Saturday, March 27, 2021
New York, back at last!
This long-awaited, week-long return to New York after 16 months away flew by. An unforgettable pandemic year+ had elapsed since we locked up the apartment in November 2019, planning on returning in March. The coronavirus crisis forced us to cancel trip after trip, as elective travel shut down. In early November, we tried again, only to see the rules for quarantining change just before our planned departure. For most of the fall, California had not been one of the states whose residents had to quarantine, but just before our planned long weekend, it was back on the list. We weren’t going long enough to justify Covid testing before departure, quarantining for 3 days and standing in line, possibly for hours, for retesting. Our fourth cancelled trip was in December, with mounting case numbers and hospitalizations discouraging us.
This trip came together in late February. I’d been watching, waiting, expecting a change in policy for vaccinated people. A text from Mayde saying she was planning a long weekend in March alerted me to the policy change, opening up the possibility of returning.
The only problem was when. All of our remaining vacation time until July was spoken for, at least to the extent possible in this shifting landscape of pandemic-time uncertainty. We had been planning to meet up with Alisa and Andy in Sedona during her spring break from teaching. I was committed to a river rafting trip in the Grand Canyon in late April-early May and we were scheduled for a diving trip to the Philippines in late June-early July. It wasn’t clear that our dive trip to Tubbataha was going, but it hadn’t been called yet, so we couldn’t make alternate plans.
Alisa and I have been friends since college. One of the joys of such a long friendship is not being afraid to say what is really on your mind. They were planning a long road trip from Sacramento, incorporating the Grand Canyon and were tentatively planning to intersect with us for only 3 days. Andy had concerns about staying with us, being the lone unvaccinated person.
Alisa was reassuring, encouraging us to go to New York. They were raring for a change of scenery and pivoted, extending their stays in the Grand Canyon and Palm Springs.
We accumulated a lot of credit on American Airlines from all those cancelled trips. My first surprise was booking the tickets. For months, there had been no non-stop service to JFK. Now, there was again, on JetBlue, evidently a code share arrangement. It was so new neither JetBlue nor American agents could answer questions about upgrades or use of credit. I did manage to pay for the tickets with a paper voucher, which I had to mail in before the transaction was finalized. Could I use the remaining funds left over to upgrade to Mint on the return? Neither agent could answer this question. I did upgrade to Even More Room and hoped the JetBlue agent was right that we’d end up with the whole row by booking aisle and window seats:
“No one will pay $90 for a middle seat!”
She was right.
San Diego Airport was a quiet shell of its normal bustling self. Not quite a zombie apocalypse airport, but definitely subdued. Ironically, we spent much longer than usual shuffling through security, as the TSA pre-check line wasn’t open. Many shops were closed. Our plane wasn’t full, so we did end up with a whole row of seats to ourselves.
My movie selection, The King of Staten Island, struck unusually close to home. Directed by Jude Apatow, it stars Pete Davidson as a floundering 24-year-old who lives with his mother, played by Marisa Tomei. The story resonated with me, with many parallels to our family in New York, as well as familiar locations in the city and on the Staten Island ferry. In real life, Davidson lost his firefighter father during the 9-11 attacks. In the film, he plays an aimless man-child who lost his firefighter father as a child, who is forced to begin to grow up when his mother, an ER and school nurse, begins dating another fireman. Our firefighting brother-in-law works in the theatre district, at a house which sustained heavy loss of life from the 9-11 attacks. The terrible toll on the ranks of the New York fire department from that day led in subsequent years to a need for replacements, leading indirectly to his position today. His wife, Steve’s sister, is a school nurse in lower Manhattan. They live in Staten Island, so taking the ferry is a regular part of their commute to work.
As soon as we reached the unsecured arrivals area of the airport, we were greeted by a phalanx of National Guard troops, with clipboards and Covid questionnaires. We scanned the QR code to complete our questionnaires on the ride into Manhattan and received in response emails which confirmed, being vaccinated, we were not subject to quarantine. Despite that, after missing a check-up phone call on Monday while at MOMA, I was hounded every 2 days thereafter with slightly menacing texts from THE NEW YORK CITY SHERIFF, advising me that “It is State law that travelers, like yourself, quarantine for 10 days from arrival to prevent the spread of COVID…if you break this law, you may have to pay a large fine.” Reverse look up of the phone number connected with the texts shows it is from Oklahoma City-a scam, perhaps?
