East Coast 08, part 9: Smoke on the water

93 degrees, 64% humidity

We slept in the next morning, got brunch at the local Whole Foods, then rode the subway from the Upper West Side all the way down to Battery Park. What a spot: Manhattan’s skyline behind us, boats and ships crisscrossing the Hudson and Upper New York Bay, the Statue of Liberty, beautiful New Jersey across the river, and the sounds of the city all around us.

We walked up to the site of the World Trade Center but couldn’t see much because of the construction projects taking place there. The Ground Zero Museum didn’t look like our kind of place, but we were very touched and intrigued by what we saw at St. Paul’s Chapel, directly across the street from Ground Zero. For starters, a huge sycamore tree in the churchyard took the brunt of blasts from falling debris, and the chapel remained relatively unscathed – not one broken window. Quite an image of the sacrifice of one for the preservation of many. For eight months following 9/11, the little church was a center of support and care for rescue and recovery workers. They provided more than half a million meals, cold drinks, massage, counsel, encouragement, music, and other expressions of hospitality. Workers slept on cots around the perimeter of the sanctuary. Good to know that a church was on the front lines right away, dispensing large doses of love in the form of practical assistance.

We took shelter from the heat in a deli right behind the NY Stock Exchange; felt so wilted that we didn’t even want to walk around to see the front of the building. So much for Wall Street. Rode the subway uptown to catch a harbor tour, which seemed like a good way to beat the heat, see the Statue of Liberty, and get a sense for what’s where in the city. Out on the street a day before we’d been offered free tickets to a taping of the Letterman show, but it would have required us to wait by the theater for a couple of hours during this block of time; we decided the harbor tour would be a better option. So many choices.

We were among the last to board the 3:30 sailing, and with no reserved seating there weren’t many places to sit. Lauren and Zack found two seats together, Susan was a row ahead of them, and I leaned against a nearby post.

As we slowly motored by the Statue of Liberty, the boat turned around so everyone on board could get a good look; even so, many got out of their seats to take pictures. Susan moved into some now-empty seats next to the railing and I sat next to her. Moments later a woman began accusing us of stealing her seats, although she had said nothing about coming back to them when she picked up her things and walked away.

My better angels prompted me to give up my seat, but I opted for a more confrontational approach. After some mild verbal abuse from her which we ignored, the woman sat down next to me and lit up a cigarette. We were looking at the sights, but she blew all her exhaust my way and held her ciggy right next to my head so the smoke wafted into my face. When she finished her first one, she flicked the butt under our noses into the water.

About midway through her second smoke, I’d had enough. I stood up, took the lit cigarette from her hand, and crushed it. “That’s my cigarette!” she protested. “I know,” I replied. “I’ve been enjoying it, too.” As I passed in front of her on the way out of that row of seats, she stomped on my foot.

I returned to the post I’d leaned against earlier. A few minutes later, the woman complained to the captain of the boat. Shortly after that it was announced that smoking was permitted in outdoor seating areas only. And a few minutes later, El Capitan came out and spoke to me. “I understand that you took away a woman’s cigarette.” I readily confessed to my crime, but made a weak attempt to justify myself by explaining the retaliatory nature of her smoking. He reminded me that people have a right to smoke, that I can’t prevent them from doing that, and said that he didn’t want any trouble on the boat. I assured him that I didn’t either.

And that was the end of it. Not one of my prouder moments, that’s for sure. Tobacco Tess made no further eye contact with me, and I noted that she didn’t do any more smoking. (I later had to ask God and my family to forgive me for being such a jerk. By the time I came to my senses, I had missed my opportunity to apologize to Tobacco Tess.)

With the exception of this incident, the harbor tour was very enjoyable and instructive. Among other highlights were four temporary waterfalls: this cool slide show has pictures of all of them. One was near the Williamsburg Bridge; another right under the Brooklyn Bridge; a third among working piers in Brooklyn; and a fourth off the shore of Governor’s Island. This enormous and spectacular art installation ran from only June 26 to October 13, so we were thrilled and fortunate to be able to see it.

When we got off the boat it was rush hour, so we walked over to Times Square. Just like the movies, with wall-to-wall pedestrians on the sidewalks and spilling into the streets; crazed taxi drivers; horns honking; neon signs and lights flashing everywhere. It was completely overstimulating. Enough sightseeing for one day, already!

On these hot days the subway stations were stifling, and going down to the trains was like walking into an oven. The subway system was built with the idea that trains would both push warm air out and pull cool air in, and it worked when the system used fewer and smaller trains. But not any more. You know it’s bad when you come out of the subway and the 95 degree air outside actually feels cooler.

Back at the hotel the pool was closed because some mucky-muck had rented the whole pool deck for a birthday party. Probably no one we know. We rested and cooled off in our room, then walked 3-4 blocks to Fairway Market. This place is like all of Seattle’s Pike Place Market crammed into a single store. In the café upstairs we enjoyed a simple but really good meal  in a friendly and relaxed setting. On the way home we took a quick stroll through Lincoln Center. The complex was undergoing extensive renovation, and not much was happening there.

Our hotel, however, was a beehive of activity. The doormen were busy welcoming people decked out in their summer finery, probably arriving for the big birthday party upstairs. Guess I’m too old to be starting my evenings after 10:00. Besides, we needed to get rested up to see some museums tomorrow. Party on, dudes, but don’t make me come up there.


One response to “East Coast 08, part 9: Smoke on the water

  1. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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