This is the second part of an ongoing story. The first part can be found here.
The morning of February 18th dawned bright and fresh, full of possibilities the way only a Saturday can be. I had set my alarm for 9 a.m., to get an early start on my adventure, but found myself awake for longer than I could recall by 8:30. So excited for the day's journey was I that I forgot all about the package that actually held my destination until my phone went off, its vibrations muffled by the thick envelope it was resting on. I hammered at the buzzing buttons until the noise stopped; I was too anxious to get to my ticket to waste time with worrying whether I had hit "Stop" or "Snooze" (Fifteen minutes later, I dropped my glass of water when a louder alarm informed me I had hit "Snooze".). I tore open the envelope, and its contents tumbled out into my lap. They were:
As some questions were answered, more arose. Where was Beacon? What was there, and what was I to do there? Why had this destination made itself known, and not some other? I thought I'd examine my materials more closely, in the hopes that more answers would be provided. Inside the notebook, I found the first two pages with print, the rest left blank. On the first was a space to write my destination, my name, and whether I'd like to be kept anonymous or not when my journey was added to the project. I wrote "Beacon" and "Sean & Kelly", who was my traveling partner on the trip. We agreed to allow our names to be used. On the second page was a set of instructions:
The first two instructions were fairly simple and straightforward, but the third confused us. "Collect a word"? Would there be a word there that we had to find, or a specific pass phrase that would unlock another task? I emailed, asking for clarification, and was told that I had to discover what that meant for myself. "Collect a word" meant any word. There was no wrong answer, unless I thought of one, and suddenly, I found working without restraints infinitely harder and more daunting than even the tightest set of rules. It's far easier to answer someone else's question than to pose your own. But then again, that's what adventures are all about.
The first stop on our journey was for supplies and supplications. As journeymen of old had to first water and feed their horses, so to did we need to replenish our own stores. After a solid breakfast and a stop at CVS for Gatorade and candy bars, we took the N train to the 4 train and got off at Grand Central Terminal. I had been here many times, but had never taken an inter-city train from it. It was a first for both of us. After another stop for a second breakfast of sorts (I saw a blueberry crumble muffin and couldn't stop myself) and a stroll through one of the grandest, most historic transit hubs on the east coast, we made it to our train and set off for the unknown.
The ride was long, but uneventful. We read and played Tetris. One of us got blueberry crumbs all over the seats, the other wondered how more of a muffin could end up on a seat than in a mouth. We traveled north along the Hudson, passing the Palisades cliffs and West Point Academy on the far shore, skirting around Bear Mountain as it loomed over us. Finally, we made Beacon.
We got off to find the day had grown gloomier, with a threat of rain in the air. The Hudson River stretched north and south before us, an industrial town on its far shore. As the train pulled away, we saw the other side of the tracks: rows and rows of identical condominiums, bare trees, large parking lots. We breathed a sigh of acceptance, and decided to check out the river and its shores first. We found a small, empty nature park with a community center, kayak storage, and a strangely shaped concrete dock.
We explored further and, while it was interesting, we concluded it was far more full of life in warmer months. Its bulletin boards and community postings confirmed our suspicions: there were pictures and fliers from previous and upcoming events, but few things occurred after October or before April. We had missed a farmers' market by a day, but other than that, the park seemed largely unused. The kayak supports lay bare, the unusual concrete dock empty and unused. We climbed over it, walked along the shore, picked through underbrush and climbed some trees, but found more of what we already had seen. Scenery worth taking in during the spring and summer that loses a bit of its luster in these winter months.
With something like disappointment threatening to set in, we looked for a new direction to explore, to make the trip worth all the hype I had built up over it. We saw a church steeple jutting up behind some trees on a far hill, and decided to see the rest of the building it was attached to. As we made out way to it, we passed the identical condo rows and were surprised to find much more eclectic houses beyond them. Soon, we even saw people, teenagers, and before long, a welcome sign: "Fresh Local Ice Cream!"
We quickly forgot about the steeple and set off to make some scoops of ice cream our own. We were disappointed to find the ice cream shop closed for the season, but extremely intrigued to see "Tito Santana's" a few storefronts down. The storefronts continued past that, and we saw we had arrived at the part of Beacon, NY, worth seeing: Main Street. We vowed to stop back at Tito's for burritos before we left, and ventured further into this new community.
What we found was a pleasant, quiet town full of artists and the delightfully weird people that gathered around them. There was a glass-blowing shop that sold dancing penguins to hang in your window. A hot dog and burger joint had a comic collector's prized possessions proudly on display. There was a shop that sold fluorescent sculptures done in plastic, a Chinese restaurant, "New Fu Xing Chinese", that I'm sure was named as a joke, and a large warehouse covered in beautiful graffiti murals. Handmade cutouts of strange little men peered from the edges of the road, behind bushes, and from the sides of buildings. A band warmed up for a high school fundraiser in a community center recommissioned from an old church.
And throughout all of these shops, galleries, and restaurants, a supportive thread of community was laced. I saw the same posters for the same shows in each shop’s window, the same handouts for local centers on each counter top, and the same fundraiser raffle tickets being advertised and offered everywhere I looked. Beacon supported itself, it stood with its neighbors and helped them out. Everyone was proud to be a part of this community, and proud that others were proud of it, too.
We reached the end of Main Street as darkness began to set in, and turned back around. Our trip back down the strip was quicker -- most shops had closed up, and we had seen it all already anyway. We stopped at Tito’s on our way out, and made it inside just as a light rain began to fall. While munching our burritos, we thought more on what “collect a word” meant, on what we wanted it to mean. We decided there must be a word that could capture the essence of this town, one word that would encapsulate this town and what it means to live there.
The more we thought on it, however, the more we found this task impossible. There were too many words. Each covered a part of the town; some parts significant, some parts overlapping between words, but nothing truly captured every important part of Beacon. It was Kelly’s idea that gave us the direction we needed: find all the words Beacon is, then the one that is none of them. The word that we would collect would be the one word that doesn’t describe Beacon.
We began to brainstorm words that were appropriate, the alleviated pressure providing us with greater freedom. “Community”, “artistic”, and “local” all quickly came to mind. “Graffiti”, “mural”, and “crafty” came soon after as we replayed the day’s events, along with “walkable”, “independent”, “friendly”, and “colorful”. We filled up a page in our notebook with more ideas, but still couldn’t find a word that was none of those.
We finished our burritos, paid Tito, and went on our way. The train came, we went home, and back to our everyday lives. We were enriched for the journey, but I still felt a longing to strike out again. To live everyday like the one before it won’t do for me anymore. I’m afraid I’ve developed a taste for the uncommon, and can’t let it go.
And there it is, the answer to our word collection.
I set out on this adventure for a break from the run of the mill, the everyday occurrences. While I originally believed I was going to be disappointed, I was pleasantly surprised as the day went on and I opened my mind to what could happen. It was when I stopped trying to force the day to be something it wasn’t, and just accepted the day for what it was, that I had the most fun. When I finally allowed Beacon, NY to take me out of my common everyday, I found what I had been looking for. The one thing Beacon isn’t is common. The same can be said about all good adventures.