Clermont State Park, New York: When The Scenery Changes

The traffic of New York City is behind me now. The trees to each side are becoming increasingly taller; the sky is growing darker. We’re heading up to a friend’s house in a small town upstate called Germantown. He moved out of Queens and up there a few years ago with his girlfriend in an effort to find some peace and quiet away from the city but still within arm’s reach. As a working writer, my friend still comes to the city regularly for meetings and whatnot, but his main workspace is now situated on a farm surrounded by fields. The hazy blue outline of the Catskill Mountains sits at his yard’s horizon. I’m driving up to spend the weekend in his house with some mutual friends, my husband and my two dogs. My husband is going to go skiing for the first time this winter at a place called Catamount, which is just across the New York/Massachusetts border. I am probably not going to go skiing. My husband is much better at it than I am and I don’t want to hold him down, nor do I want to ski alone. Also, the idea of skiing without health insurance makes me a little bit nervous. I’ve only skied once and I don’t trust that my legs have enough muscle memory to take the falls that are aimed for my neck.

%Gallery-187733%When we finally make enough left turns off of the highway that we are winding our way down the country road that leads to my friend’s house, it’s already dark. I’m grateful when we arrive intact without having hit any deer on the way. Actually, I’ve never hit a deer before, but the threat always seems sharply present, perhaps because I grew up in the country. We let our dogs meet my friend’s well-trained and affectionate German Shepherd. They romp around in the dark of the night, rolling in the snow and chasing each other around the pond. Their shadowy silhouettes appear every now and then, assuring me that they’re still close. We dine, we drink, we converse and I finally crash on the living room floor. Suddenly, it’s morning and I’m still finishing my coffee when those who are skiing head off toward the slopes and we who remain reach a consensus: we should take the dogs to Clermont State Park.

The park is only a few miles away and, apparently, it is a good spot to let the dogs run off-leash – a luxury they don’t always get within the concrete bowels of New York City. The word “Clermont” comes from the French phrase, “clair montagne,” which can be translated as “clear mountain.” The park’s name was purportedly derived from this phrase and inspired by that same hazy blue view of the mountains in the distance. The Catskills stand erect just beyond the hills that are just beyond the Hudson River, all of which is viewable from the Clermont State Park entrance. The park was originally an estate belonging to Robert Livingston and it was established in during the first half of the 1700s. Robert Livingston was the son of the first Lord of Livingston Manor, Robert Livingston the Elder. Almost 50 years after the estate was established, Major General John Vaughan and his men raided the land and burned the Livingston home in 1777 because of the Livingston ties to and prominent role in the American Revolution. Over the next few years, the family home was rebuilt. New walls were built and new ideas were conceived. Robert’s eldest son, Robert Livingston Junior, was the most notable member of the family. Also known as “The Chancellor,” he is one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Now acting as a New York State Historic Site and a United States National Historic Landmark, Clermont State Park is a good place for hiking, walking, photographing, dog-entertaining and learning. Charred remains of a second house that was on the original property during the British raid still stand on the grounds as a reminder of the past while the main home on the estate is now kept in pristine condition; it’s a massive white house situated on the river’s edge and symbolic of the success of the Livingston family.

When we find ourselves fully immersed in the forest and don’t see any other people around, we unleash the dogs. One of my dogs is part Whippet and she bolts off after the release of her leash as if she had been training to race and the shotgun signaling the start just fired. She weaves her way in and out of the trees and up and down the hills, leaping over the creek and fallen, mossy trunks. It’s cold. We are all wearing the snow gear we would’ve worn had we decided to go skiing. The ground is covered with snow, slush and ice, but the hike is helping to keep us warm. Cold fresh air feels especially nice in my lungs, so I deeply inhale and follow that with a long exhale. The air is just air indeed, but somehow every primitive part of my body deems it to be cleaner and better than what I’m used to. This feels necessary.

The guys return from skiing shortly after we return from our hike. They are excited and have stories to share. One of my friends animatedly informs me that my husband took a fall that landed him in the trees. The physical evidence is right before me in his busted toe. On the other hand, our trek through the park has no gripping climax. Rather, it was smooth, meditative and yet transitional. Although we entered the park peacefully and exited the same way, something now seems different. Maybe it was just the endorphins mixed with the feeling of filling my lungs with that chilly Mountain-River air or maybe it was the reminder of the brave men and women who helped found this country. Whatever it was, I feel more prepared to face the week ahead of me than I have felt in months. We didn’t do anything extravagant, but I feel recharged. Winter’s desiccation now seems like a distant memory left behind with the arrival of my early spring. Nothing monumental took place, but I sense a new perspective blanketing my brain and informing my synapses as they fire. And really, that’s the core reason why so many of us travel in the first place: because when the scenery changes, so does our view.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

Cockpit Chronicles: DC-3 Flight Over Manhattan Celebrates Mechanic’s 70 Years (With Video)

Al “Blacky” Blackman has reached a milestone few can claim. He has worked for 70 years as a mechanic for American Airlines based in New York, starting when he was only 17 years old.

