Home > Travel > Seattle to New York

Seattle to New York

October 26, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Yesterday I flew from Seattle to JFK and went into Manhattan. I know one’s travel travails are never as interesting to others as they are to oneself, but here goes. It’s long, and maybe not too interesting. You’ve been warned. Go to the jump if you want more.

My wife drops me at SeaTac at 6:00 AM for my 7:40 AM non-stop flight on American. I already have a boarding pass, and go to the self-service American counter to check my bag. It’s relatively empty, but confusion reigns nonetheless, with a couple standing in front of me with an array of bags, blocking my way to the kiosk. They eventually get out of the way, and I hear them talking about waiting for 20 minutes to get their bags checked. I log in, say I have one bag, run my credit card through the slot to pay $15 to check it, and then I’m offered a first-class seat at what seems to me a reasonable fee (baggage fee waived), so I take it. I move myself from 6F to 4A and complete the transaction. Then I pay closer attention to the confusion around me and realize that baggage claim tickets are dutifully being printed out, but no one behind the counter is tearing them off, reading out the names, and completing the baggage check process. Finally, like the plug being pulled from a drain, three people start doing it, 4 parties ahead of me get their bags checked, and then I do.

I’m off to security. First class line, as if I need it. Lots of time, maybe a line of 10 or 12 on the regular line, but I go through an empty first-class line and for review of my boarding pass and license, and then find an empty line for the bag examination. I’m through and at the gate just over an hour ahead of time. That’s when I realize that I can make use of the American club lounge, if there is one. American’s presence at SeaTac is too small to have their own, but maybe they share. I stare at the map for the A-wing of the terminal, look at the color key, and realize that orange is airline clubs. There’s orange right by me, just to the left of the magazine and general junk store. When I look at the spot, there’s an elevator and a stairway. No sign. Well, who knows? Maybe it’s a well-kept secret. I go up the stairs. On the landing at the top are a lot of chairs, piled up in storage. Then I see a double glass sliding door, frosted, with a button to the left. There’s no sign identifying an airline or a club name, but there is a sign by the button saying to push it for entry. I push it. I hear the ring on the far side of the door. But nothing happens. The door doesn’t magically slide open to reveal the exclusive club of which I can be a member. The place is dead. I’m probably the first person to climb the stairs in months. I re-trace my steps. I imagine a crowd below, awaiting my return with laughter, but no one is paying attention.

I take a seat, back-to-back with a couple who start making cell phone calls. It emerges that they have attended the funeral of the wife’s father, maybe at an Orthodox church, if I’m putting together the fragments correctly. The father looked good. You know how one can look after a massive heart attack, but he has color and she can have a good final memory of him. The husband speaks glowingly of the scenery. He’s never been to Seattle before. They made it to the pass yesterday. (I don’t know which pass.) They love whoever they’re speaking to, and love the next phone call recipient too.

I walk around. I take stuff out of my bag for the flight. I go around a corner at the wrong moment, stepping back and seeing that first class boarding has begun. I get in line behind a large, young woman with giant backpack and another giant bag and clothing tied around her waist. She throws everything into 2A. My 4B travel companion is in place I squeeze past to 4A. I pull out my New Yorker to read. A couple comes in a few minutes later, sees the girl in 2A, asks the flight attendant to check what’s happening, since they have 2AB, the attendant asks the girl what seat she’s in, pointing to 2D, the girl says oh, yes, I’m there, sorry. Meanwhile, the well-dressed man in front of me in 3B has decided to slide over to 3A. Near the end of boarding, another man enters, the attendant asks the beautiful-looking man if he’s in 3A, he says no 3B and makes a move to go back, but the newcomer says no problem and takes 3B. It turns out that his wife is a few rows back. I don’t know why they don’t engineer a trade.

