It was an hour and a half drive to The College Of Saint Rose in Albany. I was dropping Maria off for a trial run day of classes. This is the second step of the process to get into their “College Experience” program, which will teach her life skills and give her real world work experiences Needless to say, she is very excited about the opportunity to go to a real college and live in a dorm. I, on the other hand, am not as excited at the prospect of her living an hour and a half away. On the drive up to Albany, I explained to her that they are looking for students who pay attention AND participate. I told her to stay off her phone (a nearly impossible task) and answer questions. She promised me she would and when we arrived, I walked her up to the young woman in charge of the program, who remembered her by name from the last time we were there. She greeted Maria with a big smile and a warm welcome. Maria was a little bit nervous, but much more excited and took off up the stairs, following the line of other prospective students who were already on their way.
I watched her walk away before turning around and heading back to my car. As I stood there, I thought about the ramifications of all of this. The person who has been pretty much attached to my hip for most of her 18 years of life, may soon be living an hour and a half away from me…full time. Every day. I suppose I should be happy it’s not across the country and I am very grateful that she has the opportunity, but it will be a big change- for both of us. We shall see. There’s one more step to go before they decide which six students they will accept into the program. If she does get accepted, everything will hinge upon her being approved for SSI benefits, which is what the program uses for payment. I most definitely do not want my daughter to rely on the government to pay her way through life. I want her to have the opportunity to make it on her own, but without SSI, it costs over $60,000 per year, plus other expenses. Sadly, Social Security is run by the government and well…let me just say that when it comes to getting things done in a timely manner, their track record is less than impeccable- which leads me to my story.
I pulled away from the Saint Rose parking lot and watched the campus slowly disappear in my rear-view mirror as I wiped what could have been mistaken for a tear from my eye. I am leaving my daughter behind with strangers, seventy miles from home. Unsure of what to do with myself for the next six hours, before leaving, I quickly looked up “diners” on my phone and found a quaint- and by “quaint,” I mean dumpy, little place in nearby Troy- and by “dumpy,” I mean it almost looked abandoned- and by “abandoned ,” I mean I drove past it three times and sat in the small, unpaved, dirt parking lot for a good five minutes, looking for another option, before mustering up the courage to go inside. It was one of those places where the front door was actually in the back of the building. As I approached the old, somewhat rickety steps, a well dressed elderly couple was walking out. They seemed happy and friendly, as I waited for them to work their way down the narrow, old wooden stairs. The woman thanked me, and I walked to the back-front door, feeling a little bit better about my decision. It was clean inside with plenty of booths and tables and a large countertop with a row of stools. I looked around and to my surprise, there was a crowd…of one. Me. Just me. Yay. I was quickly greeted by a friendly, older woman who seemed happy to have a customer. She looked like a waitress in a small-town diner and was very nice. She walked me to a booth and within seconds, I had a hot cup of coffee sitting in front of me. Not just a hot cup of coffee, but coffee served in one of those old fashioned, heavy coffee mugs. Not a big, huge one- the normal size, but the kind you need two hands to hold. A real diner coffee cup. The coffee was average, but the mug made up for it. I scoured the menu and they had all your standard diner dishes. The waitress came back to take my order and I just happened to glance at the wall behind me and noticed one of the specials…Italian omelet. I’m in. I couldn’t quite make out the smaller writing describing what was in it, but as I thought of all the possibilities, I knew it would be great. Well, apparently, you make an Italian omelette by making a western omelette and adding mozzarella cheese. Delicioso. Now what shall I do for the next five hours??
Let’s turn the clock back forty or fifty years. I never really loved school, but I am grateful that I had some very memorable teachers in my elementary years and one big influence in my love of American history- my dad. This love would not show itself for a long, long time. Growing up, we were not a wealthy family who vacationed all over the world, but we had fun. My dad would plan camping trips all over the east coast, visiting historic landmarks. Not the world’s biggest ball of twine, but battlefields, colonial villages and places with significant ties to the establishment of our great country. Places that I may not have fully appreciated then but do now. We would travel in a huge four door American made sedan with a gas guzzling eight cylinder engine, pulling a pop-up camper. I didn’t think I even knew fancy hotels existed. We went to places like Gettysburg, Valley Forge, Jamestown, Salem, Williamsburg. We drove for hours. My brother Joe and I sang songs, played games and we argued. We rarely wore seatbelts, sometimes took turns lying on the massive upper deck, below the rear window and occasionally got the, “Dont make me pull over” talk, but all in all, we had fun and grew to appreciate the effort our parents put into these outings. So, what should I do in Albany? Naturally, I will tour the Capitol building!
I looked on the New York State website and signed up online. Quick and easy and I was guest number three for my tour. I drove back to Albany and parked a couple of blocks away and walked to the massive, old building. On the way there, I passed a black car with New York Assembly license plates which was parked in the middle of two clearly marked spots. Two men in suits were standing next to the car, laughing. Shaking my head, I refrained from commenting and continued towards the Capitol. I walked into the building and chatted with the guards while going through security. After a few minutes of male bonding, they encouraged me to go to the state website to apply for a job, as they were hiring. I checked in at the tour booth and had a few minutes to wait, so I walked around a bit. The first thing I saw was a huge painting of George Washington. The father of our country and my birthday twin. The building was absolutely awesome, but what was truly amazing was that the first ten minutes of my guided tour would teach me all I need to know about the American political system. The construction of the building was originally bid out to Canadian architect, Thomas Fuller in 1867. His offer said he could do the job for four million dollars and it would take four years. It actually ended up costing 25 million- over 700 million in today’s dollars and it took 32 years. It went from one designer, to three, to five and has five different architectural styles. Best of all- it was never actually completed. Roosevelt finally pulled the plug on the project and proclaimed it complete, even though it was not. It has remained unfinished since 1899.
The building is absolutely amazing and the tour renewed my interest in American history. All of the carvings were created on site- and there were too many to count! The many faces of US founders and politicians and the many random, unknown faces that the carvers added. The designers did not want any duplications, so the carvers were free to put family members and random people in their work. They worked ten-hour days, carving faces and designs through the building. It is rumored that one of the carvers put the face of the devil in the trim on a wall after being fired. His objective was to curse the building. Our tour was running late and the volunteer tour guide said she wouldn’t have time to show us, but after a little persuading, she agreed to walk me to the spot after the tour ended and yes, he is there. He is camouflaged in some foliage in the brownstone trim, hidden in an elaborate piece that was above eye level and is only about the size of a nickel. I’m sure it was unnoticed for quite some time. Is he the reason why that building went many years over the deadline and many millions over the budget? Is he why New York still can’t balance a budget or reign in spending or do just about anything in a timely manner? Perhaps.
After the tour, I walked backed to my car, past the NY Assembly car still parked over two spots, to my legally parked car and left to retrieve my daughter. She couldn’t wait to tell me how proud she was of herself for not using her phone and for winning their game of Jeopardy. We got in the car and searched for a good sushi (her favorite) restaurant. We talked about our day and after asking how I liked my meal, she proclaimed it was her favorite sushi restaurant. The following week, I received an email from the college, inviting Maria to participate in the next step of the selection process- an overnight visit. This will involve me driving her back to Albany, dropping her off and driving home alone and leaving her in Albany for 24 hours. Sadly, it all hinges on the expediency of the government. Much like the building of New York’s capital, I don’t know if they’ll make the deadline, but much like the carvers, we’ll keep working at it. Calling, visiting, filling out forms and waiting, waiting, waiting.