Surprisingly, he has no plans to retire. “I don’t consider this work. It’s being able to do what you like and getting paid for it.”

On Tuesday last week the folks at AA threw a party for Al, his friends and his co-workers arranged for a painting sufficient in size to make even Al blush, which covered the back wall of Hangar 10 at JFK.

The next day they arranged for a few fellow employees, along with representatives from the media, to join Al in what has to be the most fitting way to mark the occasion, a ride in an original AA DC-3 around Manhattan.

The DC-3, which is operated by the non-profit Flagship Detroit Foundation, is the oldest DC-3 still flying. It is an airplane that AA operated until 1947 – five years after Al started as a mechanic.

Members of the press gathered around and asked Al a few questions before we were led across the ramp for our chance to fly with Al in the vintage airliner.

After he had a slight misstep while boarding, someone offered to hold Al’s cup of water for him. Handing it off, he joked, “You know what they say, If you can’t hold your drink … “

Soon after the 20 passengers found their seats on the plane, some remarked about the lack of air flowing through the cabin. Zane Lemon, the president of the Flagship Detroit Foundation, and our flight attendant for the trip, pointed out the gasper vents that would only supply cool air as we gained some airspeed, and the narrower seats from the time period.

“You have to remember, in the mid ’30s, the average passenger weighed 136 pounds,” he said.

“What was the average temperature?” someone quipped.

I was thrilled to be embarking on such a time-warp, even if the temperature was 95 degrees that day. A flight up the Hudson right by the Freedom Tower in a DC-3? Sign me up.
But my enthusiasm couldn’t come close to that of my friend Sebastian Toovey, dressed in an AA hat and T-shirt, who saw this as the flight of a lifetime. Sebastian’s article will appear in the October issue of Airways magazine, and the assignment was destined for him, as I’m sure you couldn’t find a bigger fan of American Airlines.

As promised, shortly after liftoff the cool air flowed as the view of the New York skyline came into view. It was explained that the flight path would take us north up the Hudson River, giving those on the right side a good view of the city followed by a turn over the George Washington Bridge that would offer the left side passengers an equal view.

The cockpit door was open, allowing those who were interested a cockpit view of the city. We managed to fly past the Freedom Tower, still under construction, which dominated the copilot’s window since we were only at 1,500 feet. It felt surreal to be in an antique airplane while puttering by New York’s newest monument.

Al pointed out the area where he attended school, the Aviation High School in Manhattan. “It was a long time ago!” He shouted over the engine noise.

It was clear that Al was enjoying himself, occasionally talking with pilots over the intercom. Instead of a southerly flight back down the Hudson, air traffic control surprised us with a direct routing from the bridge over Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge before entering the pattern at JFK. The captain later told us that this was extremely rare, and a few of us wondered what it looked like from the streets of New York.

Passing by Central Park heading north

After we parked, Sebastian asked Al to sign an info sheet that described the senior most employee at AA’s career progression. By this time, it wasn’t clear who had enjoyed the event more, Sebastian or Al.

I have to offer Kudos to American for commemorating such an accomplishment, not only of an airline employee, but for anyone who works for a living. Seventy years is nearly three full careers for most people.

And congratulations to Al, who says, “if you enjoy what you do, why stop?”

I couldn’t agree more.

Photos by the author and Nicolas Mace.

Cockpit Chronicles” takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as a captain on the MD-80 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the “Cockpit Chronicles” Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Photos: Space Shuttle Enterprise’s Epic Final Journey

Seeing NASA’s Space Shuttle Program come to a conclusion has been tough on space travel geeks. Luckily, over the past few months, NASA has given us a few final treats as the shuttles make their way to their new museum homes.

The journey of Space Shuttle Enterprise has been particularly epic because of its barge trip on the Hudson River this week. In order for Enterprise to get to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, located on New York City‘s Hell’s Kitchen waterfront, it had to sail down the river past some of the city’s major landmarks. In case you missed it, here are some photos of that most unusual barge journey past the Statue of Liberty, the new Freedom Tower being built at the World Trade Center site and the buildings of lower Manhattan.


Galley Gossip: In Defense Of Old And Weary Flight Attendants

Wouldn’t it be nice to be served by flight attendants that are actually excited to come to work? Yes, safety training is important. But there is no reason to believe that a fit and alert 29-year-old should perform less safely in an emergency than a weary, overweight 60-year-old.” –Bill Frezza,

If you want to talk safety, Bill, let’s talk safety. But what’s with using “weary” and “overweight” to describe 60-year-old flight attendants? Maybe the point you were trying to make in your article about airline bankruptcy is that new labor is cheap labor. What you’ve seem to have forgotten is times have changed over the last thirty years and some airlines now deliberately hire older people in an effort to save money on retirement and pensions. And did you know new flight attendants start out making between $14,000-18,000 in the first year? Each year we’re given an across-the-board raise with most flight attendants maxing out around the 13-year mark. Flight attendants don’t cost the airlines half as much as the airlines would love the flying public to believe.

