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Jet Blue and Brooklyn Ferry

Jet Blue and Brooklyn Ferry by Mark Doty
I'm writing from JFK, sitting at the gate at the Jet Blue terminal waiting for my plane to Ft Lauderdale. I spent all yesterday at Rutgers in New Brunswick, giving a talk on Whitman, meeting lots of students and faculty, and generally having a fine time. My talk was called "Whitman in Tears," and the amazing graphics people at Rutgers had made one of the best posters ever: an image of Whitman in his guise as the "Good Gray Poet," long beard, long hair, crumpled wayfarer hat, crinkled eyes gazing directly at the viewer. It's a beautiful, complex image, and they'd printed it large, on a sepia field, with the title of the talk in cursive beneath the beard and then a smaller picture of yours truly off to the right. My head and Whitman's are tilted so that we seem to be giving each other the eye.

The poster was everywhere, and in the room where I gave the talk, a whole bank of Walt Whitmans stood behind me -- consoling, challenging, full of presence. It felt a little like the startling passage in "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" when Whitman says to his readers that he's thought of us "long and hard" before we were born, that he is speaking directly to us know. "How do you know," writes, "but that I am enjoying this?" And now I am going to Florida. Warmth and moist air sound like heaven, though in truth it was a pretty nice morning in New Jersey. ***



Travelog of the Moment

In theory my jetlag "isn't so bad", but then again I'm writing this at 4AM (3PM Boston time.)

I now have the technology and 'net access to try travelloging in real time. This likely means my observations will be extra facile and I'll be less likely to know if they represent just what I see, or Japan as a whole. And so it's going to be more raw and mundane than if I were pulling it together after. So, those disclaimers out of the way:

My connection flight to Chicago got changed to a sidetrip to Washington Dulles. I got to stop at a mini-Fuddrucker I remembered from business trips, and my final arrival in Japan was only 2 hours later than first scheduled. Plus I got to see this ATM:
I'm sure they get these jokes all the times, but man! Who let him have a bank? (But then later when I saw the current Yen/Dollar exchange rate, below 100 for the first time in a long while, I myself felt ready to sing Moon River...ZING!)

The flight on ANA (All Nippon Airways) was fine. Inseat video technology has improved since my last international flight, or Japan does it better. Jet Blue had DirecTV, but on this flight every chair had its own video library, so you could pick from about 20-odd films, pause, rewind, etc. There were also some basic time killing video games and the old standby channels of music etc.

My last minute seat change had put me in the "families with kids" section, but I admired the little bassinet things the attendants could fasten to the wall in front of the seats: My friend Josh met me at the airport. He's lived a total of 9 years in Japan, and lives just outside of Tokyo with his wife Tomomi and their young daughter Erin. We took a few trains from Narita (an airport built kind of against the will of the rice farmers who were living there, but certain concessions were made) to his place in Chiba. The train seating was "subway" style, but often the seats were nicely padded and cushy:

Same car a bit later, giving more of a feel of it:
Josh describes the vibe of Chiba as being roughly "Coolidge Corner"-ish. I could see that, with the caveat that stores and buildings tend to be brighter and more garish than their American counterparts. Here's Chiba on a rainy Friday night:

A few other notes:
- I noticed more people who seemed to have more mundane tasks than in the USA: an airport employee at the luggage carousel, wrangling bags coming out of the chute to make sure they didn't get stuck, a man making a pass through the train with a mop (it being a rainy day), and then at the rail station, a man with a construction uniform and a megaphone warning people getting off the train to be careful about the construction going on. Josh talked to me about the pride and work ethic entailed even at these "low level" jobs, but more striking to me was the-- attention to detail, I guess I'd say, that it was worth having someone responsible for these particular things.

- I'll probably get some photos of this later, but the department store we ducked through is interesting, because it wasn't really a department store... it rather looked like one, but each section was a separate vendor with its own cashier. So while there are other "proper" department stores around, there's also this "evolution of the bazaar" in effect.

- Josh and Tomomi live four or five stories up, and the stairs to their building are exposed to the outside... Josh says this is extremely common in Japan. ***


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