The East Coast Megalopolis Tour!

What became the East Coast Megalopolis Tour was originally conceived as a quiet tour of Washington, D.C., and the Smithsonian. December 17, 2003, marked the 100th anniversary of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s powered flight on the Kitty Hawk sand dunes. The National Air and Space Museum had a special exhibit featuring the plane and brothers. A plan was hatched.

Coincidentally, my parents and brother were on the east coast at the same time, all for separate reasons. I decided I could land in New York to see business associates and friends, train into Boston to see my mom, then drive south to D.C. to meet my dad and step mom, picking up my brother along the way outside New York, and finish with a few days re-exploring D.C. Michelle Majewski, the tour’s art specialist, joined in on the initial Smithsonian plans, only to watch the 'quiet' trip turn into a sprint! (Silly her for agreeing to travel with Peter!) She survived, though.

So did David Mochuk, my tireless editor. Thanks to David Mochuk for a judicious edit, ABC Photo in Vancouver for an outstanding job with prints and slides and QFD Inc. for sponsoring photographic materials. All text and photos © 2003 Peter Newbury, Sam Newbury and/or Michelle Majewski.

Monday, 13 October

Welcome to New York, again! There is something alluring about the city: a pull, a draw. It may be the complexities of Manhattan, or it may just be my wanderlust and desire to absorb another world. Though, it can't just be my wanderlust. I've been to other cities, small and large, and not felt this New York-inspired attraction every time. I'll be back again. I still haven't been lost in the Met, still haven't explored the wealth of music, still haven't inhaled the wintry smell of blowing snow and taxi exhaust, still haven't been comforted by a warm spring breeze on a chilled walk through Central Park. There is so much to do there, so much to live.

I arrived courtesy of Alaska Airlines again, this time left to the crooked devices of economy-class seats. My sunny arrival was spectacularly accompanied by a blaze of brilliant colours spread over the Adirondacks’ shoulders. The spray of pigments resembled an impressionist painting from several thousand feet up. The colours sprawled, draping and intertwining with graceful curves and shadows.

Escaping the swirling bedlam of the airport, the afternoon train into Manhattan was far less crowded and traumatic than my previous ride on a commuter-packed August morning. I spent my trip watching, thinking, and remembering. Watching the world pass in a blur of motion has magic to it. It’s not the magic you feel watching the swirling traffic outside a café. Rather, being transported through another world spawns this magic. Traveling for the sake of moving, but not through an all too familiar and too demanding world…traveling where the long bouts of motion inspire periods of intense reflection, of introspection, and of discovery. I am a willing apprentice to this sorcery. Seeing parks, cars, bridges and junk yards flash past makes me more aware not only of the scenery, but of my reactions to the scenery. And always, the question: why? Why my reaction? Why the junkyards? Why the human race? Why love? Why the intimate bond of family? Why the intimate bond between traveling strangers?

In Penn Station, I spent a few moments locating the Amtrak gate for the train north to Boston. I knew I would likely be pushing my departure time and needed to know where I was going when it came down to spare seconds. I was to be well served by my survey! Multiple-ride Metro ticket in hand, I pushed south, surfacing onto southern Manhattan streets at dusk. Some orientation, a few questions posed to the little, narrow owner of a little, narrow convenience store, and a welcome walk to the Cosmopolitan Hotel ended the arrival portion of my journey.

I had signed up for a loft room at the Cosmopolitan, their least expensive overnight stay. I discovered it truly was lofty, taller than it was wide! And even with that feeling of height, not a good bed for sitting upright unless you wanted a sound thump on the head!

Cosmo Hotel loft Cosmo Hotel loft

I arranged to meet my friend Margit later that evening at the Lincoln Center fountain. Another introduction to the NY Metro: express trains skip stops. I breezed past the Lincoln Center stop by many blocks and had to backtrack, choosing my return train much more carefully. Walking through the Lincoln Center courtyards, seeing the Julliard School of Music, sensing the ambiance and the energy brought a grin to my face. I found the fountain with many others waiting…lovers, strollers, friends, concertgoers, and the occasional aimless wanderer.

Just a small part of Lincoln Center, NY

Margit and I met and walked north, vicariously eating at different restaurants. A tempting table was passed up because it came too soon, because I hadn't explored enough options. I offered my wrist for a smacking later when the food on offer didn't surpass the first potential as the blocks passed by. We eventually shared a lengthy dinner at a patio door table, talking about life, the universe, and everything in it, slowly chilling as the night air cooled. We skipped dessert in favour of a caffeinated crème brulèe Margit had waiting at home. What to do but admire the night, the size of the pirate-like rats, and the killer crème brulèe? I'm not a coffee drinker, so the crème brulèe had a super zing to it! We later enjoyed Margit's rooftop musing at the ankle-level wires crisscrossing the dark heights. I finally headed south, accompanied on the Metro by someone feeling the twisted innards of too much drink and others just along for the warm snooze. Home, bed. Ahhh. No thumps in the night.

