A Desert Tree - One of the first pictures that I took using Flash, and one of the only ones that I have actually liked. The situation was ideal; a foreground that was too much in shadow against a fairly lit background. The flash equalized the two elements.
There were many beautiful churches in Rome, but Sant’Andrea della Valle situated just outside of Piazza Navona is a stunning example of art and architecture. in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The frescoes over the apse are amazingly detailed. The interior of the space speaks for itself
The Church of Santa Maria Della Vittoria in Rome. To those fans of Bernini, the church will be more recognizable because of the L’Estasi di Santa Teresa or St. Teresa in Ecstasy, by the fabled Bernini. But the church is even more famous because of its portrail as the Altar of Fire in Dan Brown’s novel, Angels and Demons. Everybody photographs the sculpture; and for good reason, it is truly a masterpiece of the Baroque period done by one of the masters. However, I think the church itself, with its beautiful frescoed ceiling done by Giovanni Domenico Cerrini, are also worthy of praise.
I bet if I wrung out the sweat from my shirt, I could fill a small jug of water. I didn’t realize know the temperature could go this high in the city. Sweat rolled from my brow, tracing a line down my cheeks before dripping down into the front of my shirt. I peeled the sticky fabric away from my chest and tried fanning myself with it, a futile attempt to cool myself in the face of the brutal heat wave.
I love New York City, but it was just one of those days where it seemed that the city was doing everything in its power to make me absolutely detest it. It was as if the fires of hell had come up through the cracks in the subway to swallow my heathen soul. Even the stench down in the crowded subway station was what I imagined the deepest level of hell would smell like. We all gathered at the edge of the platform, waiting in silent misery for the next train to make its approach.
Actually, not necessarily silent misery.
“Fuck this mother fucking train, man.” cried a voice from down the platform. It was a sentiment echoed further down the line. “How long are we going to wait for this thing to arrive?”
It started a rabble of complaining. I kept my mouth shut; I was never really one to join in on the complaining masses, but on this particular occasion, I had to agree. This heat was some sort of punishment that was handed down from on high. There was a young boy running up and down the platform, sweat pouring down his face and the back of his shirt was darkened by the gathered perspiration. He ran up to a girl that looked to be around his age and tagged her on the back. Soon they were both weaving through the crowd chasing after each other, screaming. They ran past between myself and the train tracks. It took everything in my power to not kick out my foot and send one of the little shits flying into the subway line. My head was beginning to pound from the heat and sound.
I leaned my head back against a pillar with a sigh, wishing that the train would come. I closed my eyes and tried my best to sleep standing up.
Where the fuck is this train?
There was an announcement over the PA system; “Because of an electrical malfunction, train service has been delayed on the ‘F’ line with service to 179th street. Service should resume shortly. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
At the end of that announcement was the closest I have yet been to seeing a real life New York City riot. New Yorkers can be a dynamic group, and they run the gamut of human emotion, evidenced extremely well by their reactions
There were screams, shouts, and curses that spread from every corner of the station.
“Fuck you.” came a very deep voice that rumbled
“You have got to be kidding me.” came from a particularly shrill voiced woman.
Somewhat belated, as if it had taken him a moment to process the new information, came a grunting roar from a man standing slightly to my left. It was a primal sound, almost exactly what I would picture if a caveman had come back from the hunt to find his child had suddenly died. It was a throaty “mrAAAArrr.” It spoke of grief and pain, loss and tragedy. But resounding the most through that groan of anguish was the note of tragedy. It was almost poetic; the scope and depth of emotion that it managed to convey was as profound as anything Whitman or Frost had ever written.
For my part, I just laughed and took a seat on the filthy concrete. It was like something in my brain just broke. As far as I saw it, there was nothing else that I could do but complain or laugh, except maybe if I wanted to walk two hours in the stinging heat all the way back to my apartment. I guess on reflection I could have also have taken a taxi, but i’m broke (funny how some things don’t change). I was the MTA’s nickel whore, all I could do was lie there and take it, pray that it wouldn’t last that long, but knowing the MTA, they could go on for hours.
So there I sat, and sweaty panting husk, completely at the mercy of my MTA overlord.
All the while we were waiting, the station, already inundated with sweaty disgusting, panting, flesh sacks, began to accumulate more and more sweaty, disgusting, and panting flesh sacks. It was in this state that I realized something that I had known, but not truly processed.
People can get really fat.
