Saturday, October 25, 2008

2007 Graduation Week at West Point

Shelley, Brian and I left San Francisco at about noon on May 22, 2007, of graduation week. We had a layover in Chicago where we had a fitful lunch and a 2-hour flight to Stewart airport in Newburgh, New York. It was dark, around 9 PM by the time we got to the Holiday Inn in Fishkill across the Hudson river and we settled in for the night.

We tried to meet Kevin for breakfast at 9 AM on Tuesday but since it was the first time navigating from Fishkill to West Point we didn’t arrive until after 11 and Kevin was a bit impatient with us. Shelley was driving the rented Kia minivan and we just didn’t know where we were going until we got there. All of us were a little frustrated, but that’s the way it goes when you’re traveling and not from around there. We decided to visit Fort Putnam which is the original West Point from Revolutionary war times. It sits at the top of a mountain overlooking the Hudson River, above the Cadet Chapel, with a great view of West Point and gnats galore. The temperature was moderate, however, for the month of May. Afterward, Kevin wanted to practice throwing the hammer since he was traveling to Gainesville, Florida for a championship track meet the following day. The most interesting point of this is he would miss many once-in-a-lifetime events of his graduation week at the Military Academy. After careful consideration, he thought it best to finish out his track and field career by participating in the NCAA championships. So we all went down to Shea stadium behind Gillis field house to watch him throw. After a couple hours, we decided to go out to eat at Pineapple’s Steakhouse in Montgomery where we had a delicious dinner and said our goodbyes and good luck to Kevin. We traveled back to Fishkill and the Holiday Inn and made our plans for the following day.

Wednesday morning we met Kevin for breakfast just down from Benny Havens at Andy’s in Highland Falls before he left for the airport. We got to West Point with ample time to visit the cemetery and sign the guest book at the old cadet chapel. I stopped by Maggie Dixon’s grave as well as Emily Perez’ and Earl Red Blake’s. We watched the drill team perform on the plain before the parade and skydiving exhibition. After that, we walked over to Thayer Hall for a presentation of awards by the language department and a speech by the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations. The temperature was heading upwards and beginning to get our attention. It was a brief respite in the cool auditorium. During the presentation, Shelley accepted Kevin’s Portuguese award in his absence which made me chuckle and we posed for a photo with his Portuguese teacher.

On Thursday, I had breakfast at the Holiday Inn and wished I asked what brand of coffee they served. I’ve had it before and it is memorable, but I still don’t know what it is. We visited the West Point museum and gift store where I searched for a brimmed straw hat, but they were out. We saw another parade and made the necessary changes to move to our hotel in Westchester, county. The hotels take advantage of graduation by doubling the rates at nearby hotels so we moved to the hotel our parent club had reserved. It was a Marriott and much nicer than the Holiday Inn. We met my aunt, uncle and cousin before Shelley drove back to the Stewart airport to pick up her sister Carol and our daughter, Michelle. I had breakfast the next morning with my relatives and let the family sleep in before we took off for West Point.

Friday, we saw the firsties participate in their last parade as cadets. We left West Point and headed to a big shopping center where I thought we were going to pick up the tuxedos I rented for Brian and myself. Much to my disappointment the store at which we were supposed to get the suits was on Long Island (a couple of hours away) not in the shopping center were we had lunch and cried in our soup. We went back to our hotel to change into our fancy duds for the graduation banquet. Again we were on our own as Kevin was not there but we made the best of it. Shelley, Carol, and Michelle ate in the mess hall while Brian and I ate at the West Point Club with the overflow crowd. We skipped the hop and headed back to the hotel right after the banquet since we had to get up before daylight to catch the parent club bus to Michie stadium for the 9 AM graduation.

As the cadets marched up the hill to the stadium on Saturday we saw Kevin who returned just in time for the graduation ceremony. We had to pass through strict security upon entering the stadium since Vice President Cheney was the commencement speaker. It was a scorcher of course and too hot for the blazer I was wearing. The cadets marched up, saluted, got their diplomas, returned to their seats and tossed their hats to seal the deal. Then we scurried out the stadium, back down the hill to Shea stadium for Kevin’s pinning ceremony. By then I was huffing and puffing. Poor Kevin was dashing here and there to change uniforms and turn in his gear and check out of school for the last time. The pinning ceremony consisted of the firsties on the track team. We took some pictures and rode a bus back up to Ike hall where we waited for a shuttle to the Thayer Hotel. The parent club reserved a large room for a luncheon where we finally settled down and had a good lunch. Kevin arrived in civilian clothes and we presented him with some cards and gifts and then brought Kevin with us on the parent club bus back to the Westchester Marriott.

Not to be outdone, Kevin, Brian, Michelle, Shelley, