In 2004, Grace and I took a train trip to New York. Rereading it, I see I left out the panic I saw in her periodically. It was the beginning of the slide.
Grandma and I had dinner in the dining car. It is very cool. We were seated with an interesting pair from Albany New York; a mother and son. Flossing was not a big pasttime for her as she had enough teeth missing where food could not possibly get trapped. This is good, because eating definately WAS a hobby. The mother was huge and in the booth there was not much room for her 30ish son. There were also strange growths on her face adding to her own special look. She goes to Chicago from Albany to the Cancer treatment centers in Zion and she raved about the medical care. She wore one rubber glove and complained a lot; a seasoned train rider with all the 'down' sides clearly explored. I felt sorry for her and wondered if she ever truly saw the magic in this adventure.
Tom drove us to Union Station. Mom was in awe with his exceptional navigational skills. For those of us not so gifted, they are amazing. My mother was able to pack all her needs in a suitcase that could fit in mine three times. This will just serve to be one of the many lessons I will learn. Every day makes me smarter.
We waited at a bar in Union Station where Mom and I imbided sinfully in Ginger Ales. Mom's sat undrunk. She was too nervous, checking for tickets several times. I suddenly realize that I have slipped unfairly into child behavior letting her saddle all the responsibility of the trip.
I remember being a kid with my parents on train trips. My biggest concern was how the heck I was going to get to sleep on the train as I was terrible at sleeping anywhere else than on in my own bed. Those days are delicious memories. Now it's time to take care of her.
Tom took us to the waiting room and was not allowed any further. I gave him a big hug, thanked him and told him to take care of the 'kids' but I knew they would be pampered.
The walk down to the train was pretty long. Most riders are in coach and those cars are closest to the station. I dragged my huge bag and worried about my mother the whole way down to the car tucked just behind the engine. My mother's strength continued to amaze me and she hustled behind me complaining that I was moving too slow.
Our room was different from what I imagined; not the palace that we took one trip years ago. It is a cleverly designed space with two single seats facing each other. There is a toilet and a sink and a top bunk that will come down when the room is shared by two. My mom and I are directly across from each other. I realize at this point that my bag is HUGE and managing it will be part of this adventure. But I comforted myself saying that I travel so infrequently that my inexperience is worst enemy.
I spent most of the time in my mother's room. The attendent came by and knew the two names of the occupants and tries to guess who is who. He is wrong and I said to my mom, "See? I have an old person's name." I realizes immediately how mean that was to say but the attendent's embarrassment provides a distraction. My mom seems unbothered by the comment, but I think I'll apolize tomorrow anyway.
Jeph called during dinner. I can tell he is excited to have dinner with us in NYC. My mom says he wants to show me his office. This is interesting because he has never mentioned this to me
I love you guys very much and miss you so much it hurts. But I know you need to be where you are and know you will come home with wonderful stories to tell me.
The bed on the train was very comfortable, but the starts and stops woke me a lot. After the first part of the train trip being at night, I spent the first hour after I woke just looking out the window at rural New York. The snow in the area was still pretty impressive. It looked really cold. The frame houses were sprinkled here and there. The small towns we went through could fit twice in the distance from our house to Glenbrook South.
I got dressed, washed my face and put on my makeup. The only way I could see the mirror was by standing on the toilet (seat cover DOWN). I only got mascara on my noise once, but the thing that made me the most nervous was getting the contact lenses in while the train was moving.
Breakfast was served in the dining car, but I prefered the mango and kiwi that Tom cut up for me. I wondered how Sam handled the night with mommy missing.
Grandma woke up too late for breakfast and the attendant was nice enough to bring her pancakes. After breakfast she was tired and went back to her room to nap. I continued to watch upstate New York unfold as I knit and read.
As we got closer to Albany we started to follow the Hudson River. I counted six or seven tug boats pushing or pulling tankers and barges. I really wish I'd seen a map of this area and will have to make a point to do that before we take the train back.
