New York, New York

Hello,

There are no such things as time machines.  You can’t really go back.  Or, can you?   Friends asked if I was excited about my upcoming trip to NY/NJ.    Not really I replied.  I tend not to get excited until it gets close enough to pack.   Ask me the question too far ahead of time and the plans seem unreal as if they don’t exist.

Once I had to go on a business trip.  It was a one day deal: fly in, participate in a meeting, then come home the next day.  I was pretty excited about it.  I was young and the trip made me feel important.  I was so excited that I developed a migraine on the way to the airport, had to quickly find some Ibuprofen and then lay back in the car until the pain subsided.  Fortunately I had plenty of time before my flight.  That was a long time ago.   I’ve flown lots since then.  I still like to fly but have matured some so my excitement is more subdued.

I really like going to the airport and flying.  It’s always more exciting getting ready to fly and navigating the airport than the flight itself though.   It’s a lot of excitement mingled with a lot of inconvenience.  I forgot that you have to remove your belt, empty your pockets and take off your shoes.  Then my sweater obstructed the x ray machine’s view so I had to be patted down.  Fortunately it was above the waist and only took a second.   Then the bag that I thought was the perfect size for the overhead compartment had to be stowed away.  Fortunately I didn’t have to pay anything.  If I did it would have cost quadruple what I paid for the luggage.

Once you board and take your seat you remember how cramped and uncomfortable it is.  You don’t care though because you’re on a plane and that to me is too cool.   No matter how uncomfortable it is to make it through the flying process I always look forward to doing it again.

I took my seat and buckled in.  I’m a rule follower so I turned off my cell phone and made sure my seat and tray were in the correct position.  I always hate it when I look around and see people doing the opposite of the instructions that they were just given.  Then the flight attendant has to talk to them as though they were children to get them to comply.  I half expect to hear the disobedient passengers whine “Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy” when asked to turn off all electronic devices.

I boarded about the same time that the flight was scheduled to takeoff.  I knew that the delay could be compensated for once we reached the proper altitude.  We had already been sitting for about 20 minutes when the pilot’s voice brought the news.  They always seem to have the voice of a psychiatrist or hypnotist about to put you into a state of alternate consciousness.

Good afternoon ladies and gentleman and blah, blah, blah.   It seems that Andre (or whatever his name was) was late bringing the additional fuel we needed so unfortunately we’ve lost our place in the line for takeoff.  Tower tells us that it’s going to be about an hour and 20 minutes before takeoff.  JFK is having some weather so it’s all flights not just ours.  But we’re gonna see if we can’t find some way around this folks.

When he said he was going to try to find a way around the delay I wondered what he had in mind.  I don’t think our CRJ900 was capable of vertical takeoff.   Maybe he planned to drive around the other planes and cut in front of one.  Eventually, exactly 80 minutes later we did in fact take off.  After allowing us to turn our electronic equipment back on I used my phone to text my brother about the delay.   In the meantime I had to kill 80 minutes.   There were copies of Skymall and some other magazine in the pouch in front of me.  I tend to wear my reading glassed on a neck cord but when I reached for them they were not there.  I had not packed them either.  Funny but I did remember to put my cleaning cloth in my pocket but forgot the glasses.  So much for reading.   Thankfully I remembered my iPod.  I squinted at the screen and went through just about every song by the time we took off.

I had a window seat.  I always try to get it if I can.  I really like seeing everything become miniature as we ascend into the clouds.  It’s easy for me to forget that I’m actually way above the surface of the earth when I fly.  Even though I have somewhat of a fear of heights, it never bothers me in a plane.   Even bumpy flights don’t really scare me unless there is a sudden, drastic drop in altitude.  I can’t say I enjoy that.

The flight attendant brought a variety of soft drinks and 2 minuscule pouches of peanuts.  I didn’t know they could be made that small.  The rest room was small that the bag of peanuts I soon found out.  I did not remember them being that cramped.  When I opened the door everything was right there.  And I do mean right there.  There was barely enough room to turn around.  It gave me an insecure feeling wondering if the occupied sign was really proof that the door was locked.  If not, someone was in for a big surprise if they attempted to access the rest room right now.  I have dresser drawers more spacious that this room.

When I arrived at JFK and saw my niece and nephews this really was the beginning of feeling like I’d been a time machine.   Sometimes history is about a place as much as it is about a time.  Just going back to somewhere you haven’t been for a while alters reality.   The kids had done 4 years of growing since I’d been with them last.  I’d gone back in time but they had moved forward.  Such a conundrum.

There never seems to be enough time to do all that we plan.  One day I hope to retire and be able to spend most of my time travelling.  You who have followed my blog already know how badly I want to do this.  Since losing Fawn, it’s one thing that I dwell on and look forward to.