Going back to safety, Bill, let’s ask the passengers on board US Airways flight 1549 how they felt about the crew who evacuated a plane full of 150-plus passengers after the aircraft ditched into the Hudson River. The entire crew of the “Miracle on the Hudson” (including Captain Sullenberger) was over 50, leaning closer to 60. I’d say they did a wonderful job of getting passengers out safely. Personally, I’d be more concerned with my fellow passengers moving quickly than I would be about flight attendants of any age – after all, we are only allowed to work if we can pass a yearly recurrent training program. Passengers just have to buy a ticket.

Now, as for being excited to come to work, it’s true that sometimes it’s hard to love passengers who verbalize how miserable they feel about flying, especially when these same passengers go on to wonder why we aren’t younger and prettier. Last time I checked, flight attendants were people, too. I know it’s hard to believe but we, too, are allowed to grow old just like passengers. I’m talking to you, Bill!

But Bill is not alone.Chicago Sun-Times columnist Joe Crowley one-upped Bill with a few sexist tweets about flight attendants, female pilots and pretty much women in general after he became upset that his flight was delayed due to the crew being illegal to work (apparently he and Bill have differing feelings on weary flight attendants). He tweeted something snarky about the flight attendants’ mandatory crew rest followed by, “I’m more likely to see a Squatch before I see a hot flight attendant. Then again, I think the airlines are hiring Squatch’s to do that job.” Wait, it gets better. He added, “Chick pilot. Should I be OK with that or am I just a sexist caveman?”

I’m going to have to go with sexist caveman. Of course Cowardly – er, I mean Cowley, deleted his twitter account soon after he got into it with a female journalist over the comments.

In my book, “Cruising Attitude,” I mention that ageism is not only alive and well at 30,000 feet but those who still hold these outdated beliefs have no problem expressing them to the very people they’re talking about. Once, right after I told a passenger that my mother was also a flight attendant (she’s “junior” to me, meaning she started flying AFTER I became a flight attendant), he informed me he found it unsettling to stare at postmenopausal women pushing beverage carts for three hours – as if buying an airline ticket entitled him to eye candy. Of course, he wasn’t much to look at either. But I’d take nice, thoughtful passengers over good-looking, younger ones any day!

Bill wraps up his outdated rant against flight attendants with this: “Take a good look at the superannuated attendants next time you board a legacy airline. They are as tired of flying as those of us that have been doing it for thirty years, but it’s the customers who pay the price.”

Maybe it’s the recession, because people always find this one tough to believe, but it’s the customers who are NOT paying the price, since ticket prices are cheaper than they were twenty years ago. This is why service has gone downhill. This is also why there are less flight attendants on board to help passengers. And if I or one of my more senior colleagues looks tired or weary, I apologize. Keep in mind it might have something to do with the airlines cutting back to save money. They’ve decreased my layover time in an effort to save money on hotels. Most domestic layovers average 9-10 hours these days. Add a delay and it’s 8 hours behind the locked door. That’s barely enough time to eat, sleep AND shower. Personally I think it should be illegal to work flights that are longer than our layovers, but hey, that’s me. What do I know?

[photos courtesy of santheo and alexindigo]

Revolutionary War battlefield of Saratoga to be excavated

One of the most important battlefields of the Revolutionary War is going to be excavated by archaeologists ahead of an EPA cleanup.

Back in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, General Electric dumped polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River near Saratoga, New York. The dumping was banned in 1977 due to risks to public health, and the EPA has ordered GE to dredge up the affected silt from the river. Dredging destroys archaeological sites, though, and has already damaged Fort Edward, a British fort in the area dating to the mid 18th century. Archaeologists are working to excavate the stretch of river near Saratoga before the dredgers arrive.

Saratoga was on the frontier for much of the 18th century and played a large part in the French and Indian Wars (1755-1763) and the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). During the two battles of Saratoga in September and October of 1777, the American army stopped the British advance down the Hudson River Valley, then surrounded them and forced them to surrender. It was a major victory that led to the French coming into the war on the American side. French help was one of the deciding factors in an ultimate American victory, and the creation of the United States.

The Saratoga National Historical Park 9 miles south of Saratoga, New York, includes the battlefield, a visitor center, the restored country house of American General Philip Schuyler, a monument, and Victory Woods where the British surrendered on October 17, 1777.

Archaeologists hope to find artifacts from both wars and are currently looking for a British army camp.

[Image courtesy U.S. government]