Sunday September 30. 2001

things that fall

Boris has been driving well. I had a whirlwind weekend, driving from Philadelphia to Lebanon to Wilkes-Barre to New York City and back to Philadelphia, approximately 450 miles, all in the space of 48 or so hours. I knew this would be the ultimate test to see if he could hold up.

So I couldn't mention it here (for fear of them finding out, because I think they do browse my site occasionally), but this weekend was my Grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary surprise party. My mother has three brothers, so predictably she ended up doing most of the work (not because they're slackers, but just because my Mom's the organized, party-throwing type). So she was going a little nuts trying to get everything organized, the hotel booked, the catering organized, the cake picked up, etc etc etc. She was on pins and needles as we drove up Route 81, she in the van and me driving Boris (my Dad and sister came up to the party a little later).

So all was well. We got to the hotel, and my Mom opened the van's trunk door, and let out a piercing scream.

The $200 three-tiered carrot cake had fallen. Collapsed completely to one side. My mother buried her head in my shoulder, saying "No, no, no, no, no..."

This was the low point of the day. With the help of the hotel staff, we got the cake to stand upright, and put the bad side facing the wall. It looked a bit like a pastry version of the Oklahoma City bombing - half of it standing, half of it destroyed. But it was still the famous carrot cake, spicy and moist, just as good as always.

It was weird seeing all my relatives, who I haven't seen all together for at least two or three years. Two of my cousins, Elise and Luke, who I remember as babies, are now 6 and 8. I could only stare at them in disbelief, uttering the unbearably grown-up phrase, "My, how you've grown!"

There were about fifty people at the party, and when Grammy and Pop-Pop arrived, they were definitely surprised. I was amazed that none of the littler kids had let it slip. I ate dinner, took pictures and then helped clean up. And as much as I hated to, I left shortly after the party ended, to go to NYC.

It was a long, sad stretch of Route 80. I didn't know what I would find. Well, I knew what I wouldn't find, at least. The boards along the highway flashed "Holland tunnel eastbound closed" and "2 occupants per car Lincoln Tunnel Weekdays 6am-12pm", signaling some small thing out of the ordinary, something out of place. I am always amazed at the tangled mass of highways that make up North Jersey, and somewhere on 3 I took a wrong turn, ended up on the turnpike for all of two minutes, and started heading north toward the George Washington Bridge inside of the Lincoln Tunnel.

That was okay, though. By now it was dark, and as I was driving down the west side highway, the lights of New Jersey across the river and the bridge in my rearview mirror were beautiful. I didn't even attempt to look downtown at all, not that I could see anything from here, anyway. I got off the highway and through a stroke of luck managed to find a space to park on 97th street, two blocks away from Olive's apartment.

The three of us quickly devoured the carrot cake I had brought, talked for a while and then went out to the Hunan Balcony, this endlessly efficient Chinese/Japanese/general Asian restaurant a couple blocks away. I had sushi, first time in a long time. I looked around the restaurant, as if I trying to gauge the condition of the city from the people around me. I caught snippets of conversations around me, and mostly they were about one thing. But it didn't seem like much had changed. The restaurant was pretty full for almost nine o'clock at night. Life goes on, I guess.

Driving back on the New Jersey Turnpike on Sunday, I glanced over my shoulder several times at what wasn't. I'm glad I didn't have time to get south of 59th street, I don't think I could've handled it right now. I've looked at Time and The New Yorker, and I can't even bear to have the images around me, let alone the real thing. But at least being there told me that my city is still alive and kicking, and will be okay, someday.

One Year Ago:
"I went to the Tyler Library after my art history class, which has to be the most depressing place on the campus. It's stuffy, cold (in today's case), poorly lit by fluorescent lights, computers are in short supply, the staff is clueless and unhelpful, and the butt ugly chairs and tables are always crowded."

Two Years Ago:
"Times flies when you're being tortured mentally."