Brooklyn Half-Marathon,
Delmont visit NYC,
Will's Graduation

May, 2013

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I was walking along the waterfront in Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan. Behind me the financial district towered overhead. In the other direction lay the harbor, the Verrazano Narrows, the Atlantic and the rest of the world. (That famous cover of the New Yorker was off by ninety degrees.) Along the seawall rail were propped a number of fishing poles, with their anglers near by.

As I paused and stared out over the water one of the fishermen called out to me, "How much for the Hat?" I was wearing my brown wool broad brimmed fedora and told him it was not for sale. He then asked me where I had got it from and so I replied, "it is from my mother-in-law. All the best things I have come from her", referring to my wife. He was astonished at the rapport which I have with my mother-in-law. I told him that my mother thinks my wife is too good for me and my mother-in-law thinks I'm too good for her daughter -- which actually works out well.

I then asked him about fishing -- were they biting? "Not yet." It was mid-afternoon. He then confided in me that he usually didn't fish at that time of day. "You see", he started to explain, "up until today I ran a one of those push-carts. I had a partner. He paid for the cart, I did the work, and we split the profits, 50-50. But this morning I found him with his hand in the money box, treating it like it was all his own personal property."

Here he paused, looked out over the harbor and then continued, "I'm just not quite ready yet to go home and tell my lady. So I am out here in the middle of the day fishing."

Manhattan Journal

Many of you may have assumed that Manhattan has become unmoored and we drifted off to sea, never to be seen or heard from again. But the truth is that the Brooklyn and Washington Bridge have tethered this island between Long Island and the continent. I would like to blame the lack of these epistles upon someone or something besides myself, but I can come up with no good candidates. So here we go.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013
I was out walking near Union Square when I noticed that there were two police helicopters hovering over the square. Perhaps I should have seen this as a warning sign and wandered off towards Madison Square, it is only half a dozen blocks north on Broadway, but instead I found myself being drawn in. Union Square was packed for a May Day Event.

May Day - Workers of the World Unite -- and these days that can mean so many things.

It was a sunny, clear day, which also showed off all the colors of the groups gathered there. There were unions of all types, plumbers, builders, teamsters and many known by initials which just left me guessing. There were also a number of group organized around work related issues like fare and living wages for restaurant workers, or immigration. The group which surprised me the most, and seemed the least serious were the Communist. They came swarming into the square with red flags adorned with the crossed sickle and hammer, and wearing bandanas across their faces as if they expected to be tear-gassed or recorded on secret FBI cameras.

There were speeches going on and a very large contingent of police at the edge of the crowd, watching. I asked one of the officers if there was going to be a march. She told me, "Sure there is going to be a march -- but they just wouldn't tell us where. That is the most difficult part of May Day. They will tell us when and how long, but not where. So we have got to be ready for all sorts of directions." Later she told me, "Me. I'll be here 'til midnight. Most of this will be long over by then, but it will be a long day for me."

Saturday, May 4, 2013
The photography meet-up group met again, this time with "Silhouettes" as the theme. The key to taking a silhouette is, of course, that the object you want to photograph should be black, and the background white. But the world is not shaded that way. So their are some tricks you can play with setting your exposure to a bright spot, but then switching your focus to a dark subject.

We met on the steps of the Museum of the American Indian, next to Bowling Green, and then walked through Battery Park. It is fun to talk to other photographers and spend a few hours only thinking about how to make the best photograph you can. From the Battery we headed west and north up the Hudson into Battery City, along the Esplanade.

Sunday, May 5, 2013
Even if you are not extremely wealthy, you can still look.

Today we went into Christie's Gallery and Auction House, which is next to Rockefeller Center. Kristina picked out a sculpture by Picasso and I found myself drawn to a painting by Monet. Unfortunately our apartment in Chelsea is a little too small for these pieces. Curiously enough what struck me most about the gallery is that a number of the pieces were displayed in ugly frames; gaudy and gilded. I would think that Christie's would have better taste then to display these pieces of art in overbearing, clunky frames.

Since we were acting as if we had money, we then walked over to Tiffany's on Fifth Avenue to buy a graduation gift for my niece, Audrey. It may not have been the most expensive trinket that they had, but at least it came in a Tiffany blue box. Audrey might have got an engraved toothpick -- if only I could have found one.

