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Syracuse: Home, Sweet Home

Trip to New York City helps author see the bright side of Syracuse

By Marvin Druger

Skyline of Syracuse seen from the Onondaga Lake Park. Photo courtesy of Chuck Wainwright.
Skyline of Syracuse seen from the Onondaga Lake Park. Photo courtesy of Chuck Wainwright.

My first reaction to hearing about Syracuse was, “Where is it and how do you spell it?” When I first visited Syracuse for a job interview at Syracuse University in 1962, I was impressed by the large, red “Syracuse” sign at the airport. When I explored the area, I was impressed by the beautiful countryside.

To me, a young man from a poor, urban section of Brooklyn, Syracuse was the “country.” I immediately fell in love with Syracuse, and I have enjoyed living there ever since.

What are some of my impressions of Syracuse? Beautiful surrounding countryside, four seasons (even though the winters may be a bit long), little traffic compared to other urban areas, reasonable living costs, decent schools, Syracuse University as a major focal point, significant cultural events, abundant medical facilities, a modern international airport and friendly people.

I also recognize a number of deficiencies in Syracuse — social inequalities, lack of strong economic growth, crime, the Interstate 81 that divides the city with socio-economic consequences. Many would list abundant snow as a negative feature, but many people love the snow and winter sports.

One of the many benefits of living in Syracuse is that it is reasonably close to New York City. My companion, Victoria, and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and drive to NYC for a few days of pre-Christmas entertainment.

Things went wrong from the very start. I booked a Hampton Inn hotel for Sunday and Monday nights on East 43rd Street near Grand Central Station in Manhattan. Then, I remembered that my son’s birthday was that Sunday, so I decided to cancel the first night’s stay at the hotel. My request came after the penalty deadline, but they waived the penalty. However, they raised the rate for the second night. I knew that hotel rates fluctuated widely, especially at Christmas time, but I didn’t make a fuss. While driving to NYC, I decided that I should make a fuss about the rise in rate for the second night of my initial reservation. I made several phone calls, and was told that only the manager of the hotel could resolve the issue. The manager was not there when we arrived at the hotel. The next day, I did speak to the manager and she restored the initial rate for the second night’s stay. An excellent hot breakfast was included in the rate, and we made the most of it.

We walked on Fifth Avenue Monday night and enjoyed the spectacular window displays for Christmas, especially those in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue. We then walked to West 47th Street ticket office to purchase tickets to a show. We ended up seeing the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, anther memorable experience.

When I entered Radio City Music Hall, I was greeted by a security guard. “Empty your pockets,” he ordered. I emptied my pockets and he saw my penknife. “I can’t tell you what to do with it, but you can’t bring the penknife into the theater.” What to do? I noticed a small garbage pail nearby. I put the penknife at the bottom of the garbage pail and covered it with a piece of paper, so that I could pick it up after the show. The penknife was gone when I tried to retrieve it after the show. Certainly, the security attendant took it, since he was the only one who saw where I had hidden it. My favorite penknife was gone forever, and I still mourn its loss. Also, my faith in humanity had been violated.

We ate dinner at Dallas BBQ on West 42nd Street. The chicken and ribs were really good, and inexpensive. We had eaten at a Dallas BBQ restaurant once before, and Victoria had a spare rib that was big enough to come from an elephant. The next morning, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the exhibit of works by David Hockney, another enjoyable New York City experience.

We expected to leave for Syracuse in the early afternoon on Tuesday, so that we could get to Syracuse in time to watch the Syracuse University men’s basketball game on TV. But this was not to be. Victoria made arrangements for us to drive her nephew, a student at Fordham University, home to Syracuse for the holidays. Fordham is located on West 60th Street, near Lincoln Center.

I paid the exorbitant $57 fee for one night of garage parking near the hotel and drove from East 43rd Street to West 60th Street. The drive was memorable. I had to weave through heavy traffic and was nearly clobbered several times. I learned not to drive in the far left-hand lane, since cars and trucks would often double-park in this lane. Also, I tried to avoid the bus lane. Driving in New York City requires intense concentration, alertness and prayer.

Finally, we arrived at Fordham to pick up Victoria’s nephew. He then told us that he had a paper to write and that he couldn’t come to Syracuse with us. He dumped his baggage in the car and went back to his apartment. Meanwhile, I had contacted my granddaughter who is a student at Pace University in Lower Manhattan, near the Brooklyn Bridge. She wanted us to drive her luggage and her betta fish home to Syracuse for the holidays. Betta fish are also known as Siamese fighting fish. They are aggressive fish that can live up to about 10 years. Knowing my ineptitude at caring for pets, my son in Syracuse texted me, “Don’t kill the betta fish.”

I drove to the West Side Highway, thinking that this was the fastest route to downtown. The West Side Highway was packed with cars, and they were barely moving. I then decided that maybe the way to drive downtown was via the East River Drive. So, I inched my way cross-town to the East River Drive. Since it was late in the afternoon, rush hour traffic had started and that highway was also packed with cars that were inching along. I phoned my granddaughter, “The traffic is horrendous. I’ll never make it.” She suggested meeting her halfway, at Hunter College, on Park Avenue. I maneuvered my way to Hunter College and managed to actually find a parking spot on the street. She took the subway there and found my car. She couldn’t leave for Syracuse that day. She dumped her luggage in the car, and kept the betta fish. She would take the betta fish home to Syracuse with her on the bus the next day.

Meanwhile, I realized that we would never make it back to Syracuse to watch the basketball game on TV that night. I was annoyed and frustrated. At that moment, I received the following text message from a senior vice president, representing the chancellor at Syracuse University:

“Hi Marvin,

I just left you a voice mail as we have a special opportunity. Would you like to join Kent and Ruth for the basketball game tonight?

We have tickets (courtside) and do a reception beforehand at 6 p.m.

Would love to have you join us if that works and on short notice. If so, let me know (call or e-mail) and we will work out the logistics.”

You can imagine my reaction, and several expletives were uttered by me.

The final frustration in NYC was finding and entering the Lincoln Tunnel. This involved the challenging task of merging with several lanes of traffic to enter the tunnel without smashing the car. I discovered that NYC drivers are very skillful and courteous. It’s a matter of survival. Other cars came within inches of hitting my car, but, miraculously, it didn’t happen. Traffic was fairly heavy much of the way back to Syracuse.

The excitement of New York City was well worth the trip, despite the anxiety and frustrations. When I finally reached home, I breathed a sigh of relief… at last … Syracuse, home, sweet home!