New York Travel “Shorts”

Hello from the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. We made it:

To get here, we flew out of London Heathrow on Friday morning:

The fun started on the plane at the gate at Terminal 5. We ended up sitting behind a guy who was the perfect example of why – airline bosses, you reading this? – there must NEVER be at seat mobile phones allowed for in-flight conversations. Apparently this guy was someone quite important in his own mind. In his late-20s to mid-30s, American, obviously he could barely hear who was on the other end and it was easy to suspect that person had trouble hearing him, too. Myself, directly behind him, and therefore presumably his two row-mates – he was in the middle of a window row of three on the Boeing 747 – certainly had no problem hearing him.

After he had put the international business world to rights, he ended his call. Ah, a relief. The plane started its taxi. The safety video was played. And here is where it got extra-bad: we had been told by cabin crew by now that everything was to be in “airplane mode” and the cabin crew had also taken to their seats for take-off and so could not see him. He pulled out his mobile phone and rang that same person again: “I’m gonna be on a plane for eight hours,” I heard him virtually yell at one point as he yammered for another few minutes in direct violation of the crew’s orders. His row-mates (they did not appear to know each other) apparently said nothing. I would have loved to have called a cabin member, but did not feel it worth the bother at that moment. If airlines ever permit in-flight, at seat, use of mobile phones for voice calls they had better be prepared for trouble among passengers. This guy had to push BEYOND the new boundary of what was more that reasonably legally permitted of him – that second call especially was just hot air and utterly unnecessary – because… obviously he was, gosh, lots more “special” than anyone else around him, right?

The flight itself was fortunately uneventful. We landed at New York City’s JFK Airport and, wanting to avoid the 3 and a half hour drive here to the Catskills after such a long flight, went to an airport hotel for the night. Saturday morning, on our way to get our rental car for our drive up here, we ended up in a brief conversation back to JFK with a middle-aged guy from Florida: we were the only three passengers on the minibus. We never even exchanged names, but had started chatting – well, he did – as we passed the New York Police Department’s automobile impound yard; that’s where confiscated vehicles end up stored.

Just back from China and Thailand, he said he was going home to Ohio before heading off for Minnesota and Denver. (He was something to do with automotive parts sales.) He asked me where I was from. I quickly said I’d been born in Queens, grew up on Long Island, and my dad now living in Pennsylvania used to hang out around JFK – I didn’t say, but I get the impression it was all kinda “Danny Zuko” and pals from “Grease” – and asks me about the area. The man then said I sounded foreign. As I said we lived in England, the Mrs. next to me sitting at the window jumped in: “That’s because he married me.”

“You say ‘tomayto’,” I chuckled to him, “I say ‘tomahto’.”

Having finally gotten the rental car, on the New York State Thurway I started to see the “signage change” has begun. The new Hudson River Tappan Zee Bridge is now officially the “Governor Mario M Cuomo Bridge.” The old “Tappan Zee Bridge” had officially been renamed the “Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge” in the 1990s in honor of a former Governor Malcolm Wilson, but no one ever called it that; it was always just the “Tappan Zee Bridge” and road-signed that way except in some “official” signs at the actual bridge itself.

That had been the old bridge that had stood over the Hudson since the 1950s. Now, this new bridge is to be ONLY the “Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.” And I am going to write to my local State Assemblyman here in Greene County and let him know what I think: that the bridge be called the “Tappan Zee Bridge” and that is that. Period.

It is disgraceful: the new name erases at a stroke a bit of New York’s Native (as if we haven’t s-rewed those people enough already) and Dutch heritage. That area of the Hudson has been known as the Tappan Zee for some 300 years. “Tappan” is a Native American word; “Zee” is a Dutch word. “Tappan Zee” is also mentioned by 19th Century author Washington Irving in his famous short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

[From “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” by Washington Irving. The Library of America. Photo by me, 2018.]

But all of that has run up against the monstrous ego that is current Governor Andrew “America was never that great” Cuomo’s deciding the new bridge over the Hudson is to be named after his father, a former governor. I am unaware of President John Quincy Adams naming a single thing for his father, John Adams; nor, timely given his death on Friday, President George W Bush naming anything in honor his father, George H W Bush. Many got what Andrew Cuomo evidently meant in his clumsy “America was never that great…” comment and gave him a pass on it. (I did.) Funny, though, that regardless it seems more than “great” enough that it ought to contain monuments named in honor of his father.

If New York is going to be a banana republic, let’s at least try to be less obvious about it. The son in power names new monuments in honor of Dad – in this case a man who while governor in the 1980s-90s was a decent man (who died in 2015), but accomplished nothing truly world-changing, and was even eventually voted out of office when he sought a fourth term as governor. Mario Cuomo will most likely be little more than a trivia question – much like Malcolm Wilson – 50 years from now. (I’d bet many a millennial right now has never heard of Mario.) Another John Jay (a U.S. “founding father”), or an Alexander Hamilton (another “founding father”), or a Richard Montgomery (America’s first hero general, a British immigrant barely three years’ resident in New York, who was killed leading New York troops against the British at Quebec City on December 31, 1775), Mario M. Cuomo was definitely not.

This “America was never that great” governor is quick to complain that people don’t know history. Yet in this case, he seems not to care. In my humble and unimportant opinion removing “Tappan Zee” from our commonplace New York usage in that manner is nothing less than an appalling vandalization of New York state history by a mediocre politician seeking personal family aggrandizement.

If the awful name change sticks – and there is thankfully apparently some doubt that it will – all of the road signs must also be changed to avoid confusing the hell out of motorists. Thus the c-ap our confiscatory NY State taxes too often also help fund. I love New York, but the state of my birth is at times a tough place to love.

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

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