The clouds returned to Provincetown in time to
foreshadow the events of the day. The wind picks up as I eat breakfast
near the beach, bending the beach grass and snapping the flags near the
I offer a ride to Richard, a new acquaintance
who lives in New York. We head south after disassembling the rear
seat to make room for luggage. Richard, a Rhode Island native now
transplanted to New York, assures me we'll be heading the opposite way
of traffic and move through the city with relative ease. We speed
across Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
beauty of New England rapidly gives way to the strip malls and factories
of the industrialized states. The factories are long idled and converted
to outlet stores. (I wonder to myself how long an economy can survive
on service sector jobs. Where did all those factory workers go?)
The scenery grows progressively shabbier with the passing miles.
We reach the outskirts of New York at just past
two o'clock. I pull over for fuel and food before approaching the
I have never visited New York before and I have
little data on which to evaluate the city. My first impression isn't
favorable and like Boston I have a considerable period of time in which
to make this evaluation. Just
inside the Bronx traffic stops and we barely move for the next three
hours. The Bronx appears to consist largely of brick highrises built
without regard to landscape or aesthetic appeal.
lack of anything visually interesting leads me to search through the radio
bands for audio stimulation. I catch a snippet of a commercial for
Pilates. I turn to Richard and ask: "What is Pilates?"
"Oooh...Look! He's driving a new Pilates!"
"I'm sorry, Sir, it appears you have contracted
"Mr. and Mrs. Pilates are coming for dinner and
"The philosopher Pilates is quoted as having said..."
"The cruise took us to Pilates before continuing
"Yes, my dog is a rare breed of Pilates."
you like a salad with your Pilates?"
"They're playing the Pittsburgh Pilates next Sunday..."
We kept this up for two hours and two miles.
The clock moves past seven as we reach Richard's
apartment - directly across the street from the giant pit which used to
support the World Trade Center. A building across from the pit is
shrouded in funereal black. If I didn't know what happened here I
might never guess. The neighborhood is alive with people and the
site appears to simply be another piece of urban renewal.
It is after eight o'clock before I get through
the Holland Tunnel and I've been in the car for nearly nine hours.
I can't say I've been driving for nine hours as a good section of the time
has been idling in a traffic queue.
call MUNI Guy as I head south and it begins to pour rain. The rain
is torrential and the New Jersey drivers ignore it. I cannot see
more than twenty feet ahead of my car and the giant SUVs pass me at eighty
miles per hour. Do they have pile-up wrecks in New Jersey?
MUNI Guy and I chat for miles until I see the
sign for the Delaware
Bridge. Delaware? Isn't Philadelphia BEFORE
Delaware? I realize I've missed the Philadelphia exit and must backtrack
thirty miles. By the time I negotiate both the freeways and the one-way
gridlock of downtown Philadelphia, it is half past eleven. I check
into my hotel at midnight - thirteen hours after leaving Provincetown.
My hotel and Philadelphia are both shabby.
My hotel is understaffed, dirty around the edges with one elevator stuck
on my floor bleating a woeful cry every few minutes. Philadelphia
is a maze of one-way streets, many destroyed by permanent construction,
decaying buildings and random stop lights. I suspect, like San Francisco,
Philadelphia lives primarily on its reputation and doesn't invest much
in current maintenance.
I decide against spending the day in the urban
wreckage of Philadelphia and opt to try out Amtrak's new Acela train to
I manage to locate a taxi and we rumble across
Philadelphia while the cabbie barks Russian phrases punctuated by "Yeah,
Baby, I got ya, Baby" into his radio. My first impression of the
city is unchanged by the brief tour I have on the way to the station.
train station, in contrast to the city, is beautiful. Old trains
stations are often grand and this one is no exception. The main hall
is huge and blends conversation into gentle white noise.
introduced the Acela trains one or two years ago. The streamlined
trained offer high-speed travel between New York, Boston and Washington,
D.C. The tickets are more expensive than Amtrak's standard trains
and most the passengers appear to be business people. I board the
train and slip into a window seat. The trainset is new and the seat
comfortable. It moves forward smoothly and I'm on my way to Washington.
decided to call on the Bushes and see how they are adjusting to Washington,"
I tell MUNI Guy. I check to make certain I've brought my extra key
to the White House, realize I haven't, and call ahead to ask them to leave
one under the mat.
The grey of Philadelphia gives way to sun somewhere
around Baltimore. I arrive in Washington at just past three and wander
up to the
Capitol. In a fit of spring cleaning or terrorist induced paranoia,
Washington is seized with a frenzy of construction. Capitol Hill
is a maze of fences, closed sidewalks and cherry pickers. I stumble
across a soap box derby competition in time to see a racer named "Oz" sporting
a yellow-brick road motif rumble past. An omen indeed.
I have four hours before my return train and decide
to visit the Holocaust Memorial, the one place in Washington I've never
been. All the hot
dog vendors out front of the memorial have Middle Eastern names and
sell Kosher hot dogs. I arrive too late to get in and satisfy myself
with taking pictures of the tourists and heavyset security guards.
(Have you noticed baby strollers have grown in
size to match SUVs? Content no longer to take up a reasonable portion
of a sidewalk, these plastic and canvas monsters are designed to carry
an entire video collection, three changes of clothes, twelve plush toys,
a cellular telephone and two bottles of water. They rarely, however,
see to be occupied by human children.)
Washington is the Capitol of the United States, I feel very little connection
to this place. It feels more like a low-admission amusement park than a
seat of government. (The front of the Department of Education has been
remodeled with red schoolhouses at every entrance to create the image one
is walking into the Little House on the Prairie school and not a big, marble
building.) Every corner is occupied by a van hawking T-shirts and
caps embroidered with the letters FBI and CIA, reducing these agencies
to the level of sports teams rather instead of questionable secret police
Back in Union Station, I get cruised and solicited
while purchasing books at B. Dalton. The solicitor is a hunky German
in town for a conference. I can't recall having ever been hit on
while purchasing an Agatha Christie novel before. Was it the book
The Arch Street Meeting House, one of the oldest
Quaker meeting houses, is directly across the street from my hotel and
I'll spend tomorrow morning visiting the Quakers. Then I'm off to