I love when life slows down enough to match the flow of my fingers on the keyboard, when I can ease into a memory, turn it gently over in my mind, and lance that sucker as if a boil.
No one died.
That’s all I can say about our 1,400-mile road trip without cussing, lying, or subjecting the truth to unnecessary scrutiny.
As Isak Dinesen claims, “God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road.” Amen. Amen.
Here’s the unabridged version of our odyssey with all the glorified details and saltatory mutations. It’s not for the delicate of heart or those with cultivated sensibilities. It’s for the curious, it’s entertainment, and if I were honest I would say it’s about resiliency.
In my last post, I described a few minor altercations between Larry and myself during our drive from Wentzville, Missouri to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania!
Considering the close quarters, humidity, and general disposition of my recently retired husband a minor scuffle ensued, during a seven-hour drive, over the necessity of proper hydration, and a traffic snafu that honestly left me speechless (temporarily). This was kindergarten play compared to what came next.
As T. S. Eliot says. “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” We’ve all played with rubberbands, sometimes they snap!
The internet is vital to a writer, so I cleverly use my cell phone as a hot spot as we drive halfway across the country, and manage to post a blog an hour or so outside of Pittsburg. I am rather pleased with myself considering my age and lack of technical skills. I also receive a follow-up email from my publisher with a list of new objectives that I admit are totally freaking me out.
As I’m responding to comments on the new blog and creating a to-do list for my publisher, Larry decides to yank my chain, unnecessarily I might add.
He says, “You’re obsessed, put down your phone, look around.”
Now mind you, I spent the majority of the time looking at freeway scenery, a quarter of the time writing a blog, and a FEW MINUTES responding to one or two comments. My husband is actually the one with the phone obsession, but as you know when you’re pointing your finger, three fingers are pointing back to you.
The point is NEVER POINT with a finger you’re hoping to keep.
With elevated intonation, I say, “Obsessed? Obsessed? Look who’s calling the kettle black. And by the way, I’m sixty-two and perfectly capable of discerning the amount of time I should spend on my phone.” I may have infused a few cuss words into my tirade but that part is fuzzy.
He actually snaps his fingers at me like four times and says, “Oh, you want to get into it. Go for it.”
Now I’m spitting mad, my blood pressure has skyrocketed, and he should be highly appreciative of my emotional maturity as I reconsidered biting off his finger and spitting it out the window.
I give him my most appalling look and say, “You’re snapping your fingers at me? Wow, way to escalate an argument. I would say that’s your superpower.”
“Don’t get me started.”
There was more but you get the gist.
Had my parents not raised me well I could have gone rogue, but with the restraint of a saint I refrain, and genteelly stare straight forward-thinking the most atrocious thoughts imaginable. Things that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush.
I refuse to look at anything except my anger as we enter a short tunnel and emerge into this incredibly lush valley with the town of Pittsburg nestled between two formidable rivers, the Allegheny and Monongahela. As if a marriage, they gently merge at the edge of town and form the Ohio River. I want to exclaim over the beauty, ogle every inch of Pittsburg’s charm, but I stare straight ahead with a very unattractive look on my face! You can not possibly imagine how difficult this stoicism is to maintain.
“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” John Steinbeck
Interestingly, Ohi means the initialism of the other half, as in a husband, wife, partner. Let’s be perfectly transparent, he joined my Ohi, not the other way around.
He knows he’s in deep water so he drives slowly around town CAUTIOUSLY (wise man) pointing out the various landmarks, such as the abandoned steel mills that have been turned into swanky lofts, the new stadiums located across the river, and the renovated downtown.
My anger is at war with my intrigue but I try to remain unphased.
Intrigue is pulling ahead when we pull up to the incredibly posh Resainance Hotel located on the river’s edge. The doorman helps us load our luggage onto a cart, Larry leaves to park the car across the street, and the woman mad as a dog on a choke chain waits in a ridiculously posh lobby.
It is stunning, from the elegant split staircase, glass ceiling, and small seating arrangements positioned with luxurious precision around the lobby. I notice an attractive coffee bar by the elevators and a charming pub near the entrance. What’s not to love?
I let my guard down for like a minute or two.
After Pointer checks us in we head up to the room to refresh and unpack. The room is spacious with a large wingback chair, comfy king bed, small writing desk, and two large picture windows with a spectacular view of the river. Pointer has the decency to pull me into a penitent hug. I accept his unvoiced apology while assuaging my bruised pride. We decide we need some libation and head down to the lobby bar for espresso martinis.
My anger has lost all steam.
Seated at the most adorable pub located in the front of the hotel, the wall facing the street is actually a garage door, which is lifted all the way up, allowing a cool breeze to waft through the space. We’re having this charming discussion about the history of Pittsburg when I notice Larry is starting unabashedly over my right shoulder.
As I’m about to turn around, I say, “what are you looking at?”
He reaches for me all in a panic and says, “don’t turn around, it will be too obvious, but Miguel Cabrera is sitting right behind you.”
“The guy from the Detroit Tigers, he’s a future Hall of Famer.”
I make a subtle turn acting as if I need something out of my purse but I have no idea which of the four men seated around a bar table is Miguel.
I say, “Do you want to ask for a picture with him? You seem quite enamored.” He literally has not taken his eyes off the neighboring table.
“No, I don’t need a picture, this guy is totally legit.” And he starts rattling off stats for Miguel Cabrera until my eyes glaze over.
“Interesting, um bartender, could I have a nice pour of Sauvignon Blanc, PLEASE.”
When Larry finally tires of star gazing and baseball stats we mosey over to the Capital Grill for dinner. You’ll be relieved to know we did not encounter any more “future Hall of Famers.” The steak was mouth-watering delicious, accompanied by a glass of Tempranillo, and Caprese Salad as we walk slowly back to our hotel, our discord amended.
I think it was still dark when Larry wakes up, heads down to the lobby, and returns with two coffees.
He says, “Time to get up, we’re going for a long walk before our drive to Niagara Falls. Let’s get going.”
I groan, “Can I enjoy my coffee first?”
“Get dressed while your sipping.”
“That is not how you enjoy your coffee, that’s how you end up with heartburn.”
When he starts pacing in the small room I concede, “I’ll be ready in five minutes.”
A few hours later we head to the infamous Niagara Falls, and might I just brag, with only one minor altercation along the way. We cross the border just past Buffalo (this is where they invented buffalo wings) and enter Canada by midday.
Larry reserved a room at the Marriott facing the falls for one night. When we enter our room on the 21st floor, our eyes are directed to the back wall, which is entirely glass. There are two upholstered chairs inviting us to sit and observe the magnificent falls. It’s not possible to accurately describe the impact of watching 44,308,904 gallons of water flow over Niagara Falls each minute.
I like what Vinita Finra says, “Niagara Falls is the hanging tongue on the face of the earth, drooling endlessly over its own beauty.”
Slipping into our tennis shoes we head outside to hike down to the falls for a closer inspection. This is definitely a bucket list destination. I’m enormously grateful we decided to check this one off our list.
In the morning, we wake early, load the rental car, and head to New York City, to find our daughter Kelley and celebrate her new apartment.
Our destination is actually the Newark International Airport where we have arranged to drop off the rental car by 3:00 pm.
We carefully scan for any gas station twenty miles outside of Newark but there is not a station in sight. This is cause for an inordinate about of anxiety and cussing from my frustrated husband.
He says, “We’re screwed, if you don’t fill the tank, they charge you like $200.”
I say, “I’m sure there’ll be one near the airport.”
As we approach the exit for the airport with an empty tank the tension in the car has become almost unbearable.
It’s a ying-yang thing, I’m the optimist even when I don’t feel it, and Larry is the pessimist even without cause. We’ve survived thirty-nine years with this maladjusted system. Why change now?
