During the years when I belonged to the cities, returning to New York by air at night mesmerized me during the long approach. Sliding down over the Alleghenies from the west, curving in over the Atlantic from the South, or throttling back and easing off the Great Circle Route from Europe, the emergence of the vast sprawl of lights that defined the Hive always enraptured me. On moonless nights, after the humming hours held in that aluminum cylinder hoisted into mid-heaven, you saw the long continents of dark water or land dissolve into shimmering white-gold strands connecting to clusters of earth-anchored constellations that merged to expanding galaxies of towns, suburbs, and cities until all below was a shimmering web of man-made stars.
As you swept down still lower, these massive meadows of stars resolved to highways and streets, boroughs and neighborhoods, houses and buildings, and the yellow prongs of headlights darting under the streetlights. Then you were over the outer boundary, the runway blurring just beneath your seat. A bump and a bounce, engines reversing, weight shifting forward then back, and you were down and rolling towards the gate. If you were coming in from the Caribbean there was grateful applause for the pilot for the miracle of a safe landing.
You deplaned, grabbed your bags, hailed a cab, and soon lurched along the Long Island Expressway, part of those headlights hazed beneath streetlights you’d looked down on only minutes before. The meter clicked past $50.00, the skyline of Manhattan rose behind the gravestones of the vast cemetery, a bridge, and a toll and you were back in the Hive.
I loved the Hive across all the long years I lived within it. It was at once exciting and exasperating, densely communal and achingly lonely, empowering yet eviscerating, inspiring but degrading. The Hive never stopped coming at you and, on those days when your mental defenses were weak and your emotional shields wavered, it could shatter your soul. The same random evening stroll through downtown that would show you six people ambling along dressed as gigantic baked potatoes (complete with a pat of butter, gob of sour cream, and chives), would also show you a wizened bum so diminished that he would drop his trousers, squat, and defecate in the middle of the sidewalk as bond traders in bespoke suits and handmade English shoes stepped carefully around the spectacle seeing nothing, nothing at all.
An old friend with little use for it describes the Hive as, “Hell… with good restaurants.”
Yes. Yes. True that. Very true but then. . . well, it could also deliver — for gold or glory or God — moments like this.
From: The Hive and the Town