L.B.: If you can make it there

L.B.: If you can make it there July 29, 2005

Left Behind, pp. 126-129

Charter pilot Ken Ritz promised to fly Buck Williams to New York City, or as close as he can land. That turns out to be Easton, Pa. Perhaps to distract Buck from the fact that he's getting dropped off 70 miles from the city, Ritz changes the subject:

"You know," Ritz said, "these are the old stompin' grounds of Larry Holmes, once the heavyweight champion of the world.*

"The guy that beat Ali."

"One and the same. If he was still around, whoever was takin' people might've got a knock on the noggin from ol' Larry. You can bet on that."

I'm not sure what he means by "if he was still around." Larry Holmes is still alive and still owns a home in Easton. (And he would never describe himself as "The guy that beat Ali.")

Maybe Jenkins/Ritz is suggesting that the Easton Assassin is a LaHaye-approved, born-again Christian, whisked away in the rapture. If so, this is news to me — and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes was a Big Deal in my church youth group. But Holmes isn't completely out of place in this apocalyptic novel. In 1982, he beat Randall "Tex" Cobb, known to movie fans as the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse. (Holmes won a unanimous decision and took every round, but Cobb never went down. Howard Cosell quit announcing boxing after that fight because it was such a horrible mismatch. And it was a mismatch — a lopsided one-way beating. But still, Cobb never went down. For 15 rounds. There was something glorious about that.)

Buck needed to get from Chicago to New York, and in just about 24 hours, after spending more than $1,500, he has managed to fly from Waukegan to Easton (which is also, by the way, home of The Crayola Factory — 64 different shades of cool). He really should have just commandeered a rapture-victim's car and driven.

Here the travel narrative becomes difficult to follow. Jenkins is as obsessed as ever with the logistics of planes, trains and automobiles, but the rest of Buck's journey seems to take place in an alternate geography in which the subway goes all the way across New Jersey and the island of Manhattan is 30 miles long.

Buck learns that travel into New York City will not be easy:

"No cars in or out of the city yet, and even the trains have some kind of a complicated route that takes them around bad sites. … Some of the worst disasters in the city were the result of disappearing motormen and dispatchers. Six trains were involved in head-ons with lots of deaths. Several trains ran up the back of other ones. It'll be days before they clear all the tracks …"

This is, of course, the last we hear about these "lots of deaths" on the trains of New York. Buck's trip into the city will take him right by these sites of mass carnage ("lots" here probably means not hundreds, but thousands), but he will be too busy writing his report on his laptop to look out the window and actually see any of this or to describe it for the reader.

Someone identified only as "personnel in Easton" says he knows "a guy that can get [Buck] within a couple of miles of the subway." Then, we're told, Buck pays a "premium for a ride close enough to the train that he could walk the rest of the way. … A two-mile walk got him to the train platform at about noon, only to find himself among the last half who had to wait another half an hour for the next train. The zigzag ride took two hours to get to Manhattan …"

It's impossible to make any sense of this. The NYC subway does not cross the Hudson, let alone extend all the way across New Jersey to Easton. You can't even get an Amtrak train in Easton. The nearest train to New York is probably NJ Transit's Raritan Valley Line — Easton is only 20 miles or so from the High Bridge station (why he'd get dropped off two miles away is not explained).

So Buck catches the train there and — despite a complicated, zig-zag alternative route, which I don't understand how a fixed rail train could take — gets to Manhattan in two hours. This is pretty amazing, considering that this train usually takes more than two hours just to get to Newark, where you've got to transfer to the Path to get into the city. So maybe Buck's premium cab ride actually took him all the way across New Jersey to within two miles of Penn Station in Newark?

As difficult as that is to make sense of, what happens next is even more confusing. Buck gets off the train in Manhattan, from there: "Buck calculated about a fifteen-mile walk to his office and another five to his apartment." The island of Manhattan is about 13 miles long and Penn Station is maybe three miles from the southern tip. So the Global Weekly offices, apparently, are somewhere in the Bronx, and Buck's apartment is — who knows? New Rochelle, maybe?

In any case, it's a heck of a walk. Despite his being "in great shape," Buck is soon sweating and panting.

"Oh, God , help me," Buck breathed, more exasperated than praying. But if there was a God, he decided, God had a sense of humor. Leaning against a brick wall in an alley in plain sight was a yellow bicycle with a cardboard sign clipped to it. It read, "Borrow this bike. Take it where you like. Leave it for someone else in need. No charge."

Only in New York, he thought. Nobody steals something that's free.

I love the idea of community bike programs, but I wasn't aware that New York had one. The ad hoc cardboard sign here suggests that this bike isn't actually part of a formal program — that L&J intend it as a sign from God, an answer to Buck's exasperated prayer.

Buck has already stood unscathed at ground zero as millions of kilotons of nuclear weapons exploded over his head, so it's no surprise that he is unimpressed by the timely convenience of this bit of divine providence: "He thought about breathing a prayer of thanks, but somehow the world he was looking at didn't show any other evidence of a benevolent Creator."

Aboard this karmic two-wheeler, Buck soon "cruised into midtown between the snarl of wreckage and wreckers." So he gets off the train at Penn Station, walks for many miles, rides a bike several more miles, then arrives in midtown Manhattan. In the geography of LB, Manhattan is a Moebius strip or an Escher staircase.

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