Monday, May 6, 2013
This evening I went to a talk about "Kickstarting your career as a Science Writer". The event was put on by SWINY (Science Writers In New York). One of the things which most interested me was the venue of the talk. It was hosted at a place called "Greenspace". The place occupied the top floor of an old "Castiron" building in SoHo. Greenspace is a "shared workspace", which means it is an open floor with lots of desk, a coffee bar, meeting space and an event space. But it is not one company. The space is occupied by dozens of free-lancers. The idea is that it is better to work in an active space with a lot of buzz then sequestered by yourself. I think it is an interesting community experiment.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013
I took the #1 train (subway) to the north end of the line, up in the Bronx. It ends at Van Cortlandt Park. It is an overcast day, but I felt the need for a long walk in a park and a bit of exploring. I soon stumbled upon the "Old Putnam Trail", a rail bed which runs through the park. The rails have been pulled up and most of the sleepers have vanished, but the bed itself runs for about a mile and a half through the park, embedded in a strip of woodland. Deer, rabbits and birds.

At the end of the mile and a half all of a sudden the trail is a paved bike path, as it crosses the north boundary of the park -- and the city. It gave me pause to think about the fact that I really could just walk out of the city. Here was the northern boundary.

Among New York City outdoor enthuses the is a powerful debate about the Old Putnam Trail. Should it be left dirt and a walking trail, or should it be paved for bikes. North of the city Westchester county has paved it -- but there are so few hiking trails in the city. When I have talked to people about this they speak passionately about their side. There is no middle ground, except among people who have never heard of it.

Saturday, May 11, 2013
I had thought that New York City was suppose to be the cross roads of the world, and so had expected to often see people I had not seen in decades. I have met a few, but not many. So today's meeting with the Wolfs was a pleasure.

One of my best friends in 7th to 9th grade was Doug Wolf, but then his family moved out of Brockport and I only saw him twice during grad-school days. However, his parents and brother now live in New York City, so we met for lunch at the Bryant Park Grill. In 1973 Ed Wolf, Doug's father, had taken me to his lab, part of the New Cavendish Lab in Cambridge, England. It was the first time I had ever been in a physics lab. He also lent me a book called, "The Limitations of Science". I finally returned that book to him today. Ed and Carol are both retired, but when I listen to what they are doing it is hard to tell. They are still active and teaching at Brooklyn Poly and Pace.

Saturday, May 18, 2013 - The Brooklyn Half Marathon
The race starts at 7:00 am, so I was up at 4:30 and on my way out the door at 5:00. I met Hank, another member of my running club, at the 14th street, #1/2/3 station. The subway train was packed with runners.

We emerged from the subway in front of the Brooklyn Museum where a happy mob was milling around and watching the sun come up. The race had 21,378 finishers, and who knows how many starters, as well as a few friends and family supporters.

This is the first big race in New York City since the Boston Marathon bombing and so there is a new baggage checking policy. In the past you would attach a slip of paper with your bib number to your bag or backpack, and then hand it to a race official. At the end of the race, you need only show your bib number to reclaim your bag. This time they gave you a clear plastic bag to put your stuff in and asked you to bring as little as possible. So what do you bring. In the winter I'll bring sweats, a second shirt, a little cash, cell phone and a metro card. This time I'm running with the metro card. If something happens mid-race, it is still six miles to the start or finish, but never more then half a mile to the nearest subway station.

Before the race, with Hank

So how do you start and time a race with 22,000 people? First off, each runner wears a chip, sometimes as part of your number, sometimes attached to your shoe. When your chip crosses the starting line it is sensed and the time recorded. When you cross the finish line the time is again recorded, and the difference calculated. So if it takes you a minute to get to the starting line after the gun goes off, that doesn't count against you.

We line up in "Corrals", each with about a thousand people. Those with faster "seed times", times they have run in the past, are assigned to the front corrals. I am in the second corral today, which means it will be about half a minute until I get to the starting line. After the gun goes off it is about half an hour before the last runner crosses the line and starts.

The race heads south past the Botanical Gardens, then north on Flatbush Avenue to Grand Army Plaza, then south to the southern entrance of Prospect Park. Prospect Park is Brooklyn's Central Park, also designed by Frederick Law Olmsted/Calvert Vaux. Large open meadows, grand old trees and a drive which winds its way back towards Grand Army Plaza. After that it is downhill to the ocean.

