Easter Weekend Epiphany

There’s a horrible squeaking on my rail car, Amtrak Acela Express #2214, bound from Philadelphia to New York City. But at least I’m sitting down. I left Paoli Station, just minutes from my mother’s bucolic suburban home, at 6:15, almost four hours ago. But it’s Easter Sunday, and all the good Catholics were returning home, so it was standing room only. 30 minutes later, by Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, I’d had enough, and opted off the train in favor of a few Grey Goose and tonics with a friend from high school. So now I’m on the train, three drinks and a tuna salad later, pondering a visit to the cafe car for another drink.

So… what did I do, what did I learn, what is my Doogie Howser epiphany from this Easter weekend?

Well, I was motivated to come home by a dinner invite from great old friend. She’d been recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, just days after another old friend (my God, we’re only barely 30!) was diagnosed with breast cancer. So just an hour and a half after leaving work, I was in downtown Philly, looking up at Billy Penn, wondering why I didn’t know my way around a city I grew up just 15 miles from. And wondering just what all these frosted-haired and GOP-ish Philadelphians did with themselves in this vacant, concrete town.

Dinner was fun. It was disorienting to be around these people with whom I’d spent so much time so many years ago. How do they remember me? Who do they think I am? Aspiring rock star? Aspiring media executive? Aspiring filmmaker? Stoner? Former stoner? The guy who got his jaw broken? I’m reminded of ‘The Breakfast Club.’

“Dear Mr. Vernon: We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it is we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy for making us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.”

The answer is always ‘All of the above,’ And was thusly in the aforementioned scenario.

Saturday morning, I met one of the guys and ran in Valley Forge National Park, bastion of all that is good and right in suburban Philadelphia. It is, in fact, the very place that George Washington and the Continental Army spent the winter of 1773 waiting out the British. It is, in fact, the place that I had sweaty summertime car sex (yes, vinyl seats) with my high school girlfriend. It is, now, the place I crave to be to run. The Kenyans run there, the guys who win the Marathon over and over and over. ‘Train hard, win easy,’ they say, climbing the sloping, waist high grassy hills. The air was cool and sweet. My lungs burned. My calves ached. It was great.

I spent the afternoon zooming over country roads in my mom’s Mazda Miata, singing U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” imagining that some day this would be my home: huge green lawns, old stone houses, sheep in the backyard, a studio in the barn.

This morning, I ran again, solo. There are two mountains in the park, Mt. Joy, and Mt. Misery. Today, I tackled Joy, and only flirted with Misery, tracing the shadows along Valley Creek, looking out for trout in the shallow pools. Back home, I surfed cable (hey, I don’t have TV in New York), read the Sunday New York Times (allbeit with no City section), and idled the hours away on the back porch in the sun. My heart slowed, my blood pressure slipped, and I felt myself settling in.

“Do you know where we are?” my annoyed seat mate just inquired. “New Jersey,” I said. The train has been stopped for over ten minutes. The conducted has warned of “technical difficulties.” The air smells like bathroom. It is hot. It is neither fast, nor convenient, as the flashing sign overhead suggests. I am, however, at least 30 miles closer to home. And I assume that, sometime between my buzz wearing off, this journal entry ending, and the start of the new work week, I will arrive in New York City.

My Doogie Howser epiphany? Well, I’m older, I guess, by 54 hours anyway. Reborn? Resurrected? Maybe, just a little bit. I guess that’ll have to do.

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