Monday, September 18, 2017

Travel Time

In summer, we’re on the move. All of us. The airport is jammed with families and backpacks. Granny and the kids, big daddies, tall mommies, carry-ons as big as preteens.

Weather isn’t cooperating. Spectacular storms well up over the Deep South. Planes queue up on the runways. Outside, the temp simmers at 93. You sit on the tarmac, and wait. It’s hot. The captain apologizes, but obviously he can do nothing about the delay. Planes are diverted—to Atlanta, to Dallas.

New York is our destination. Fifty-four degrees there a week ago, and raining. Now in the 90’s. New Yorkers take it in stride. People sprawl in the sun, bake their skin. No worries about melanoma, it seems. They fill the Manhattan parks on the weekend for entertainment. Every patch of green lawn, carpeted in people. Music thrumming, pounding. Food sizzling. A barbecue festival, of all things.
Our hotel overlooks Bryant Park, where there is the kind of carousel I remember from my childhood, a festively striped pavilion, turning, turning. Even standing beside it, I can feel the sudden heady soar when the horse first rises.

Here comes the Puerto Rican Day parade, one of the largest. Traffic stops for blocks around its route, all afternoon.
We encounter smaller parades, too. Daily. People, dogs.

At eleven PM, hurrying past the front door of a residential building, towing owners: Little dogs—Shi Tzus, Bichons, Yorkies; big dogs—Doodles, Goldens, Labs; short-legged bull dogs, long-legged Weimeraners, all have internalized the New York pace, that of an accelerated human heartbeat. The city pulses to it. You feel it the moment you step out of your Uber from the airport.

On a midtown afternoon, the pedestrian parade hits flood stage. LH, now ninety-six, and I have meandered across Bryant Park and wait on the sidewalk for the light at Sixth Avenue to change. Cars and trucks will stop when it does, but the flood of humanity requires patience. Moses, we aren’t. Just two old people with canes, grinning at the comparative youth and energy of everyone striding by, in a rush to be elsewhere.

Walking—if knees and feet cooperate—can be so much faster, crosstown, than riding in a car or taxi. Manhattan has become worse than Houston for construction-related lane closures. Or maybe it always was. Certainly there are many more new buildings than a few years ago. Look-at-me buildings, stretching like Tai Chi practitioners toward the sun.

New buildings with glitz; conversions of older ones. My grandchildren are growing up in one of the latter, way downtown, not far from Ground Zero. Their backyard is a small park, appropriately called Teardrop; their front yard the Hudson River. The river is serene; the park is crammed with people, small and large, strollers as big as Smart Cars, nannies. Central Park might be as far away as Fayette County for all the wildlife one sees.

I worry about that, of course. The world these little ones inhabit differs so markedly from ours, and yet, in truth, theirs is a neighborhood life, automobile free. The way small towns used to be. School is only a few blocks away, an easy walk for an able person. Soccer, playdates, library, music lessons, groceries (Whole Foods, yet)—all nearby and so much closer to home than any of those activities were for me, or my son, growing up in car saturated Houston.

In a way, Battery Park City—that creation of an earlier generation of city planners—exists as a kind of oasis, compared with the rest of Manhattan. It is almost restful, with parks, river, restaurants nearby—once you get there.

Ah, yes. But getting there means air travel. Everyone, in the air and on the ground, tries very hard to be pleasant, but the system is on overload. There are too many people on the move, families who have sprinkled themselves across the country and the planet, seeking some sort of external satisfaction, carrying their inevitable disappointment with them.

Love strains to span the distance, relies upon the technologies that are generally responsible. Skype instead of a warm hug. Videos of the one moment in hundreds that happens to be captured.

If you have your grandchildren near, within a day’s drive, or closer; if you have the opportunity to know them on a daily or weekly basis as they grow; if you find yourself exhausted and exhilarated regularly from the intensity of small and endless curiosities, you should count yourself among the truly blessed.

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