I mean, not just a little chubbing out here and there, I mean total eclipse of the sun meat monsters. And a majority of these pork beasts were women; walking - sorry, waddling - around the station. A quick explanation about one of the items in a subway station; the benches in the subway are distinct in that they have wooden dividers between the seats, providing four distinct, and fairly roomy, seats. And these seats were currently all occupied, three by these McDonalds Princesses whose fat hung out over the edge of the wooden divider, overlapping each other, crisscrossing back and forth so at a quick glanced it was like a slug with three faces was sitting on the bench. the fourth seat, however, was occupied one by a fairly skinny black kid. He couldn’t have been more than sixteen or seventeen, looking completely out of place on this bench. Here were three women combined that could weigh as much as an entire third-world village (with enough to spare to probably count some of the livestock), and then his scrawny ass stuck on the end, looking skin and bones compared to their hulking guts.
That’s when the queen descended from on high. It is not so much that she was bigger than the rest, in fact, she probably weighed less because she was shorter. But she was thick. Her clothes were skin tight, probably because they were the biggest in the store but they still hugged her body tighter than a baby koala hugs its mother. They reminded me of how Bruce Banner’s clothes looked right before they ripped off and turned he turned into the Hulk.
This woman was hobbling her way down the stairs, clutching the railing for dear life, like a mountain climber descending a sheer cliff face. She stopped on each step to gather herself and plan out her next move. Every decision was a cool calculation, needing to be carefully planned out as any single misstep could send her barreling down, front tummy over back tummy, into a crowd of people now completely without a means of escape in the packed subway station.
So she took every step like lives depended on it (and I can’t stress in all seriousness, they did). She eventually made her way down the station, sweating from not only the heat, but the immense physical exertion. She was panting, her face slightly hung, but when she looked up, I saw in her eyes a touch of madness, her eyes scurrying back and forth wildly. I could not tell if it was because the heat was making her frantic, or she was just ticked off she didn’t have something to stuff her face with. I took a sip of water from my water bottle. I felt thirsty just looking at her. The amount of sweat dripping off her body would probably be enough to fill a fishbowl.
But I digress. She approached the bench filled with her fellow she-beasts, looking intently at the small black kid, that same wild expression in her eyes. He quickly stood up, not, I think, in politeness, but in fear that he might soon be consumed. He jolted up out of his seat and scampered into the crowd. The bench, already approaching critical mass, was soon tested with the weight of the fourth and final woman. She was the crown jewel of them, and she fit perfectly. The picture was complete.
In that sweltering heat, with sweat stinging down all of our collective eyes and the ever present sound of some child making merry in this dismal situation, the thing that I felt most sorry for was that bench, subjected to the weight of four of the fattest human beings I had ever seen. I’m sure that at some point it had stood as a mighty oak, thrusting up proudly from the ground, branches extending all the way to the sky providing the birds with a comfortable resting perch and providing a cool resting spot for the sylvan critters hiding below its leafy canopy. I bet at no point in its regal life did it expect to be chopped down, hacked apart, and constructed into a bench to hold the collected flesh of what I imagined weighed close to, if not more than, a fairly large SUV. God could not have intended this to happen, for such a stately creature to be thrust so low. Look, God! Behold, the folly of man!
With all four of them assembled together on the bench, I made another important distinction. Fat does not necessarily follow racial lines. Here were was a fat Indian woman sat next to a fat White woman sat next to a fat Hispanic woman sat next to a fat Black woman. It was like an obese, multi-ethnic rainbow. It proved to me that we could all co-exist, as friends. Only in New York could one find both such diverse cultural backgrounds and also the food required to allow a human being to reach the size of a baby elephant.
So here was all sat, a people united, waiting for the train to come. I tipped more water back into my throat. The people, who had been growing steadily more and more restless, were now quieting down. Like animals that realized their fates were ultimately doomed, they slowly followed my example and bore the pain. There was nothing else to do. People were sitting on the steps leading up to the mezzanine where there were more people waiting. There was no room at all to stand down here anymore. The closest thing I can imagine to replicate the smell of the subway on this day, never smelling particularly appetizing filled with garbage and urine, would be to shut myself into a steam room with a gym bag filled with sweaty socks and then thrust those straight into my face, inhaling deeply.
So here we all sat, doing nothing. It felt like ages had passed, days slipping into years turning into millennia. I wondered if it was still light outside. I reached up to touch my face; there was scruff there that I had not noticed earlier - enough time had passed that my facial hair had started to grow. With an air of trepidation, I reached into my pocket to pull out my phone to check the time, and found, to my surprise, that I had only been sitting in the station for fifteen minutes.
Shortly after that, I could hear the familiar squealing of the subway wheels grinding against the metal rail. There were cheers of celebration erupting all over the station. I thought for a wild moment that it would be the cruelest joke ever thought of by any human if that train would come through on the express line and not stop at the station. Fortunately, there is no God that bends above us that is that cruel and the train, looking like a limping wounded animal, staggered into the station.
I jumped up quickly. Fortunately for myself, I had been sitting close to the tracks and had myself in ready position to jump into the doors as soon as they opened. The people in the back were not as lucky. They scampered down the stairs, frantic to reach this train. I could feel the crowd swelling at my back, pressing in on me. It was not overtly violent towards me, but I could feel the naked aggression of hundreds of people hurrying to rush through a very limited number of doors.
