22 September 2008

How Can So Many Memories Fit Into One Little Book? #2

LOL...this is #2 because I began it last year...
My mother asked me, "Now that you're working, what are you going to do with 'all that money'?

It was, for 1978, quite a good deal of money, considering I was only working in a factory! I was living at home, paying $25/week rent, $5/week for gas, $5/week as an allowance I gave myself (since paperback books were then about $1.50, this seemed a great deal). The rest (as of the time I was laid off in 1981, about $90) went into the bank. A "big treat" back then was grabbing a book at Waldenbooks and then going to the Roast House at Lincoln Mall for "the turkey sandwich special": an all dark meat turkey sandwich on a Kaiser roll with gravy, a bowl of turkey soup, and a large coffee milk, all for about a dollar and a half. I had to pack jewelry to earn it, but there were much worse jobs (like retail and fast food) and the company was nice.

Still, now that I had money, I wanted to do something special. I wanted to go to a Star Trek convention. Ever since I'd read about them in TV Guide, it had become a dream. Specifically, I wanted to go to a Star Trek convention in New York City.

Dad was not the one to ask about this. Our vacations, now that Mom was working and we could afford it, were myriad and varied, but we never went into cities on our own. The one trip to Washington, D.C. was as part of a Colette bus tour. Dad had enough with cities driving my grandfather to Boston occasionally when Papá took his yearly trip to Italy "on the boat."

Mom said she would go with me. This was the first of three trips we took to New York City together, twice for Trek conventions and once at Christmas. To those who goggle in amazement at anyone over the age of twelve who goes somewhere willingly with their mother: Nyah! Mom and I always had a great time together, even in the so-called "difficult teens." (Did we argue? Um, sure. Lots. But we still had fun together.)

I hadn't ridden a train since I was three years old, so the entire first experience was awesome from beginning to end. We boarded the train at 6 a.m. and swayed through the length of Rhode Island and into Connecticut before the train stopped for the ten-minute-layover in the dark where they switched the engine from diesel to electricity. We passed the suburban commuter platforms that I'd only seen in movies, then descended into dark tunnels, not seeing New York until we climbed from the depths of the platform at Penn Station with our suitcases and emerged out the front door—and looked up, and up, and up! Wow, talk about the little country girl going to the city for the first time—and I was only from the suburbs!

The hotel for the convention was directly across the street from Penn Station: what was then the Statler Hilton, having previously been—and is now again—the Hotel Pennsylvania, made famous by the Glenn Miller song about its phone number, Pennsylvania 6-5000. Compared to its most recent facelift, it was pretty dowdy back then, but I was impressed, as it was the first time I was in a real hotel. The ballroom and convention floor were starting to become downtrodden, but to me the red carpets and straight-backed plush convention chairs were like something out of a fairy tale. On the stage of the ballroom I watched people I'd only read about appear in real life, including the famous Dr. Isaac Asimov, who could talk...and talk...and talk.

One of the speakers we saw at the convention was a lady named Joan Winston, who, with others, formed the original "Committee" that threw the first few Star Trek conventions. (The ones we attended were professionally run, but someone named Townsley, who didn't seem very revered.) Ms. Winston had written a book about her experiences helping with throwing the original conventions, and she was so amusing and her tales so compelling that I told my mom, "I really want to buy this book!" Alas, all the copies she had bought to the convention had been sold!

So Mom and I consulted a telephone directory and walked all the way down (or rather up!) to the Doubleday bookstore on Fifth Avenue, with me trying not to gape at the canyons of the NYC streets. We passed some of the grand old stores on the way: Gimbels, Macys, Korvettes. And when we reached Joan Winston's autograph table after her second panel, I was able to proudly say, "We walked all the way to Doubleday's for this," and she scribbed one of the best autographs ever: "Linda, I've heard of going to the ends of the earth for something...but MY book?"

When I open the book now it's as if I get two stories, the one that Joan Winston wrote and the one Mom and I wrote, from the Union Station platform to the hotel ballroom to the "sidewalks of New York" and then back again. In a rush it all comes back: the heavy scent of the train tunnels and the New York tarmac, the savory odors of Chinatown Express and La Trattoria across 33rd Street (I recall shouting out during the Penn Station scene in Moscow on the Hudson, "Look, there's La Trattoria!"), the wooden-stepped escalator and the embellished red carpet, the narrow aisles of the dealer's room and the spotlights on the guests, and that one wonderful meeting room with the fanzines for sale that, quite unknown to me then, started me for better or worse on a whole new life. How that little book doesn't burst apart from the memories I don't know!

No comments: