New York City Weekend – technology free

JRP Reflecting

Reflection – written May 12 , 1998

Most weekends I spend a lot of my time enjoying technology. This one was to be quite different. It was a weekend I had been looking forward to for a very long time. We first met Bill and Carolyn and Bob and Anne at Pennwood, our vacation cottage in the Pocono Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania. The fourth couple we have known for many years. It was in the summer of 1983 when we first got the idea to meet in the winter for a New York City weekend. We see each other quite a bit during the summer. After Labor Day we normally wouldn’t see our friends again until Memorial Day. So the idea was born to begin annual New York City weekends and this was to be our fifteenth.
We were to meet our friends on Broadway for a play Saturday afternoon as had been our tradition for all these years. However, we decided to go a day early and enjoy an overnight on Friday so we took the train from Katonah, New York to Grand Central Station. Between our late start and a lot of delay in getting a taxi we just barely had time to drop off our bags at the hotel and get to our dinner reservation. There wasn’t time for a relaxing dinner but we did have a nice meal and then walked to Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center. We had tickets for a string quartet. Nothing is more beautiful than a Hayden string quartet but unfortunately that wasn’t what was on the program. I never thought of Bartok as being so unusual but this particular first piece of the evening was way out on the edge. I was sure that this would be the last string quartet concert my wife would attend with me and had my fingers crossed for the second piece. It turned out to be even more bizarre by a composer I had not heard of before. After the intermission was a more familiar piece by Mozart. The music was beautiful as most Mozart music is and I was relieved that the concert ended with what I hope will be a fond memory for next year. We walked back to the Waldorf Astoria. It was time for technology! I have to admit I was quite anxious to see if there was any hot email and to see how the stock market closed the day. It wasn’t to be. The room had two phone lines and neither one would cooperate. I couldn’t determine if the problem was IBM’s local dial access number in the city or perhaps some old wiring in the hotel. I have experienced this before where older hotels have very nice new phones and jacks in the room but the copper wire in the walls and out to the street and on to the local telco switch are decades old. I called IBM Global Network and they assured me that the network had no reported problems. For me it was no email and no Web. I am actually lucky because my wife is a lot more interesting than email or the Web. We had a nice sleep.
Saturday morning I tried to connect again. It was not to be. I didn’t try for too long. It was an incredibly beautiful day in New York City. While my wife was enjoying reading the paper and having a leisurely breakfast I took a five mile run up Madison Avenue and through Central Park up to nearly 100th Street and back. There were people in the Park everywhere. Old ones, young ones, and infants; slow people, fast people, and sitting people; walkers, sprinters, hikers, and joggers; strollers, bicycles, and horses. There was a nice breeze and the sky was blue. I can’t think of a better way to start the day.
I met up with my wife back at the hotel and we took our bags in the cab to drop them off at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then took another cab back to forty-second Street. It was such a nice day that lunch at the outdoor cafe behind the New York City public library was very relaxing and enjoyable. Then we walked across 42nd Street, across Broadway, and to the Ford Theater to see Ragtime.
Ragtime is a bit hard to describe. Definitely a great play. Very long. Sad in parts. In fact the tragedy was very emotional at times. I have to admit I dozed off a few times.
After the play we took a walk for awhile and then grabbed a taxi to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What a wonderful place. A national treasure. We walked in the front door and to my surprise I heard what sounded like a live Mozart piano sonata. Sure enough the Museum was hosting a piano and string quartet free concert on the mezzanine level of the museum. After shopping a bit in the fantastic Museum gift shop (the 10% member discount drove me to buy a new tie to replace the poorly matched one I was wearing) and then up to the mezzanine to have a glass of wine and enjoy the artistry of the fantastic musicians who were performing. I was thinking to myself how wonderful it would be if they had been at the Alice Tully Hall the night before!
The Museum is so expansive. I believe it is the largest art museum in the world. Yes, the Internet is supplementing the great museums of the world. More importantly, the content of the great museums is being digitized so that people who will never be able to physically get to New York or Beijing or Rome or Canberra will be able nonetheless be able to “visit” the great masterpieces of the world and expand their understanding of the world’s cultures. There used to be 30,000 dialects in the world. Today there are about 5,000. Some people say that soon there will be just one. I don’t think so. In fact I think the Internet may actually bring back some of those formerly or nearly extinct dialogues. People have grown up on a mountain somewhere with a unique dialect. Then they graduated from school and went their separate ways. The dialect dies. Now, with Internet email, these school friends can remain in contact and in fact can maintain their dialect and bring in former graduates to build a community around their common culture.
One could spend a week at the “Met” and not see all of the wonderful art that is housed in the many galleries. We enjoyed the European art of the last few centuries and then headed up to the Trustee’s Dining Room to meet up with our friends. The decor is elegant but simple. This dinner was about friends not ambiance. Fifteen years worth. Right on the edge of Central Park the dining room has a nice view. It is clean and neat but not extravagant (even though the prices are). Service was outstanding. Most importantly it was the six of us comparing notes on the past year; how are the kids, what has transpired, etc. Why six and not eight?
Bob was the originator of the New York weekends. CEO of a prestigious New York City financial printing company, a consummate dresser, the ultimate restaurant picker, and the organizer of each years’ gathering. In the Spring of 1995 Bob began to experience a sore throat. It lead to a near loss of his voice and subsequently a diagnosis of a rare breed of thyroid cancer. The downhill progression of his condition was really hard for all of us to endure. Watching him deteriorate from a marathon runner to a skeletal fragment of himself gnawed at all of us for the eighteen months that ensued. His wife and children were far stronger than I could have been. We all miss him more than I can express.
Randy is a different story. He was very successful in his business career but unfortunately things did not work out on the family side. Today he may have other friends but not the fifteen year gang. Hopefully our group of six doesn’t dwindle any further and, who knows, maybe it will grow back to eight.
We took the train back to Katonah and then our Jeep back to Connecticut. We dearly miss Bob. We regret that Randy has gone too. I hope next year’s Friday night is an all Mozart concert. I didn’t miss the email or Web surfing.