I’m in the Starbuck’s on 125th and Adam Clayton Powell (7th Ave) staring over the shoulder of an old toothless guy sitting at the front counter eating his homemade breakfast, poking around in aluminum foil with a plastic fork, and drinking a tall dark roast. I can see a McDonald’s and a Verizon store, and I can observe the foot traffic outside—there’s a bus stop right there—and inside. At this hour, almost 9:00, the inside traffic gets whiter and the outside traffic gets blacker, in a reversal of Sundays at this hour. Dylan is the soundtrack, bleeding into vaguely country music, or plaintive pop, then Steely Dan intrudes, and before I can recover from this blow, Van Morrison reduces me to tears.
What is it I’m mourning? What is it I’m trying to remember? What is it I’m learning to forget? No way to know, not here, not now.
I stop at the Bank of America next door, I get some cash because I plan to buy some beer at the deli on the corner of 7th and 123rd, where you have to pretend you’re a trader in the pit of the Commodity Exchange to make a purchase, it’s all hand signals and coded utterance.
I’m still wondering how the sanitized space of that Starbuck’s could have brought me back to a place I never lived when I look down at the colorful flyers on the counter. One advertises bus service to casinos and amusement parks in the tri-state area, the other advertises Prison Trips in New York State, indeed to every facility, as far as I can tell, except Attica and Riker’s Island (you can get to the latter via public transportation).
I ask the kid behind the counter about the Prison Trips, and he confirms that the pick-up points are in the outer boroughs, at subway stops. He tells me I can take the flyer because everybody around here already knows how to get to the prisons that hold their loved ones.
“People take this bus?” I ask him. “It sounds like a tour.”
“Yeah, it kind of is, you don’t go direct, there are stops on the way, you know, like a bus on the street.” He gestures toward 7th Ave.
“Stations on the fucking cross,” I mumble, but he hears me anyway.
He shrugs and says, “It’s not that bad.” He bags the beer, he looks at me directly. “It’s your family, you know?”