One September morning, when the other kids in my neighborhood were on their way to high school, I took a bus to downtown Detroit, went to the train station, and took the first train I could get to New York City. No, it wasn’t a field trip, Iâ€™d made up my mind over the last few weeks to go meet I Ayn Rand. I had $99 in my pocket, and no plan other than to meet the great writer, the great author of the Fountainhead and Atlas shrugged. It wasn’t really an in-depth plan. That was as deep as it got. Go to bus stop, take bus to Detroit, get ticket at the train station for New York City, try to find I Ayn Rand. Although I did not have many clues in my head, I at least knew where to find her. No, it wasn’t her home address. It was the address of the objectivist Institute, which I found in the back of my copy of Atlas Shrugged.
As I look back on this years later, one thing that strikes me is the number of times I should have died during the trip. Even in the late 60s, the world was not exactly a safe place. I wasn’t carrying a cell phone. I didn’t even have a map. My plan was, at least I think it was that when I got to New York I would simply ask someone where the address was. Being that the objectivist Institute was in the basement- or perhaps the subbasement- of the Empire State building it seemed like an easy enough task. However, I did not have money for a cab. So, I had to walk.
Most of my memories of the trip from the New York train station are vague. I have no images to recall that I seem to be able to get my mental hands on, but I do remember a sense of separation. I remember the lack of noise. I assumed that all big cities would be filled with cacophonous noise. But I don’t remember a lot of noise in the area I walk through to get to the center of New York. In fact, many of the streets seemed vacant. Of course, that may have just been benchmarked against my expectations. I may have been expecting thousands of people jam packed together in the streets, so when I didn’t see what I expected by the time I was a few blocks into the city, it probably made the city seem pretty well empty.
Unknown to me, my perception of the city was fairly well true in a way that would have surprised me had I considered it. I really was alone in New York City; I really did not know anyone. If I was attacked, or in any way assaulted who would I turn to for help? Total strangers? It wouldn’t take me long in the Big Apple to realize that most people just did not want to get involved in anything dicey. Or risky.
I learned this the day I saw a lion walking down the sidewalk. No, I’m not kidding. I actually saw it happen. The lion was walking down the sidewalk and New York pedestrians were walking around him as though it was just another person. Occasionally someone would look at the lion, but then they kept walking. I’m fairly certain this sort of thing did not happen on a daily basis. I’m not sure how close the area I was in was to the New York zoo. But I did find it fairly disturbing. But it may help you to understand why it is that the city seemed vacant to me. Most of the people seem to feel more interested in looking at their own reflection in window glass as they passed, then they did looking at their neighbors.
If this sounds to be a harsh assessment, so be it.
The time I was taking this journey, it never occurred to me that I might be in danger. Logically, this was complete idiocy. New York City is not exactly Disneyland. I remember concrete- more than anything else concrete everywhere.
I can’t imagine it is healthy to live in the city such as New York. It is the most unnatural place on earth, except for places such as Toronto Atlanta Los Angeles, etc. Never mind the violent people equipped with firearms knives and you name it. Never mind the drugs and the alcohol. Never mind the perverts and maniacs and grifters. It was the confluence of all of these elements combined with the sordid history of a city with too many buildings, too many people, too much pollution and too much human suffering and violence. Perhaps because of my youth and naiveté, I was unafraid because I was, in a word, stupid. I was on a mission. I admired Ayn Rand’s hero John Gault in her novel Atlas Shrugged. He seemed more logical to me than my friends in high school, to my parents, than my full family, than the neighborhood, and even more sane than the town I had grown up in. Ayn Rand’s characters were the first light of sanity in my young life or so I thought at the time.
My father worked as a postman and our local post office, and when he got off work he also had a washer and dryer repair business. In a word, he seemed terribly uninteresting to me. Hard-working, long-suffering and family-oriented, but boring. I did not want to grow up to be boring—anything but that. My mother, and a bank and took care of us kids. Both of my parents were loving and affectionate. It was no fault of theirs that I became possessed with the idea of taking the train to New York City and walking from the train station to the Empire State building to meet the famous author Ayn Rand. I did not think of it at the time as being a coming of age adventure, but looking back to more mature eyes, that seems to be what it was. But, it really was much more than that.
It was the beginning of my search for the Jesus Road.