We pulled into Penn Station about an hour later than scheduled. Amtrak has no reason to be on time. It is government subsidized. Why try too hard? We got off the train and finding the cab stand was a challenge. Unlike Union station, the actual word TAXI cannot be seen when you leave the platform. I did notice a teeny tiny sign that had a picture that (with a certain amount of imagination) could resemble cab. I followed them with my mom lagging behind more as a result of uncertainty and skepticism rather than fatigue. I kept looking back and smiling but it was not very effective. Once upstairs I asked at an information booth and was immediately pointed to the cab stand. It was more of a walk than I would like to have subjected my mother to, but it had to be done. Remember, AMTRAK.... they don't care a whole lot and even if they did they don't have the money to show it. My mom was cold at the cab stand and I made a mental note to give her my long undies when we get to the hotel.
While waiting for the cab, I watched my mom freeze. Two fire trucks passed and I thought of 9/11. I got teary.
The cab driver took us through uptown. It really looks a lot like Chicago except I don't know where I am. I quietly give thanks for lower Wacker drive which spares Chicago of the pleasure of the many mid sized delivery trucks double and triple parked. We do miss the show of delivery men gesturing and calling to each other completely oblivious to the traffice they are blocking. The traffic accepts these delays withou a honk or gesture. One street we went down had many textile stores; something I'm not aware that we have in Chicago. I remember when Laine lived here and she took me to one of these places. There was store after store of fabrics, ribbons, hats, all specialty stores that seem to thrive only in New York.
We have connecting rooms that are a bit ragged, but comfortable. Cokes in the pop machine cost $2. Our room is $292/night. Yes, welcome to New York.
I asked Grandma for a list of sites she wanted to see and then talked to the tour lady in the lobby. It looks like we will spend tomorrow on a bus seeing Rockerfeller Center, United Nations and taking a boat out to Ellis Island. It sounds just like what she wants to do.
Tonight we are dining in the hotel.
I love you both and think about you often. I even torture strangers with brief references to my daughters. On the train I kept thinking about how I can get you both to have this experience. We would have such fun. I will need to look
After looking at the room service breakfast menu and thinking that $17 (plus $3.75 service charge) was a bit steep for pancakes, Mom and I trudged to a nearby Au Bon Pain for breakfast. Mom was immediately not thrilled that there were no waiters, but I knew it was the best we were going to get. We still had to make it to the NYC visitors center in time, so it was not a good time to be too picky. We got our goodies, sat at a table near a man carrying on a animated conversation with himself. He was able to break out of it to calmly and rationally greet all the employees by name; clearly a regular. He was well dressed, reading a paper, blended in with the working crowd nicely. The staff there were very kind to him. They spoke to him and brought him coffee. He couldn't pay.
I find myself comparing NY to Chicago. I am finding more similarities than differences, but I have never seen such welcome to a bum in Chicago. In fact, the people in this town seem different from 24 years ago. They seem nicer. Could 9/11 have had such a big impact? Could I have remembered incorrectly? Could I have just had really bad luck meeting people?
We got a cab to the visitor's center and asked the $64,000 question that haunted my mom. With the discovery of no toilet on the bus plan b had to be quickly formulated. My mom was unhappy. Of her three children, I am the one that does NOT know NY. Laine lived here. Jeph comes here on business. Not me. I did learn a few things that most other people will respond with DUH. Streets and Avenues are vastly different. Anything named STREET goes one way, AVENUES are perpendicular to STREETS. No wonder New Yorkers get lost in Chicago. Our streets are named randomly (here it's in numerical order) and there is no HINT in the street name whatsoever.
So we walked to Radio City. I had to walk slower than my usually breakneck clip, keep making sure my mom saw every curb, and did not get run over by a car. Probably she would have been fine, but I felt responsible. NY has changed from when she commuted to work from Scarsdale. I know she's feeling betrayed.
We went into take the tour of the NBC studios. While we waited, we could see where the people come with their signs to wave madly at the Today show. Not valuing a television appearance and valuing my warmth makes me a bad candidate for this activity.
Out the other window we could see the ice skating rink at Radio City. It is surrounded by flags and reminds me of Bank One Plaza in Chicago. I found a place for mom to sit and wait for the tour while I grabbed the opportunity to buy the gifts for kids and spouse.
We were taken on the tour by a woman I guessed to be about 24. Tours are conducted by NBC pages who are also assigned as assistants on productions. She clearly thought a lot of herself, had valley girl inflections in her speech pattern, but fortunately little control in the content of the tour so it was still interesting. Thirty of us were jammed into two elevators several times.
