what a difference two hours and fourteen minutes makes (musings on the nature of four am)Posted: August 5, 2009
The city is a different place at four in the morning.
It’s oddly serene; street lights seem to be at their dimmest and streets at their emptiest and it’s the precarious hour between the alcohol or shenanigan-induced fervor of the hours between twelve and three, and the slow rise to another day of work, the steady crescendo of traffic and noise that begins at the hour of five. It’s a nice reprieve from the whole big city lifestyle, one grows so accustomed to the polluted stench of the air and the constant roar of engines and human life at its most active that seeing streets so empty and hearing the sweet sound of nothing occasionally accented by a ten-second roar of an automotive passing you by is slightly unnerving, but wholly refreshing. A new perspective, if you will, an odd familiarity coupled with a striking feeling that Something is different.
The night before this, I fell asleep watching some sitcom from decades since past at around two in the morning. I woke up two hours later, teetering between sleepwalking and consciousness to send someone off to Somewhere Else. In that oddly lucid state, I stared out of a car’s window and watched the pavement shift among shades of street light orange, that rare color that only occurs in the nighttime hours of a light-polluted city, listening to the car traverse every little bump in the road, that constant thud, thud, thud, that rings into your ears when driving over a highway. The air outside is as close to fresh as one can achieve after decades of daytime pollution, it’s slightly humid as all summer nights are. Minuscule details become the only thing relevant, a trait found in excess in places one would call quaint, but is so delightfully rare in the urban sprawl.
Twenty-four hours after, I find myself at an Always Open Restaurant clutching a menu advertising pancakes, sitting beside and across from two close friends and looking outside of the glass of a hand-smudged window. It’s four in the morning, again, and I end up musing on the same matters from twenty-four hours past, though my sense of time had distorted it to what seemed like forty-eight. ‘From inside, it doesn’t quite look like it’s four in the morning, huh?’ one of them brings up, off-hand. A car passes every two minutes or so, a pedestrian every fifteen and a waiter every twelve. Rather than try and keep up with the busy atmosphere of the breakfast, lunch, or dinner rush, those doomed to while away the hours of the graveyard shift do so with idle conversation, impromptu games of waitstaff versus kitchen chess and the occasional entertainment of customers of either the outwardly lonely man or group of young folk with empty stomachs and a why-not attitude concerning food at seemingly random hours.
It’s six or so in the morning right now, and I’m running on two hours sleep from two nights before, and the vestiges of energy from a nap somewhere in between. I’m in Someone Else’s house, with Someone Else’s cat staring at me from an old wicker chair. They’re currently asleep and I’m currently hijacking their couch, resting a laptop that’s not mine on recently washed jeans. There’s the sound of chirping birds outside and light begins to fill more of the air, signaling the ever-increasing activity always found in a place like this. The fugue of city life begins anew, the too-short section of calm strings gives way to the gradual presence of overbearing horns and percussion, the maestro of it all being the rise of the sun.
Maybe I should watch it.