Coming on 15 years after the September 11th attacks, and we still haven’t figured out a good way to pick people up from the airport. Here’s the process: Your Pickupee sends you her flight info. You leave the house a half hour before she’s supposed to land. You get to the airport. You pull into the “Arrivals” lane and wait for her. A police officer comes along and tells you you can’t stay there. You drive around again. Same terminal, same cop, Pickupee is still getting her bags. So then you drive around and and finally pull up behind 6 or 7 others who’ve got nowhere to go so they’re on the side of the highway. In danger of getting hit AND getting a ticket. You sit there for the next 20 minutes, staring into your rearview mirror, nervous. Finally your Pickupee texts you that she has her bag. Back to the “Arrivals” lane. You swing by, give a quick hug, throw the bag into the back, and sweep her into the car before you’re shooed away, and then you’re off, totally stressed and in need of a drink before the visit even started!
Here’s a thought: set aside a section of the short term parking lot for drop offs and pickups. You can park there for half an hour max. It’s not 2 miles away and it doesn’t cost 20 bucks. Hmmm…?
It should probably go without saying that this week’s train derailment in Philadelphia was horrifying. The mangled cars, the descriptions from riders–many of them bloodied from glass, metal, falling luggage and other passengers–and of course, the eight who didn’t make it home. Just a few months ago…we were reporting on the same thing—that time, it was a commuter train that hit an SUV on the tracks. Again, stunned riders, emergency vehicles, sirens, and six families left grieving. Before that, it was the Thanksgiving Metro North derailment. Four cars off the tracks, and four more people not coming home. And that’s the toughest thing. The “not coming home” part.
Those of us who take the train every day do it for a number of reasons. First of all, we hate dealing with traffic. So much smarter to just sit…and let the scenery go by, maybe get some work done (I’m writing this right now as the New Jersey Transit Montclair-Boonton Line pulls out of Newark). Second, it’s usually faster and a heck of a lot more relaxing than fighting others at any number of tunnels or bridges on the way in to New York. Third, we do care a little about the environment. And finally, when you add in tolls and ticket prices, it’s usually cheaper than either the bus or our own cars.
But at the end of the day….we just want to get home. It’s why we fight rush hour crowds at Penn Station and line up early with our suitcases for the Amtrak Northeast Regional to Wilmington, Baltimore, Washington DC. It’s why we will stand when there are no seats. Why we put up with the person next to us listening to music that’s too loud for earbuds, and why we’ll carry on through delays caused by track maitenance, signal problems, or congestion in the tunnels.
Don’t think lately, though, that certain questions haven’t been creeping into our minds. I wonder which car is safest? Am I better off in the front or the back? Should I sit near the emergency window or further away from it? Do I have a better chance if I choose an aisle seat? What would I grab (anything?) if the train train suddenly lurched off the tracks? Would I be one of those who makes it out, dazed and bruised yet willing to talk to the TV cameras? Or would I not? Because really, all I want to do….and all those who died in this recent wave of train crashes wanted to do…is get home.
Cenote. It’s a Mayan word for “deep well.” It can also mean “sacred place,” and it truly is. There are as many as 8,000 of these natural sinkholes across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and getting to swim in one is magical. The water literally glows at the cave opening, where you can see the sky. You’ve got pool of shimmering water….maybe a couple of bats flying above….and once you jump in, you instantly get a calm, peaceful feeling.
As you swim further into the cave, your told those are stalagmites below your feet and stalactites above your head. They’ve been there for millions of years…and you, you’re just passing by…giving the cave it’s due…realizing how lucky you are to be a visitor.
….Unless you have an iPhone with a waterproof case. Then you realize how lucky you are to have one of those. They make plenty of them, but the guy from Texas on our tour had something called a “Lifeproof.” He put his iPhone 6 Plus in there…then was able to scooch around the water, taking pictures of the fishies swimming past…only you really couldn’t see the fishies swimming past, because it was so dark. Remember, it’s a cave? Regardless, he was able to take plenty of pictures of him and his wife in their wetsuits. The rest of us just had on swimsuits.
Our guides, Hector and Ferdinand, took us deep into the cenote. Back in the back…where our small group of about 12 of us gathered, floating in our blow-up life preservers. “What we’re going to do,” said Hector, “Is stop here…pause…and remember all those who have been here before us. Because this is where Mayan priests and kings used to come. And this is where we are going to simply turn off the flashlights and float….removing all our negativity and trying to become one with the cave.”
