Night Flight

Up until that point in my life here, I didn’t own the night. I just got to rent it. Two a week, usually non-consecutive. In Harlem, I used it to grab a six-pack and put on Netflix for the evening in my first-ever King-sized bed. One side for sleeping, one side for propped-up movie-watching. By the time, I moved to 106th St., more friends had moved to the City, and Tuesday Trivia became a bigger thing to accommodate my schedule.

Otherwise, it was 8–2 at night and 10–5 during the day. In a manner of speaking, night was when I did my day job (writing about baseball) and day was my night gig (dog walking). The two schedules worked like combs placed on top of each other. Where one had a space the other filled it. A day off meant still working the night and vice versa. Scotch-free days were rare and needed to be celebrated with trips to Coney Island or Boston. All the same, I was able to save money (a crazy concept for a 20-something in the city) and legitimately enjoyed the work. (The 13-year-old in me and that was me loved hanging with dogs and writing about baseball.)

But the camel isn’t caught by surprise by a broken back; they can feel it coming, straw by straw. And so when I was offered a chance to make my day job an actual day job, I jumped at it with the request for a small increase in pay to cover the loss of dog walking and of course a heavier heart having to say goodbye to the dogs and their families.

And nights were mine again. All seven of them. Each week. Free to do what I chose. Oyster upon oyster. Et cetera.

And that brings me to the Broadway Restaurant between 102nd and 101st on its namesake. That’s all there is to its name, by the way, and its interior reflects its blunt simplicity. If you get a seat facing away from the windows overlooking The Great White Way, you’d swear it’s still 1967. Posters of Dean, Sinatra and Martin still sit framed on the walls. There’s only been one recent addition. George Clooney is stuck in a corner. The menu is of Greek design and breakfast is served all day and it’s that bit that draws me in usually, as it did that Tuesday my first night after a day of baseball.

I like to call it a lumberjack breakfast — that’s what turn-of-the-millennium Friendly’s like the one Dad and I frequented on Sundays called it — although you won’t find it on the menu under that name. It’s really just the pancakes with bacon, toast and eggs-over-easy, which cost extra, on the side. Oh and coffee. A full, hearty meal that’ll force you to sit for a bit while you digest and contemplate but will also make you feel ready to attack the day. Or night. Because after all, it is still breakfast, even when served at 9:00 p.m. and the darkness outside is the start of more darkness not the end of it.

As I sipped my cream-lightened coffee, I had to contemplate what was next. This was successful, but what was to follow? The Rite Aid up the street — it’s now a health clinic, I believe — had cheap beer, and although my bed was much, much smaller following the move, Netflix would have done fine. There was my favorite pub, The Dead Poet, between 81st and 82nd on Amsterdam — a short walk to the spot where I once took over the jukebox for five bucks and made a bar-full of strangers listen to You Can Call Me Al and Maggie May for my own four-Guinness enjoyment. But why repeat the past?

Having paid at the counter — let’s say it was $11.64, that feels right — I decided just to walk south. South was where the action was in the city. Everything’s great when you’re downtown and all that. Headphones in, see where my feet take me.

And then a song came on.

Man of Steel, Zack Snyder’s take on the Superman story, was coming out that summer. And as a kid who once put on the cape, pointed to the sky and hoped, I was at least intrigued, if not downright excited. Batman and Spider-Man had been our heroes de jure the previous decade, but Superman — yknow the guy with super strength and the ability to fly and outrage a speeding bullet and had super-cool heat vision — was the alpha and omega for me always. And the one thing Man of Steel had going for it early was the music to match its hero. Hans Zimmer, the composer who worked on the scores for Lion King, Gladiator and, yes, The Dark Knight, had the job here. And the music for the MoS trailer was pure Zimmer. Strings and percussion working in sync, one pushing down the pedal while the other handled the stick shift. Picking up speed, picking up speed until throwing us off a cliff and forcing us to fly. Which you did if you were listening and in the mood to fly.

I found the trailer song stripped of the visuals on a dedicated trailer music online forum and had put it on my iPhone sometime in the previous week. I had heard it enough times in that couple of days to know what came next, and my body acted appropriately. My heart beat a little faster. My muscles tensed. Fists clenched. Imagination running wild.

Feet running.

Yes, running. Without thinking much, I went into full sprint down Broadway, passing through the Upper West Side. My legs were the wheels Zimmer’s strings and percussion were driving, my mind they’re engine. Run, run to the danger, to where they need you. You’re no longer Clark. The glasses and trench coat are off. Watch the streets fly by. 98. 97. 96. 94. (Did I miss 95? Whatever.) Be super, man. Now. While you can.

Being a song from the trailer, the music cut out rather abruptly, and removed from my fuel, I did the same. Tsk-tsk-tsk, three steps of brakes. Crashing back to earth, I saw I stopped two feet short of the guy in front of me, who heard me stop and thought I was instead stomping right into him. Seeing me no longer running, he breathed a sigh of relief. I knew what that meant. But my imagination, still flying, allowed me to think he was just happy that a superhero had made it in time.

I clicked play again and flew again and repeated the process down Broadway. Past 72nd St. and the Prohibition-era-hotel-turned-apartment-building where I used to walk a Rottweiler and chocolate lab (great dogs, Shiva and Uma). Past 66th and the movie theaters of Lincoln Center. Past 59th and Columbus Circle, where its namesake stands above all on a literal pedestal. Past 50th and into Times Square, which wasn’t too packed this time of night — a fact I had only previously thought possible at 3 in the morning when I would catch buses to Boston after a shift. All the way down to 42nd. where my final kick ended at the Public Library and with the subway schedule about to change at 11:30ish — Superman might be able to outrun a subway car, but Clark Kent still has a Metro card — I needed to head back home to 106th.

But not after the two-minute process repeated itself for 60-some blocks. Play. Percussion. Strings. Fly. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. Stop. Play.

When the official soundtrack came out, they called the elongated (5:26) version of the song, What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?

Hours and a flight down Broadway earlier, I hadn’t an answer. By 42nd, I had a down payment.

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