Speeding north on interstate 95, non-stop to New York City from Washington DC, our bus driver, sitting tall, steering with muscular arms and gloved hands, pushed the limit, looking determined to make up time from a late start. Four hours and some minutes later he slammed the brakes, leaving inches between us and the bumper of the small aging, gray Honda stopped at the Lincoln tunnel entrance. Whipped back into our front row seats, we clutched the arm rests and seat belt straps that crossed our chests. “What idiot would stop abruptly at the tunnel entrance?” flashed through my mind. I was not ready to die! Our driver let out a small sigh, then silently and calmly took off his driving gloves, wiped his hands on his beefy firm thighs then put the gloves back on, patiently waiting with the Honda for the tunnel light to switch from red to green. He didn’t say a word and we certainly weren’t going to ask questions. On the green, both car and bus took off into the tunnel like, as Meatloaf sang, a bat out of hell. New York City was the bright light at the end of the tunnel.
The reason for the trip was to meet our long time friends who live on 5th Avenue just north of Washington Square Park, in the heart of Greenwich Village, and with our friends who came down from Boston. The six of us come together for Friday night and Saturday dinners, “salon” conversation and favorite daytime pastimes – the men, wordlessly watching weird, esoteric, killer filled, car crashing suspense movies, grunting approvals to each other as needed; the women, exploring in the city by foot and subway, catching up with our lives. It pleases all.
On this visit, us women took an unusual step – the ferry, leaving Manhattan for Staten Island to see Sailor’s Snug Harbor, large botanical and cultural center not well known to non-New Yorkers. You’d think we were crazy to give up the excitement of Manhattan’s streets to cross over to what has become “Trump land”. However, it was a risk we were willing to take on Carol’s recommendation, a New Yorker of more than 30 years. The “R” train from Broadway & 8th to the Whitehall South Ferry station delivered us to the Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry, a free 20 minute water excursion sailing past the Statute of Liberty and Governor’s Island.
Where NYC is intense and noisy, Snug Harbor is quiet, populated with locals attending concerts, a wedding or picnicking on the expansive green spaces surrounding the numerous old brick, marble and granite buildings that were transformed into artist havens and local museums.
On the day we visited, it was gray and slightly rainy in the morning, but by 1:00 PM the day bloomed into sunshine, mild breezes and an explosion of color – dogwoods, ornamental fruits, lilacs – and flowers, wild and domesticated. We strolled, ate lunch at the small casual patio cafe, and visited several sites, including a Chinese Scholar’s home (think Zen on steroids) and an English maze (think walking in circles surrounded by well trimmed bushes). But for me the most luscious was our last stop – a visit to the Mariner’s Collection – a building where we immersed ourselves in Sag Harbor history, the story of its mariner beginnings and many years as a retirement community for seamen. The art of John A. Noble who captured the demise of wood sailing freighters from his tugboat studio home in New York harbor and the objects, records and furniture of the Snag Harbor community that existed from 1838 – 1979, along with narrative provided by a seaman docent, all proved to me, once again, that you never know where you are going to find a gem. All it takes is a step out of your comfort zone.