Trips away from home should not last longer than eight days. “Eight days is enough.” That was my late husband’s maxim. Possibly two weeks if an ocean is involved. During our long marriage, I was able sometimes to draw the time out longer, but it occasioned a lot of grumbling.
He would have hated the trip I just returned from: Four weeks on the East Coast visiting people and old haunts. Well, not the people and old haunts part; he’d have loved that. But an entire month? No way.
My New York daughter, whose apartment was to serve as home base for my excursions to other places, assumed I had planned this in anticipation of my supposed imminent demise. No, I explained, what I’m anticipating is a possible lessening of energy and stamina in ensuing years to enable such an undertaking. Plus, for once in my life I am without responsibilities to any person, pet, job, volunteer activity or much-needed project. My Los Angeles daughter agreed to stop by to water my few house plants should the need arise, but my attitude toward them was: Perhaps my time for house plants is over anyway. Or not, since the plants survived.
April was not the smartest choice of months what with people’s Easter and Passover plans to work around, and the weather was pretty cold and rainy – I am convinced I experienced more rain in four weeks there than I had in the past 13 years in Southern California. But that could be exaggeration.
The choice of dates for my visit was determined by the NY daughter’s two-week break from teaching English at locations all over the city. During that time, she and I would experience a variety of cultural and sightseeing activities together before she began preparing for the next sessions of classes and I headed out to impose on friends in the Greater New York area and beyond. Instead, on the morning after my arrival, her large black cat – possibly excited by the presence of company or simply showing off – leapt from a shelf to a small wood table piled with books, upsetting everything and causing the table to land on the daughter’s bare foot. Having spent the past year recuperating from a stress fracture on the opposite foot, she knew immediately that this was not good. She suffered through the day and night and saw a doctor the next morning. X-rays showed a broken toe with the doctor’s admonition to stay off the foot as much as possible. So much for sightseeing and strolls through museums.
The injury did not, however, prevent the daughter from donning an orthopedic boot and insisting on accompanying me and a heavy carry-on up and down steps and in and out of buses and subways. My offers to use one of the ride-share accounts on my phone or to spring for cab fare were rebuffed. Do all New Yorkers hate cars?
Or did they know without even waiting for the results of a study described in a recent Los Angeles Times showing that the popularity of ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft “is the single biggest factor behind [San Francisco’s] increasingly snarled traffic.” Analyzing millions of trips, the researchers “concluded that the services accounted for more than half of the 62 percent increase in weekday traffic delays between 2010 and 2016.” Additionally, it was found that the presence of ride-share vehicles did not, as originally envisioned, improve traffic there. “Instead,” the study notes, “they often increased the total number of cars on the road.”
So with encouragement from my daughters, I did not rent a car this trip and determined to get re-acquainted with public transportation. And in spite of what I read about crumbling infrastructure and desperate needs for equipment replacement, East Coast public transportation has come a long way since I was commuting. For instance, what happened to all the dirty old men with their wandering hands who preyed on sweet young things in subway cars packed like sardine cans? Did I miss that because I tended to avoid the worst of rush hour? Or is it because I am no longer a sweet young thing but rather a gray-haired octogenarian to whom seats were routinely offered?
On subways and buses in the metropolitan area, I rode with nice people: commuters of all ages and mothers pushing strollers. Once I moved into the suburban areas, transportation became more problematic, and that’s when I relied on friends with cars.
I made several trips from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan to Montclair, New Jersey where Ed and I lived, the last time for more than 30 years. If I do this again, I’ll do a better scheduling job, grouping visits together geographically. As usual, I was over-optimistic of how much I could accomplish, and some planned visits had to be cancelled or not scheduled at all and promised for another time (if I’m still welcome). But looking at the map I scribbled out, there were at least half a dozen subway and bus trips back and forth between Queens, NY and Montclair, NJ; a car ride to Westchester County, NY; a bus trip to and from Providence, RI; a car ride to Freehold, NJ; a bus ride to Bethesda MD; and a car ride to Fairfax VA. In addition, two family members drove over from Pennsylvania to spend a day in New Jersey with me, while we drove around former neighborhoods and reminisced.
My plane ticket had been open-ended, meaning that ideally I could have stayed indefinitely. Except that I was getting tired of alternating the same four black sweaters to wear with my jeans — socks and underwear got washed with my daughter’s laundry — and the few warm-weather outfits I brought never made it out of the big suitcase. The newspaper delivery instructions could be changed with a phone call but I seemed to recall that the post office had different directions in the case of mail held beyond 30 days. Furthermore, for the sake of future family harmony, I needed to return their privacy to my daughter and son-in-law.
I slept on each of the flights back to California, and once home, for many days after, could not sit in a chair more than a few moments without dozing off. And bedtime came very early. I’m now back to normal, walking and working out at cardiac rehab, while thinking of future travel and ways to improve it. I’ve already mentioned the need for better organized planning in advance – Ed’s common sense and realistic thinking would have come in handy for this trip – and, who knows, maybe he’d have come around a bit on the “eight days” maxim. But I’m realistic enough myself to know, probably not a whole month.