Johnny Hiro

On a Bus to New York

Johnny Hiro: The Skills to Pay the Bills by Fred Chao

Written by Fred Chao

I’m on a Greyhound bus right now, headed up to New York City. You can’t know how excited I am.

I flew into Washington DC to participate in the Small Press Expo and the National Book Festival. I took a quick tour of the Library of Congress where I saw some of E.C. Segar’s original Popeye comics. I went to a writer’s event and listened to some remarkably inspirational speeches about literature. Yet, none of that will compare this brief jaunt up to NYC.

I’ll be there for five days. Obviously, I’m most excited about catching up with friends, finally over beers rather than just through a phone call or text message. But so much of what I’ve been missing is the atmosphere of the city itself, the chaos and wonder that can be interpreted from the tall buildings and crowded streets depending on a person’s mood. When I first moved to NYC, it was daunting, overwhelming. There was a good while where a lot of my experience was vibrant, amazing, and cool. By the end of my seven years, I was exhausted.

Heh. Of course I’m nostalgic for it all now. Typical.

I recently finished working on the second Johnny Hiro book. It’s out of my hands and in the production process. I’m excited to see the book when it’s finally released, flipping through the pages trying not to be overly critical, looking for my mistakes. Just being happy it’s done.

When the first Johnny Hiro book came out, quite a few people asked me how much of it was based on my personal life. I always deflected with a comment like: “Oh yeah, that time I was chased through the streets by a giant lizard.”

In this second book, there’s a giant gorilla. And no, a giant gorilla never kidnapped one of my exes. But really, the giant gorillas and lizards, the chefs smacking each other around with fish, as much as I do think of them as characters, they are also the feel of the city itself, the nuttiness my friends and I were constantly surrounded by.

One of my first jobs in New York was as a cater waiter — not exactly the most encouraging job, but it did pay the bills. I catered Gracie Mansion parties quite often. Bloomberg once complimented me on my dishwashing skills as he walked by. It’s funny, this guy who’s mostly associated with the political, somehow hits as a more personal character in my life. Whether or not I agree with his politics, well, it’s a bit sad knowing that he won’t be hosting Gracie Mansion parties, complimenting the dishwashers.

Brooklyn is changing. Barclays Center is now there. Patrick Stewart lives in Park Slope. Rents have risen like crazy in the Prospect Heights area, there’s no way I can afford it now. I imagine something similar happening to downtown in the ’80s.

I’m also changing. I’m getting older and wanting different things for my life in the long run. As ambitious as I can be, I know I can’t keep up with New York. So I’m deciding on a new direction, still figuring out what that is. But without what the city has put me through, well, I have a hard time believing that my journey so far would have been as affecting, heartbreaking, and fulfilling.

Still, it will be amazing to be back, to see fire escapes, crown molding, stoops, a night sky so drowned out by city lights that there’s barely a star. Just those visuals will activate so much. Those images are associated so tightly with my most growing years.

I wasn’t born in NYC. I will never refer to myself as a New Yorker. But I will always consider the city Home. (Though really, it’d be nice to see a couple more stars. C’mon.)

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2 thoughts on “On a Bus to New York

  1. I love your enthusiasm for NYC. I have been twice, once the weekend before 9-11, and again 4 years later. 2 different cities (another topic perhaps), but both were amazing, a thing of size and place, it exists in its majesty and degradation and you can choose to participate or not (the city will continue quite fine without you). Read Winter’s Tale, read Fortress of Solitude (among many other great NYC books), visit the city and allow yourself to be pulled along by its tidal like forces. Put away your judgements and take a moment to bask in something that Just Is.
    I miss it.

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