Tuesday, 14 October

I've had a wireless card in my laptop for a few months now and am thus rather addicted to high-speed access on the road. In Seattle, I am a regular at Bauhaus Coffee on Pine and Madison. In NY, I wasn't a regular anywhere. Luckily, Starbucks is a regular everywhere, and friendly to those wonderful wireless devices. My eastern seaboard office: Starbucks? I spent some of the morning dealing with business, and then cast it aside to embark on a camera-laden stroll.

My camera use is somewhat erratic. I had used it briefly in late September snapping glam shots of my mom's horse, but not seriously since. It is amazing to me how something inert can feel so alive, so inviting. An old friend settling into my palm, my hands knowingly wrapping the strap just right, and my eyes and senses adjusting to a finer, rectilinear, compartmentalized vision. It seems a human being can be described as a capable, complex set of reactions: an interconnected weaving of memories and awareness that stimulates reactions of fright, happiness, and awe. Thousands of years of instinct compacted into a learning machine, collecting information to feel, to manipulate, to record, to reconstruct?

Today's prize: the Brooklyn Bridge. I had walked past it in August, but not on it. I hadn't been to Brooklyn. I was mere blocks from the Manhattan end of the bridge, but even those few blocks fueled my enthusiasm for being in NY again. I joined the spasmodic stream of walkers, runners, bicyclists and cars flowing over the bridge.

Looks like a flat cardboard construct Look at this guy's face! That's concentration! 'No sleep til Brooklyn' - Beastie Boys

The Brooklyn Bridge in repose

On my way back into town, having finally 'been' to Brooklyn, another photographer and I leapfrogged each other, trading glances and soon smiles as our photographic journey over the bridge continued. Who are you? Why are you here? Why this intimate bond between traveling strangers? We continued to trade places along the bridge and into City Hall. At City Hall I watched a discarded plastic bag float on air currents between the pompous buildings for at least five minutes. I love watching things like that... the chaotic motion.

Scenery on the bridge: downtown through the mesh of cables... and the photo gal I get a kick out of modern technology combined with traditional dress. Just a brick façade... what is the wire across the bottom for? Gee, are we happy to be here yet?

The bridge walkway staging area featured a testament to useful sculpture: picnic tables built for Paul Bunyan -- oversize. A nice ‘playground’ to have available on lunch hour, transforming staunch business-suited professionals into dress-up kids.

Taking a rest under a watchful eye

Dress-up kids City hall Not sure what to make of this sign.

My brief playtime came to a close as I headed back to the hotel to pick up bags, enjoy a pleasant lunch with Kevin and John of SmartDesign, and too soon depart for Boston. Walking away from the bridge, the swirl of thoughts in my head was interrupted by a call from Microsoft asking for another file. Squeezing in a few moments at Starbucks to send the information, I was amazed to trade one more glance and a grin with the photographer from the Brooklyn Bridge as she strolled past. This little connection would put a grin on my face for days to come. Lunch was as excellent as expected. Kevin begged off due to work, leaving John and I to visit the Grey Dog Cafe (33 Carmine St). I found myself looking for the old lady with the giant Dell laptop I had seen there on my last trip! It’s odd how repeat experiences sometimes not only solidify but increase the impact of the first experience. Some things, however, don't require that repetition to know they are good. The food was scrumptious, the atmosphere inspiring and the company excellent.

And then it was time to sprint for the Amtrak train. When will we finally have transporters? I can see the usefulness of accurate clocks, accurate schedules, and PDA devices that let you know exactly where the next bus is. There is a law regarding the conservation of energy, but there isn't a law governing the conservation of time, and it is hard to watch minutes passing, knowing that those same minutes are passing elsewhere, probably faster than you want them to. I mentally urged fate along as best I could, willing the Metro wheels to spin faster, willing the Amtrak that I had to rendezvous with to be slow. Somewhere, time responded and I was spat up from the Metro a scant but precious few minutes before the call for the Boston-bound train vibrated the speakers and blinked up on the giant schedule board. Those minutes, of course, passed much more slowly than the ‘Metro minutes” earlier.

Another train, more travel-inspired introspection. I worked, drifted off in my own thoughts, and worked some more, letting the scenery whiz past. Cell reception during the ride was intermittent, causing no end of frustration for some passengers trying to maintain their conversations. My mom, Ann, picked me up at the Route-128 station south of Boston and we enjoyed an animated drive to visit my aunt and uncle (who were cheerfully celebrating the birth of their first grandchild) in Lexington.