A Bridge and Tunnel Holiday

by Amanda McLoughlin

There’s a phrase some city kids use to describe the suburban teenagers that flock to New York City on weekends: “bridge-and-tunnel kids.” It means uncool, unwelcome, poser, trying too hard. City kids head to subway stations and bus stops at the end of the night, but the B&T crowd retreats to the uncompromising fluorescent light of Penn Station to wait for the next train home.

I’ll be tracing that same route again this week as I head home for the holidays, shuffling along 34th Street and down into Penn Station with the rest of the Christmas Eve crowd. I’ll probably run into old classmates or their parents, and almost certainly a former coach or teacher. It’s so strange to be a commuter now, heading east at the end of the day while packs of giddy teenagers hop westbound trains into Manhattan.

I wonder if they feel as insecure as I did — if they feel most alive on weekends; if they dress carefully before leaving; if they try to lose their past when they emerge above ground to glorious city chaos. I remember so vividly how I yearned to stay. I fantasized about taking the steps two at a time into one of the brownstones I’d walked by hundreds of times, unlocking three or four locks with old-fashioned-looking brass keys, and then perching on my fire escape or window-seat to gaze down at the people hurrying home to unglamorous houses.

Now that I do have an apartment (for the record: yes to the fire escape, no to the window-seat, and two locks, not four), it’s my childhood home that feels glamorous.

As you read this I am most likely staring lovingly at the washing machine and stretching out on the full-sized couch. I’ll marvel at how much taller my youngest brother and sister have gotten (16 now and driving!) and talking with my college-age brother about his classes and plays. However uncool the suburbs once seemed, they have the distinct advantage of housing my family, so for at least a few weekends per year I still call them home.

I’ll enjoy a Long Island bagel on Christmas morning (yes, there’s a difference), exchange presents, watch hours of football, and go to the movies with a few dear friends from the bridge-and-tunnel days. Soon after I’ll start the long trek back to my city home, lugging a presents-filled tote onto the train, the subway, the bus, and into my little walk-up studio. I’ll dump the bags on my couch, toss off my shoes, and sprawl out on my bed.

My ears will ring with the quiet, and in that moment I’ll feel acutely alone without those seven other people laughing and shouting around me. But then the ringing will fade, and I’ll start to notice the familiar hum of my fridge and hiss of my heater and rumble of the water pipes: the kind of city sounds for which I once yearned. I’ll wonder, as I always do, how it is that I can call two places home, and how I can feel sad to have left one and grateful to return to the other with the very same breath. I’ll wonder if this is the life I’ve always wanted or just the one I felt compelled to build.

But then I’ll remember that my heart isn’t torn — it just belongs to two places. Home is always just a bridge or tunnel away.

Amanda McLoughlin is a writer from New York with a day job in finance. Find her on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube.

Photo: MTA

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