Tag Archives: Travel

New York – after the towers fell

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Most of the passengers on an early morning weekday flight from Chicago into LaGuardia are regulars on that run and they’re not on the plane for fun. No one talks. They’re reading the paper or working on laptops or catching up on some of the sleep they missed when the cab picked them up in pitch dark at 4AM.

This flight was different- for most of us it would be the first time landing in New York after the towers fell. It was the last week in September 2001, two weeks after 9/11. The plane was turning into its final descent and all the regulars knew that after that turn we were going to get our first glimpse of the New York skyline – the disfigured, empty New York skyline.

A tense murmur rose in the cabin. One man had his camera ready. I considered that myself but it seemed inappropriate, like taking pictures at a funeral. I took plenty of pictures later- what was left of the towers, still smoldering after two weeks. All the people, shell shocked. All the flags. Remember all the flags? I get a lump in my throat when I think of it now.

I always had the same reaction when the skyline came into view. From that angle, the Chrysler building and the Empire State looked like they were standing right next to each other.  Vintage buildings of an earlier, more graceful era, facing downtown towards the tall, sleekly modern twin towers, like a pair of doting grandparents gazing upon their strapping young grandchildren.

Where the grandchildren had stood was all empty sky; only the grandparents remained, looking down on the wreckage.

timessqflags1In Manhattan, buildings, fences, signposts plastered with “Missing” flyers that were starting to peel – by that time their fate was known.  The city was covered in red, white and blue; flashing neon flags lit Times Square. Vendors sold t-shirts and photos of the towers. Midtown bustled, seemingly normal and functional – except that everyone I spoke to wanted to tell me everything – exactly where they were, how they heard, what they saw and who they knew that got out or didn’t get out that morning –  and  I wanted to listen.

After conducting the day’s business I took the subway downtown and got off at the stop that was still marked World Trade Center.  Just a few miles south the brilliant blue sky of Midtown was grey, there was still so much ash and dust in the air. The odor of burnt plastic was overpowering – all that remained of the contents of the buildings that had been incinerated.

The streets, the store fronts all closed – everything in the shuttered shop windows was covered in inches of ash, like a modern-day Pompeii.  The streets were filled with people, some crying, some praying, some just walking around expressionless. The area immediately surrounding the buildings that had fallen was fenced off, about a square mile in all. Beyond the fences were admitted only the police, the Red Cross and the uniformed men and women of the National Guard. None of the stores or coffee shops were open, but on Wall Street, The New York Stock Exchange was in business, an enormous flag draped across the whole front of the building. 

Behind the fences stood the wreckage of the towers. gasmasksP-aI stood there and watched them smolder for a while and then the whole scene simply became overpowering – the display cases of a jewelry store covered in inches of ash, the signs posted with faces of the missing people, the ashen sky and the atmosphere filled with toxins and pollutants you shouldn’t breathe – my head was pounding and my heart was breaking. I had to get out.

Tight lipped, face drawn, striding towards the subway I passed three young men. One of them looked at me and said “Smile. It’s not that bad.”  

Yes it was.

Back in midtown, where the sky was blue and the air was clear, there were flags everywhere you looked. Times Square was lit up in neon of red white and blue.

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And at night the Empire State Building, the grieving grandfather, showed his colors.

Santa Fe: Hiking the Atalaya Mountain Trail

 

Santa Fe is one of those destinations that has something for everyone so it’s a great place to go with friends whose idea of what constitutes a good time may differ slightly from yours.  The area offers hiking, skiing and rafting for the outdoorsy types, Canyon Road and the museums for art and history buffs, shopping and spas, Taos and the Pueblos, great restaurants and bars. Spring and fall bring gorgeous, dry warm days and cool nights when it’s nice to curl up by the kiva fireplace in your casita and relax after the day’s activities.

There I  did something I vow I will never do again –  took a solitary mountain hike on an unfamiliar trail.  It was a 7 mile loop that you picked up close to downtown Santa Fe that started off kind of easy and flat and became increasingly challenging. Some people I met coming back down mentioned a shortcut that joined up with a dirt road that eventually led to where I’d parked.  They also said once you reached the final peak the trail split. You could take a longer more gradual incline or a steep straight shot up to the summit. One of them looked middle-aged me over and said, “you know, it gets extremely strenuous from here….”