We’re all settled up in first class and the pilot starts chatting over the intercom, not normal procedure when boarding is taking place, but he has news. The good news, I forget the good news. The bad news, we aren’t going anywhere for a while. JFK has assigned us a landing slot that will have us on the ground at SeaTac for 2 hours. American is working to trade some slots around, get us into an earlier one. He’ll keep us informed. Next announcement — we’ve moved up 13 minutes, but the problem is now clear — weather. Storm moving in. When we land, winds will be 25 knots and visibility will be 1 mile, but only after we drop under cloud level at 600 feet. That means we can’t land on runway 13, at angle 130 degrees, we need to do an instrument landing, runway 4, and that involves some maneuvering and metering the arriving planes and so we’re all being fed in slowly and something like that. The upshot: wheels up at 9:09. At 8:00, we get the final plan. We’ll leave the gate at 8:30, taxi out to the end of the taxiway/runway, shut down, sit for 20 minutes, then take off. We get 5 minutes grace and we’ll use it. Wheels up at 04. Which is what happened.

Meanwhile, my 4B companion has been calling his friends in New York, so I’ve learned a bit about him. Actor. Coming in to do some work for a week. I realize as I listen, from a few clues, that he’s probably in Seattle just for the year, artist in residence or something. He doesn’t mention a school, but it’s probably UW, and given all the people I know in UW’s School of Drama, there’s a lot we could talk about. I decide not to invade his privacy though, so we never do.

We have two lovely older women as our first-class attendants, both 60 or more. We have breakfast — omelette, turkey sausage, potatoes, honeydew and orange sections, choice of biscuit or bagel with butter, jam, or cream cheese. I ask the attendant what kind of biscuits they are, really wanting to know what kind of bagels too. She asks how old I am — anyone of a certain age would know what a biscuit is. But she confesses that the bagels aren’t NY bagels. And she shows me the container with the two. I choose the biscuit. 4B chooses the bagel — doesn’t want them to feel bad. The attendant has a classic NY accent, very strong.

Shortly after breakfast, 4B heads to the bathroom in front. I get out while he’s up and head up front, where the two attendants are standing. The one with the NY accent asks where I’m from, the three of us start a conversation, people come and go from the bathroom, the NY one asks what car she should buy. I have no context, ask what the constraints are, or the goals. It turns out she lives in California, had gone to Best Buy. Oh, this is the point. I was talking about seeing my parents, and their ages, and we were discussing aging, and she leapt to the car issue because while she was parked at Best Buy, a 78-year-old gentleman had some physical problem while driving and proceeded to hit a long line of cars, including hers. To her astonishment, it was totalled. Only 6-7 years old, 33,000 miles on it. So she’s looking for a new car. Should she get a Prius? I start to give my thoughts when the other attendant, who earlier has asked why I didn’t sound like the New Yorker, said she could now see that I’m a New Yorker too. Around this time, the bathroom became available again and she said I should grab it before it was too late, which I did. On my way out, they were on to the next conversation with the next bathroom waiter, so I went back to my seat. I could see that this was standard procedure. No one got to the bathroom without talking to them.

Later in the flight, the sun suddenly streams through my window, even though I’m on the left side, looking northwards. The pilot is on it. Two minutes later he explains that we had made a turn, as we may have noticed, because we are circling, and have been instructed to do so for half an hour. We’ll see other planes near us, but don’t worry — they’re at different altitudes. Moments later he says we are now cleared to proceed to JFK. Some minutes later we start our descent through thick clouds We’re bounced around like crazy, the most turbulent descent I can remember in years. And with no visibility, so no reference point as to where we are. Things smooth out in a layer between clouds and suddenly we’re circling again, this time closer in. We drop some more, and finally there are intermittent sightings of the ocean. That’s it for many minutes. Clouds, ocean, clouds, ocean. At one point I see land ahead and think we’re doing the standard JFK routing of heading west over the Atlantic towards the Jersey shore, where we turn back to JFK. We do turn, but we’re not heading in to our landing yet. And more minutes later, turning again the clouds have a gap and I see the Verrazanno Bridge. Strangest thing. We’re right over it, the only gap in the clouds, then nothing. But views emerge again and we’re over Brooklyn. This is it. We’re going in. I’m having trouble picking out landmarks, until the last minute, when I see the Van Wyck, I see it cross the Belt Parkway, I see the AirTran and the car rental location, I see cargo buildings, and we’re over the runway. We’re down, 5:15 PM. We taxi in, are at the gate around 5:20 PM, only an hour and ten minutes late, which says more about how padded the schedule is than about our making up any time.

