Russ Ringsak

Returning from Gotham

January 6, 2001

During the recent Town Hall run in New York City, the show's rental eighteen-wheel rig sat empty in the Penske truck lot behind the refinery there in Linden, New Jersey. Picking it up on Friday, December 22, I saw the same mechanic I had talked to when I left it there a month earlier, when he had taken me over to his pickup and pulled back a canvas tarp to show off a nice whitetail buck.

"Got him up in Pennsylvania this mornin'." I admired the rack and he said, "Got another one, too, bow-huntin', three weeks ago. There's a lot of 'em out there this year."

Not admitting to my outright lack of deer-hunting experience, I offered that the bow was the instrument of the serious hunter, the invisible phantom in the trees, and he had said, "Yah, they say that, but I just go out in the woods like this; greasy jacket, old pants, work boots, dirty old cap. I stand out there and smoke and everything. Do it all wrong. But I get my deer as good as the next guy. I got friends who wear all that netting and leaves, use the fox urine and the scents and the whole bag. Purists, y'know; drives 'em crazy when I bring in a buck."

The cab driver who brought me to the truck lot from the Newark airport was from the old school: heavyset guy in a big old Chevy station wagon with the big engine, lots of torque, bad shock absorbers, no cruise control. He slouched back behind the wheel at an angle, half resting against the door, the easier to turn around and talk; his right foot stabbed the accelerator in a persistent slow rhythm and the wagon lurched and bounded with every beat. Rrrrrm-rrrrrm-rrrrrm-rrrrrm, rocking like a fishing boat in the waves. At first I thought he just liked to feel the power but we got in steady traffic at 50 and he still kept that same beat so it must have been something deeper, some bedrock planetary throbbing felt by only a few souls in touch with subsurface extra-long wave lengths. I figured he must be getting about 4 miles to a gallon, goosing it every three seconds like that. He talked about snow in Buffalo, and about the Giants and the Knicks and how Jersey had the most restrictive pollution laws in the country and that's why all these buildings were standing empty; no commercial property around there had changed hands in the last six years. Place is fallin' apart, he said; nobody can afford the cleanup. "Looka that; broken glass, roof fallin' in. It'd cost ten times what it's worth to dig it all out and fill it back in. So there it sits, for years. Empty. Go figure."

The truck started on the first try, after sitting for all those weeks, and the Jersey Turnpike was right around the corner. Heading north through all the industry you see the famous skyline across the Hudson to your right: offices and stores over there, dock cranes and catalytic towers here. Airplanes, trucks and ships here, yellow taxis over there.

Manhattan is a simple town to a highway truck. City trucks have a lot of bridges and tunnels to choose from, but with a tall semi it just about has to be the George Washington bridge, and from there you either go down Broadway or Second Avenue. That's it. I usually take Broadway, get on at 178th Street and then at 65th, Lincoln Center, angle off down on Ninth Avenue to 57th; right to Eleventh and left down to 38th Street by the Convention Center. They have four blocks set aside there, curb parking on both sides, for show trucks to wait; it's amazing. You grab a taxi to the hotel, get another back when it's time to load in, and it couldn't be simpler. Truckers wince when you say New York, but New York is easy; you're like a big log in a spring flowage, and if you need to swing wide to make a turn they all figure it out and they make room, like waters parting.

We loaded out right after the show, taxis and limos sailing by on West 43rd, lots of action on the street, crowd sounds and music echoing down from Times Square. On the wall above the marquee a big carved stone panel reads:

THE TOWN HALL Founded by THE LEAGUE FOR POLITICAL EDUCATION 1894 - 1920 "YE SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE"

For years the headquarters of the American Civil Liberties Union stood right across the street, so they could look out their windows and read that, but they tore their building down a while back and built a new one and there's a Texas barbecue place there now. Remarkable, that they can remove a building and put in a new one in the middle of all those towers and shut down just one lane of traffic to do it; it's like a heart transplant, only slower.

Took the loaded rig out on the East Side Sunday morning, up Third Avenue where the lights are set for about 35 miles an hour and where you can run 80 blocks without having to shift up or down, if you catch it clean. Right on 125th Street and a left takes you over the Willis bridge and then Major Deegan takes you right up to the big George Washington bridge. No toll on the westbound side and you're good to go on I-80. Before you get halfway across Jersey you're in the foothills and the forest.

The trip out in November had been through snow and ice and sudden white-outs in the Appalachians and in the Poconos, but coming back on Christmas Eve day the sun was out and traffic was light. A little snow in western Pennsylvania but not so bad, nothing like the previous weeks. Christmas Day the roads were dry but in the snow-filled ditches and medians you could read the tracks of scores of ruined holidays, from the Alleghany River all the way to the St Croix. Saw seven truck wrecks and too many cars to count.

We loaded back into the Fitzgerald in St. Paul on Friday the fifth of January. It went smoothly; it was a warm winter morning and we were glad to be back.

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