My 1968 East Coast Trip - New York City

In Summer, 1968, when I was twelve, my mother decided that she needed to see her relatives in Boston and New Hampshire, and that I needed to see them as well. Dad refused to go. He didn't like airplanes and refused to fly, and so I sent him a postcard from Massachusetts calling him "Super Chicken" (a cartoon character of the day). Children can be so disrespectful...

It was my first great childhood adventure - in fact, it was the first time I had been anywhere other than California or Nevada (Las Vegas). So I was definitely up for it. I considered it the reward for putting up with the insufferable Miss Johnson for two entire school years. What's more, I had read about New York City in comic books; the place was almost a supporting character in the Marvel titles. I wanted to see what it was like.

We stayed on the east coast for a month. Most of the time was spent in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, but we did a couple of Greyhound bus side trips to New York City and Washington, D.C. It was great! I learned that there are other places to live, that Los Angeles wasn't the be-all and end-all of places in America. When I graduated from college in 1984 and had to decide between taking a job in Los Angeles, Western Massachusetts, Seattle, Maryland or Northern Virginia, it was an easy choice. I headed east, to Maryland. Living there I could visit the Smithsonian - which impressed me to no end - whenever I wanted! And so I have.

My first night in New York City was memorable: we stayed in a tourist hotel that actually had a flashing red neon sign outside of the window, the visual cliche I had seen in old crime films. At the time I thought, "The Big City!" Now I'd think, "Film noir!"

The Washington D.C. part of the 1968 east coast trip is described here

The Massachusetts and New Hampshire part is described here

This is the cheap photo album into which I put the trip snapshots upon my arrival home. The photos were taken with the trusty family Kodak Instamatic 400. Problem was, the rectangular format of the pages in the album required that I slice some of the photo off at the top in order to fit it into the album. This I did. The images you see are crops from the once-were-square-Instamatic prints.

My introductory index card. When I did this I was taking a drafting class in junior high school and was learning how to letter with precision. Or perhaps I used a stencil. I forget! But it looks pretty anal-retentive, doesn't it?

One of our must-see sights (captured on a roll of black and white film) was the Statue of Liberty. Here we're waiting for the ferry to depart. What's in the bag? A plastic snowglobe purchased at a souvenir store. This one showed skyscrapers, which I learned to love during this trip. I collected cheap plastic touristy snowglobes during this trip, and some of them even made it home in the suitcases uncracked with the water still inside.

Here's my big face, nose and lips on the ferry from New York City into the harbor. Nowadays when I want to visit I simply drive to Liberty Park in New Jersey and take their ferry because it's easier. But back then New York had the monopoly on the service and you had to get to Manhattan first.

Displaying her eye for photocomposition, Mom could have titled this one "Three great profiles."

Mom and I: the tourism team of exactly the same height! That sailor-style dress was a favorite of hers. As a youth I got the distinct impression that she was a little sorry she hadn't enlisted in the Navy rather than raise me. Who took this shot? Some other tourist, no doubt.

Every tourist takes this photo and I was no different. I was completely overwhelmed by the sight... it was so cool. Imagine! Just being there! Lady Liberty! Look how big she is! I was thrilled when Mom announced that we would make the trip up to the crown - what fun!

It was a blistering, muggy July day, and Mom and I hadn't reckoned upon climbing a seemingly endless circular staircase in a claustrophobic space inside of a hot metal structure. The halts - it was crowded - were maddening and by the time we got to the crown both of us felt absolutely miserable. Mom had just turned 47, so I'm sure she was feeling a lot worse than I was.

The triangular windows in the crown were ridiculously small - this is the big payoff? The view from the crown wasn't exactly what one could call spectacular. What a colossal disappointment. So we trudged back down. I'm sure I must have gulped a gallon of water at the first drinking fountain I found. Mom nearly had a coronary.

In the city, we walked and walked to get to the Radio City Music Hall. I was scandalized by a street poster for a Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme concert: "It's a helluva show!" (They can display that word outside?) The Rockettes were a big attraction, but, as I recall, air conditioning was, too. We saw a movie - The Odd Couple (1968) - heard an organist play the Mighty Wurlitzer and saw a floor show where the Rockettes did their famous synchronized kicking thing. It was great! I remember that one of their dance numbers was an Irving Berlin song entitled "Heat Wave" ("We're having a heat wave/A tropical heat wave...") which seemed very fitting.

The reflection tells me that this is a passing shot from the tour bus we were on. In addition to George M!, the other highly publicized production we saw posters for all over town was the Julie Andrews musical Star! (1968). I don't think it was much of a hit.

Wahoo! The Empire State Building! (As seen from my seat on the bus.) Look at the size of that thing! One of the attractions of the tour bus package was that we'd get to go up to the 86th floor observation deck. We disembarked.

Here I am at one of the stops between elevators. (The building is so tall you have to take two elevators to get to the top. Imagine that!) If I look sweaty and somewhat frazzled - I was. Bad haircut? Check. Acne? Check. Pre-teen awkwardness? Check. The complete package.

Oh, WOW. Unlike the hike up Lady Liberty's skirt, this was absolutely worth it! This shot faces generally northwest; that circular building is Penn Station. I learned what I suppose most boys observe upon a visit here: gobs of spit ball up nicely on the way down 86 stories.

Obviously, I was attracted to the golden top of the New York Life Building, facing more or less due south. It was on this trip that I got to love skyscrapers and, in general, the giganticism of the city which has impressed visitors for over a hundred years. I didn't make it back up to the top of the Empire State Building observation deck for another 31 years, but loved every moment when I was there. There's no other place like it for me; it's one of my favorite places in the world - and another reason to put the east coast on my list of places I could live.

Back down onto the ground - sigh - and more walking in the heat. Once again, if I look sweaty and frazzled, I was. The eastern humidity really took a lot out of me; I just wasn't prepared for it. In fact, it became a major negative about ever moving east. Fearful humidity. I have since learned to make my peace with it. (A membership to a neighborhood pool helps a lot.)

A friend claims that the guy walking behind the plaque looks just like me as I look nowadays. Perhaps it is I. Perhaps it's a bizarre rift in the time-space continuum, or part of my own personal Back to the Future episode.

Another skyscraper that wowed me was the Pan-Am Building (now, sadly, the MetLife Building, Pan-Am having gone defunct). It was completed only five years prior to my visit and epitomizes the Sixties Look, I think. Back then I thought it exciting and modern. I still do, but now it's retro-modern (which suits me fine). I have always thought that the Pam-Am logo looked pretty cool, too.

Wesley! Smile! Why don't you ever give me a nice smile for the camera? Wesley! I didn't pay all this money to fly out here for snapshots of you not smiling! Dammit.

Is this better?

The United Nations Building, which, back then, represented the promise of a better future for all the world. It and JFK sort of went hand in hand for reverence among we kids back then. Nowadays I know better: it's just the gathering place for diplomats to coordinate expensive Manhattan luncheons and dither the rest of the day.

Mom said she took this because she wanted a shot of me in Chinatown, but the fact was she thought that the young tour bus guide was good-looking, said so, and wanted a photo. Having one's mother extol the looks of young men is somewhat upsetting. You're married to Dad. The hand-lettered sign in Chinese next to me, translated, says, "Someday you will wear a blue blazer like the tour guide, but you will never be as handsome."

I don't know where this place was - this was probably a passing shot from the tour bus - but I was impressed with this monument, which looked to me like Lego blocks stacked together.

...annnnnd what's this? I don't know. A junk snapshot. Did buses once look like that? I guess they did.

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