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  • Writer's picturemaggiehsmith07

Empire State of Mind

After artfully avoiding LaGuardia airport my entire life, I landed here last Monday. In 1994, I returned from South Korea via Newark. I think.

Upon arrival, I take a shuttle to catch another shuttle to the rental car lot. I wait while 2 rental shuttle vans sit idle and empty. An unmarked white van rolls up and it too sits idle. The minutes tick by as seagulls whorl in front of and above me. I eye them and hope that none of them shit on my head. I pull out my hat and secure it to my head. “Take that.” I think, eyeing the sea gulls.

I wonder how far the rental lot is from where I am and reject a fleeting thought to walk - imagining my suitcase bumping behind me. Recently, during my mom’s visit to Virginia, we took her on the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can pick up the Appalachian Trail up there, if you’re so inclined. My mom considered this a moment and says she’d bring her suitcase. This mental image makes me laugh. More time passes and still no Budget van in sight. I look up their number dial them to ask where their shuttle is. While I’m saying hello, a guy hops out of the white van.

“Hey! Where are you trying to go?” He yells.

I mumble, “Wait one second.” Into my phone and a “what the fuck.” To myself as I shout back, “Budget.”

“Come on! I’m Budget!” He says.

“Never mind.” I mumble into my phone, thanking the woman and hanging up.

I walk over to the man who is now standing at the back of the van, doors flung open ready to take my bags.

“I’m going to need to see some ID.” I say in a joking tone, although I’m not entirely joking.

My humor doesn’t land and the man points to a small, printed signed affixed to the van that says BUDGET/AVIS.

I scoff, thinking, “Bro. David Berkowitz - the son of Sam serial killer guy -could have printed that shit at home.”

Never the less, I hand my bag over and he picks up a radio while explaining the vans have been down. We roll out, exiting the airport.

“Where do you live?” He demands in a way that only a New Yorker could pull off.

I hesitate as if I don’t know, moving can do this to you, “Virginia.” I reply.

Where are we going?! I ask myself and think that New York traffic moves slow so if I had to jump out, I could.

“Do you like New York?” He asks in a way that suggests my answer better be an enthusiast yes.

“Of course!” I say, beaming like an idiot under my mask. He slowly nods, approvingly. Knowingly.

He pulls up to a Budget rental lot and I’m glad that I didn’t try to walk or jump out of the van. The lot was far and that shit would have been embarrassing.

Today, my return trip, I can’t find the Budget lot again so I pull into Avis at the airport. The man behind the counter says I can return the car there and I enthusiastically announce that I could hug him.

He looks at me, expressionless, and I think, “Listen, bub. My hug list is short. Pandemic or not.”

I take a shuttle to a shuttle. The second shuttle has caution tape so no one gets close to the driver. I say hello when I board.

“How are you.” She says, as if it’s a demand, more than a question.

Eventually, I reach the airport and get through security. I’m hauled aside and my carry on is pawed through. The TSA agent carefully removes pink tissue paper from a purchase I made in Connecticut. She looks at it questioning. I want to say, “it’s a rock.” (Because it is) and make a Charlie Brown Halloween joke but don’t because I don’t feel the TSA has a great sense of humor - based on my experience. The rock is heavy and I’m mentally preparing my argument that rocks are no where mentioned as forbidden in any literature related to flights. She wraps the rock back up, hands me my bag back and I continue on only to find out I need to take a third shuttle. New York, why you do me like this? This is why New Yorkers are so tough - you have to have tenacity just to get on a goddamn plane.

To get on the last shuttle, you have to exit through a gate. The ramp to the bus on the tarmac is like you’d see when boarding a cruise ship. I glance at the razor wire framing the airport - it’s snagged paper bags as well as the birds of feathers, which makes me involuntarily wince.

Eventually, my plane takes off like a rocket ship which calls to mind a conversation I recently had with my dental hygienist in Virginia. Turns out, she grew up in New Jersey.

“Oh. Have you ever flown out of LaGuardia?” she asks me. “The runways are so short! It’s like you’re going to fly into the water!” This doesn’t sound like an endorsement. I’m on the dull side of the plane on take off. The passengers across from me take photos and videos out their windows.

Catch you later, Big Apple.

One hand in the air for the big city

Street lights, big dreams, all looking pretty

No place in the world that can compare

Put your lighters in the air, everybody say

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

In New York

Concrete jungle where dreams are made of

There's nothing you can't do

Now you're in New York

These streets will make you feel brand new

Big lights will inspire you

Hear it for New York


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