4B asks if I have a connection, as he’ll glad step out of the way for me. Nope. Just going into Manhattan, and have to wait for my bag anyway. That takes a long time these days, he says. A ground agent informs Rome and Zurich connecting passengers that they should check at a counter to re-book. They’ve missed their flights. The good news is that no one else has.

We’re in the outer American terminal, descend to the tunnel to go under the space between terminals where the planes taxi around and park, ascend to the main terminal — huge ascent, long walk to the security exit, down again to baggage claim. Baggage claim 8. I would get to know it well. After 45 minutes with no bags, we are told that there’s a mechanical problem getting the bags off the plane, but they will come momentarily. Ten minutes later the light flashes and the carousel turns, but no bags for another 3-4 minutes. Finally, after about an hour of waiting, I have my bag.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There is a row of seats parallel to and facing baggage claim 8. I take the end seat after a few minutes of waiting. A couple is next to me is busily engaged in conversation, both verifying that her cell phone is dead. She’s checking out the entire baggage claim space from our location and reporting that she sees no pay phone. He keeps saying there must be, but speculating that maybe they don’t exist anymore. Finally, I offer my cell phone. He’s stunned. I insist I’m serious — it won’t cost me anything, and until my bag comes, I have nowhere to go. I offer to dial for him, a Connecticut number, and then a second one, and then the second one again, this second one belonging to someone circling JFK who they are trying to tell where to find them when their bags come. These calls transpire over about a half hour period, during which I talk to both, then to her, then to him, as each takes turns going outside to find their ride.
They’re just back from visiting their daughter in San Jose and their son in Bend, Oregon. I explain my own situation, living in Seattle 27 years, growing up in New York, back to see my family, etc. Am I retired? No. Is he? No, but his son is. The father, on further questioning, is retired from his principal occupation. He was an orthodontist for 40 years. But he bought his office building, maybe others, and is now in real estate management. Then he explains that he has come full circle. He worked his way through college as a janitor, which is also real estate management. He’s from Brooklyn. His son and daughter-in-law met in med school, at Washington University in St. Louis. I mentioned my Boston years, Harvard and MIT, and he said that’s where the daughter-in-law taught. The son practiced, I don’t remember what now. But they retired to Bend and the son is now involved with making airplanes. They took a test ride in one just yesterday. As for the mother, she liked math in high school, but didn’t pursue it in college. She became a teacher, taught science in elementary school. But now the bags are coming. They walk off. Passenger 4B has been sitting 4 seats away. He sees his bag, gets up, passes me, and says as he walks by that there was no hurry getting off the plane. Then my bag comes and I head to the taxi.

JFK to Manhattan: fixed fare, $45 plus toll and tip. And the dispatcher punches in the medallion number and prints out some sheet with that and the time, handing it to me. The back side explains the fare rules to different boroughs or out of the city, and typical meter charges to different boroughs other than Manhattan. A little hard to read in the dark, but the key point is, I’m paying $45. The Van Wyck is moving for a change, except when it dumps into the Grand Central, a minor slowdown. I recommend taking the Triborough (which I saw just today has been renamed the RFK Bridge — I missed that) to FDR Drive to 96th. Mostly, I don’t want to have him save me the $5 toll by taking local streets through Queens to the Queensborough Bridge. I’d rather pay and get to the hotel, which we do, at 7:00 PM.

I walk up a few steps to the front desk and wait for the woman to help me, but she’s busy on the phone with someone who seems to want another room. Slowly it dawns on me that she’s probably talking to my sister. She hangs up, figures out who I am, I ask if my sister and her family have arrived, and she says yes she was just talking to her. I get my key, go to the elevator, and out comes my sister and nephew, who are in the process of getting a single room for him, since the suite they have isn’t going to work for the three of them. I go up to my room 7th floor, open the door, and find the smallest hotel room I’ve seen in many years. I can’t remember when I’ve seen such a small room in the US. Facing me is a bed, maybe a double, but it looks even narrower, sandwiched between a nightstand and a small desk and chair. Getting to the desk requires squeezing past a small end table with the TV on it. And to my left is a small armoire. No closet. No sitting chair. A long, narrow bathroom to the right, with the sink behind the door. Well, no big deal. They’re sold out. I got in off a waiting list. I know things will empty out after tonight, so maybe I’ll move tomorrow. Or maybe not.