I say why not?
The closer we get to the rental car drop off the angrier Larry becomes, he says, “this is a catastrophe,” literally pounding his fist on the dashboard.
“We’re fine.” But I don’t believe it for a second.
“This is such a %$#%#^&$.”
I suddenly exclaim, “Look, I see one, right over there.”
“Perfect, there’s no way to get to it.” More cussing.
Having no idea which way to go I take a leap of faith and say, “Take that exit.”
Amazingly he follows my direction because his ability to think rationally is temporarily disabled. The problem is my little detour takes us away from both the rental car drop-off and the gas station, he yells, “%$#%#^&$.”
These symbols don’t accurately portray the carnage but you can use your imagination.
“Just keep going it’ll come around.”
He’s not convinced, “%$#%#^&$!”
And by the grace of God the street curves back to the gas station and as my nerves try to unfrazzle themselves, Larry fills the tank with the calm of a Buddhist Priest, while I’m searching in my bag for extra strength Tums.
So here we are with our luggage, backpacks, and a couple of bags of food and no viable form of transportation. I want to hail a cab but Larry has his own errant ideas.
We walk with all our paraphernalia to the airport, where we are forced to jump on a tram with a billion other sticky people, it dumps us at the train station which hasn’t been mopped for a decade. Talk about complicated, it takes a master’s in engineering to figure out which train to take, someone takes sympathy on these frantic Californians and graciously points us in the right direction.
We emerge at Penn Station, which is an underground world unto itself, and try and locate our daughter in the midst of all this chaos.
I’m on the phone with Kelley, she says, “what track are you on?”
“How the hell do I know.”
“Describe what is around you.”
“We’re standing outside the restrooms, there’s a coffee shop and a cafe.”
“Mom, there are hundreds of restrooms, coffee shops, and cafes. Anything else.”
“Let me see, there are some signs, they point to an 8th street exit, 7th and 33rd exits, and something about a lower platform.”
“I’m right here but I don’t see you. I’m wearing a yellow sweater.”
“I’m all in black with an orange suitcase, there is a look of desperation on my face. Your father is walking in circles with his blue roller bag trying to mimic the locals.”
“Mom, calm down, I’ll find you, stay put.”
Suddenly Kelley comes into view as if an aberration, I scream, “there she is, there she is.” Sort of like Noah’s wife when she spotted dry land.
Now we’re still on the phone and I see her looking over the crowd trying to find us. I’m waving like a lunatic. People are staring. How rude.
Suddenly she’s in my arms, smelling like sunshine and roses, she takes control of my suitcase and we head up into the loud and bustling streets of Manhatten. How do people live like this? More importantly, why?
Currently, she is living in corporate housing provided by ESPN, until their apartment closes at the beginning of August. Her temporary apartment is located on West 33rd Street, midtown, swarming with confusion.
The lobby of her building is controlled by a doorman with a dictator complex who needs to be convinced of our relationship with Kelley before granting us entry. As if we have to meet his approval to gain access to her apartment? New Yorkers!
Are we going to have to do this every time we go in and out?
We quickly unpack, change clothes, and head to the Upper West Side to check out where Kelley’s new apartment is located. Slipping into a darling pub for drinks and an appetizer before continuing our tour of the area was genius and the perfect rejuvenator.
It’s charming, much quieter on this side of town, with a subtle layer of sophistication that seems to be distinctive to the Upper West Side. We ended up at an Italian restaurant just up the street from her new home with a wonderful selection of pasta, salads, and wine.
We return to midtown, manage to get past the doorman, and into our little haven from the noise and confusion of the city. Kelley and I watch You’ve Got Mail so we can ogle Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks galavanting through the streets of the Upper West Side.
It was an early morning, at least for Larry and I who are still under the influence of PCT, we were up, dressed, and waiting outside Kelley’s new apartment by 9:00 am. Her realtor is letting us in so we can take measurements and consider what renovations might be possible.
