from Jan and Gerry

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Ground Zero, World Trade Center, NYC

Usual contest: Where was the above photo taken/

You probably already know it but we can't stay in one place too long. In fact, maybe you have just laughed at the idea that anybody may not have noticed this.

Setting this aside, we decided we would at last celebrate Thanksgiving again in the USA and re-connect with old friends. So we bought air tickets London -NYC and back and then finally bought bus tickets Darlington - Heathrow and back. There used to be a direct Darlington - Heathrow connection but that has gone with "the good old days." When we bought the air tickets we had assumed that a 13:45 departure would be late enough that we could take a morning bus. But that wasn't so. And even the faster train left too late in the morning to get us there. So we settled on an overnight bus, leaving just after midnight. 

On Wednesday, about noon, as we were preparing our things to leave for NYC a quick look in the usual and assumed spot, next to our air tickets, showed that Gerry's passport wasn't there. Hours of looking about didn't reveal it, even with various family members help. Thus we made plans to visit the American Embassy early Thursday morning to get a replacement and left for the overnight bus. What had before been a bit of an annoyance — having four extra hours in the morning before we needed to check-in — now became a welcome safety factor, perhaps just enough, with some pleading, to get a new passport.

While waiting in the dark and cold for the street-side bus pickup (it comes from Newcastle, 40 miles further north and doesn't stop in a station) Gerry noticed a pocket in our notebook computer case that had not been looked into: it was on the "back side" and he had only looked into the three "front side" pockets. So, just 15 minutes before we got onto the bus it was found. No visit to the American Embassy!

The flight over was pretty much a non-event. We were stuck in the middle, unable to get window seats, so mostly didn't have a sensation of flying. Even the landing — or the exact moment of it — came as a bit of a surprise. At Heathrow we didn't notice any particular change in security. The one surprising thing was that as we were about to get off the plane at JFK all passengers were asked to carry their passports with photo id showing. We did, but the security guard didn't seem to take much notice of the photos. Immigration was very quick but we had a 45-minute wait for our bags, which seemed long. 

We took the bus to the subway and then the subway to Manhattan, an hour-plus ride. As usual, there were a fair number of first time visitors to NYC on the subway (its far the cheapest way to get to the city, at $1.50 versus taxi of $35 and airport bus at about $12. Many people didn't know where to get off and as we were sitting under the map we ended up answering lots of questions and reminding people of their stops. 

We were going to Broadway and 66th to stay with a friend and this required a change of train at 59th. At the 59th street station there was a train on the track obviously going nowhere; we were told it was because of something happening at 66th street (and Broadway). Rather than wait a long time we just walked the short distance to 66th street. There, at the subway entrance were a couple of policemen and some yellow "Police line - Don't cross" tape. We asked what it was about and got a curt "police investigation." The next day we learned that an anthrax scare had caused them to close the station but it was a false alarm. It's a pain, but it needed to be checked out. 

Our first day here we took a walk to the Rockefeller center area. As we were about to cross Avenue of the Americas a guy on a bicycle passed under our noses shouting "Look people, Look! 71!". He was pointing to the temperature sign on one of the skyscrapers; it was 71 F (22C)! Throughout the walk we marvelled at how quiet and empty the streets seemed to be. It's amazing to return to "hustling, bustling" NYC and find it calm compared to Hong Kong and Bangkok. Other than that things were very familiar, except for a bit of price shock which will go away. We've been used to good, full lunches for under $2; now the going rate is $5-7 at "middle class" restaurants. 

The next day we went on a kind of pilgrimage to ground zero. We walked all the way from 67th enjoying some colder but still bright sunny weather and taking in the varied life that goes on in the side streets of New York.  The site of the disaster was fairly completely walled off and hard to see, but by dint of circumambulating the entire site we did find a spot with a stone flower tub near a fence that allowed us a brief view of much of the site.  A friend from the city was rather aghast at our desire to see it.  For us, it was a way of moving the disaster from the realm of motion picture fantasy to hard reality. 

Sunday we went for a walk in Central Park with friends. The weather was again mild and glorious; the trees still have their leaves with fall colors so it was wonderful. While there we were stopped by three college students and asked if we would be interviewed on video for a project they were doing at Miami (of Ohio) University. They had driven six hundred miles in ten hours to NYC so they could have a weekend outting and get a more interesting set of people to survey. They wanted to know what the people surveyed thought was God's plan/intention in having the WTC destroyed. We told them we didn't believe in God and that consequently the question was not appropriate. They joined us for a bit of walk and we got a chance to ask them a few questions. They (and another half dozen of their friends) all believed in God and that it was God's plan to destroy the WTC but we didn't learn what they thought was the reason. As an afterthought Gerry asked them if they believed in evolution and to a person, even one girl who was a biochemistry major, said no. 

After a weekend in Manhattan we have come back to Middletown and Red Bank, our haunts of 20 years. Taking the train down, part way along the shore of Raritan bay, and often through groves of trees, past dinky stations we've seen many times, and looking forward to seeing many friends, there were lots of emotions. Perhaps as an auspicious sign, as the train crossed the Swimming River/Navesink Jan caught sight of a blue heron taking flight.  What a glorious sight and how lovely the river looked edged with a rim of golden reeds and shimmering in the fall sunshine. We've had a walk around the old neighborhood. It's lovely with lots and lots of leaves on the ground and all autumn colors, even if winter is only four weeks away. (It technically is still autumn, so why are the colors surprising?) . We've seen our old house, spruced up and repainted with white trim by the new occupants.  It looks well-loved which pleases us. 

Each day we've seen a pair or more of old friends, and in fact, most days we've seen more than one set. How familiar they are, even though like us they are a bit older and a bit heavier (if young) or a bit lighter and stooped (if old). 

We haven't decided yet exactly what we will do after Thanksgiving, but you can be assured we'll be busy. And we haven't even had pancakes with maple syrup yet, but you can bet we will.

Updated November 23, 2001