Bye bye Boston MA, hello Utica, NY

8 05 2015
Not sure when that will be...

Not sure when that will be…

What’s in Utica, NY? Meh… nothing, really. It just seemed like a useful place to stop and spend the night as we high-tail it west. On a map it looks like it’s at dead center of the state.

We’re due in Topeka, Kansas on Sunday afternoon for a barbecue, so between now and then the mission is to make ourselves scarce in these here eastern parts. Crossed over the Hudson River on I-90 yesterday afternoon and are now truly in the wild west. Stay tuned – this is where the adventure starts.

??????????????

The Hudson separates Yankee civilization (on the right) from… everything else out there (on the left).

Advertisements




Welcome to… a different world.

11 09 2011

The second Tuesday in September started innocuous enough. I was in the British countryside, west of London, along with about 20 colleagues, attending a course on working in hostile environments and battlefield first aid. Too many newspeople had perished while covering wars past, and the company I worked for thought it a wise investment to train its journalists in basic survival so that in the future more would come home from those environments unscathed.

Just in case.

Because the next war was bound to break out, sometime, somewhere.

An excerpt from the list of topics to be covered.

We learned things like: What kind of damage automatic weapons can do to cars, oil drums and humans; How to spot a sniper, and a tripwire; How to make a water filter using only materials found in nature; What an armed ambush feels like, and how to survive a kidnapping; Why a camera lens can sometimes look like a shoulder-held rocket-propelled-grenade at distance.

The course was a week long and I had decided to tack on a vacation to New York City and points north immediately thereafter. So I booked my flight from Heathrow to JFK on United Airlines for the following Saturday.

On that week’s Tuesday afternoon we were out in the woods, standing in mud up to our ankles. The assigned task was to practice negotiation skills. Our teachers had dressed up as hostile natives hell-bent on hindering our work at least, or murdering us for our expensive equipment. The overcast sky broke to a fine English drizzle and during a pause in the action a few of us took shelter in one of the vehicles. That was when the first SMS came from New York.

It was so absurd that we thought it was some kind of joke.

“What a brilliant idea,” one of my colleagues said. “But impossible.”

Four filthy, cynical journalists sitting in a Land Rover in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere, 3,000 miles from New York City, could not believe the audacity of flying a plane into the World Trade Center.

While calmly picking clumps of mud out of the treads of my hiking boots with a twig, I scoffed that no aviation routes even go anywhere near Manhattan… so that must have been some dumb pilot. Or just a tragic accident.

We turned on the car’s radio to see if the BBC had the story, and heard that a second airliner had just slammed into the second building.

Ah. No accident. No dumb pilot.

And suddenly our hostile environment training did not seem so theoretical anymore.

Four days later, I sat in one of the first aircraft permitted to re-enter U.S. airspace from abroad. Upon landing at JFK, a flight attendant announced our arrival over the intercom. Ten years later, I still get a lump in throat and my eyes tear up when I think of it.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to….. The United States of America.”

The entire cabin erupted in cheers and tears. We were on home soil, and we were safe.

As the plane taxied off the runway to its parking position, a white plume of smoke continued to rise from Ground Zero into the cobalt blue sky. Lower Manhattan was still burning.

It was September 15th, 2001 –  and the world as we knew it was history.

**********

A cloud of smoke where the towers used to be.

A piece of a steel skeleton.

The destruction through the window of a city bus.

Guard duty at Ground Zero.

The impromptu memorial at Union Square.

NOTE: All photos are my own, taken on September 16th and 17th, 2001.





56 hours in bedlam

12 04 2011

As the Amtrak Keystone Service train slid along the tracks northward, I prepared myself for my 2-day New York City visit by trying to recall details from the time I lived there, in 1991-92.

20 years ago? Lord.

Somehow all I came up with were a couple of big blanks across my consciousness. Nothing more than a few fuzzy scenes of alleged ivy league glory. I was a graduate student, and I literally rode to hell and back in an academic year. There is nothing more to tell.

The distant skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan slipped into view…wow, that was quick… it seems like we just left Philadelphia. (It’s this close?) On the New Jersey Turnpike this trip seems to take a lot longer than by train.

We passed towns I know well from those Turnpike exits: Rahway, Elizabeth, Harrison; inching ever closer to that biggest of Apples. Planes approached the south end of Newark airport’s runways, Path trains on neighboring tracks waited for their scheduled departures. Buildings moved closer, emerging from the blue haze, their edges becoming sharper. Unlike my memories.

The biggest apple (core).

Once in the city, it took me less than five blocks to remember why I left New York all those years ago, and only ever come back to visit. If I had to live here again now, the city would eat me whole. For breakfast.

Recently I met a non-native New Yorker who has lived in the city for almost 20 years. She told me that her New York is actually just a small part of it. It’s not the whole megalopolis, from Staten Island to the Bronx, from the Hudson to Long Island Sound, but rather a tiny corner of it in which she lives, works, shops, breathes and exists. She said that the entire city all at once can be overwhelming, even for someone who lives there… every person must carefully and consciously carve out an individual community from the endless opportunities beyond one’s doorstep.

And then a tourist comes and thinks she needs to swallow NYC whole because she is only in the city of cities for a short period of time. That’s impossible, even for the hardiest of souls. I’m glad a nouveau New Yorker confirmed this for me. Some folks think I’m just too sensitive.

My couple of days in New York were full of experiences impossible to replicate anywhere else. It’s that simple. Still, I couldn’t wait to leave.

I didn’t look back when the Amtrak train left Penn station and emerged from the tunnel on the Jersey side. 56 hours in the city was enough for my delicate constitution and I don’t need any more of the smog, dirt or weirdos for the next long while. I’m done with the city and look forward to all the other wonderful places on this great earth that I will have the privilege of seeing. I gladly leave New York to those who can handle the bedlam.

Couldn't have said it better myself.