I cut out of my meeting a bit early, so I could catch the train into Manhattan. I had never been inside Newark Penn Station. I was not entirely sure how to get to it, so I left some extra time to feel my way through. For some reason, I never do well in big metropolitan transit systems. It’s not a thing that comes naturally to me. Since I was expected to meet John Derbyshire on 34th Street at 6:30, I gave myself an extra forty minutes. Unless I ended up in Trenton, that would be enough time to correct for any mistakes.
I worried for nothing. Penn Station was a ten minute walk and despite the near total lack of signage inside the place, I figured out the correct track for the train into the city. For some reason no one asked me for a ticket, so I could have ridden the rails like a hobo into Manhattan, but I was happy to pay the $5.40 fare. The trains run every few minutes and it only takes 20 minutes to get into New York Penn Station. I had more trouble getting street side in New York than I did navigating the New Jersey transit system.
If one wants to understand why city dwellers have a peculiarly statist politics, spend time in a big city subway system. For the people in the city, government services are essential for living. They depend on the subway, the trash collection and the police department. The city depends upon this organic relationship between the state and the citizens. That does not exist in the suburbs or the country. There’s a comfort that comes from the daily interaction with the state. Anyone who questions that relationship is suspect.
It has been a few years since I was in Manhattan, so I needed a minute to get used to the rush of the city. In that part of the town, the sidewalks are a crush of worker bees heading home or headed to dinner, along with the summertime tourists. That makes for a carnival vibe, except no one is having a good time. I had some time to kill, so I went to Starbucks to use the bathroom, but it was locked. I went to a bar and had a beer, while listening to three very large Dominican women loudly complain about the lack of men in their lives.
I met John Derbyshire just outside the entrance to the Long Island Railroad station and he recommended we head over to a place called the Tick Tock Diner a block away. I must admit, I’ve met John several times now and socialized with him at events, but I’m still a bit intimidated by it all. I’m getting used to the reality of what I’m doing here, but there will always be a sense that I’m playing way above my league. I’m grateful that he invited me out and took the long trip in from his estates on Long Island to have dinner with me.
Of course, I am the worst possible dinner guest. I think I started talking about thirty seconds after we sat down and I did not shut-up until we parted. I can and will dominate a conversation if you let me. Worse yet, I have no filter, so I will ramble on about the many eccentric ideas and interests in my head. When I explained to John my idea of creating a new moral philosophy based on a rational understanding of human nature, a refutation of the Enlightenment, he had the look of a man suddenly finding himself with a lunatic.
Luckily, John is a very gracious dinner companion, so he was not only willing to let me ramble on for hours, he picked up the check. When I let him get a word in edgewise, he mentioned that he was recording his novel into an audiobook, He is about halfway through the process. If you can’t wait for the spoken word version, you can buy it here. For those new to all of this, his book We are Doomed is a good place to start understanding the roots of the Dissident Right. John is the man who coined the term Dissident Right.
After talking his ear off, we parted company and I headed down to Penn Station, wondering if I would get on the right train. The thing that struck me about the area around the station was just how nice it was compared to Newark and Baltimore. New York is now a middle-class city, in that the people, for the most part, are urbanites with bourgeoisie sensibilities. It is not a city of gritty neighborhoods run by ethnic coalitions. It is a place for the ruling class, the young strivers of the managerial class and their non-white servants.
The train ride back was uneventful, but it did offer one glimpse of the past. Two guys with Knicks jerseys were sitting up front, drinking tall boys out of paper bags, while talking loud about something. A black guy was walking up and down the car reciting street poetry about his love for the baby Jesus. He was panhandling, but willing to work for it. I did not give him any money, but I appreciated the effort. These were the kind of people you expected to see on trains and subways, but they are being gentrified away too.
Back in Newark, the area around the Penn Station is slated for major development, but now it is mostly abandoned. I saw signs for a condo complex and it looks like they are building several of them. The hockey arena is there, along with the Prudential building, but I saw zero people in the walk back to the hotel. The plan is to gentrify the area, but it reminded me of efforts to do the same in Hartford years ago. It’s really hard to inject a cultural life into a dead city, but maybe Newark will be different.
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