Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A Vacation to Remember, Part 1



My wife and I returned Sunday from a one week vacation in New York City and Washington D.C. It may be the last time I'll ever travel far away from home, but I hope it isn't.

I haven't flown many times in my 59 years, but I've always enjoyed it when I have. This time was no exception, despite the choppier than usual flight near Denver on our way home and the baby who kept screaming most of the way there from D.C.

I've written many times in this blog about my learning difficulties. This post from 2007 provides a pretty good overview. As long as I stay cocooned in my house, I don't think or worry too much about my learning problems. I just think about other things instead. But when I go on trips, they are brought into vivid focus.

For instance, on the airplanes, I couldn't make much sense of the demonstrated emergency procedures, and I realized that if I'd had the misfortune of being seated next to an emergency exit, I would have had to relinquish my seat to someone who could open the door in a jiffy if he or she needed to.

But that was nothing compared to figuring out subway and bus routes in New York City. There is no way I could have done that myself and, therefore, no way I could travel to a place like New York City myself unless I was rich enough to have cabs take me everywhere to which I couldn't walk. My wife was the navigator, and I constantly marveled at how easy it seemed to be for her to figure everything out.

I'm not saying she's better at it than most, although I suspect that she is. I'm saying that I'm far, far worse at it than most. The subway and bus routes remained totally incomprehensible to me the whole four days we were in New York City and rode subways and buses all over Manhattan and beyond.

And when we arrived at Union Station in D.C., I was more than overwhelmed by the fare schedules, not to mention the routing of public transit there. For, unlike New York City, where one can ride an MTA bus or subway anywhere in the city at any time of day or night for the same $2.25 fare (which we made even simpler by buying one-week unlimited-ride MTA cards for $29 apiece), in Washington D.C. the amount you pay depends on whether you're riding a bus or train, how far you travel, and what time of day you do it. Even my wife was initially confused by this as we tried to figure out how to get from Union Station to our hotel, and I was hopelessly benumbed by it.

But let me stop talking about my learning deficits and backtrack to our first day in New York City. We landed at LaGuardia Airport and took a cab that we thought would cost us around $60 to get to our hotel a few miles away in New Jersey. It ended up costing us almost twice that. My wife and I were both upset over this, yet, there didn't seem to be anything we could do about it. The price we were charged corresponded to an official looking fare schedule the driver showed us.

I guess the moral of the story is to ask beforehand how much it will cost to get where you want to go from the airport and look for someone who will charge you what your research tells you is a reasonable fare. Or, better still, go online before your trip and try to reach an agreement on the fare with some cab company at your destination, the way I did with the cab that took us from home to the Sacramento airport and back home after the return flight.



After we checked in to our hotel in Fort Lee, New Jersey, we discovered that we couldn't walk to any restaurant or fast food joint nearby, since there was only a freeway and no sidewalks outside the hotel, and we didn't want to pay the exorbitant prices for the food served at the hotel, so we ate complimentary chocolate chip cookies sweet enough to almost gag us and called it a night. But not until we were roused from our room by a fire alarm that necessitated evacuation of all guests from the building for over half an hour while the fire department checked things out and determined that a broken water main to one of the hotel restrooms triggered the alarm and we were allowed back into the hotel.



However, the hotel did provide shuttle service to downtown Manhattan, and we checked out the next morning as scheduled, boarded the shuttle, and made our way to the big city. Now I caught my first glimpse of the New York skyline that I had seen only on TV and in the movies since my only other visit there almost fifty years ago.

Ever since my first visit decades ago, I've held this fascination with the Big Apple that periodically surfaces in dreams or in unusually intense reactions to songs such as "New York State of Mind." Now I was back in the city of my recurring dreams and awed by the skyscrapers and energy of the city. I began to pick out landmarks such as the David Letterman studio and CBS headquarters as we drove past them in the shuttle.



Once we were let off at a hotel (but not our hotel) in midtown Manhattan, I was characteristically clueless and helpless about what to do or where to go next, but fortunately my wife wasn't. She found a subway station pretty quickly, bought us MTA cards from the machine, and figured out which subway train to take and where to get off, and our New York adventure began in earnest.

We were allowed to check in to our hotel early and even eat the complimentary breakfast served there, and then we set off on foot to check out the local terrain. It just so happened that it was Memorial Day, and the weather was so unusually hot and muggy for that time of year that even New Yorkers were complaining, but I guess we were so thrilled with the novelty of our fabled surroundings that we didn't notice the heat so much. At least not until after we'd walked a couple of miles or so to the harbor where we stood in line to take a speedboat ride on New York Harbor. By then I was awfully thirsty and a little tired.



But after baking in the sun in line for what seemed like longer than it was, the speedboat ride cooled us off and provided me with the first of many uncharacteristically patriotic moments.

If you've wasted any time reading this blog or you know me personally, you realize that I'm not the flag-waving, gun-toting, " apple-pie-gorging, America's #1" chest-beating type by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, if I were to wave any flag, it would have to be one of those "Earth flags" adorned with a photo of the whole Earth as viewed from space. Yet, as we sped down the Hudson River and slowed as we passed Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, I was nearly overcome with tears as I imagined how immigrants seeking a better life here in the States must have felt for almost a century when they saw the glorious "Green Lady," as my wife calls her, beckoning them to freedom in a land of plenty. At that moment, I felt tremendous pride in my country.

And there were more such moments to come...

(To be continued)

4 comments:

Thomas Armstrong said...

It is always difficult -- nah, nah, IMPOSSIBLE -- to accept your learning disability problem when you write a blogpost as organized and charming as this one.

I am glad your vacation was very nice and eventful, despite a few frustrating elements. But, hey, New York has to live up to its reputation for being expensive and crowded with brusque N'Yawkers and people from N'Joizey.

For us Califoreigners, it's quite a transition. That is, I suppose that's the case. I've never been east of Kansas City.

Steve said...

If you ever get the chance to travel to NYC, I hope you take it, Tom. I suspect that you would have little to no difficulty negotiating the public transit in a city which, despite its size and population, is remarkably logically laid out in predominately gridlike fashion. At least that's what people say about it even if it's an indecipherable maze to me, and I take them at their word.

The skyline, culture, and a million other things make it an entrancing city and experience. I'll have more to say about this in subsequent posts. And the museums there are amazing. To stand inches away from a famous Van Gough, Rembrandt, Raphael, Picasso, or Monet painting is virtually overwhelming even for an art idiot like myself. Sad to say, you won't find stuff like that at the Crocker, with all due respect to that fine museum in its own right.

Mary Lois said...

Beautiful adventures, Steve! I'm so happy your experience in NYC was good. I know you looked forward to it for years, and you were lucky that your wife was so quick in navigating the transportation systems. I wish you had known what questions to ask me in advance--I would have told you that there is a fee for crossing the state line in a taxi, as you had to do to get to Ft. Lee from La Guardia. It used to be an extra $50, and makes zero sense. I lived in NYC for 15 years, but now that I'm back in the area I still get lost. Things have changed and that includes the subway system. But there is SO MUCH in the city and it sounds as if you made a good start in seeing as much of it as possible in your short visit.

Steve said...

Yes, Mary Lois, I wish I had known what questions to ask too. It would have saved my wife and me a lot of agitation during and after that taxi ride. But it was all worth it to experience what we did during the time we had. I just wish we'd had a lot more, because there were so many other places to go, or so much more time we could have spent in the places we did visit. New York City is an awe-inspiring city!