“Mr. Webb, it’s Miss Pena from the New York state tax investigators office, please call us back.”
Talk about getting your pulse beating like a Catholic priest at summer camp!
When Hurricane Maria blasted Puerto Rico, mail was impossible to get through. A lot of smart people I know get Puerto Rico confused with Costa Rica and still think you need a U.S. passport to visit. You don’t, it’s like going to Hawaii only they speak Spanish.
So I solved the problem and set up a mailbox at the New York Athletic Club where I was a member. That lasted a year. Then a woman from membership called me one day and left a voice message with a crank Long Island accent. “Mr. Waabb, we na owe yahr getting ya mail here and I’m a switching you to resident membership.”
I tried to explain that this was not going to work for me, and I was not a resident but it was like I was talking to someone at the DMV, and NOBODY at the department of motor vehicles is jumping at the opportunity to do anyone favors, it just was not going to happen.
It wasn’t because it would cost me more money but because it would put me at risk of creating a tax “nexus” with New York city if I started showing up as a resident when I was living part-time in the city.
I tried to appeal to the club but the club and the NYAC’s army mediocracy staff fell on my head like a steel hammer.
Despite throwing over half a million dollars in cumulative events over the years and recruiting other members, I realized this mattered nil to the membership staff who were there to collect a check, and as we say in the military, they were “retired on active duty.”
There’s a lot of good people that work the club but they are a minority. Most are legacy employees who wouldn’t last five minutes anywhere else. And I was being treated like a passenger on an American air carrier.
“You’re just lucky to be here ladies and gentlemen, sit down, shut up, and eat your snack pack. If you don’t like it I’ll have you drug off my airplane.”
Then the pandemic hit, and I boxed up my apartment and moved it into storage thinking that I can finally invest in some New York real estate knowing it would be a down market.
Then came the phone call from Miss Pena from the state’s tax investigative unit, that had just assumed I was running a New York-based business and owed them.
I explained that I owned a home and business in Puerto Rico and that my mailbox was set up to avoid lost mail since NYC was a stable location. After sending documentation they crossed my name off their list and moved onto the next poor bastard but, I was done with the de Blasio and Cuomo clown show. I’d seen Cuomo’s well-crafted speeches but he turned out to be just a blowhard in the end. Actions and outcomes are what matter and NYC was becoming more terrible by the minute under their collective watch.
The current climate in New York was beginning to look like that Nazi prisoner of war camp in the movie The Great Escape.
So it was clear to me that it was time to duck under de Blasio’s barbwire and head for warmer climates. But I had hard a storage unit full of stuff, and my airplane hangared in CT to sort out.
Biding my time I started looking at other states. Florida and Miami were appealing because after a few visits I was encouraged by so many people in the media, fashion, and creative industry who have abandoned LA and NYC for Miami. The green shoots were encouraging so I started looking at them seriously but first I had to get my stuff and airplane down to Florida.
Flying a small plane on the east coast in the winter has its challenges, not the least of which is Mother Nature. So I started to look for a window and found a high-pressure system moving in that looked good. I boarded a Delta flight from San Juan to JFK and slipped behind the iron curtain of Manhattan.
The next morning I was up early. The streets were eerily empty as I dodged half-frozen brown slushy mud puddles and tossed my luggage into an Uber from Soho to Grand Central station. There I boarded the Metro-North for Brewster. After the 88-minute subway trip to Brewster, and a short car ride to Danbury, I arrived where I had my RV8 (AKA my personal time machine) hangared.
Danbury is tucked in between hills and has a super steep approach to the east and west runways. The morning I arrived, it was clear blue skies, snow on the ground, and the temperature was hovering around 27 F. It was the kind of morning where touching aircraft metal makes your fingers numb so I told the front desk I’d preflight inside the hangar.
A quick preflight revealed that my front seat had a strap missing from when they did my annual inspection. I borrowed a socket wrench, tracked down the fastener, and was in business. We pulled out the sled and topped her off with 100LL avgas and I was outta there like Steve McQueen on his motorcycle.
I barreled down the Hudson River with a stiff 38-knot tailwind and had to pull the power back to not exceed the flight corridor’s speed limit. It was a bumpy and cold ride, my fingers numb from the cold. It was showing 27 degrees F on the gauge and I was only at 1,200 feet over the river: I knew it would be even colder when I had to climb up to dodge Philly’s airspace.
As I passed abeam the Intrepid, then the Freedom Tower, and Lady Liberty at my 3 o’clock, I couldn’t help feeling nostalgic.
I must have flown over a hundred times over the Lady with friends and family in the past five years and it is always an incredible experience as no flight is the same.
New York is an adult version of Disneyland but COVID has thrown the power switch to an off position.
The local government is making it worse led by de Blasio who gets a failing grade from me as mayor.
My friend once owned multiple restaurants in the city. They’re all closed, his last bar in the east village was on life support when the city fined him $8,000 for feeding his cook indoors this summer.
As I made a right turn at the VZ bridge, I nodded to Coney island, thought about the holdouts in their Hamptons castles suffering inside their COVID bubble of staff and servants. I made my peace with it, pushed the throttle forward to 2,500 RPMs, and climbed up to my cruising altitude of 4,500 feet as the outside temps dropped to a ball-shrinking 22 F.
It’s so rare to get a tailwind headed east to west but I was averaging 175 knots ground speed, over 200 mph, which is very fast in a fixed-gear single-engine airplane.
It was almost as if the city understood my pain. Like lovers who know they’ll meet again, New York kissed me on the cheek and quietly closed the door as I made my escape.
One gas stop in Virginia and I arrived safe and sound in historical Charleston. I caught up to the bad weather moving southwest so now I’m currently looking skyward, checking the forecast, drinking my coffee at a downtown cafe in Charleston feeling like I just had a bad breakup with a woman I loved.
To be continued…