Ten years in New York City, it was bound to happen. I woke up on the 3 train at 148th Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. In Harlem. At midnight.
‘Hmmmm,’ I thought. ‘Where the fuck am I?’
Yeah, that was me: the really, really white dude with Poindexter glasses, a brown suede jacket and a knit beanie. On 148th Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. In Harlem. With a guitar on my back.
The sign said “Late Night Shuttle to 135th Street.” So I started walking.
I mean, listen, I get out and all, but that last time I was above 125th Street a) I was on my bike and b) it wasn’t after midnight.
I sobered up right quick.
Come 135th Street, though, there wasn’t a subway in sight.
‘Hmmmm,’ I thought. ‘What the fuck do I do now?’
I stood on the corner a second scanning the horizon for a cab — ha! — when a Town Car pulled up. I nodded and jumped in. What initiates the conversation?
“I want to play guitar,” he says. “Music make you forget about everything.”
Ends up my man was from Guinea. He’s been in the United States for five years.
“Can you imagine the same family in power for 32 years?” he asks.
Yes, yes I can.
“In America,” he says, “There is freedom to be whoever you want to be. But it is difficult. I have a diploma in chemical engineering. But I drive car. It is difficult.”
“This is fine,” I say at 81st and Broadway. And it is. Stepping out of the car onto the Upper West, I exhale again, finally comfortable in my own skin, in my own place.
Whoever you want to be, wherever you want to be. It’s difficult. But it’s ours. All of ours.