The next morning I was to take the train into Manhattan and see what I could see.   When you live in a rural area for many years and then return to the city, it can be a bit daunting.   I had not navigated the subway system for quite some time.  It had changed just enough for me to feel like a fish out of water.   I was accustomed to  knowing exactly where I was going when I lived there.  I’d gone to schools both in Brooklyn and Manhattan by bus and train so it was nothing new but it had been a very long time.

I stood on the ride toward the station where I was to change trains.  Even if I wanted to sit there were no empty seats.  I watched the signs posted on the station walls to make sure I didn’t miss my stop.   I tried not to look like a tourist either.  My camera case hung over my shoulder but underneath my sweater.  When you are accustomed to the subway you develop something like sea legs.  After a while you no longer need to hold onto the poles or lean against anything to maintain your balance.  It was something like riding a bike.  At first I lost my footing a couple of times but after a few minutes my train riding balance came back to me.  I think I fit in fairly well.  The last thing you want to do though is to look as though you don’t know where you’re going by looking at the maps on the wall.  That’s a dead give away.

Finally we pulled into the station and as we did my transfer was pulling in on the other track.  I tried to spot the letter of the next train to make sure it was the correct one. I saw the large D and dashed through the closing doors.  Now I was on my way to Manhattan.  Looking out the widows I could see all the familiar graffiti that covered most of the walls along the way.

Once I reached my stop it was very much like entering another world.  I rose up from the steps of the station into the chaos of the city.  It was a busy day in New York and almost overwhelming at first until I acclimated myself and relied upon long buried city instinct.  I took a few minutes and I really felt like a tourist at first.  It disturbed me that I felt that way.  After all this was my town.  I am a true native, not a transplant.   I was born and raised in Brooklyn and will always have it in my blood.  I’d walked the streets of Manhattan a million times from the time I was a child.  Trips to Radio City, Rockefeller Center, the Statue of Liberty, the Museum of Natural History were all part of my upbringing.  I was no stranger to this place and yet it was so different.

I guess I couldn’t have planned it any better.  I was directly across the street from Ground Zero.   Manhattan had always been a busy place but with it being a work day and construction everywhere it was a bit intimidating at first and a bit surreal.  It is the first time I had been there since 911 and everything was different.  It was difficult to believe that the two landmarks whose construction I had observed were now gone.   In New York there is a mixture of old and new architecture and history is everywhere.  You can feel it under you feet.  Events from the past are covered up by new buildings and people but you can still hear the voices calling out to remind you that the old will never completely be swallowed up by the new.

My head was spinning as I tried to get into the flow of the rhythm that is NYC.   If you aren’t with the flow you are against it and can be knocked and shoved out of the way in a heartbeat.  I wanted to pull out my camera but standing still was not an option until I made my way into the outer doorway of a hotel.  I needed to get my bearings.  I found my camera and prepared to take a few shots but of what I hadn’t decided.   I stumbled upon the 911 tour center and found that a tour was about to start in about 20 minutes.  I waited in line for my ticket along with locals and visitors from far away places. I could hear German being spoken and every other accent you can imagine.

When the time came we were directed to walk several blocks to the place where the tour would start.  As we made our way through what seems like an never ending roped off area we were required to show our tickets multiple times.  Along the way we were guided into a room that was much like airport security.  It was exactly like airport security.  The gray trays and body scanners were the same and we had to empty our pockets and remove belt and shoes.  After that we went back out side and continued winding through the web of a route toward Ground Zero.

When I was packing my bag I almost threw in a small umbrella but decided it wasn’t going to rain.  As if I could know.   When leaving my brother’s apartment I almost asked to borrow an umbrella just in case but once again decided it would not rain.  Again, as if I could know.  Naturally as I waited in line now it began to rain.  It was just a light rain but I envied those who brought their umbrellas.  The next time I will listen to the still, small voice that told me to bring mine.  I was thankful that it did not rain hard enough to worsen my regret.

Eventually we made it to the two reflecting pools build on the sites of the two towers.  Along the ledges of the pools are etched the names of all who were lost.  There is a solemnness that takes over as you glance at the names and watch the water cascade into the center of the pools.  So much life lost, so much evil to do such a thing, so much politics, so many broken hearts.   I tried to take a “selfie” but am not very adept at it.  I always look angry when I do.  I was not comfortable asking any strangers to take my picture although I realize it’s common to do so.  More than the site itself, I was interested in the expressions and comments of the other people who were there.   I have documented my own 911 experience and memory in a previous post which you may read if you like.

