Yesterday, after work, I took the bus to my normal subway station, 57th St/7th Ave, the station I always catch the NQ back home from. But instead of getting on an uptown train home, I hopped on the R train downtown and took it further into Brooklyn than I had ever been.
It was the first step of an adventure.
I’ve always loved larger-than-life stories. Not just fiction, but BIG fiction. Space battles and starships, wizards and knights, superheroes and villains, demons and hells -- the larger, the grander, the more removed from reality, the better. In my last Thought Bubble column, I discussed how Spider-Man allowed us to escape from our everyday lives and imagine not just what it’d be to be a superhero, but to be ourselves and be a superhero. Comic books, fantasy, and science fiction allow us to forget about the constant moral greys of our lives and embrace the simplicity that more-evil-than-evil characters present us with. While the task looming ahead of us may be monstrous and difficult to accomplish -- be it destroying a Death Star or stopping a Galactus -- it is obvious that it must be put down, which is a moral certitude our lives don’t often give us.
Adventure, in a similar way, gives us that escape. We crave adventure, the opportunity to strike out on our own and test ourselves, to see what we’re made of. Our lives rarely offer us that chance outside of waking up, getting ready for work, going to work, coming home from work, seeing friends, and going back to sleep. I know I’ve been wanting an adventure for a while, something apart from my everyday. Even with the entire loud, smelly, busy city of New York filling up my everyday, with a new sight or sound every minute, it can get... not boring, but homogeneous. While my city always has a new celebrity or restaurant or attraction to offer, the constant change still becomes constant, and predictable. I’ve craved something new for a while.
A couple of months ago, I stumbled upon something online called The Bureau of Unknown Destinations. It immediately grabbed my interest. I’ve always looked at train maps with interest, wondering what the end of lines looked like. Airport terminals always fascinate me; all the stories, beginnings, middles, and ends, the where-you’ve-beens and the where-you’re-goings. Everywhere I could go has always held more fascination for me than everywhere I’ve been. It’s all the possibilities, the roads I could go down but never will.
The Bureau of Unknown Destinations seemed to be made for someone like me. The name alone immediately brought to mind a secret underground bunker, black suits, Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. The Bureau was located out in Gowanus, far off the beaten path in Brooklyn (at least for someone from Queens), in something called “Proteus Gowanus”. It was only open certain times throughout the week, and its website was stark, simple, and formal. The only information was its location and when one could expect its doors to be open, all other inquiries had to be sent via email.
I emailed immediately.
After some back and forth, I finally worked out just what the Bureau could do for me, and I for it. They would prepare a package for me. In this package would be a round trip train ticket to somewhere outside the city, a notepad, and a task to do once I arrive. I was to complete the task and report back. All I had to do was get down to the Bureau to pick up my supplies. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it while the Bureau was open, but they had a system set up for such a problem. I was told where I could find my package, and when it would be there. Were I late, they couldn’t guarantee that it’d stay there for long.
So yesterday, after work, I hopped the R line deep into Brooklyn, further then I’ve ever been before. I got off and came above ground to a new part of the city I thought I already knew well, its brick buildings, laundromats, and auto shops at once both familiar and foreign. I checked my map and found myself, and set off to find this Bureau.
The subway steps set me off on a walk passed boarded up factories, abandoned basketball nets, and old garages covered in graffiti; my heart began to sink. I thought I’d been gamed in an elaborate ruse, or worse, being led off to some forgotten Brooklyn lot to be mugged. I wondered how many other Queens residents they’d hooked so far. After passing truck yards, abandoned houses, and even a shell of a car, I arrived at the given address, and found my fears confirmed. All I saw was an empty, boarded up building with a torn blue awning over a weathered door with chipped green paint. I looked around for some sign of life, and finding none, resigned myself to believing in something too good to be true and turned off, dreading the long trip back to my faraway corner of Astoria.
...Until my eye caught a sign hanging off an alley around the back of the building. In twisting half-letters on a swinging metal sign, “PROTEUS GOWANUS” almost seemed to snarl at me. My heart rising again, I hurried over to it and looked down the alley. A brick bridge connected the two buildings on either side of me at the second floor, large puddles rippled from some urban wildlife skimming through them. I saw, halfway down the alley, what the Bureau had told me to look for! Double doors, with a dropbox beside them. I approached them: large, yellow steel doors that opened from the inside, fastened shut, as I had been told they would. And next to them, the dropbox that contained everything I needed to go... somewhere.
I reached forward, looking for a handle or something to pull the box open, but found nothing. I tried pressing my fingers against the side, to pry it open, but found it... locked? They never said anything about it being locked! I cursed out loud. I looked around, for what, I’m not sure. A key, I guess, as there was a keyhole on the door. But I found none.
This was some kind of test. Perhaps I had to find the key, or... find another way in! Yes, of course! I examined the tainted glass set in the middle of the door, dark and opaque. It was too thick to see through, but seemed thin enough to break. I looked around the alley and found half a brick lying some ten feet away. I picked it up, brought it over, lined up my strike, reached back and--
I looked to my right, down to the far end of the alley, deeper in than I had gone already. A woman was standing there, silhouetted by the sun that had begun to set.
“Are you...” The woman reached over to a box on the wall beside her, rifling through its contents, “...Sean Curry?”
“...Yes.” I lowered my brick.
“Oh. Are you looking for this?” She held out a package in a plastic bag. I looked above her, where a second twisting metal sign said, “PROTEUS GOWANUS”. I looked back at what I now realized was an electrical fuse box, and tossed my brick away.
“Yeah...” I stepped my way over to her, between the puddles. “Thanks. Are you with the Bureau?”
“The... Bureau? Of Unknown Destinations?”
“Oh, the project that Sal’s doing? It’s here, but I’m with the art space, Proteus.” In my head, I heard the sound of all my dreams crashing to a heap.
“Oh. Well, I’m...”
“What were you doing with our fuse box?”
“Nothing. Thank you!” I took the package and set off immediately, not looking back. Once I felt safe that I was far enough away to avoid any further questioning by the “Bureau”, I paused for a deep breath. What a fool I’d been! There was no “Bureau of Unknown Destinations”, there was no adventure, it was just some Brooklyn hipster’s art project. Crushed and disappointed, I brought my hand to my face... and in it, saw this:
And all my hopes came rushing back.
I had already started my adventure! It may have been given to me by an artist instead of a wizard or a supervillain or a spaceship, but I was still on it, and all the possibilities I could have, all the roads I could take were suddenly before me again. Upon opening my package this Saturday, I don’t know where it will take me, or what it will have me do. I could end up in upstate New York, Connecticut, Long Island, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania. I could find myself buying a specific item off a specific menu at a specific diner, or buying a specific vegetable at a specific stand just off a specific road. (Strange that my first go-to possibilities both involve food.)
My adventure lies ahead, in the countless possibilities contained within that envelope. The Bureau is doing good work, and I’m honored to be one of its agents. I’ll do my utmost to fulfill all duties and responsibilities inherent in my involvement with the BUD, and report back, both to them and you, in two weeks. Until then, find your excitement in all the possibilities the next fourteen days could hold for you.