We had arranged a pick-up with Gideon, a Kenyan driver I met back in 2017 looking at real estate with Leslie. Our first stop after dropping our bags off in the apartment was to Annie’s, our local bodega, for oat milk and provisions, followed by pizza at San Mateo. San Mateo is sporting a wooden bump-out which enabled to eat almost outside, in a well ventilated Covid addition.
Sunday, March 28, 2021
As we’ve always said, we don’t go to New York for the weather. It was a cold and rainy day, although it cleared up intermittently, long enough for a drizzly walk with Sarah and Aaron to the Central Park Conservancy Garden.
We were too early for the peak of spring. The trees were budding and the magnolia across the street was emerging in pink flowery form, but it appears the best of the blossoms were still several weeks away.
We had lunch at Eli’s, our neighborhood standby.
Back in the apartment, Sarah and Aaron helped us hang a quartet of underwater macro images which I had shipped a year ago, unsold from my Tonic of Wildness show at The Photographer’s Eye Gallery in January-February 2020, just before the world was spun off its axis by the coronavirus. It was hilarious, measuring, remeasuring, managing without a laser level, stringing tape across the wall as a guide. I laid out the arrangement on the floor. We decided a 1.5 inch separation would be ideal. Somehow, after hanging the bottom row, the group ended up on the wall, separated by 2 inches, despite all of our collective calculations! Luckily, we all agreed this spacing was even better.
After Sarah and Aaron headed home to their dog, Steve and I walked to Lenox Hill to pick up Thep Thai for dinner with Chris and Janice. We almost made it without getting caught in the rain, but the skies opened up in a gush as we walked the couple of blocks to their apartment, near soaking us by the time we made it there.
Monday, March 29, 2021
On a sunny, crisp and gorgeous windy morning, we walked south on Madison toward Midtown. We had a members only 10:30 am timed entrance to MOMA. It was early enough that many stores were not yet open. We’d heard Midtown was so transformed by the pandemic that I was a little nervous leaving the Upper East Side. Aaron had mentioned the homeless were being housed in hotels near Time Square which formerly housed tourists and that he and the other firemen from his theatre district house didn’t linger in Midtown when their shifts were done.
We saw more empty storefronts on Madison the further south we walked, casualties of the slowdown in commerce wrought by the pandemic and the shutdown. We’d heard crime was up, although had seen little evidence of it ourselves until we passed the Alexander McQueen store, its door shockingly smashed in. Through the gaping new opening in the glass door, I could see police investigating the scene. At the foot of the door, the shattered glass gleamed in the sun, glittering in a heap like gorgeous irregular ice cubes.
At MOMA, we encountered the fewest people I’ve ever seen in the galleries, a pleasant change.
We left enough time to do a quick tour of Ralph and Gail’s newly and beautifully redone nearby apartment, a project with a husband and wife firm of architects called PullTab.
We walked back along Fifth Avenue briskly to meet Benjamin back at the apartment at 1:30 pm. He was outside already, jazzily clad in a graphic black and white print jacket. Although we’ve corresponded since acquiring the apartment in 2017 and met him virtually via Facetime in November, this was our first meeting in person. After chatting in our apartment, which he designed in 1999 for a Puerto Rican architect, we toured the next door apartment occupied by Cal and Stella, newly installed, as well as the downstairs version they just vacated.
Our final errand for the day was a dash down to Warby Parker to order new glasses for me.
We somehow managed to reheat the Thep Thai leftovers without a microwave, all the while reassessing our kitchen for where we could house one.
Tuesday, March 30, 2021
We shopped online for a microwave in the morning, then walked south through Central Park, on the cusp of all-out spring, with buds on trees and early flowers. We jumped on the subway at 42cd St to speed our way to Canal and Tribeca, with our destination being Issey Miyake. With Aaron’s warning in our ears not to stand too close to the platform’s edge, we kept our eyes open for trouble, but the train was much less full than usual. It had been a year since I had bought any clothes that were not cycling wear.