There are computers on the site where you can punch in a name of someone and the machine prints out a card with a map showing where along the reflecting pool you may find the the etched name.  I typed in Mazza and found that there was indeed a first responder who was killed in the tragedy.  I wondered if we were related.  That is something I will research another time.

I lingered at the site for a while then, being pressed for time, moved on.  I walked back toward my starting point toward the old Trinity Church, full of history and graves from long, long ago.   From there I walked down Wall street making my way past the Trump building and into Tiffany’s Jewelry store paying homage to one of my favorite films, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Even though I was not hungry I felt obligated to eat street cart food.  If you go to NYC and don’t eat food from a street vendor you haven’t really visited NY.   Many people talk about how expensive it is to eat in NY but they don’t know what they are talking about.  They obviously went to tourist traps and fancy hotel restaurants.  I bought the biggest soft, hot pretzel I’ve ever seen for three bucks and ate it as I went along, NY style.  With mustard of course.   I threw a bit away and later regretted not saving it for the squirrels and pigeons.

I headed down toward the water.   When my mom took me there as a kid I did not realize that the South Street Seaport was in Manhattan.  A child only recalls that there was a train and maybe a bus and then a lot of walking.  Well I didn’t make it all the way to the port as my feet and legs were getting tired and it was an uphill walk back to where my tour began.  I did get to walk out onto a boardwalk of some kind and get a glimpse at a couple of the ships as well as a nice view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Next I headed back toward Trinity Church.  That was my point of reference to keep from getting lost.   Time for more street food.  This time is was a Knishe.  If you have never had one you have been deprived out of one of NY’s greatest snacks.  I know it was the real thing when the vendor asked if I wanted mustard.  Of course, was my reply as I watched her slice it open and slather the inside with the gold brown stuff that would complete the taste.   She wrapped it in foil with and end open.  You don’t stand still when eating street food, you keep walking.

I was tempted to next indulge in a hot dog but was pretty full and knew we would likely be going out to dinner that evening.

It doesn’t have to be a special occasion and there doesn’t have to be anything unusual going on for there to be bus loads of tourists and studentss roaming the sidewalks and today was no different.  The already busy city was full of people heading every which way.

At that point I was pretty weary and almost headed for the subway.   But, it was still early and I ventured further not sure where I was headed.  I saw a sign indicating the direction of the Carlton Ritz hotel and thought it might be fun to see so I headed in that direction.  Couldn’t find it but instead found myself in Battery Park which gave me a nice view of Ellis Island as well as the Statue of Liberty.  Took a couple of photos and then strolled into the park where I encountered people dressed as the Statue.  At first I didn’t get the point as they didn’t seem to have any wares to sell.  Then I realized they were pushing the boat ride ad tour of the Statue.    I’d been to the island many, many times, all the way to the top of the the Statue.  It was a bit pricey and would have taken too long or else I might have been tempted to make the climb but instead I settled for a few photos.  Later I found that it was closed until Independence day.

Continuing my walk through the park I saw a man with squirrels climbing all over him!  Now only a few people know how much I love squirrels.  Fawn and my kids know and now that I’ve shared photos most everyone knows.  They are my favorite animal.   So after the man walked off I stood by the fence where he had been and the squirrels came.  I wished I’d kept part of the pretzel and would have probably gotten another one but was getting tired.  A passing tourist offered to take a picture of me and one of the many squirrels so I handed him my camera.  I figured if he was a camera thief I am still capable of chasing him and taking him down even though I hoped not to have to.    He clicked off 3 pictures and I offered to reciprocate but he apparently wasn’t interested in being covered with squirrels.

After walking around just a few more minutes I was worn out.  I headed to the train now having figured out the way to my mom’s place.  This time the train was relatively sparse and I was glad to see empty seats.
As I sat I saw several high school students, some sitting alone and some in small groups.  It reminded me of my high school days.   The guys were all wearing either a Brooklyn Tech jacket or hoodie.  I was tempted to go over to them and tell them that I had graduated from Tech 37 years ago but figured they probably wouldn’t care and besides that Tech graduates are probably all over Brooklyn so I wouldn’t be very much of a novelty unless I’d gone on to win the Nobel prize or write a book.   There are too many famous people who attended Tech and I had no exciting stories to share.

After resting a bit I took another stroll on the avenue before dinner with the specific purpose of grabbing an Italian ice as it would probably be my last opportunity.  This is another treat that you probably have never heard of or had before.   I knew we’d be eating dinner soon but had to have that ice so I went ahead and have no regrets.

Well there was a bit more to the trip but it will only be of interest to me.  The next time I go back I hope to stay longer and see more of the sites that I missed this time.  I hope you enjoy the little bit of what I’ve shared.

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