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Blogging from the bus isn’t just for political wonkheads anymore. Not if I’m doing it too – as we speak! (Or as I write, and you read, but you get the point).

Chinatown buses have plied the NY-DC corridor for years now, but a couple of non-Chinatown companies have started cashing in too – and for the same price, about $20 one way. That’s compared to $72-$170+ for Amtrak, $45 for Greyhound, and who knows how much for driving. I checked out (see: previous post) and saw they picked up right outside of Metro Center at the corner of G and 11th streets, NW. I wanted to use cash, so I figured I’d take my chances and try to pay on the bus instead of getting my ticket in advance.

Outside the Metro stop, I asked one of the nice gentlemen the city pays to answer all a tourist’s questions (and others, since I don’t consider myself a tourist in DC). There’s no office but the buses come right here, he said, pointing at the curb two feet away.

Turns out at least two bus services stop there –, and, with almost identical pricing. The latter came first, at 11:30am about 45 minutes before the former, so I decided to give it a go.

The flaming orange Bolt bus is a relatively new luxury coach, with a bathroom but without that Greyhound smell (you know what I mean). The bus driver efficiently directed everyone on board with a smile (a smile! From an inter-state bus driver!), answered questions, and had us all ready to go within 10 minutes. I paid $25 as a walk-up.

Once aboard she introduced herself as Carolyn and reminded everyone not to smoke, to turn their cell phones down and to otherwise be polite to the neighbors.

The bus stops at 33rd and 7th in Manhattan, apparently by S’barros, which is close enough to Penn Station for me.


Thursday night after class I drove to Brooklyn. I’m still working out the best route – and taking suggestions, in anyone has them, for Albany to the far side of Prospect Park. Mapquest suggests cutting through lower Manhattan, but I get so lost it takes an extra half hour at least. I tried another route, through the Battery Park tunnel – except not, because the tunnel was closed late night, I wound up on the FDR heading north, panicked, but eventually managed to take the Manhattan Bridge (after a few illegal U-turns on and around Canal).

I hate NYC driving.

One moment of grace. Before the tunnel closed – before I got all turned around – I landed on the West Side Highway shortly after midnight. WFUV played something like modern lounge music, lilting and jazzy, tinkly and floating, like music out of Lost in Translation but softer and soaring. The lights bounced around the river. The apartment buildings crammed with people fled by, all around me millions of people going about their nights, the warmth of their lives beaming through the illuminated windows. The city was mine, the highway a silent rocket to the future, and the music lifted me above it all. It was a lovely moment, the kind that only comes alone, when a city quiets and you have a chance to appreciate the humanity it offers. Lovely.

I’m packing. I’m leaving the apartment building that’s been my home for five years for a free townhouse three blocks away. After a few months there, we plan to move to New York City. A new journey begins, and it starts by boxing up my books. Sometimes packing is monotonous, but sometimes a cover made me pause. This time, two – Alexander Hamilton: A Life, by William Stern Randall and The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto.

I don’t read many biographies, but the book came free, and I had long been curious about Hamilton. Turns out he lived in my Albany neighborhood. He married a local girl – I could walk to her family’s mansion (he also cheated with her sister, but I’ll leave that to the book). They lived locally too, with his law practice down the street. He strolled through the space that is now Washington Park. I walk through the park almost daily.

While reading the book I imagining the horses and cravats, the creation of a nation, and my footsteps in theirs. A handful of brownstones in my neighborhood still date to then, same with the layout of streets. I wonder how familiar the city would look to him today. I loved the book because Hamilton is such a brilliant yet tragic American figure. I loved it even more because the book made me a traveler in my own neighborhood, seeing the streets with new eyes. (A caveat: some say Randall stretched the truth too far in this book. Other Hamilton biographies have better reviews. But again, the book was free.).

The Island at the Center of the World
covers the early history of New York City – specifically, the development from New Amsterdam into a world capital through a handful of decisive colonial choices.

The first page placed the author, and the reader, in the state library on Madison Avenue. In good weather I run the giant steps outside the archivists’ offices. The author describes paging through rare documents recently translated from the Old Dutch. From those translations he plucked the story of a rising star in the new Colony and his political battles. It’s an exemplary piece of historical genre writing.

The author sprinkles the book with tidbits that stuck in my head. The young hero bought land to farm north of Manhattan. In the old language a young gentleman is a Jonker. Hence Yonkers, the town immediately north of Manhattan. He describes the rivers that ran through what is now Upper Manhattan and the swamps of the Bronx.

Every time I take the train south to the city I look at the office parks, highways and apartment buildings, and imagine the homesteads that once stood.

This is why I love reading books with such strong senses of place. They offer new contexts for viewing a small slice of the world. It’s why I travel – it’s why I read.


Top on my weekend getaway list for the Capital Region/New York City has to be the Mohonk Mountain House. My mother stayed there once for a business meeting and raved about it so much that my brother and I gave our parents a night there for their 30th anniversary. We joined them for the day and dinner, and fell in love with the place.

Mohonk is an old-time castle of warm stone and warmer wood, a high-class version of everything cozy and comfortable about a Catskill or Adirondack retreat – but only 20 minutes max from the highway that connects Manhattan to Albany and Montreal. The house sits on a lake, which in turn rests at the base of a cliff. The house has paddle-boats in the summer and Nordic skis in winter. A gazebo offers warm-weather barbecue. Afternoon tea in a massive great room with sofas is a must. A broad veranda with rocking chairs overlooking the lake offers the perfect place to read, knit or chat.

Day passes to the grounds are available, but an even better option is to make a meal reservation. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are gourmet affairs in a cavernous, circular wood-panelled room with picture windows above the Catskills. Dinner has an old-fashioned jacket, tie and skirt dress code. Room stays include meals, but reservations for a single meal, without an overnight stay, include a grounds pass. So while $30 may be an expensive breakfast (rates range up to $61.50 for dinner), the perks are priceless.

The House also offers a lovely afternoon tea with cookies. It’s meant for overnight guests only, but no one asks questions if day guests quietly join in.

I’m sitting in an Albany coffee shop, trying to work, and a family of 10 just invaded on their way down to Mohonk. A woman said their father is treating them and his grandchildren for a Sunday night there in honor of his birthday. Are you listening, mom and dad?