I unpack, head down to meet my sister, brother-in-law, and son (who have flown into Newark from Paris for a 6-day stay, arriving an hour ahead of me), and we go to dinner at Joanna’s Restaurant, an Italian restaurant on the corner of 92nd and Madison, on street level in the hotel building. It’s not part of the hotel — there’ so interior entrance, as there is to Sarabeth’s, another restaurant in the building. The hotel entrance is on Madison, maybe 20 yards north of the corner; the restaurant entrance is on 92nd, 10 yards east of the corner.

My nephew and I both have the veal parmagiana, which comes with spaghetti or vegetables. We take spaghetti. My brother-in-law has the risotto of the day, which comes with chicken and something else, all mixed up and shaped in a cylinder. I should have had that. Lighter, tasty. My sister has a chicken dish that also looks good. My mixed green salad to start was excellent, as was the bread. I skip dessert. Everyone else has sorbet — raspberry or mango. Halfway through the meal, heavy showers move in, with lightning and thunder at one point, accompanied by heavy winds, and the showers just keep falling, so finally we make a dash out the door and around the corner into the hotel, soaked even after just a short run. It wis 9:30, or 3:30 AM Paris time. I don’t know how they have stayed up. We check out my nephew’s room, then I see the suite, then they got to see my room. My nephew’s single is larger than mine, with a bigger bed, lots more breathing room. Moving seems like a good idea.

The rain has delayed the start of game 3 of the World Series. I eventually watch some, but give up after 4 innings, browse the internet for a while, and go to bed. In my browsing, I discovered that my airplane companion 4B really is at UW, artist-in-residence in the School of Drama. I should have talked to him. Stupid of me.

In the morning I discover my room’s one strong point — windows on 3 sides and lots of light. The sky is blue, the sun is out, it’s a beautiful day, I’m above the nearest buildings, I can see north and east (the third window, to the south, looks back to another window, by the stairway and elevator). And the bathroom has an east-facing window as well, a big one, in the shower. Maybe I should stay put.

Complimentary continental breakfast is served on the second floor, 7:30 to 9:30. I check it out at 9:15 and it looks more than ample. Bagels, muffins, apples, oranges, bananas, a toaster, orange juice. Oh, coffee too, but I don’t drink it, so I don’t care. And hot water for tea. And copies of the Sunday NYT. I toast my bagel, grab a seat, look at the paper, and eat. Around me I hear an assortment of languages — English, Spanish, French. Maybe Italian farther away, or maybe not. I come back up, start writing this absurd post, having decided I’m not going to pack up and move, but then I decide I may as well ask what my options are, so I call the front desk. I say I like being on a high floor with light, so if I can’t get that, I’ll stay put. He tells me 7 is the highest floor, since 8 and 9 are under renovation. He promises to call back, but he doesn’t, and we’re heading out at 11:15, so at 11:10 I go down to talk to him. He was busy, apologizes for not calling, says there’s a single that’s larger on the 6th floor, offers to show it to me. I mention my nephew’s room, he says yes it’s the mirror image of that, interior view. (Some rooms have windows facing windows of other rooms through little light shafts.) I say forget it, I kind of like my room, even if it’s way small. He says yes, lots of people like the 01 rooms for that reason. So that’s settled. I’m happy. I can see in 2 1/2 directions, which beats looking into someone else’s window. Plus, it’s quiet, the far side from Madison and 92nd, very little street noise.

That’s that — I’ve arrived in New York and settled in for my short visit. Now it’s time to see family.

Categories: Travel
  1. No comments yet.
  1. December 16, 2008 at 6:27 AM

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: