Former Democratic congressman and likely presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke posts journals of his life, his thoughts, and his travels; only some of those make it to the web. We’ve imagined one that got lost along the way. Welcome to the Beto Diaries.
A four-foot-tall shrimp with an impish grin stares down at me from the third floor of a postwar building at Seventh Avenue and 44th Street. I’m in New York City. Times Square, to be specific. A cacophony of horns and voices and footsteps engulfs me as I stand outside the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. The flash of marquees makes me second guess my Apple watch’s declaration that the current time is 8:14 p.m. But that’s New York for you, the city that never sleeps. I may not sleep tonight either. Tomorrow? Oprah. I’m going to tell Michael B. Jordan that his portrayal of Killmonger moved me more than any film’s antagonist since the original Toy Story.
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The truck and I had driven through the Holland Tunnel and into Lower Manhattan about twelve hours earlier, just before 9 a.m. I didn’t really need to be here that early, but I was anxious to spend some time in the city I once called home. I left the truck in a West Village parking garage, made conversation with the attendant, Manny—he is making his way through night school, wants to be a copywriter, dreams of being the guy who gets to come up with the clever names for nail polish colors. A Good Mandarin is Hard to Find. Teal the Cows Come Home. Clever stuff.
After saying goodbye to Manny, I walked over to the Christopher Street station to grab the 1 train. The ol’ red line. I used to trek down here from Columbia in the days before MetroCards. Nothing but a few subway tokens in my pocket and a heavy book in my hands. Would spend hours walking the streets of the Village or reading in Washington Square Park, taking in the sounds of the city, inhaling the fragrant blend of salty halal, sweet roasted nuts, cigarette smoke, and human urine that wafts through the streets of New York. Back then it smelled like anything was possible.
At 14th Street I decided to switch from the 1 to the L, another line that I remember all too well, the one that shuttled me to and from the loft in Williamsburg where I lived with the guys after college. I remember playing a gig somewhere around here, maybe in 1997. Building used to be an old lip balm factory, but had been requisitioned by a group of traveling fire dancers who would host shows there with nothing but a generator, a couple kegs, and a floor you didn’t have to worry about cleaning beer off of. I wore my favorite LBD that night.
On the walk back to the subway I met a brilliant young woman. She told me her name was Charity. I asked her if it was a family name and she said, “Sort of. It’s my family’s favorite tax loophole.” She wore a smart-looking Barbour jacket and had only recently moved to the neighborhood, having graduated from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study with a concentration in Bitmoji Semiotics. We took a selfie for her Bumble account and said goodbye at the Bedford stop.
I headed west, back into Manhattan, and transferred to the Q train at Union Square, where I gave a couple dollars to a man playing a moving Irish rendition of “Despacito.” He had long, matted hair and was wearing an Olaf t-shirt, which reminded me of my friend Josh Gad, who had been so supportive during the campaign. I made a mental note to check in on Josh once this Oprah thing had worked itself out.
The Q train spits you out right in the heart of things, 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue, and the crowd morphs into a pushy, slow-moving line as everyone tries to free themselves from the throngs. When I felt the cool air hit my cheeks the first thing I did was look up. Caught the eyes of a 20-foot-tall Cuba Gooding Jr. in a advertisement for Chicago. I wonder if that’s why Oprah picked this spot for her “SuperSoul Conversations.” Right under Chicago. Even in New York, you never have to feel that far away from home.