You can make one wrong turn in New York City and step into another world. For example, in NYU territory you may find yourself turning a corner and walk right into an alleyway that resembles a street in Barcelona rather than a block of Fifth Avenue. Townhouses with overgrown foliage, ferns, cobble roads and pre-war windows take you away for a brief moment. Walk right through in wonder and then it’s gone.
Kevin and I were working on a Saturday afternoon when we drove the dump truck into Chinatown. We made a right instead of a left, thanks to the company GPS, and landed into a tiny street that enclosed our truck.
“Damn it all,” Kevin muttered as he turned into the wheel. There was barely enough room but we couldn’t back out even when the GPS said make a U-turn at the next available street, because something was compelling us. Something the droid wasn’t getting. We drove forward into the unknown like Odyessus, but our navigation was slow through the cobble road. The engine roared past open windows and Chinese expats sat outside with hand fans on blast. We passed so-called-accredited acupuncture shops, knock off jewelry stores and noodle shops. The truck edged through a van of eight Chinese people having an argument in Cantonese. A woman in the group tried to enter the van and tear out one of the wooden chairs in the backseat to no avail.
Kevin laughed as I looked around the corners.
“What’s up?” I said.
“Reminds me of Fallujah,” Kevin said. “Shitty times.”
“Shitty times indeed,” I said.
“Yeah, yeah they were.”
He looked on and took out a cigarette from his pack of Reds. He served with the Marine Corps before September 11th 2001 and deployed once to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq. After eight years in, he was planning on becoming a comic book artist. He showed me some of his drawings once, they were pretty good. Stuff for Children’s books: teddy bears, rainbows, happy endings. Shit that could sell in bookstores.
Before lighting up we knocked down a sign for a noodle shop and kept driving.
It ended once we reached the street and the the Manhattan sunlight came back. I looked back through the side mirrors and there stood an elderly Chinese woman. She had a bamboo stick in hand and stared at us as we made the turn. Her mouth moved in slow motions as she tapped her stick on the ground. Her eyes met mine through the rear-view mirror and she revealed a toothless grin, tapping her stick to the ground.