Tuesday, September 1, 2015

New York City: Baggage Check

Lower Manhattan from the water

I have many memories of New York, not all of them pleasant.  After my mother died of cancer and we completed the first round of settling her affairs, we drove away with a big orange sun lighting Manhattan's towers and I hoped I'd never ever have to return to the city.  But I did, for my dad's final illness.  The circumstances surrounding his death were bad news; you don't want to read the details and I don't want to write them, but I really didn't want to have anything to do with New York after that.  (Let's just say that he was working very close to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001; he developed an odd cancer; he died of complications of chemotherapy; and the doctors were stunningly not forthcoming about details.  In fact, self-protective lies were most assuredly involved. the hospital was either incompetent to recognize what was going on, or too gutless to admit it; either way is a problem.)  Eighteen years almost to the day after we drove away, though, the Galeon entered New York harbor., Again I saw an orange early-morning summer sun on the horizon reflected in glass-and-steel skyscrapers.  Manhattan, I thought, had looked better in the rear-view mirror as we left than it did approaching it again, but here I was.

I seriously considered just working for the 10 days of our visit, not even leaving the boat.  I offered to trade days so some of my friends could have more time off to explore New York and I'd take my time off in a friendlier port further north.  But to make it worse, we were being marketed as a "pirate ship" with several expensive evening events that included open bar.  I didn't want to be aboard for those drinkfests either.  So, I don't want to be on the ship, and I don't want to get off the ship ... sounds like I'm setting myself up for a crappy time in the Big Apple, doesn't it?

We had some fascinating visitors to the ship and the long conversations I had with them helped my sour mood.  A professor who was teaching a course on the spice trade asked piercing questions for about 2 hours. A fortune teller in a flowing burgundy gown came by; I saw her later reading palms at a kiosk on the street.  My favorite visitor by far was the modest and unassuming circumnavigator Richard Ashton, author of "This Old Man and the Sea." He was absolutely delighted to learn I had read his book and not at all put off when I admitted I had found it at a marina book swap. Visitors with interesting stories like these more than make up for the ones who just come aboard to take selfies.

The crew perks helped also; as we gratefully accepted the invitation of the schooner Pioneer docked next to us for some sunset sails in the harbor.  Fun comparing notes with them about the differences that several hundred years of naval architecture made from the Galeon's era to theirs, in the way the ships sailed.  The harbor was too crowded and busy to be described as peaceful, but the sailing trips were relaxing and pleasant, and the scenery included wonderful landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the new tower that replaced the World Trade Center. We watched the Fourth of July fireworks from aboard the ship (not a bad deal, tix for everyone else cost $150 per head, and the bartender generously left us with the partially used bottles of liquor when they closed down).  We did finally walk around town some, found a cozy Irish pub, visited the Museum of Math (feeding my inner engineering nerd; I loved it!). There was quite a lot of damage from Hurricane Sandy almost 3 years ago, and many areas had scaffolding of renovation or new construction. My friend Beth brought her husband Lenn and pirate-obsessed six-year-old son to visit, and afterward we went out for lunch and a beer (thanx for the visit, guys, you were the high point of our week!).  On one of our strolls we got to the edge of the WTC memorial but I immediately got uncomfortable and we left fast. Internet on board continued to be an issue for us, primarily because I never found an adapter to plug my laptop into European 220V power, instead we found an accommodating Starbucks just a few blocks from where we were docked to meet our connectivity needs.

In the end, nothing either wonderful or terrible happened.  New York will never be a favorite place for me.  I did, however, gain some better memories to overlay the bad ones, and bought myself a touristy souvenir coffee mug as an acknowledgement.  Still, when the time came, I was delighted to set sail for our next port, and not just because I was looking forward to being on the water again.

The "concrete canyons"

We were docked at South Street Seaport, near the financial district

They turned the ship into a "pirate ship" for a night party with DJ and crazy lighting

But it was a primo place to watch the fireworks

And friend Beth's visit was the best part of our stay

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