Queens Walking: VII
The seventh in my series of walking meditations on various neighborhoods in Queens.
Carried in the crowd on a wave of orange and blue, I cascade onto the pavement and wash up on the shore of Citi Field. After the oiliness of the crammed 7 train, the wide open asphalt is a welcome sight. But there is something about this space that is too crafted and self-aware; the Citi Field sign and the American flag rippling above it seem a little self-satisfied for the Queens I am coming to know. My feet pad over small bricks inlaid with names, people who paid to inscribe their legacy into the dirty ground outside the ballpark. What is this urge, I wonder? The need to have your love of the game known to millions of strangers. I watch as the horde shuffles over these names, eyes collectively fixed on the open gates.
An hour later, and two vodka lemonades have flushed my bloodstream. The sizzling smell of bratwurst stings my nostrils in the most pleasant way, burning with jaunty spice. The chiropractic crack of bat meeting ball is greeted with one triumphant roar. Women in girlish jerseys trail dissatisfied behind red-faced men. Acid beers slosh and drip onto the concrete floor. The sheer volume of food is oppressive, creating an insatiate need within me that is anxious. Ravenous. I resist shelling out money for more of the greasy food, but the cocktails are still cheaper than Manhattan.
Walking the stadium, walking one continuous circle with no way to gauge how far I’m actually traveling. Where is my seat again? Is that the hot dog stand I saw earlier or is it a different one? Each section feels the same, only barely perceptible changes as clues that confirm forward motion. I gaze to the rafters for support, the crisscrossing green metal modeled off the subway scaffolds of the 7 train. Stretching from Queensboro Plaza all the way out here, Willets Point — one long span of indestructible metal, a determined reach of one hand to another, spirit and grit and industry steeped into the cells of steel. Its crisp sense of being cuts through the alcohol fog and the sausage smoke, and I walk on.
Stumbling, upon this — The Jackie Robinson Rotunda. It quotes:
‘A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.’
Grandeur that is so quintessentially American. Another thwack from the distant field elicits cheers. Sandy brick rises underneath the overhanging subway scaffolds, huge lamps hovering above the open space like magic. The deserted rotunda rings with its own silence, its iron gates keeping Queens out and holding America in. After this, I will go to an enormous empty bathroom and slump on a toilet for many minutes, as much time as I need to steady the flow of my blood. But, for now, I allow myself to get swallowed up into the ether of this strange place, this place of bald eagles and hot frying oil, sparking oil filling my veins until triumph ignites within me, swollen and proud, and I see the history and magnitude of this place, this sport, this country, and I ask myself whether I could care this much every minute of the day, whether I want to, whether I actually do or whether it’s just the cunning art of this place.