Game on.  The steep uphill was actually no  problem, I’m at the gym every morning. Anyway I was antsy to finish the hike already and meet up with my travel companion, who was back in town dividing her time between browsing the galleries and searching frantically for public restrooms when it became apparent she should have opted out of the hot chile sauce on her huevos rancheros  – enough said.

The lack of trail markers was concerning.  In the Midwest there are always those little signs with the colors, here, not so much –  just a narrow footpath winding through the pines. Covered in pine needles it  didn’t look a whole lot different from the ground where the footpath wasn’t.  Nevertheless, I made the summit without incident.

The vistas from up there were amazing. The 18x zoom on the Olympus SP 550-UZ was getting quite a workout. That camera is no longer with me, it got ripped off last winter at a different Mayan ruin. Bad camera karma at those ruins, makes you wonder….

In any event, a woman at the summit who did this climb daily obligingly snapped my pic and started back down.

I said to myself, I should follow right behind her,  she knows this trail. I should have listened to myself.

Heading back down one minute I was on the trail, the next minute, not so much.  I ended up perched out on some high precipice, with a serious case of acrophobia, no water and almost no battery power left in a cellphone that only showed one bar. I tried calling the New Mexico State Forest Department. This trail wasn’t in their jurisdiction and they couldn’t help. I called some number at the Santa Fe county. They told me to call state forestry department.  I heard the low battery signal beeping and hysteria creeping into my voice. A cold icy hand gripped my chest and  squeezed really hard. I broke out in a sweat.

Then my inner voice said, Self,  hang up. If you panic all is lost. It said trail or no trail, clearly the direction you must go is down. It said,  just keep the sun on your left. I listened. Grasping some tree roots I got off the precipice and on solid ground. That the ground was at about a 60 degree angle I had no choice but to ignore. I crouched down and slid – pine needles are actually softer than they look – finally reaching somewhere flat enough to stand upright. Sliding down was  a hell of a lot faster than climbing up but I don’t recommend it. There I spotted a v-shaped seam in the side of the mountain,  like maybe where snow melt runs off. 

The voice said water knows it way down a mountain better than an ignoramus like you. It said, follow that sluice and it will bring you back to the trail. 

That never happened.  But damned if that sluice didn’t deliver me to the exact spot those people told me about where the dirt road linked up to the parking lot. Eventually I met up with other hikers on the road who were looking at me funny. Apparently the pine needles had ripped my aerobic tights to shreds and they saw London, they saw France, they saw Caryn’s underpants.

Bali: Where you go lady?

So I like to go places – exotic or mundane, city or country, domestic or international – anyplace I’ve never been is someplace I might want to go. 

The recorded history of my travels dates back to the purchase of my first camera – an Olympus Pen that shot double frames, I bought it in Tokyo.  You could get twice as many pictures in a roll. I recently found out these cameras were collectors items which made me regret all over again the fact that I dropped it down a Mayan pyramid.  It still worked when I found it. After that motor drives came in so I guess I threw it away. Wish I hadn’t. But I still have the pictures.

I did everything backwards on that trip. I’d never been out of the country, and I started out in the Far East. Clueless. By the time I got to Hong Kong  I realized I had packed wrong and I really wouldn’t need  a grey wool blazer in Southeast Asia.  Everyone else I met coming from the other direction had been on the road for like 4 or 5 years, they couldn’t believe I had just left home like a month earlier. For the sake of the narrative I guess I’m going to have to admit this was in 1975. As a newbie on the  circuit I was much in demand because in these pre-internet day I was an actual source of information from home. Who won the World Series? – did Gloria and Mike on All in the Family have a baby? – what about this new president Gerry Ford? (Not a bad guy, I said, maybe not presidential material  but he’d make a nice next-door neighbor. He reminded me of the dad on My Three Sons).

In Bali all the little kids would chase me yelling “Lady! Where you go? Where you go?”  It drove me nuts but that was all they knew how to say.