Thanksgiving Day, Part One: On my way to Albany Rensselaer
I took the 10:20AM Empire Service from New York Penn Station to Albany on Thanksgiving this year, as I do every year. Making stops in Yonkers, Croton-Harmon, Poughkeepsie, Rhinecliff, Hudson, and Albany Rensselaer (at 12:45PM).
As always, I roll out of my house with my suitcase and walk toward the N train, an annual ritual that puts me in the holiday spirit. As soon as I step outside, I can feel Thanksgiving in the air. It’s not that the city is empty. It’s only a little later than the time I usually take this walk each weekday morning, and the streets are hardly deserted. On Thanksgiving Day in Astoria, Queens, life is not too different than any other Thursday. The trains may be running on a Sunday schedule, but city life proceeds at its typical pace.
A man is walking his dog down the sidewalk. A car slows down and an ancient gentleman leans his head out his window and says a few words in Greek to a friend sitting on a stoop. Two elderly Italian ladies in long black coats, sensible black pumps, and floral headscarves walk past me. These passerby instill me with a sense of serenity, lacking, as they do, the hunched shoulders and long strides of the workaday commuters rushing to midtown offices.
This ten minute Thanksgiving walk is filled with pleasures and delights. For me, the holiday’s greatest joy comes from my imagination, as I assign stories to the strangers I observe around me. The man who walks into Lots O Bagels, newspaper under his arm, is having a light meal and a bit of alone time before a huge dinner with his parents in their apartment further out in Queens. The girl with the floral quilted overnight bag who sits across from me on the train and gets off at 57th Street Seventh Avenue is meeting her boyfriend at his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen before they flee the city in his convertible, hopping on the West Side Highway and veering across the George Washington bridge for dinner with his family in North Jersey.
I get off the N train at 34th Street. As always, the main exits by 34th street are closed, patrolled by police officers who stare down at their phones, perhaps looking at other people’s Thanksgivings on Facebook. I glance up the stairs that lead to the street in front of Macy’s, envisioning floats filled with red sequined showgirls and spandex-clad young men leaping and singing.
As always, I climb the stairs at 32nd street and turn toward Eighth Avenue, pausing on Sixth to stand on my tip toes and peer at the balloons floating two blocks away. All I can see are two gold stars. As I pull my suitcase west, I think: it’s the best way to watch the parade.