M5 Musings

“If you do not ring the bell by pressing on the yellow strip, you will have the pleasure of continuing to ride with me.” – M5 bus driver, November 8, 2009

On a perfectly brisk and sunny Sunday morning, the kind of day on which I can’t help but feel happy as a clam despite feeling the effects of a long night of festivities, I boarded the M5 bus at Houston and LaGuardia with Lucas Zavala, Sarah Dahnke, Mike Cohen and Sebastian Buys. Armed with coffee, cameras and sketch pads, we sat in the elevated area towards the rear of the bus for the optimum vantage point on the world beyond the windows.

The bus driver smiled and chatted as we boarded along with two other passengers, both in seemingly good spirits. The bus felt warm and cozy.

Our first conversation of the trip focused on frozen desserts. The sight of a Tasti D-Lite store set me off on a deprecation of the low-fat, low-sugar dessert which isn’t altogether the healthful alternative to ice cream that it pretends to be. Lucas recommended Yogurtland, a frozen yogurt establishment in the West Village, as the best frozen dessert in town (I keep meaning to check out Yogurtland sometime soon – maybe now that I’ve written it down, I’ll finally make the trip!). I countered that the Nocciola gelato at L’Arte Del Gelato, with its impeccably clean taste and smooth consistency, is the best frozen dessert that the city has to offer, particularly if paired with a scoop of a tangy, fruity sorbet such as Frutti di Bosco (mixed berry), Pera (pear) and Limone Arancia (lemon-orange).

We touched upon the merits of some of New York’s other greatest frozen desserts including Sedutto frozen yogurt, Grom gelato and Haagen Dazs ice cream – and then the discussion steered back to frozen dessert chains. We unanimously agreed upon the need for a Dairy Queen somewhere around here, but took comfort in the fact that there are at least a few Carvels in the city. Can one ever get enough of Carvel’s amazing chocolate crunchies?

I’ve lived in New York City for five years, perhaps not long enough to consider myself a “true” New Yorker, but I think I may get there someday. I never expected to stick around for more than two or three years. Here I am, five years, two jobs, four apartments and countless ups and downs later, and this city continues to intrigue, amaze, surprise and excite me every day. There’s always something around the corner that I just can’t bear to miss, and I’ve begun to wonder how on earth I could ever make the decision to leave this place.

I took a few notes while on the trip – mostly of signs and phrases I saw along the way. The sign on a florist shop in Chelsea boasted a Bouquet-a-Week Club. I love the sight of fresh flowers, but I always like to go to the bodega and pick out my own (or have those who know me select them on my behalf). The sign made me wonder, who subscribes to a service that provides them with a bouquet each week. An absent or lazy significant other? Or maybe the curation is better than one would do oneself. I’m skeptical.

As the bus passed by my favorite gelato place, a former boyfriend’s apartment, the office of my first job, and the salon I once frequented for eyebrow threading, I began to comprehend the relationship I’ve developed with New York through the personal meanings and experiences I’ve attached to places and things throughout the city.

Since moving to the East Village and starting at ITP, I rarely make the trip uptown, save for the occasional trip to the Upper West Side. My friend Luke lives on 95th and West End. Luke is good people. A month or so ago, he kindly agreed to take the fifth role in a movie project I worked on with Michael Edgcumbe, Patricia Adler and Poram Lee for Marianne’s Comm Lab class. Luke displayed the patience of a saint on the day of our shoot, and was pretty much the only member of the cast with the slightest hint of acting skills.

Upon arriving at 179th street bus terminal, we were eager to stretch our legs. I suggested that we stroll west towards the Hudson to see if we could find the Little Red Lighthouse beneath the George Washington Bridge.

The sidewalks between the 179th Street bus terminal and the nearby park are scattered profusely with dog droppings, to the point where we practically had to adopt hopscotch moves to avoid stepping on the stuff. The varying sizes of the droppings suggested several sources. I continue to wonder why the dog owners of Washington Heights don’t clean up after their canines. Is it something in the air? Is there some common personal trait among residents of the area that makes them disinclined to dispose of their dogs’ poop? Is there a single irresponsible dog walker who fails to clean up after his or her charges bomb the curb?

At Riverside and 181st Street, we stopped for some time at a viewing point. It was quite the Kodak moment. We leaned against the wall overlooking the Hudson River to take pictures, watch boats meander by, marvel at the scale of the George Washington bridge and imagine what it would be like to own numerous sets of dentures like America’s first president, which led to the sharing of personal dental experiences.

A few years ago, I learned that I had seven wisdom teeth. I have no idea how this happened – none of my family members have experienced abnormal teeth counts. Six of the teeth were removed in two operations that took place three weeks apart. To lessen the possibility of permanent nerve damage, the oral surgeon elected to give me numerous novocaine injections instead of general anesthetic, so I was awake and alert for the whole process. I felt no pain, but experienced pressure and discomfort that have made me reluctant to have the seventh wisdom tooth removed. For this reason, I get a slap on the wrist every time I see my dentist.

We observed a convoy of FDNY fire engines with lights and sirens blaring, attempting to navigate their way around a corner onto a quiet one-way street. I’ve always been impressed by fire engine drivers’ skillfulness when it comes to reversing their vehicles, but these guys displayed particular dexterity as they backed the trucks around the tight corner, which was made even tighter than usual due to road construction.

When the fire engines disappeared out of view, our hunger pangs kicked in. We decided to rethink searching for the lighthouse, and headed back to the 179th Street bus terminal. With stomachs growling, we re-boarded the M5 downtown.

In contrast to our journey uptown hours before, the M5 filled up immediately for the downtown trip. The driver was gruff and abrupt with a female passenger seeking directions, and snapped at a young gentleman who inserted his Metrocard into the reader the wrong way. After what seemed like an eternity in heavy traffic, we hopped off around 131st Street and walked west to Dinosaur BBQ on 12th Avenue.

In spite of the hour-long wait at Dinosaur, Mike managed to snag us a table outside almost immediately. The sun had set, but we welcomed the breeze on our faces. Over barbecue ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, macaroni and cheese and tasty microbrews, we recounted our trip through the pictures, notes and random things observed over the course of the day. There was unanimous agreement that we had no idea where to begin writing for the M5 bus assignment.

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