At Penn Station yesterday morning, I went to board my train to New Brunswick, but a huge crowd of people with suitcases blocked the entrance to the escalator. They'd called an Amtrak train on the same track, and when you board Amtrak you have to show your ticket to demonstrate that you are not a terrorist. I had two minutes to make the train. When I made it to the front of the line, the Amtrak official said, "Sir, this is not New Jersey Transit." I protested, she fulminated, I spoke in a fashion which indicated I might become temperamental, she let me go down to the track. I was annoyed at nearly missing my train, but it also struck me that it would have been pretty easy to get past Amtrak security. Does it actually have anything to do with safety at all?
Then I taught my wonderful undergrad class at Rutgers -- a twice-a-week joy -- and jumped back on the train to go to Newark Airport. The rails were rocking and the car warm, my thinking slowed, and the next thing I knew I came back to conciousness past my train stop. Off the train I leap, through Penn Station Newark, which has the aura of a grand civic past fallen into the new century; it could be an old Soviet station in eastern Europe someplace. Onto another train, which slowly rumbles its way to the airport.
Once I get to the station, I'm headed for the turnstiles when some young soldier/cop (who knows?) shouts "Sir!" He's standing behind a folding table and announces he's searching my bags. I say, "For what?" and he replies "Whatever." I want to say, well, in a police state I have no choice, but I don't, since I do plan to get to Cleveland today. He gropes around in my bag for thirty seconds and then says, "I tried not to make too much of a mess" as if by way of apology, as if when I said "For what?" I'd somehow called him on his pretense of purpose.
On to the Air Train. It's not functioning and you have to get on the wrong side, go one stop, get off, then get on the same train again. Don't ask. It's packed. We get over the highway, and it slides to a halt. We sit. The recorded voice says "The TRAIN is not in the station," which is so self-evident that I'd laugh had I not already lost my sense of humor.
Once we arrive, I check my bag, get to security, and set off the metal detector, for no known reason. When I walk through again I'm clear, declared to be no threat: I can go to Cleveland, teach a workshop, give a poetry reading.
My old student/friend Michael Dumanis picks me up at the airport, funny and voluble and full of tales, and I am immediately cheered up and glad I came. Cleveland is unfamiliar and intriguing; Paul arrives later today and we'll read together this evening. Friday we're going to Hart Crane's house, which I didn't know was possible. Saturday Michael, Joanna Klink and Kazim Ali are reading in a botanical garden. I don't have to see another airport till Sunday; I am not suspect till then, or if I am I don't have to know about it.