On its part, the train took its time to arrive at the station. With a high pitched, grinding, shriek, it settled to a stop. The doors did not open, but suddenly the press to enter the train turned maniacal. I was pressed flat up against the unopened door, forced to look at the completely empty and blessedly air conditioned train.
Then, suddenly, the doors opened. I quickly jumped in, seeking to avoid the trample and ran directly to the open seat in front of me. In a well practiced motion, I took off my backpack and plopped my ass down right next to the railing on the side. This was the optimal seat on the subway as it allowed not only an easy visual of the sign overhead that listed the coming stops, but it allowed a convenient places to rest my head to lay down for a nap.
The rest of the station crammed and crammed. The amount of people was truly staggering. The train was quickly reaching its capacity, but on the platform I could still see people on the staircase attempting to push their way in. The rabble pushed and filled every available inch of space. Girls were sitting on men’s laps to make room on the benches. People squeezed into gaps that I thought were far too narrow for any human being to fit into. They wiggled and squirmed and inched, each trying to not be left behind on the platform.
On the whole, I will say, this entire process happened fairly orderly. There were of course some curses that erupted every here and there, but that happens regardless if the train is packed or not. After the initial push, people settled down and realized the process was in motion and all the pushing and complaining in the world would not make things any easier for anyone.
Then, of course, is when everything got complicated.
The commotion slowly stopped as a new sound came to our ears. It was the same grinding sound, announcing that another train was approaching the station. People looked around confusedly, unsure of what was happening, scarcely wanting to believe that there were two trains that could be coming at the same time.
But that’s exactly what happened. This train roared into the station, coming to an abrupt halt and opening its doors.
Suddenly there was a mad scramble out the door of the train I was on to the new train. People scrambled to get the precious seats on this new train. Those that had so carefully slithered their way into the cracks of people just as quickly slithered back out, rushing to the new train only to find that all the seats on this train were also taken and having to again slip and slide their way between people’s limbs.
But the circus cannot just end in one act, a maxim that the MTA held near and dear to its heart. As the trains were approaching a sort of an equilibrium, there came an announcement over the PA. “Ladies and gentlemen, The train that is sitting on the local line will be making express stops through queens. The train on the express line will be making local-” That’s as far as I heard because there was suddenly a mad flurry of commotion as people fought to get onto the train that I was sitting on. Fortunately for me, I was sitting on the train, that for some unexplainable reason was sitting on the local track but making express stops. So I sat and watched as the train packed up with a mass of pushing bodies each struggling to get back onto the limited space of the train.
For some people, it may seem preposterous that so many people would fight to the bloody death to get onto a train making express stops as opposed to local stops. But the fact that it made express stops saved people an entire seven minutes on their commute. And to a New Yorker, that seven minutes may as well be twenty minutes, and that makes crushing your neighbors bones not only socially acceptable, but almost welcomed. If you aren’t willing to fight for your spot on the train and risk everything from theft to sexual assault, then you don’t even know how to subway properly.
As I sat there watching the train swelling up like a pedophile’s naughty parts at a school playground, I thought to myself of the strangeness of putting the express train on the local track. It was almost as if the MTA purposely wanted to screw over its paying customers.
But this question was soon answered. Apparently it was amateur hour for the PA system, and soon a different voice was over the system, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the train waiting on the express track will be making express stops and the train on the local track will be making local stops. We apologize for the confusion.”
And the circus continued.
Now the express train could have saved me twenty minutes, but I was not really a New Yorker at this point (I grew up in Maryland), so I figured I could wait the seven minutes in comfort sitting on a now mostly empty train with a seat. So I watched as the train on the other end of platform had what I imagined were normally mild mannered individuals acting as if they were in mortal combat with each other, stopping just short of overt physical violence to get onto the train.
When everything settled down, there were still some people left on the platform; they were the cowardly too afraid to risk life and limb to ride a train. The sight on the train, however, was utterly ludicrous. People were packed in so densely and in such an agonizing heat I wondered how they could possibly breathe. The funny thing was, there was undoubtedly another train just behind this one. However, waiting for the next one would mean possibly an additional five minutes on their odyssey home, and god forbid. Five minutes would essentially mean that these adults would be missing their entire child’s childhood. They needed to be home right now.
Well, I fortunately had no children, and was in no such rush, so I leaned my head against the railing and tried to drift off to sleep.
When most people visit Las Vegas, they stay for the drinking, gambling, smoking; they stay to live up to the name Sin City. What most people don’t realize is the natural beauty that lies just outside the city limits. Stunning desert landscapes that stretch in every direction for miles. Red Rock Canyon lies just twenty minutes outside of the lights of the Vegas Strip, and it could not be more different.