After a successful session with Debra, including the seersucker top from the Haat catalog that had lured me in in the first place, we walked north to 14th Street to meet an architect friend, John Ike, for dinner at Hao Noodle. This was our first time to eat inside a restaurant in many, many months. We shared a delicious meal, with chicken salad, dumplings, dandan noodles, and more delights.
We Ubered home, the plastic wrap partition between us and the driver discouraging chit-chat.
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
In the morning, we met virtually with Ralph, for a portfolio second opinion.
Our lunch of Hao Noodle leftovers was heated in the new microwave, which was waiting by our door when we returned home in the evening. We headed south for the afternoon at Fotografska, a recent addition to the museum scene of New York and our first visit. It is housed in a former church. The highlights of the exhibitions were both by Martin Schoeller, one a moving, oversize video installation of exonerated death row inmates and the other, portraits of survivors of catastrophic car crashes, highlighting how the decision of Volvo not to patent the 3-point restraint systems of modern seat belts became the industry standard and saved innumerable lives.
Back at the apartment, we didn’t have far to travel for dinner in the evening, just across the hall to Cal and Stella’s. We joked about going over in our slippers. Although they had just moved in over the weekend, there was art on the walls and order restored. They had Citibiked across the Park for kaffir lime leaves for the Thai curry dish Stella made, which was delicious. Dessert was procured from Paris Baguette.
Thursday, April 1, 2021
Another virtual financial planning meeting anchored this morning, with Carolyn and Brooke.
Steve served up sous-vide scrambled eggs, served with baked goods from Orwashers, a major UES bakery discovery (78th between 1st and 2cd Aves). In the afternoon, we walked over to the Met, which was lively but not crazy.
On our way home, we procured dinner from Mercato Rustica, a few month old addition to the neighborhood (salmon, haricots vert and broccoli, Greek salad), served with Orwasher focaccia. The evening’s entertainment was a screening of Tom Ford’s second film, a creepy psychological thriller with stylish visuals called Nocturnal Animals, which John had mentioned at dinner a few nights before.
Friday, April 2, 2021
Harry came over mid-day. We had discovered evidence of a small but probably old leak lifting some paint in the bedroom and Cal and Stella had mentioned there were some funky features needing addressing next door.
Vivian and Joe came over in the early evening, their first time to see the apartment, finally completely kitted out, with artwork hung in virtually every available spot. They had been to Eataly earlier in the day and procured dessert for a dinner planned later at Chris and Janice’s, whose youngest is too young to be left with a babysitter. Chris had volunteered to cook. He made a series of small, seriously delicious plates, beginning with scallops and ending with wagyu beef. The streets were completely empty when we finally left, so deserted we didn’t consider walking home, a distinct change from pre-pandemic times.
Saturday, April 3, 2021
Sarah and Aaron picked us up mid-day and we headed out for a stroll on a beautiful sunny afternoon to Woodlawn Cemetery, in the Bronx. This historic cemetery, dating to 1863, is the final resting place of many luminaries. Famous names inhabit this tranquil, formerly rural, site, a National Historic Landmark since 2011: Macy, Pulitzer, Woolworth. Prominent citizens are represented by grandiose mausoleums and edifices reflecting their positions in society (as well, presumably, positioning them well in the afterlife), with an architectural abundance, ranging from miniature Greek temples to Gothic cathedrals. Miles Davis occupies a prominent corner, just across from Duke Ellington.
Sarah and Aaron dropped us off at JFK for another amazing architectural experience. We were dreading having to arise in the middle of the night to make an 8 am flight home and had been wanting to stay in the TWA hotel in the restored iconic Saarinen structure since it opened as a hotel 2 years before. This seemed the perfect opportunity.
Arriving in time for afternoon’s golden light, we dashed around shooting inside and out, then took in the displays of TWA flight attendant uniforms through the decades and mock-ups of TWA owner Howard Hughes’ and architect Eero Saarinen’s offices.
We finished our tour of the facilities after dinner, taking the elevator up to the roof to the pool, which had plenty of takers despite the chill.
In the morning, we had but a 5-minute stroll through a dramatic tunnel to the terminal, bringing our short sojourn in the golden age of travel to an end, a marvelous terminus to our long-awaited return to New York and jet travel.