day that I can do it, the family Volkswagen Bus rolls out of the
garage and two of our four kids jump in for a ride from our Queens,
New York home to Amsterdam Avenue on the west side of Manhattan
where they attend school.
The children are a boy and girl. Both
are students at the LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts,
Music and Art. In fact our other two children also graduated from
the same school.
Twice they made a movie about the
school, called “Fame.” The title song in that film has
a line in it that says: “I’m Gonna Live Forever.”
At times I think the line should be
changed to “I’m Gonna Live At Home Forever."
In any event my wife and I are dancing
as fast as we can.
But it’s for the youngsters
that sometimes two, even three times a week, we ride around inside
a vehicle once described as a “big comfortable living room
on wheels,” with a tiny engine about the size of four Kentucky
Fried Chicken boxes.
The ride is the thing.
Most people dread traffic.
This year, I have discovered that
often the morning news is much worse than traffic.
Call it “new normal” post
9/11 for a lifetime New Yorker.
Since family is the real refuge in
life, I try to spend as much time as possible in the embrace of
sibling rivalries, better marks in math, and watching my son, the
actor in a movie called “The Ringer” that I totally
do not understand.
I have also tried to get in step with
my oldest daughter, who is an immaculate writer and in fact, one
of the best young writers in America, and her current love interest,
a boyfriend who is making movies in college. Our ride to school
begins on 188th Street in Hollis usually about 07:15 a.m.
The highway is always crowded.
Cars are entering New York City on
the road called the Grand Central Parkway (GCP) from Long Island.
Long Island sticks out from the mainland
for about 100 miles, but most of the people coming into New York
City are from Nassau County, not from Suffolk County that continues
where Nassau stops, to the end of Long Island.
Drivers even at this early part of
the day are serious, riding bumper to bumper because the road narrows
in Queens and the speed limit dips to where just a short way down
the road the Kew Gardens Interchange forms one very bad bottleneck.
The kids, by the way long before we
get as far down the road as Kew Gardens, are snuggled up under airline
blankets and snoring while some Mozart echoes softly around inside
Moving along past the Kew, we come
upon the Long Island Expressway (LIE) once aptly described as “the
world’s longest parking lot,” for its monumental traffic
As we roll, the landscape below and
above melts past our windows.
The VW Bus has lots of windows, the
untinted kind that let all the light and life going on around you
Yes, it’s true, you can only
look out one window at a time, but in 1966, VW built a 21-window
bus offering vistas ahead, behind, alongside, plus a half a dozen
narrow slots that look all the way up to heaven.
Nissan copied that idea for a 2004
Just beyond the LIE, we slip through
a corridor formed by the GCP, which features on both sides what
is left of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fair, including the “theme”
of the 1964 expo, a stainless steel globe of the world called “The
Most folks know the Unisphere as the
Continental Airlines logo. CO created an abstract image of the sculpture
that was done for the Fair by U.S. Steel.
Today, every time I see a CO aircraft
with its “globe” tail I think of the Unisphere.
The CO logo sits since 1964 behind
the NYC Building while a rather large Lufthansa billboard just down
the road proclaims:
“A Dozen Times A Day To Germany—And
That’s No LIE,” entreating a million mad road warriors
a day to get off that road and fly away to Deutschland.
Everybody loves New York, we think.
We pass Shea Stadium home of the NY
Mets baseball team and chug onward toward Bowery Bay where LaGuardia
Airport is located.
LaGuardia sort of extends itself out
to the GCP. In fact when an aircraft is arriving on final over the
road you notice that the lampposts are shorter in case (god forbid)
the aircraft comes in too low.
Sometimes when a B757 passes over
your car, low and fast you think you could almost touch the aircraft
swooping over the road and fence and landing.
Remember that all of LGA fits quite
neatly inside the oval roadway system of the passenger facilities
at JFK six miles down the road on Queens, New York’s south
The wonder is, how does this 600-acre
airport stay open, let alone handle 20 million passengers annually?
People just like LaGuardia Airport.
First, they liked Tim Peirce, who
as manger of the airport for 22 years was an absolute genius working
with the local politician Helen Marshall (who now is President of
the Borough of Queens) at getting a hostile neighborhood to realize
that airport fear was nothing more than another big city trauma.
Those two (Tim died January 2000)
could have collided, but ended up creating a much-copied template
for the public and private sector to quit screaming at each other.
It’s funny, but the old van
sometimes drifts toward the exit that says LaGuardia with its Kiwanis
Kids’ Day, and pillows and blankets for people left on the
floor of cancelled, snowed-in flights.
Next landmark is the Triborough Bridge.
Most New Yorkers know that the Triborough is usually the fastest
and best way to get into “the city” (most everybody
outside of Manhattan, even residents of the other four boroughs
that are part of greater New York City refer to Manhattan as “the
Built for the 1939 World’s Fair
and the opening of LGA Airport, the Tri-Borough Bridge touches Queens,
Manhattan and The Bronx, thus the name.
But once across the span we jog off
onto 125th Street in the heart of Harlem and quickly down to 116th
We stay away from the FDR Drive named
for President Roosevelt because it is always flooded when it rains
and always slow and busy even on clear days.
The FDR is a predictable traffic mess
of BMW’s and exotic cars with Connecticut, New Jersey and
New York license plates, full of people who don’t know or
wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere in Harlem.
As we move west on 116th Street the
early morning deliveries are just beginning.
