East Coast 08, part 11: Fawnd farewell

96 degrees, 67% humidity

Once again Susan and I snuck out in the morning while the kids were still sleeping. We wanted to take a look at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, supposedly the largest cathedral in the world (St. Peter’s Basilica is not a cathedral). I first learned about the massive structure decades ago in Madeleine L’Engle’s suspenseful novel, The Young Unicorns. Images of its soaring spaces, passageways, and crypts have remained in my imagination since, so visiting was a minor pilgrimage for me. And on our way to the cathedral we happened to spot the exterior of the diner where Jerry, Elaine, George, Kramer, et al went to eat or have cawfee. Nice.

The cathedral’s history began with the purchase of property in 1887, and it’s still under construction. Work on the building was halted with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and did not begin again for 32 years. It’s estimated that completion will take another hundred years (I feel better about the pace of some projects around our house). Indoor length of the cathedral is 601 feet, “two football fields, end to end, with room left for the football,” with ceilings reaching nearly 125 feet. The apex of a 100′ diameter dome rises to 160′ above the cathedral’s central crossing; it was built as a ‘temporary’ structure in 1909, one of the largest free-standing domes in the world. I’d love to have a master key and permission (or not) to explore this place.

Back at the hotel we packed up for the last time and stuck our bags in a storage room while we ventured out for our final day of sightseeing. Just one more museum – the Museum of Modern Art – and we had saved the best for last. What we saw of the collection was dazzling – Picasso, Matisse, Dali, Frida Kahlo, Warhol, Pollack, Seurat, Cezanne, van Gogh, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe – it was almost too wonderful. But by the time we left, we had drained the last drops of our capacity for exhibits.

One of Lauren’s interests on this trip was seeing landmarks she recognized from movies. We had already checked off quite a few, and thought we could surprise her with one more that was nearby. But first we stopped at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, leaving the heat and noise and activity of Madison Avenue behind for the cool, quiet refuge of this gorgeous sanctuary. Gazing up the pillars into the elaborate arches and patterned ceilings overhead was dizzying; better sit down before I fall down. When laughter and applause broke out from the Lady Chapel behind the altar, we realized that a wedding ceremony was concluding. The cathedral’s pipe organ suddenly came to life with a recessional, stopping most people in their tracks and completely filling the building with music that vibrated in our bodies. Wow!

After such an interlude, stepping back outside was a bit like landing on another planet – Mercury, maybe. Around a couple more corners was the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (Princess Diaries, Steve Martin’s Pink Panther), the surprise that Lauren had already guessed. We sat and sipped cold drinks in the hotel lobby, sensing the sophistication and a certain je ne sais quoi seeping in. A lovely floral arrangement stood on a table near us, at least six feet across and nearly as high. We assumed it was silk and were shocked to discover real flowers. Sure, the hotel probably gets a discount and all, but still.

On Fifth Avenue Susan and Lauren did a little clothes shopping, and we passed the Apple Store where people stood in long lines in the heat of the afternoon to check out the new 3G iPhone. The Girls did a little more shopping at stores in the snazzy Time Warner Center while Zack and I watched people, including this gentleman, in the building’s atrium. We observed for ourselves that “Fernando Botero’s lobby sculptures of a naked woman and man are such a big hit with shoppers that the man’s penis has been worn to a different color from people touching it.” (TimeOut New York) We also got a kick out of watching one man teaching another (both live humans) to tango in the middle of Columbus Circle.

We retrieved our bags and headed for JFK airport. This was the warmest day of our stay in NYC. I said earlier that the subway tunnels were like ovens. Make that furnaces. I wouldn’t be surprised if some stations were 110 degrees. It was a long ride to the airport, and we were glad for what air conditioning there was on the trains.

Some wonderful musicians share their talents in the subway stations beneath the streets of NYC. Music Under New York (MUNY) holds annual auditions with 20 judges for those who want to receive permits to perform in the subways. This allows them to reserve spots from a list of stations approved for music, and helps smooth out hassles with police. I was so enchanted by the music of one guitarist that I bought his CD – in fact I’m listening to it right now.

JFK is way the heck and gone out in Queens. Don’t know why I expected to be able to see the NYC skyline from the airport, but we couldn’t. Didn’t need to look at our itinerary because I have a good memory for things like addresses, phone numbers, license plates, birthdays, itineraries and the like. So when we got through security inside the terminal, I knew we had a little time to get something to eat before our 8:30 PM departure. Imagine my surprise, therefore, to hear the final boarding call for our flight being announced just as we finished our meal. Time to eat and RUN!

Judging by our gate number I figured it was probably halfway down the concourse. Wrong. JFK uses a different numbering system than SEA, and our gate was at the very end. Note: You can actually get going pretty fast by running on the moving sidewalks; just make sure you’re paying attention when you make contact with the non-moving floor at the far end.

Not sure if they were holding the flight for us, but the doors were closed the instant we boarded. Turns out that our itinerary said 8:00 departure. Excellent memory, huh? Sorry about that, Susan; sorry, kiddoes. Cost us all a bunch more sweat.

And all that hurrying – for what? We sat on the runway for 2.5 hours before it was our turn to take off. Made me crazy to hear those engines burning up fuel the whole time we were going nowhere. Happily we had a non-stop flight this time, unlike our milk run on the way out. The flight was uneventful except for some pretty heavy snoring around us and some big old electrical storms as we flew over North Dakota. Played a fun trivia game with other passengers using the screens in front of our seats. Lauren and Zack won several rounds; I never did. Actually managed to get a little sleep, however, during the flight.

Home sweet home: 62 degrees, 66% humidity

In another display of above-and-beyond-the-call friendship, our friend Kristi came to pick us up in Seattle. Originally scheduled to arrive before midnight, we didn’t land until almost 2:30 AM. Who’s going to come and meet someone at the airport at that hour? Thanks, Kristi.

Even in the middle of the night, Seattle looked and felt great. At home we could tell right away that the tomato plants were at least a foot taller than when we left.

We’ll remember this adventure for a long time to come, and for several reasons:

  1. Together with an almost 15 year-old and an almost 13 year-old almost 24/7 for two weeks, and we enjoyed just about all of it;
  2. Even the kids thought the trip was fun;
  3. Saw and did nearly everything on our lists;
  4. Didn’t drive ourselves into the ground with sightseeing;
  5. Did a LOT of walking; didn’t drive at all;
  6. Struck a good balance between must-sees and just-for-funs;
  7. Learned a lot;
  8. Enjoyed lots of laughs and accumulated a great bunch of stories.

We’d do it again in a heartbeat.


2 responses to “East Coast 08, part 11: Fawnd farewell

  1. Hi Tom – Thanks for letting all of us tag along on your wonderful trip. It felt like I was right there with you, wilting in the heat and humidity as you soaked in some of the sights and sounds of the NE. As always, your writing is very enjoyable and I’m grateful Tobacco Tess didn’t heave you over the side.
    Love to all –

  2. Tom,
    Enjoyed vicariously experiencing the bee-yoo-tee and cultcha – lawts of it – with you and your family – and your writing, and can relate to the airport experiences many times over. Amazed by your links! fawndly, Lois

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