On the occasions he could be convinced or coerced to drive to New York City at all, my father hugged a one-road route that I now recognize as fabulously misguided and fear-based. As a result, I grew up believing that it took two to two-and-a-half stress-saturated hours to get from New Paltz to Manhattan neighborhoods that I can now make in a buck 20 in light traffic.
Family trips there were rare, and mostly unpleasant but for a few hours lost in the glamour of Midtown — invariably Midtown. Imagine my 21-year-old’s surprise when I finally discovered St. Mark’s.
I am not sure I understand, though. My father was a more than competent driver, a licensed amateur pilot, for pete’s sake, a reader of instruments and someone who really knew what every line on a map meant. I’d still trust him to get me there safely ahead of most people.
Nor was he a simple, provincial Gotham-phobe from the Southern Tier with no appetite for what the city offered. A jazz musician, how could he have been? He had some fond memories of being a sailor on shore leave in the city, in the World War II years (enlisted, never deployed). “No one would let you pay for a drink if you were in uniform.”
He remembered hanging outside the door of the Blue Note, unable to afford the cover but soaking up the swing. Theater wasn’t lost on him, either. He was generally alert to culture and enterprise.
I conclude that it really wasn’t New York City at all. My father just liked being left alone, In his basement, building radio control airplanes and listening to Bach. By the time I came to cognizance, every other use of freedom had lost its appeal to him. Duty alone occasionally prevailed. I understood it then and I understand it now. He may or may not have copped to it, but he was born for this quarantine thing.