Fly Long Island

The view and the stories are better I flew out of New York by taking Southwest Airlines from MacArthur Airport in Islip, Long Island, almost 60 miles from Manhattan. Though nowhere as convenient as LaGuardia, Newark, or JFK, Islip made sense because I had a free Rapid Rewards ticket. It was an $8.50 hour-and-fifteen minute ride on the Long Island Rail Road from Penn Station to the Ronkonkoma train station, then a $5 ten-minute cab ride to the airport, which wasn’t crowded or hurried at all. I thought I was halfway home already. The cabbie brought up the Twin Towers and 9-11 without being asked, saying the noise of the collapse was louder than B-52s carpet-bombing the jungle back in Vietnam. Turns out he’d worked for New York’s Office of Emergency Management and was right in front of the World Trade Center when the towers fell. He was summoned to the towers from a few blocks away after the first plane hit. He says the memory of all the people jumping from the building remains vivid. A co-worker standing next to him was killed when one jumper from an upper floor fell on him. The cabbie says he still has nightmares. I tipped him a dollar.

New York from 15,000 feet on a crystal-clear winter day with unlimited visibility is a revelation. Manhattan Island is dwarfed by the land mass surrounding it, as well as the intricate complex of bays, sounds, inlets and the ocean, which was dotted with ice floes. Many rivers, lakes, ponds, and bays were completely frozen over. The cluster of skyscrapers is wholly diminished, making the biggest anthill in America at least, look small. It was so clear, I could see Long Island end to end, most of Connecticut and New Jersey, and the Catskills rising majestically to the northwest. The early European settlers stumbled upon some kind of paradise when they reached these shores three hundred fifty years ago. The native peoples enjoyed at least a thousand years of prosperity before their pastoral existence was interrupted by loud, noisy visitors who pushed them out of the neighborhood (New York’s first gentrification). Now, at the rate population density is increasing in the area, the pooch may finally be screwed. Undeveloped swaths of land looked lovely from high above. So did the raptors I could see, soaring below the jet.

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