So slowly…letting all negativity drift upward to the crevasses of the cave and downward to the pockets of rock…we floated…..it was dark…and quiet…you couldn’t see a thing…the negativity was slowly lifting…when suddenly, “I DROPPED MY DANG IPHONE!” IT’S DOWN ON THE BOTTOM OF THE CAVE!”
“Well,” said Hector…”I think this is a sign from the gods. Your phone must have been carrying negative energy and we are going to offer it up as a sign that maybe there’s too much technology in our lives. Why don’t we drift for a while an all think about that?”
“I NEED MY I PHONE, I REALLY DO…IT’S GOT MY CAMERA IN THERE,” cried Texas. As the rest of us nervously treaded cave water, trying to think what this poor guy had done to piss off the gods so much..our other guide, Ferdinand, was quietly making his way to the bottom. Quick as that–he had the phone, handed it back, and we were floating again…sloughing off bad thoughts…and occasionally wondering how much one of those “Lifeproof” things cost…
Centones aren’t the only stunningly beautiful thing in the Yucatan, however. Obviously there are the beaches and the pyramids…but there are also turtles. The tiny beach town of Akumal is one of the few places in the world where several different species of giant sea turtles come to live, eat sea grass, and lay their eggs. As a non-endangered human, I felt incredibly privileged to get the chance to swim alongside them, even though my fellow humans far outnumbered them. The guides (Hector and Ferdinand again) give you a pair of flippers and a snorkeling mask, and let you paddle out past the regular beach….under a rope…to an area where the turtles are munching on sea grass. There are also fish, and even stingrays, but you know you’re there to see the turtles. They are the star of the show. Or not.
Under my steaming up mask (I’m not the greatest snorkeler)…I was curious about something I saw under water. It wasn’t wildlife, it was a person, like me. But this swimmer had more than just his fins, mask, and iPhone (“Lifeproof” again). Alongside he was struggling with something else. It looked like a large stick of some sort…was he trying to poke the turtles–totally uncool and not allowed? I swam closer….and there it was. This guy…experiencing the world in a protected marine life zone, swimming alongside some of the most beautiful creatures in the world….with a f*#@ing selfie stick. Because las tortugas weren’t enough. HE had to be the star of the show too.
(post script: In trying to figure out how to translate the title of this….I found a Buzzfeed article called “Selfies with Turtles in celebration of World Turtle Day.” I guess it’s a thing. Because everything’s a thing. Sigh)
Amtrack, Northeast Corridor, 8am in March.
There aren’t many places in New York that are happier than Dylan’s Candy Bar. On the East Side, this mecca to sweets has three levels–bulk on the main floor, parties upstairs, old fashioned candy and fudge downstairs. It’s what Wonka had in mind when he gave out the Golden Tickets, minus the scary boat ride.
Inside Dylan’s, there are not many people happier than Andrew, who cuts pieces of fudge for customers. He asks tourists what kind they want, makes sure they get enough, puts the fudge in little bags, and sends them on their way with a huge smile. He’s really a happy person. Or at least he was…until I got hold of him.
How come, when interviewing people about their jobs, do we reporters feel the need to ask things like, “Is this what you thought you’d be doing when you were in school?” and “Where do you see yourself in 15 years?”
Can’t it be enough just to be happy in the now? It’s so rare to find someone who smiles…on the clock…all day at work…without being told do. Someone who really likes what they do..so why question it?
If Andrew is still cutting fudge at Dylan’s when I go back in 2030, I hope he’s still smiling.
Do something every day that scares you, Eleanor Roosevelt said. I may be a little old to actually be physically scared every day…I mean, it could be too much for me–my heart could give out, I could lose consciousness, paramedics might need to be called, they could be thinking I’m having a mini-stroke. So I’m going to alter it a bit. Do one thing every day that challenges you. For the past week, my challenge has been to create a multi-media blog. Assignment 1: teach myself iMovie (iPad only–no laptop editing allowed) then create a movie. No more than 1 minute with a beginning, a middle and an end. Here it is. It’s called Roosevelt Island There and Back. I’ve never taken the tram over there before. My metro card got me There. And. Back. My video taking skills are lame and shaky, but we made it—thanks in part to Lou the Tram Operator. He’s from Morristown, NJ and will be able to retire in 2 years. He also likes driving the tram over the East River a whole lot better than driving a stinky old subway train below the East River.
By the way…the challenge a day was making myself actually do a little every day. I’ve been editing audio tape for 30 years and can’t believe I had no idea how to add pictures.
By the way…the movie’s coming. As soon as I can get the laptop back after my son’s latest online game of Minecraft. It could be a while.