The Pennsylvania scenery was beautiful in the early morning light. I got no sleep to speak of during the night and was thankful for something to look at rather than the darkness or my iPod. The moment was interrupted by a tap on my shoulder. Knowing the source of the interruption brought a smile to my face.
“Isn’t this pretty?” It was Maggie. I responded in the affirmative. “What does it remind you of?” she asked.
My answer was as simple as it was quick. “Brown County.”
“Yes! I’ll bet it’s beautiful in the fall,” she responded.
“Oh, heck yeah. We’ll have to come back and find out some day.”
“Yeah, we need to do that after a camping trip,” Maggie opined.
The two of us spent the next few minutes enjoying mile after mile of the gorgeous Pennsylvania countryside roll by before Maggie thrust her camera in front of my face. “Let’s get a picture together,” she suggested.
“Do I have to?” I asked in mock disgust.
She smacked me on the shoulder with her free hand and scolded me, “Oh, be quiet. You love this and you know it. Now smile, you grump.”
I laughed a little at her indignation and smiled for the camera. Maggie knew me better than most people on the planet do and knew how to play me like a virtuoso playing a grand piano. She took our picture and then expressed her displeasure with the result. She took a second one that was much more to her liking. She shared the photo first with me and then with Elaine, whose reaction to it may have been less enthused than mine was. Maggie laughed at the two of us. “You two are going to get along great,” she said with a laugh.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The excitement on the bus was palpable as the kids began to sense we were drawing near our destination. Faces were pressed against windows on either side of the bus. Arguments were waged about which side would offer the better view. Underclassmen were giddy with excitement. The seniors stole glances while pretending to be bored and above the fray. So this is what I missed out on, I thought while thinking back to my first visit thirty years prior.
My face would have been pressed against the window too if not for two other trips to the Big Apple. The first of those trips took place in the summer of 1982 when Lloyd’s older brother Larry and I picked Lloyd up from boot camp and spent a weekend in the New York area. Our approach afforded us that “Wow!” moment you get when you first see that famous skyline. It was spectacular. We had such a grand time that weekend that the three of us made a vow to return every year thereafter. As fate would have it that was the only time we made the trip together.
My third trip was during a baseball weekend in 2000 with Mitch, Sean, Joe, and another friend and his son. Approaching New York from Boston, we didn’t get our “Wow!” moment until we reached Yankee Stadium. It was a hot and humid day and the skyline was obscured by haze. The poor view was omen to the rest of our experience at “The House That Ruth Built” as what should have been a great day at one of the most historic sports venues of all time ended up being one of pure shit. We were all ready to get the hell out of New York before the damn game even started. I vowed that that craptastic Saturday would not be my last visit to this city that I loved.
The bus was chugging along the New Jersey interstate when the kids on the right side of the bus erupted as the skyline finally came into view. The early morning sun gleamed off of the glass and steel skyscrapers. The sky was pure azure without a hint of haze or a single cloud. Though we were still miles away it was easy to pick out the most famous feature of the Manhattan skyline – the Empire State Building. The kids on the left side of the bus either crowded the right side or ducked and bobbed to get a better look. One of the chaperones chided the kids and demanded they return to their seats. A few of them obeyed. The ones who ignored the order gained my utmost respect.
The bus soon turned onto Route 495 and was headed straight for the city. The kids were going ape shit trying to get a view of the city until we reached the portion of the highway called The Helix which took us down the New Jersey Palisades. We were now offered our best view yet of Manhattan out the left side of the bus. The sun reflecting off the Hudson River was almost blinding in its intensity. I was actually starting to get the jitters as the Empire State Building came into view a few miles away. I glanced back at Maggie and gave her a grin that she returned. She gave me a pat on the back of my head like I was a puppy then turned her attention back to the spectacular view.
We soon lost sight of the skyline as the bus made the turn down to the opening of the Lincoln Tunnel. The amount of traffic trying to get into the city was incredible. The highway opened up to several lanes and a mad dash to the toll plaza then funneled back down to two of the three tubes. Within minutes we were entering the tunnel. A few moments later the kids on the bus erupted again as we reached the point under the Hudson where we crossed from New Jersey into New York.
As we emerged back into the daylight I started scanning between the rooftops for the building I first “met” while watching King Kong when I was a pup. The bus finally came to a stop at the corner of Dyer Avenue and 35th Street. There in all its glory was the antenna spire of the Empire State Building, only about four blocks away.
This was the moment I had so desperately yearned for thirty years ago. I felt like that eighteen-year old kid all over again.
I looked behind me once again to point out the spire to Maggie, but she had already spotted it. “Is that the Empire State Building up there?” she asked me.
“It sure is, sweetie,” I answered. “Welcome to New York City.”