My backpack was packed for the tour we were supposed to take. I had extra clothes for my mom and me (thinking of the boat portion). The tour didn't happen so now I was lugging around this huge backpack on tiny NBC sets and elevators.
We saw the dateline set, a set used by Tom Brokow and I learned that the monitor on his desk that he glances at is actually the competing stations. He will change the order in which stories are presented in order to not be beat. That set is also used in case of a news emergency and can be set up and ready to go in 3 minutes.
Finally we saw the set for SNL which is now being used for Carson Daly's talk show. It is amazingly small. They got 50,000 requests for tickets last season and by lottery only 2,000 got ticket pairs. The show is written on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday they order the set. Thursday it is delivered. Thursday, Friday and Saturday they rehearse.
After NBC, we had lunch in a restaurant that looks over the skating rink at Radio City. The skaters provided terrific entertainment. We had the primadonnas working on their figure skating routines. Some were very unlikely candidates given their appearances. My favorite was the 40ish male skate on hockey skates weaving in and out of the crowd and scoping the babes. He tried to get the attention of a group of three young things but even now they remain ignorant of his efforts. He eventually got conversation out of every primadonna. Brief conversation, but some success. The other point of interest was the one skater that I suddenly noticed down on the ice covered in a blanket with two people in official coats nearby. I guess he fell down. The paramedics brought a chair to drag him up to the ambulence. That's it for his skating career.
Mom was tired and wanted to go back to the hotel to lay down. She also wanted to walk back. I studied the map to be able to lead, but she was again very skeptical as she followed. The city is full of people and you have to pay attention or you'll get trampled. I tucked her behind me.
Once at the hotel, she napped while I got the refund for the tour we didn't take, and hit the treadmill.
We had dinner nearby and then went to grand central station. My Mom was in the station every day when she worked in the city and lived in Scarsdale. She made it very clear that she wanted to wander around. Despite her starting to change her mind, I felt that this was something that she would always wonder about and needed to walk in.
We arrived at about 6:30 and rush hour was still strong. The minute we walked in, my mom was awash with how much it had changed and I could tell this made her sad. I tried to convince that over time, two things can happen to a facility like this; it can die or it can live. Death means demolition. Life means change. In this case, the city felt the same way about it as she did and decided to nurture it. There are restaurants galore where there used to be none. A few things were the same and we tried to focus on that.
When I walked into Grand Central I had an entirely different experience. I happened to look up and see a portion of the ceiling in the main, grand room. It is an astrological map of the stars on a green background. I suddenly saw a 8 year old girl in a huge train station with her family and grandfather and she can't take her eyes off the fascinating ceiling. I had not thought about that ceiling in almost 40 years and the memory was so vivid.
With my mom's stress level, even hailing the cab was an ordeal. We went in front of the hotel so that the hotel dude could help, but others from our hotel had the same idea. She was awash with tension and I felt I had to make sure she did not try to muscle someone else out of a cab or start to complain because she perceived that we were being forgotten. Unfortunately, a hugh tour bus full of Japanese tourists chose just that moment to pull up and completely block that cab stand. This was not helpful to her anxiety level.
Took a cab to the WTC site. We didn't stop to walk around because my mom didn't want to. Just driving by had impact. It must have been horrible to witness first hand.
We got to Battery Park and bought tickets for the ferry. The ferry goes from Battery Park, to the Statue of Liberty, to Ellis Island and back. She had a tendancy to want to rush to get the tickets and rush to get in the line. Up until now I really have had no requests of my own. At this time I did point out that the ferries leave every 30 minutes and we had no reason to hurry. I think I convinced her that she was adding an artificial level of stress. The odd thing is that this made me notice that this may be my technique for handling my own stressful life. I think I pick and choose my battles to some degree.
My mom didn't want to get off at the Statute of Liberty, but did say earlier that she wanted to see Ellis Island. The structure itself was not that fabulous, but the tour was fascinating. The quantity of people that went through Ellis Island was amazing.
Back at our hotel, my mom wanted to rest so I went out and found soup for lunch.
My mom is finding this trip much more stressful than she expected and would probably just stay in her room if I didn't encourage her to go out and do the things that she had talked about doing while she was planning it. I don't think we'll see the United Nations, but we have hit much of it. At Ellis Island, she sat patiently while I went through a part of the museum, but was eager to get back on the boat to go back to the hotel room. She seems to lack faith that I can find a cab or find my way back, but I keep proving that I can. I don't think that'll give her faith, but it doesn't really bother me.