Her apartment is situated on the 4th floor, it’s a walk-up, with morning light streaming through the west-facing windows. It has hardwood floors throughout, two bathrooms, two bedrooms, a small kitchen, dining space, and living room. It’s perfect for the two of them and I’m confident Kelley will turn it into a lovely home.
“I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.” Nora Ephron
Our next stop is Zabar’s for lox and bagels, then on to Levains for a half a dozen cookies, we walk all over Central Park, check out the MET (where they were filming an episode of Gossip Girl), and Washington Square Park (with lots of homeless people doing drugs). We walk all over Greenwich Village and SOHO (stopped at a few spots for apps and drinks) and enjoy a scrumptious dinner at one of Joe Bastianich’s restaurants (Lupa) in Greenwich Village.
As we’re walking back to Kelley’s apartment, I can feel the steam coming up from the grates in the sidewalks on my tired legs, we pass small markets, charming cafes, and wine bars, a contrast to the stacks of garbage lining the sidewalks. The braided aromas of rot, geraniums, and expensive perfume fill my nostrils. It’s alluring and repugnant all the same time. New York City has gotten under my skin and we’ve only had a one-night stand.
In the morning Kelley heads to the World Trade Center where her office is located and Larry and I have the entire morning to explore the city. We walk all the way to the WTC from midtown, Kelley takes us up to the observation deck for a panoramic view of NYC. It’s a Lego City, condensed, in constant motion. There are not two seconds between the sound of honking horns, and the sirens of police and ambulances. I’ve yet to pass a corner without a small vendor selling, donuts, pretzels, or magazines. It draws you in like a long-lost lover, you’re covered in sweat, tangled in the wrinkled landscape.
Kelley decides we should host a wine and cheese night on our last night in the city. She wants to invite her sister-in-law, Maggie, our cousin’s daughter Rachel, and her boss from Carta. I invite a blogging friend, LA, who lives in NYC, and hosts an extremely popular blog called Waking Up on the Wrong Side of 50. Check it out when you have some time.
Well, it ended up just being LA and Kelley’s boss who we escorted up to the rooftop for cocktails and conversation. LA is as charming as she is delightful, a wonderful conversationalist, with an encyclopedic knowledge of New York City. It was so much fun to put a face to the voice I’ve been enjoying for years. We hope to meet up again next time I’m in New York City.
I admit, I’m ready to wake up in a city that actually sleeps at night but I hate leaving Kelley behind. We depart for Newark International Airport at 4:00 am. This time Larry called a cab!
I’m learning that the joy we derive from our journeys in life depends more on our mindset than the destination. Capturing the spirit of a place takes time, focus, and feet on the ground which I believe we accomplished. The spirit of New York City is now a part of us, like the luggage we drag home, unpack, and launder. New York has captured us, for better or worse, call it love. As John Updike says, “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.”
I’m Living in the Gap, missing the noise of the city, but oh so happy to be home. How’s your week going?
“One of those out-of-the-ordinary days that made sense of the slew of ordinary days. New York had a way of doing that. Every now and then the city shook its soul out. It assailed you with an image, or a day, or a crime, or a terror, or a beauty so difficult to wrap your mind around that you had to shake your head in disbelief.
He had a theory about it. It happened, and re-happened, because it was a city uninterested in history. Strange things occurred precisely because there was no necessary regard for the past. The city lived in a sort of everyday present. It had no need to believe in itself as a London, or an Athens, or even a signifier of the New World, like a Sydney, or a Los Angeles. No, the city couldn’t care less about where it stood. He had seen a T-shirt once that said: NEW YORK FUCKIN’ CITY. As if it were the only place that ever existed and the only one that ever would.
New York kept going forward precisely because it didn’t give a good goddamn about what it had left behind. It was like the city that Lot left, and it would dissolve if it ever began looking backward over its own shoulder. Two pillars of salt. Long Island and New Jersey.”
― Colum McCann