You get a real sense of just how cosmopolitan
New York City is. Breakfasts can be Chinese dim sum or Chilean Empanadas
of egg and cheese or bagels and coffee or even the old standby,
Along our ride on 116th Street, there
simply is no excuse for anybody to complain that there is no choice.
Of course as the music plays and the
kids sleep we never stop but rather enjoy the scene, planning to
return some day when the pace is less frenetic.
After a quick left turn onto Fifth
Avenue at 116th and then a quick right onto Central Park North at
111 Street, the best part of the trip unfolds like a magic carpet
under our wheels and all around us.
Now we are in Central Park.
There is no greater place on earth
than Central Park. It’s a miracle that keeps amazing, every
time you are there.
The park is hilly up north and the
roadway that is only a couple blocks or so from Central Park West
twists and rolls through dense tree-lined areas that completely
obliterate any view of the mighty city surrounding.
There are joggers and people out for
horseback rides, and stands of pine trees and black birch abound.
An early December snowfall made the
park feel like Vermont. People were out on cross-country skis while
off in the distance horns were honking beneath a steel gray sky.
When you are in Central Park you feel
the pressure release instantly. What a wonderful interlude our ride
through this magic place always is.
We exit at 67th Street West, past Tavern on The Green where all the trees have those little
white lights twinkling all the time.
But just across CPW on 67th is the
greatest restaurant in New York and the only place that you should
ever make certain that you visit no matter what, at least once in
The place is called “Café
What makes this place so great? Is it the
playful nudes made up as wallpaper adorning the walls of the restaurant?
Is it the food or all the rich and famous people who frequent the
establishment? Is it the price or the tough reservation at the café?
All of the above, we think.
But don’t miss it.
We have not been able to afford to
eat there in a couple of years but the memory of our last visit
makes just being on the same street a pleasant ride.
A quick left off 67th and down Columbus
Ave past Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and around to Amsterdam,
which is behind Lincoln, Center and we are at LaGuardia High School.
The kids mumble their thanks just
as long as we stop where the other kids arriving by subway cannot
see that “Daddy” drove them to school and we have moved
through one of the busiest rush hours of any city in the world in
just under 40 minutes arriving usually at about 07:50.
After goodbyes, it’s uptown
on Manhattan’s west side to 81st Street and Broadway for a
takeaway coffee and croissant at Zabars.
Zabars is the greatest deli/appetizing
gourmet store in New York.
The retail part of the place is legendary
with prepared foods, cheeses and breads that are beyond compare
In fact, the entire idea of top line
specialty foods, prepared foods and the rest was a fixture at Zabars
before anywhere else.
A left turn from 86th Street (at 96th
Street a cop will give you a $70.00 ticket) and the bus moves down
to the Hudson River and the West Side Drive.
Some days it’s a drive a bit
inland north past the tomb of General Grant while other days its
right down to the drive which moves along the river offering a clear
view across to New Jersey and ahead to the George Washington Bridge
(GWB), the most beautiful steel arc across any New York waterway.
We always look closely approaching
the GWB straining to see the little red light house that once served
mariners on the busy Hudson River before the bridge was built, and
still stands, although a bit overpowered in 2006.
There is a wonderful children’s
story titled “The Little Red Lighthouse Under The Great Gray
Bridge,” that every child should read.
We are moving toward the Cross-Bronx
Expressway (CBE) now, leaving Manhattan’s West Side with one
quick last glance at the Palisades of New Jersey which just beyond
the GWB looks much as they did over 400 years ago when Henry Hudson
sailed for the first time, down the river that today bears his name.
Across the northern part of New York
City on the CBE, the trusty VW Bus moves until we reach the southern
most part of the Hutcheson River Parkway where we head south, crossing
the Bronx Whitestone Bridge which connects via the Whitestone Expressway
to Astoria Blvd. which leads into our parking spot near Air Cargo
News offices at the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport.
Our early mornings are free of other
worldly matters, free of much attention to anything more than family,
the familiar and the comforting.
Cost is 8 bucks for tolls, about five
for gas and unspecified amounts for Zabars.
Our journey lasts for only about an
hour. But what an hour of power that is always there for us and
cannot ever be taken away. (Geoffrey 12/24/2002)
Since this story originally appeared
sixteen years ago, it is reassuring that much of this ride is still
the same, although the kids have gotten bigger and have gone on
to greater heights, but my bus and I are still rolling along, older
to be sure, but somewhat well ordered over in the right hand lane.
older son, Geoffrey, a series regular on Madam Secretary (Sundays on CBS 10:00 pm est) is also being given the opportunity
to pursue his passion, directing episodes of the show. His wife,
Christina, is headlining her own series, Good Girls (second
season premiering March 3, on NBC).
older daughter, Florence, whilst editing Air Cargo News FlyingTypers,
is otherwise knitting and writing every moment. Her husband, Anthony
Atamanuik, has spent the last 3 years channeling The Donald in a
worldwide comedy tour, for The President Show on Comedy
Central, and now has published his first book. American Tantrum is a hilarious, cutting satire that imagines the contents of the
45th President's Presidential Archives in interviews, classified
documents, illustrations and more. It’s damn funny.
our younger son and his wife, Anuradha, married last July, have
blessed us with our first grandchild, Obhishek. We are looking forward
to this new chapter.
our youngest is Anthony’s assistant, performing myriad tasks,
making sure everything runs smoothly and lending a comforting presence
during Anthony’s anxious moments. She’s a skilled polymath,
knocking out anything lobbed her way.
But now it is time to close down another
chapter in our journey together. Thanks
for the ride and all your good wishes and comments about our work.
Geoffrey Arend 12/21/18