My mom and I took a cab to meet Jeph for dinner. This was my chance to get a glimpse of Central park as the NY Athletic Club was right across the street. My mom seems to be distrusting everyone and everything. While I very blissfully sat listening a story on public radio and looking at scenerio, she worried about bumping into other cabs and the driver's ability to get us there.
At one point she declared (correctly) that we were at Herald Square. I was able to confirm this not due to my incredible urban insight, but by my literacy. A small sign agreed. Later a much larger sign also made in unanimous and my mom said, see? I know something. I get the feelling she was proving it more to herself than me. I became aware that the NY that she knew is gone and causing her to doubt herself.
The driver let us out across the street from the NYAC, but in the middle of several horse and carriages. My goal at this point was to have my mom walk to the front of the horses rather than cut through. The animals seemed docile, but I'd like to stay out of the news. The light was against us which gave me a chance to get my peak in. My first sight were the dogs being walked and I missed my boys at home. My second thought was recognition at the number of movies that used this sight. I wasn't expecting the cement and tunnels. I was thinking more of an open space than one so carefully landscaped.
Mel and Betsy arrived soon after us and Jeph and Ellie immediately after that. The NYAC is a stuffy men's club with inflexible rules, dark wood and big furniture. The lack of cigar smoke was only a sign of the times. Women seem to be treated equally, but I can’t help but that think that attitude has been imposed on a reluctant club.
It felt darker but I couldn't decide if it was because of the time of day or decoration. i put my mother across the table from me and wormed my way next to Betsy and Mel.
I had a great time talking to everyone but particularly enjoyed my time with Betsy. She is a beautiful soul and I really adore her. Nothing escapes her watchful eye, but she is careful what she comments on. We got to talk quite a bit and even managed to escape to the Ladies' room for deeper analyses. Betsy also asked thoughtful questions of Ellie and as usual managed to come up with sweet, supportive comments.
Mel was happy to visit with Jeph and seemed to be equally happy to let Betsy and me have our time together.
We packed and went down to the lobby to check out and eat breakfast. It was around nine and sicnce the train left around noon. We caught a cab much more easily than the day before. While I was supervising the luggage, my momgot into the cab. Our cab routine was to have her let me get in first so that i am the one that has to scoot over. she again was too anxious and HAD to get in. Now she was struggling to scoot and never got past the middle. I just feel like she has totally lacked patience on this trip.
We made our way to Penn Station the was we always have been doing in a cab. i look at everything and she frets. We got out of the ab and I told her to trust me. I explained that I was busy trying to find where we needed to be. I didn't t want to have ot worry about her second guessing me and wandering off in another direction. I promised to get us ahtere and even swore that i remember where the Amtrak waiting room was. In fact upon enter the station, the signs lead us right there. Des[ite all this, my mom did not do as I asked and constantly searched about and even veared in other direcitons forcing me to check every few seconds behind me. We got the waiting room and she contined to be a ball of nerves. We sat in the waiting area and arrived so early our train was not yet posted. We could not see the monitor with arrivals and departures easily from where we sat and I asked her if she wanted to move. She said no. However within in a few minutes she was complaining that we could not see the monitor and we moved to another seat.
While we were waiting a package was left unattended and the Amtrak officials blocked off the area with seats starting to bark at anyone who came near. They brought in this beautiful German Shephard to check the area. he probably weighed about 150 pounds. He had a standard German Shepard coloring and the joy of being wth his handler just oozed from his pores. The dog found nothing.
We got on the train and I was able to talk the man across from me into letting my mom have his room in exchanage for hers. Despite everything, I wanted to kmeep an eye on her.
The scenery was fun to watch. We went through the Amish portions of Pennsylvaniaa and I fel very fortunate to catch some of the farmers in varius stages of plowing their fields, catching them in actioon. I got to see a farmer hookin g up hie horses to a plow as well as one in action later on. I also caught sight of a horse pulling a black covered buggy. I was unable to get my camera up and functioning fast enough.
This time we had dinner with a theater major from Pittsburgh just coming home from her internship in NYC. She was shallow and uninteresting.