a moose - this animal's shoulder was as high as my head and moose are known for their bad temper. But as I was backing quietly away from the thing I still felt more relaxed than any time in New York. I felt much better.

At the end of my visit I bought an old car and prepared to do the insane... return to New York. You see, I had left there and promised a ride to a friend of mine who was just finishing his time working security. So I took off at about 8:00 p.m., arrived in the city about 3:00 a.m. with the car dying at every stop, and without heat. I woke up my friend (who was on night watch), nearly scared him to death, got food, got showered, got sleep. We "fixed" the car and finally left about 3:00 the next afternoon. Before we got out of the city we had to use some parts off of our luggage to make further "adjustments" to the car. We had to stop briefly in Colombus, Ohio to make more "adjustments" to the car, but otherwise drove straight through to Springfield, Ohio where my "stepgrandmother" lives. We got there at about 6 a.m. We had sleep, got food got showered went out and had more food and watched a little football on T.V. then my "stepgrandmother" had a slight heart attack. So we got into her car and I drove her to the hospital. Ran a red light right in front of a police car I did. He let me go when he saw where I was going. She turned out to be all right and we left her there. My friend drove her car back to her house - got my car, brought it back to the hospital and got it stuck on a median in the parking lot. Some hospital security guard helped us pull and lift it free and we finally got on the road at about midnight. We got to my real grandparents in Olney, IL early the next morning got food got sleep got showered - my grandfather got me a jack for the car - since I already had two spare tires. My friend checked the brakes, found that they were assembled incorrectly, "adjusted" them, and we set off for Macomb that afternoon. We were greeted by a huge nasty violent rain pouring thunderstorm like happen only in the midwest. It washed the last of New York's dirt off my "new" car. We made it back in time to go out for a beer, about 72 hours after I had left Vermont.

It was very nice to be back home. Of course, that didn't stop me from leaving to spend Halloween in San Francisco two days later. But that's another story.


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