After the race.
Coming out of Prospect Park you cross the half way point of the race as you turn down Ocean Parkway. In someways that was the most dispiriting moment of the whole race. It is about five to six miles in a perfectly straight line. Eventually the parkway crosses the lettered avenues and you start counting your way through the alphabet. Avenue J, Avenue P, Avenue U and finally, Avenue Z. Under the Belt Parkway and then a turn onto Surf Avenue, which runs parallel to the beach. There is a short zig and the last few hundred yards is down the boardwalk of Coney Island.

Final time: 1:31:29, overall place: 1,498 out of 21,378, in men 50-54: 45 out of 518, pace 7:13/mile.

Not a spectacular result, but after being injured for much of the winter I guess okay.

The Central Park Track Club was well represented in this race, with 75 finishers and a large fraction of those all went to eat and drink afterwards. We do smell awful, but so does everyone else.

Then home by subway.

Sunday, May 19th
This next ten days are going to be full. On Tuesday (May 21) my father arrives for a visit. Over the weekend Will graduates from Bard, and then next week he moves in with us. But it starts this weekend with Robin moving out of his dorm and into our apartment. Remember that our whole apartment, including closets and shower, is between 400 and 500 square feet.

Robin has finished his first year at NYU where he lived on Fifth Avenue, just above 10th St., which means about a mile away. He arrived with a few duffle bags and a stack of books which we have slid into the corner of the apartment, getting them out of the way as best we could. Then he and Kristina took off to visit Washington DC.

Tuesday, May 21st
I met Dad out at LaGuardia Airport. I handed Dad a seven-day Metro card so he would not feel obliged to provide a taxi. Visitors often say, "I'll just get a taxi", but taxis are ten times the price of the metro, and a lot slower. We caught a bus from the airport, through Harlem (much different then when Dad last visited this city in the 1970's) to Columbia University. After walking around campus we took the subway south to our apartment in Chelsea.

In the afternoon we wandered down the High Line into Greenwich Village and then back home. I know my folks were hesitant to visit New York City and so I was making an effort to show the clean and pleasant aspects by strolling the narrow tree-lined streets of "The Village". Forty years ago, especially from the perspective of upstate New York, this city was a mess with a lot of dangerous neighborhoods. However, as my father also pointed out, last time he rode the subway, all the men wore hats.

Wednesday, May 22nd
I wanted to take Dad up to Central Park and suggested that we combine it with a museum. On the west side of the park is the American Museum of Natural History and on the east side is "The Met", the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I find that the natural history museum is dominated by kids, and it tends to be louder and the crowds are more kinetic. The Met is a quieter place where adults glide in a stately manner through stately galleries.

We walked around The Great Lawn and passed Belvedere Castle, and when it was time to pick a museum Dad chose Natural History. I am not certain if this is because his is a "naturalist" by nature, or if it is that he is young of heart. In any case it was a delight to wander the galleries of natural dioramas and gems with him. We eventually worked our way to the top floor where the skeletons of dinosaurs, ichthyosaur, pterosaurs, mastodons and mammoths are exhibited. There was one display about the evolution of the horse which caught dad's eye because at a distance it looked like a linear evolution, horses becoming bigger over time. Dad told me that this view was now discredited and more recent analysis showed that the evolution of the horse was full of fits and starts, branches and dead ends. As we got closer to the display, the words of the exhibit reflected Dad's description.

In the afternoon Robin and Kristina returned from a trip to Washington DC and we all headed to Salinas for dinner. Salinas is a beautiful Spanish restaurant on Ninth Avenue a few blocks south of us. We had a variety of "Tapas", of course, that is what they are famous for.

Thursday, May 23
Delmont (Dad) and I headed towards Bard. We took the train out of Grand Central Station to Whiteplains where our car was parked. Then up the Taconic Parkway to Red Hook to grocery shop, and finally on to Bard. We only saw Will for a little while since he was off to a banquet for graduating seniors. So we headed north another half dozen miles to Germantown where we have rented a house overlooking the Hudson River for the weekend.

Later in the evening Will called to tell us that he had won the Math Department's award.

Friday, May 24
People are converging for the commencement today and I am glad that we have a whole house to do this in. Kristina arrived at the train station in Poughkeepsie and Kris and Charlie drove in from Connecticut.

