2006.04.12 They went to NYC, I got antibiotics

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

I wanted to tell you about my train trip this week, but that will have to wait until I actually take a train trip—if that ever happens.

Two spring breaks ago, I rode the Greyhound to meet up with my traveling family in Kentucky. They had been in the south and were on their way back to Michigan. Daughter Rozee was still a prospective student at Berea College and we met to check it out.

The most startling thing I discovered about bus travel is that a ticket is no guarantee of a seat. You could buy your ticket in advance, show up at the station to board, and discover there was no seat available. I think there were three empty seats when I boarded, and I was almost forced to spend a few hours in the Toledo station waiting for the next bus, which also could have been full.

The Amtrak website makes it sound as though your ticket is a seat reservation. And besides, how many people travel by train these days? Maybe there are more than I think, but I doubt it. I’ll have to stand close to the tracks in Wauseon sometime and watch it go through.

Of course I wouldn’t be watching my train, the Lake Shore Limited, because it passes through Wauseon after midnight. I was to board at 1:30 a.m. and spend the next 14 hours looking out the window—so much good entertainment at only five bucks an hour.

The trip from Toledo to New York City is actually billed as taking about 13 hours and 35 minutes, but there is some fine print attached: Delays may occur on this train due to freight railroad congestion, track work or other operating conditions.

I didn’t care. I really looked forward to the grueling trip. It’s just something I wanted to experience. And besides, I learned in that terrorism manual that I wrote about recently that my chances of dying on a passenger train were one in 70 million—even better than that of dying from anthrax poisoning (one in 56 million).

But then I got sick. I acquired the respiratory thing that so many others have had, but I wasn’t shaking it off. I suppose I wasn’t doing what so many others do: rest. The train ride followed by frolic in the city didn’t seem like a wise choice.

Getting stuck at home wasn’t so bad. I heard reports of cold weather and rain in NYC, and they were visiting some places that wouldn’t have been high on my list.

But when I came home for lunch on Friday, there was a message on the answering machine. The travelers wanted me to consult the latest New Yorker magazine for gallery ideas.

Hmm, now they were doing exactly what’s high on my list for New York.

There’s always something interesting at the established museums. A retrospective of Edvard Munch, the artist who painted “The Scream.” The steel sculptures made by David Smith who worked as a welder at the Studebaker company. A recreation of Charles Darwin’s study, plus fossils he collected and live specimens of the animals he encountered on the Galápagos Islands.

It’s doubtful we would have made it to any of those, but we would have squeezed in a couple of hours for some small galleries. This is where you see the stuff that makes people say, “You call that art?”

At the Bonakdar Gallery in Chelsea, we could have watched videos showing young Turkish amateurs singing karaoke versions of songs from the Smiths album “The World Won’t Listen.”

A block away, at the PaceWildenstein, an artist carpeted the floor with an undulating landscape of thousands of plastic cups. She also used cups to create an Arctic landscape in which the “shimmering white expanse exerts a charm well beyond the sum of its repeating parts.”

Nearby were lawn chairs turned into giant whale skeletons, Nike sneakers reconfigured into Pacific Northwest aboriginal masks, and much more.

I could look at that stuff all day, and in fact we have spent what the others might describe as too much of the day going from one weirdness to another.

Now, as I’m awaiting the travelers’ return, I’m thinking about what I missed, sitting here with my antibiotics. I can only take comfort in knowing that nothing in the city this past week could ever match what we saw a few years ago: a very authentic-looking bird skeleton constructed from fingernail clippings. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

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