New York, and Thanksgiving with Family in Virginia

Manhattan real estate always surprises; here, a skinny condo inserted into, and towers above, an ordinary commercial landscape on 23rd Street

Linda drove me to DFW before dawn on November 19, and I flew up to New York, to participate for a sixth consecutive year in Princeton’s Business Today International Conference. We arrived LaGuardia a bit early, which allowed me to forego the pricey cab ride into Manhattan, opting instead for an $11 taxi to Jackson Heights, then the F train to Lexington and 63rd. Faster, cheaper, and way more fun. I still had a bit of time before the conference kickoff lunch began, so I rolled my suitcase and backpack south on Lex.

Detail, former General Electric building, Lexington Avenue

In no time I was shaking hands with a bunch of bright youngsters, then listening to Steve Forbes, the founder (in 1968) of the Business Today organization. He’s a conservative fellow, but informed and logical, and even though I am not aligned with his views, I deeply respected his perspective. Would that our elected officials behaved the same way. Unlike previous years, my presentations were the next day, so I rolled the bags north a mile to E. 51st Street and the Pod Hotel. The Pod, in a quiet residential area, has some of the cheapest rooms in New York. I was not expecting much, and was thus delighted to find a contemporary, well-run, and spotlessly clean place. My room was not much bigger than the bed, but well designed and thus perfect for one night. Dropped the stuff and headed out for some touring. First stop was Greenacre Park across the street, a privately-built public space next door to a synagogue. The park’s centerpiece was a huge waterfall. The cascade sound was such an unexpected delight, drowning out every bit of urban cacophony – not just the honking horns but also the potty-mouthed residents dropping frequent F-bombs and other profanity. It was a lovely place.

The famous, triangular Flatiron Building (1902), at Broadway, Fifth, and 23rd

Spray-on plastic snow, 23rd Street, in preparation for filming a movie

Renewed, I hopped on the #6 subway south four stops to 23rd Street, and walked west to Eataly, a brand-new food emporium that chef Mario Batali and some investors opened a few months earlier. I noted its opening and put in on the list of stuff to see. I was glad I did. Inside was an array of cheeses, sausages and cured meats, fresh food, pasta, baked goods, wine, and more. Lots of attention paid, and some short “stories” told, about the origins of all the food; for example, the Brewer Ranch near Miles City, Montana, is the source for all their beef, from the Italian Piemontese breed. In between the various departments were tables and chairs and opportunities to sample the stuff. It was sensory overload.

Italian soft drinks, Eataly

Butcher, Eataly

After about a half-hour I walked outside and called my brother, who loves everything Italian, a sort of verbal postcard. Headed back in, wandered a bit more, and bought two souvenirs: small jars of apricot and peach preserves from Italy’s Piedmont region (where I was a few weeks earlier). It was way cool. Headed back to the hotel for a nap, and at six walked back to the hotel for dinner and chatter with students. The after-meal speaker was an energetic woman from Boeing Commercial Airplanes, interesting. At ten the bar opened. I slurped a beer, yakked a bit more, and walked back to my hotel.

After breakfast Monday it was time to stand and deliver. First assignment was to help some students with a case study that was part of the conference activity. Then it was time for a seminar on international aviation, a lot of fun. Lunch, more yakking, and it was time to leave. I do enjoy that conference.

It was warm and sunny in New York, a good day for a slow (well, slow for me) walk south on Fifth Avenue, past the famous lions in front of the New York Public Library, to 34th Street, past Macy’s and into Penn Station. I earlier plunked down $135 for a 159-minute ride on Amtrak’s new Acela Express (vs. $42 for a trip that took 35 minutes longer). The train was right on time, and the seats were comfortable, but the ride was simply awful. Yes, my standards are the railways of Germany, Switzerland, and Japan, but as we literally lurched and bumped, I thought “is this the best we can do, is this the best that America can muster on a rail line between the largest city in the nation and the capital of the republic?” Deep sigh.

We arrived Washington before seven, I hopped on the Metro west into Virginia, then the Fairfax Connector bus, hopping off less than 200 feet from Robin’s and Brett’s house. I’ve always enjoyed arriving under my own steam, and I smiled broadly and I arrived. Hugs all around, a quick visit, a bowl of soup, and off to sleep.

I needed to rest up. Tuesday morning before nine, Dylan and I walked back to the Fairfax Connector bus stop, hopped on the #551 bus, and rode east to West Falls Church and the Metro into Washington. We repeated an adventure from July (“Pots [that’s me] will take me on a bus”). And our nearly-three-year-old granddaughter was pumped, as was Pots. Maybe, I thought, I have an aspiring Transport Geek on my lap, or at least a child who will grow up appreciating – as I did a half-century earlier – the value of public transportation. First stop was George Washington University Hospital, and a cup of coffee with old friend Chris Chiames, who now works there. Good to catch up. Next stop was American Airlines Washington office, to see old friends, and enjoy lunch with Carl Nelson. Dylan remembered Carl (and his miniature turtles), a fellow gramps, kindly. We had a great, quick visit, hopped back on train and bus, and were home by 2:30. Time for a nap.

On Wednesday morning, I got up and out the door on my folding bike, which now resides in Robin’s and Brett’s basement. Made my way on busy suburban roads to the Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail, a 45-mile run from Alexandria to west of Leesburg, built on an abandoned railway of the same name. It was a pleasure to be back on a bikeway, like the previous month in Wisconsin. Biked about 11 miles, a nice workout. Grabbed a quick breakfast, and Robin, Carson and I drove west to Leesburg to Mom’s Pies, a renowned pie shop. There was a long line, which was a good sign. Chatted with a friendly lady in the line behind me. Picked up the pies and drove back to the house. At one I rode the bike two miles north to the Hyatt, checked in. Brett picked me up and we motored a few miles to Dulles Airport to pick up Jack, in from Minnesota. After dinner, we picked up Linda, and the family was together. Nice!

It was raining lightly on Thanksgiving Day, so I didn’t get to ride the bike before breakfast, but as I walked across Reston Town Center, a sort of mini-downtown, the first order of the day were prayers of thanks and intercession. We are so blessed. The rest of the holiday was at the Reck’s house, eating, playing with the tots, yakking, laughing. Friday was pretty much a repeat – we had planned some outings, but the kids were both a little sick, so we stayed close.

Saturday morning dawned bright and cold, and I zoomed out on my bike at first light, west on the W&OD Trail. It was the first day of my 60th year, and it made sense to start it with some exercise, a reminder of my mantra that “we are young.” Robin, Linda, and Dylan headed to the mall, Jack zipped into D.C. to see an old friend, and Brett, Carson, and I picked up fixings for my birthday dinner. Another swell, quiet day. Sunday morning was pretty much a repeat, bike ride on the trail, then over to the Recks to make Christmas sugar cookies. Dylan loved helping Nana roll the dough and press the cookie cutter down to make snowflakes, Santas, and sleighs; my job was to ice the cookies. Domestic bliss! We flew home at four, with some reluctance – quality time with those tots is such fun!

>> For more, and way better, photos of family at Thanksgiving, visit son Jack Britton’s Facebook page.

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