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Flying east

Started: 2013-06-04 20:38:42

Submitted: 2013-06-04 21:46:25

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator takes his four-year-old to New York City

Five years ago, when Kiesa and I announced her pregnancy to my family, my sister Bethany bought Calvin (then just an embryo) the book This is New York. Once Calvin was born and reached the age where he could appreciate picture books, we started reading it to him, knowing we were participating in Bethany's propaganda war to get Calvin to want to come visit her. She increased the stakes by giving Calvin artifacts from New York: a t-shirt with a subway car (front and back) and wooden blocks in the shape of buildings and taxi cabs.

Calvin's drawing of New York: building and a cow
Calvin's drawing of New York: building and a cow

Our trip to Hong Kong notwithstanding, Kiesa doesn't really believe in cities larger than teacups, so when I suggested visiting New York she suggested I could take Calvin myself and she could stay home. (She did take Calvin for a week-long visit to her mother.) It turned out I had just enough United frequent flier miles for two tickets, not three; and despite my not having taken full responsibility for Calvin for more than a couple of hours at a time, our trip to Hong Kong made me over-confident about my ability to amuse Calvin. (An iPad with a few movies is a munitions-grade child amusement device. The future is here, and it's amazing.) So I cashed in a few years' worth of frequent flier miles for two round-trip tickets to New York City over Memorial Day weekend.

Kiesa helps Calvin look through the New York City guidebook
Kiesa helps Calvin look through the New York City guidebook

Two days after dropping my brother Willy off at the airport, I was back with Calvin to fly to New York's LaGuardia airport. (I was a little nervous at the prospect of being responsible for Calvin for the next six days when I hadn't even mustered six hours before.) I exploited my lowest-tier elite status to get a short baggage check queue, then took Calvin to look out at the construction on the south terminal. He was enthralled by the concrete pump and cranes. I noticed that they were building the forms for the reinforced concrete floors by placing large blocks to form the cutouts between the concrete ribs. I'd seen the end result but never actually seen the construction itself.

Calvin looks at construction at DIA's south terminal
Calvin looks at construction at DIA's south terminal
Construction on the South Terminal at DIA
Construction on the South Terminal at DIA

Once we made our way through the security-theater checkpoint, which was made somewhat more tedious by the throngs of holiday travelers* and Calvin's insistence on being carried any distance greater than ten meters, I wedged Calvin into the Beco soft-shell back carrier that Kiesa used to great effect in Hong Kong. It worked better for her than me; it's not really sized for me, and she simply has more practice with it. (She also had me to carry around all of our stuff so she only really had to worry about Calvin.) I stopped to pick up lunch (Calvin's two favorite foods, noodle and tofu), then pointed out the newly-restored-to-service 787 Dreamliner parked at the gate bound for Houston. It was the first one I'd seen in Denver.

N27903 787 Dreamliner in United colors at DIA
N27903 787 Dreamliner in United colors at DIA

[* This time I counted as a "holiday traveler" too, but I'm not going to let that stop me from casual disdain of the less-experienced travelers in my way.]

Calvin eats noodle and tofu
Calvin eats noodle and tofu

We ate lunch in front of our gate and presently boarded our 757-200 en route to LaGuardia. I had very little trouble keeping Calvin occupied on the plane: he poured over the safety information card and asked what every pictogram meant. Once we were airborne he played with Legos for a while from the carry-on case he packed, then watched Cars until we were ready to land.

Our descent into LaGuardia was rough and cloudy; at first I could pick out only a few scattered buildings through the clouds, and Calvin kept pointing out the things he could see in the "holes in the cloud". At length we landed in the rain, then had to wait to be towed to the gate, since apparently the airport was so small our plane couldn't approach on its own power. We disembarked and shuffled down the concourse to baggage claim. My bag was one of the first to arrive (possibly due to to the 'priority handling' sticker it acquired as the result of my elite status). We ate a snack, then headed out to the lengthy taxi queue to head into Manhattan.

Kiesa is still traumatized by the taxi ride we took in Taipei in which Calvin was merely seat-belted into the middle of the rear seat (which further strengthened my resolve to never, ever take her to India), so I allowed her to buy a booster seat to secure Calvin in the taxi, since I had no real interest in lugging a full-sized car seat along with me. I pulled it out of my suitcase while waiting for the taxi, and quickly installed it in the middle of the rear seat before leaving the airport, and it worked fairly well; it gave Calvin a bit more height to help him see out the windows, though there really wasn't all that much to see from the expressways. We took the Queens Midtown Tunnel under the East River, and I was finally in Manhattan, for the first time in twenty years.

Calvin fell asleep on the traffic-ridden drive uptown and woke up as I pulled him out of the car and handed him to Bethany, who was waiting for us on the curb in front of her apartment in the north-eastern corner of Midtown. We went upstairs to her cozy, one-bedroom, 650-square-foot apartment. (I think her kitchen was roughly the same size as the galley on the plane.) Calvin revived after supper, just in time to play a little before going to bed on the guest bed in the corner of the living room.

I found a well-worn copy of Lonely Planet's New York City guidebook that Willy first used, and annotated, on his visit to the city that predated Bethany's residence here. Aside from skimming a few guidebooks, and marking a few places on a map, I hadn't really spent much time figuring out what I wanted to see. Bethany had plenty of ideas, so I took notes as we laid out our plan for the next day.

(It was at this point that I desperately wished I could take Google Maps' view of Manhattan and rotate it thirty degrees to the left: Manhattan has a strict grid system, with long avenues running the length of the island and shorter streets running at right angles, but the island itself is rotated thirty degrees from north. All paper maps of Manhattan rotate the view so the avenues run straight up and down, but Google Maps steadfastly refused to adjust its orientation to match local convention. I was, at least, able to rotate Google Maps on my phone.)

You always learn more from someone whom you disagree with.
- Dr. Shepherd, 23 August 1999