SAN DIEGO – A good Southwest corner pal went caddy corner last week.
Pete Toennies, a retired Navy SEAL, lived in New York City through college at St. Johns where he is enshrined in the “Johnnies” Athletic Hall of Fame for swimming. His mother still lives there, attending Broadway matinees. Pete’s daughter, raised mostly in the Southwest corner, made a career move to the Big Apple a couple of years ago.
Pete did not want to go. A big man with old injuries, he does not like to travel. He wanted to visit his daughter and mother, but he would have preferred to stay in the Southwest corner.
I understand. I have been in New York City about a dozen times.
First NYC Tour
My first visit was a 1963 one-night stay, returning from a NROTC cruise. Ted Goldberg, my Vanderbilt freshman dorm mate was my guide. We drove down Wall Street, by the Waldorf Astoria, and by the Empire State building, but the drive through Harlem remains indelible because of my fright factor. Ted also took us to Greenwich Village where we ended up (for a very short time) in a lesbian bar.
The next trip was a 1967 Thanksgiving break from Naval OCS, when John Johnson, a close Vanderbilt friend and then a Columbia graduate student, hosted the four OCS midshipmen. We did not see much of the city, mostly relaxing and watching television sports. John found a grocery store which sold grits, and we served my Yankee buddies grits and eggs for breakfast.
John’s home is in upstate New York. I eventually became his sports editor at “The Watertown Daily Times.” We laughed about John being the most “Southern” of the Yankees at that get together.
A Christmas Party
I stopped by John’s during Christmas leave. We went to a holiday party on 95th and Park Avenue. Two other Vanderbilt friends, Alan and Jim Hicks, lived on a ridiculously high floor in a four bedroom apartment complete with a butler. After Mrs. Hicks, a former theater show girl, sang Christmas carols, I struck up a conversation with a pleasant fellow, and upon his query, expounded on why superior writers were predominantly Southerners.
I later discovered the patient gentleman was the editor of “Time” magazine.
On our way back to John’s apartment, we became separated. Before I found my way back to his place, I wandered around Spanish Harlem several hours in the early morning, another terrifying experience.
From then until 1993, my trips to New York were no-stop transits to and from Newport, RI. Then, I went to Tarrytown to facilitate a company teambuilding session. I thought it was far from the city. After all, it is next to Sleepy Hollow; yes, that Sleepy Hollow. It’s part of NYC.
I flew into LaGuardia around nine in the evening. Baggage claim and arranging transportation took an unpleasant hour. As the seven riders walked from the terminal, the driver told us, in a broken accent, he was subbing for his cousin.
The van drove around for about 15 minutes and then drove by the terminal again. I then knew we were in trouble.
A Long Ride
Tarrytown was the last stop. Two Canadian racquetball players, in a tournament in White Plains the next day, were scheduled to be dropped off just before me.
For an hour or so, we were awed by the city skyline, not recognizing the first drop off in Queens should have taken about 20 minutes. As time crept past 11:00, the racquetball players and I became concerned. The driver didn’t have a clue.
We stopped at a convenience store in a foreboding city section. The clerk was outside, drunk with a pistol in his belt. He was belligerent but finally sold us a map. For the next several hours, two of us read the map while the other gave the driver directions.
The Canadians insisted I get off first as I could not map read and give directions alone. I fell into my room at 2:30 a.m.
1. Even though my wife and daughter want to go back to New York (their visits were more tourist-like), I plan to stay in the Southwest corner.
2. I have the greatest respect for Canadian racquetball players.
3. If he figured out how to get gas, there is a substitute van driver, still trying to get back to LaGuardia.