Saturday, May 25
Bard College is a bucolic institution under the spreading chestnut trees, perched on the edge of the Hudson River. Situated at a cross-roads called "Annandale-on-Hudson" it is home to a student body of about 2,000. However, in May its population would become overwhelming so they send three-quarters of the students home to make room for the swarm which descends upon it. These are the graduate's "sisters and cousins and aunts", as well as brothers, uncles, parents and grandparents. Annandale Road was filled with 500 soon-to-be bachelors, in black gowns and mortar-boards.

Commencement itself was in a large tent which covered the rugby field. The wind was up, which meant the tent inflated like a balloon, then billowed like a sail and occasionally snapped like a whip. But all eyes were on the commencement speaker. The primary speaker was Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman. She had been shot in the head and this was one of her first public appearances since then. Prior to her speech her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, talked for awhile about seeking middle ground solutions. Then Congresswoman Giffords gave perhaps the all-time shortest commencement speech, shorter then this paragraph. It still brought the house down with cheers.

And then the real point of the event, graduation and diplomas.

Afterwards Will took us over to the Reem-Kayden Center for Science and Computation for a reception by the Mathematics Department and to see his poster. We all tried to ask intelligent questions. Fortunately Will was just too happy with the day to notice that the questions weren't.

Back at the house in Germantown the celebration continued late into the evening. Charlie, Kristen and Owen had joined us midday and so the house was at capacity.

It was good to see Will so happy and surrounded by a cheerful crowd.

Sunday, May 26
The party broke up. We moved Will out of his dorm and Robin took a full carload to Hanover. Most of the Lynches headed to Connecticut, leaving Will, Kristina, Delmont and myself standing on the platform in Poughkeepsie waiting for the train. Down to New York City along the Hudson I was reminded of a scene out of North-by-Northwest. In to Penn Station and then home to Chelsea.

Monday, May 27
Kristina, Will and I took Delmont on our tour of Southern Manhattan, which somehow manages to miss the entire financial district. We started out in "Battery City", which is a new community. It was build in the 1970's on filled land. Before then, this area had dozens of piers, but by the 1960's they had fallen into dereliction. The story I heard was that much of the fill came from the excavations for the foundations of the Twin Towers, the original World Trade Center.

In any case Battery City has a river front Esplanade which it is always a delight to walk down. Past the Irish Hunger Monument, past the basin filled with over-sized yachts and eventually to Battery Park, at the very southern tip of the island. This area is also filled land, but from a much earlier project.

One of the best deals in New York City -- or anywhere -- is to ride the Staten Island Ferry. It is free. It leaves the South Ferry Terminal between once and four times each hour, depending upon the time of day. It is then a forty minute ride to the St. George's terminal on Staten Island. Once there you are required to disembark, but most of the passengers walk through the terminal and back to the next ferry, often the same boat. Then forty minutes back to Manhattan.

When I am walking through Time Square, one may think of New York City as an entertainment hub. When you walk on Wall street you may think of it as a financial capital. But when you ride on the ferry across the harbor you are gently reminded that it was first a port. Ships, barges, tugboats ply the waters all around you. Massive container ships duck under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and head off to lands unknown. Cheery red tugboats push other boats around.

Back on land we took the subway to Brooklyn and walked down Montague Street to the Brooklyn heights Promenade, and eventually down to the shoreline under the Brooklyn Bridge. It was time for "fika", and we knew of a cafe near Fulton Landing. Then we continued to wander past a restored carousel and through DUMBO, then home.

Tuesday, May 28
Dad is flying back to Florida this evening, but we still had time for one more excursion, and since he is still standing, we haven't completely walked him off his feet. So Del and Will headed into Greenwich Village, a mile south of our apartment. Will is in search of a new chess set, and just south of Washington Square are two stores which advertise themselves as selling exclusively chess related merchandise.

Afterwards we rendezvoused at the Strand Bookstore. They claim 18 miles of shelves and 2.5 million books. Who could not enjoy losing yourself for an hour here? I think it might be Will's favorite part of this city and he was anxious to show it to his grandfather who is also a bibliophile.

Back at the apartment there was time to break in that new chess set, and then Del and I were off to LaGuardia Airport, to send him south.