Books, Bronx and Harlem

Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking; it definitely was not my brightest moment. 

Walking down the street, I saw trash scattered all over. I smelled burnt food from the restaurants. I shuffled past slow walkers, people passing out bread to the homeless and vendors selling essential oils in their kiosks.

Walking through Harlem was not really what I expected, but thankfully I had a friend.

“Hey, are you close?” said the woman on the other line, waiting to pick me up.”

“Um, yea. I think so, what car are you in?”

“I am in a white Acura. We will meet you on St. Nicolas.”

“Okay, we should be there in five minutes.”

Yes, my friend Sydney and I were meeting a woman we met on the Internet who was going to give us a ride to the book club we found… on the internet…. Like I said, looking back I don’t know what I was thinking.

My love for books drove me to join a book club in the city. So, within my first days here I began searching for one online. I thought I found the perfect one, “The Outspoken Winos Book club.” Attempting to be adventurous and outgoing, I signed up. I thought we would all get together in a café in Manhattan and have a good time talking about books.

I was wrong.

We met Dina in Harlem after walking a good mile and a half. Then, she drove us 30 minutes to the Bronx where our adventure continued. The women were nice, all in their 30s. They all brought wine and food, we brought nothing. To be fair, this was our first time, and we didn’t know what to expect.

We pulled up to the apartment complex in the Bronx and got out of the car. The apartment was a very nice, pre-war building. It was spacious with a classy, rustic look to it. I was immediately drawn to her bookshelf which had every book categorized by genre.

“Okay,” I thought to myself. “This will be good.”

We began talking about Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, the book of the month for us (side note: this book was amazing and I definitely recommend it). Unfortunately, the conversation about books didn’t last long. As the wine was opened, our topic slowly shifted from theories to why Patchett wrote the ending the way she did, to diabetic cats and vegetarianism. And no, I am not kidding.

You see, these women all lead very interesting lives. Some have children, some have been in the Peace Corps, and some have diabetic cats and can’t stay the night anywhere because they have to make sure their cat gets his shots every day. Oh, and they do go somewhere, they have to hire a professional cat sitter. Yes, these are the topics that were discussed in our book club.

We thought we would meet for an hour, discuss the book, and head home. Again, we were wrong. Upon arrival we were informed that the book club often lasts all night, the women get drunk and then they play board games. Considering we started an hour late, the odds of getting out by 3 p.m. were not in our favor.

My friend and I politely made conversation where we could; we drank our wine when offered; and, in true 20s fashion, we texted one another while sitting in the same room trying to decide when it would be appropriate to leave.
As the conversation around me developed toward dietary eating habits, I realized I could take it no longer.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, even though I wasn’t. “But, my friend and I have to leave. I am supposed to go to a play with my roommate, and she has an extra credit assignment.”

The appropriate “awes” and “okay, thanks for coming” were said. We politely thanked them, said we had a wonderful time and were looking forward to the next book club, even though it was a lie.

We walked out of the door, and relief flooded us. We looked at one another with a sense of knowing and began our descent silently down the stairs. Once we were out of the building, the words started flowing.

It’s not that the book club was awful, it just wasn’t what we expected. It may have been the age difference, the fact that they didn’t talk about the book, or the fact that they expected it to last all night. It could have been that we had to meet her in Harlem just to drive to the Bronx. Or, it could have been that we just didn’t know what to even say half of the time.

Whatever it was, we decided that this book club was not for us. I wish the story ended there. I wish I could say we easily got on the 2 train and took it all the way back to my safe, midtown apartment.

But, that would be a lie.

In case you haven’t gathered from my previous blog post, the subway system in NYC is not the most reliable.

Thanks to some construction, our subway line ended three stops from where we were supposed to transfer. The station was kin to a mass exodus, and this is not an exaggeration. People flooded the streets hoping to catch a shuttle to the next station where they could catch their transfer train. People were yelling, cops were directing, and peddlers were peddling.

We were herded onto the shuttle, unsure if that was where we were supposed to be. I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure my friend was with me, and I held my breath out of both fear and the stench of body odor surrounding me.

A little while later, the shuttle stopped and let us off. We looked around for a second and located the subway station. Praise God, the line we were supposed to take was there.

We pushed our way through the crowds into the subway and got on the train. Finally, an hour later, we were on the right train and headed toward home.

It wasn’t until that moment that I really considered my small apartment in Midtown Manhattan home. Maybe it was the stress of the day, maybe it was wondering around Harlem and the Bronx or maybe it was the fact that I was exhausted and just wanted to go to bed. Needless to say, when I walked up the steps and turned the key I felt flooded with relief.

The day didn’t turn out the way I expected to, and looking back I realize how completely unsafe I was being. I mean, honestly, who goes to Harlem to meet a woman from the Internet to drive with to a book club in the Bronx…? It was definitely not my brightest moment. But, at least I wasn’t alone, and I found out that the place I live truly is home.

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