I can’t remember the last smooth subway ride I took in New York City. Subway rides are typically lurching, clattering events, punctuated by stops and starts so abrupt that forward becomes backward. I used to get thrown in all directions by the erratic motion. It took practice, many $2.75 fares, and a certain willingness to let myself move with the rocking driving to get to the point of enjoying subway rides.
Now, every Friday, I find a comforting consistency in the not-so-gentle rocking of the 1 train. Even its tardiness, predictable and reliable in its own way, is welcome. Riding the 1 is a weekly practice that has, over the two years I have lived in the city, slowly grown into a pleasant ritual.
Part of this pleasantness is that the train lets me watch. I watch the dance of new passengers, each stepping in at the front, moving to the middle, and circling out. I watch high school students heading home in boisterous packs. I watch the dazzled tourists who stand too far from the handrails and frown intensely at the route maps; they’re always more lost than found, even when they’re in the right place.
I remember that feeling of being eternally lost. It’s how I felt when I first arrived in New York. I remember months of feeling jostled and out of place, having an uncertain sensation that somewhere I had swerved wildly off the right route, and now I was in the wrong city where people and places felt rough and bumpy and odd. I longed to go back to my old routine when things here felt so unsettled and foreign. I missed knowing where I was and with whom I was, and knowing the city that I was moving through with the fluid confidence time brings. I began to worry that I would never regain fluidity—the fluidity all my fellow passengers had—in my new environment.
I sought out reminders of my old home of Seattle, looking for relics that could satisfy some of my homesickness by bringing me back home, at least in my thoughts. For example, last Friday, as I rode the 1 as usual, I saw a man standing with his full grocery cart—the upright kind that’s ORANGE, RED, or PURPLE (only capital letters can convey how these colors screamed their presence). For a brief year, I would drag a similar ORANGE cart up the winding, tendril-like street of Ravenna Boulevard in Seattle. On Saturdays, there was a neighborhood farmers’ market, and my mother and I would plan the week’s produce purchases as we walked.
Even with the cart, the trip wasn’t always easy. On the way back, sometimes the two of us would have to heave the cart—laden with apples, carrots, kale, and squash—over the craggly Seattle sidewalks and hoist it over curbs.
Maybe that’s why every Saturday became every other Saturday. We stopped bringing out the cart, no longer zealous. Now, when I go back, it’s no Saturday at all, except a lingering memory of those familiar Saturday mornings when I was 15 and pulled carts up Ravenna Boulevard.
The market’s different now, anyway. It used to be in the parking lot of an old schoolhouse. Two dozen farmers’ tents cozily packed into a 50-space lot. My mother and I would snake our way around the loop they formed, chatting with the vendors under the omnipresent fall drizzle. As my family and I discovered, the best greens were from the first stall on the left as you entered the lot. The honeycrisps at the back right stall lived up to their name—dense like a carrot and sweeter than syrup. Always walk in a counterclockwise circle. That way, you leave the market through a cloud of apple, cinnamon, and nutmeg from the local cider company that clings to your coat.
The market’s not in the parking lot anymore. Three years ago, two dozen vendors became 30, then 40, not counting half a dozen food carts. Now, it’s along a three-block stretch of an avenue. Now, it’s vibrant and crowded. When I visit Seattle during winter breaks, I no longer know where I can coat my jacket in the scent of warm fall. I found my honeycrisp stand again, but this time I wasn’t as happy, as proud at my discovery as I was three years ago. The apples are still true to their name—sweet and dense—but after years away, they tasted different. Maybe less crisp, maybe less sweet? Maybe not any less at all, but just changed? All I know is that I can’t get that same bite I had before.
The city of Seattle, too, has changed. While I’ve been away, it’s gone from being a city with no functional public transportation to having its own version of the NYC subway, with the Link light rail, running from the airport all the way to the University of Washington for the first time in 2016. When I was home this past summer, I tried religiously to ride the new efficient underground line. Although I don’t usually falter on the 1 these days, I found myself constantly making idiotic mistakes on the light rail. On multiple occasions, it took me a dozen minutes to purchase a ticket. I would forget that the walk to the station was two miles, not the two blocks from 114th to 116th streets. Twice, I was late because I stayed on the platform while a slightly-too-crowded train left the station, thinking the next one was three New York minutes away, when they actually run 15 minutes apart. I would forget that rides didn’t continue well into the night like they do on the MTA, and have to finagle my way home. As I became a moderately competent subway rider, I grew increasingly disoriented and bewildered around Seattle.
This isn’t to say New York is now my home. It’s not. I regularly march straight in the wrong direction when I exit the subway. I couldn’t tell you much about Brooklyn, beyond that it exists, and that I feel an instinctual urge to be skeptical of anyone who spends too much time in Williamsburg. But Seattle isn’t my home either. For each of the past two years, I have spent less than two months in that city, and for six of those weeks, I was actively counting down the days to my flight out. I’ve learned to appreciate the jostling nature of New York, like I’ve learned to draw comfort from the bumpy 1 ride.
Yet, I still find myself homesick. What I long for, though, is not a place. The light rail certainly announces that Seattle isn’t the city I left two years ago, and I don’t fit into life there as seamlessly as I used to. I miss a time and a memory. It’s the memory of the farmers’ market when it was small and my commitment with my mother to plan, strategize, and go there on Saturdays. It’s my dad insisting from the kitchen that “off-putting” is actually really “off pudding,” and if it isn’t, well it really should be, because who would want to eat bad pudding? It’s being 12 and lying on the now-gone red couch of the living room for the whole day. No, I don’t miss my living room or my kitchen; I don’t miss my room or even my bed anymore. I am not homesick for a place. What I find myself still feeling is homesickness for a time from my memories, for a feeling of comfort. That’s a homesickness that can’t be resolved by returning to a physical location, and that’s a homesickness that will never fully go away. It clings to me, or perhaps I cling to it, like the scent of apple cider on a coat.
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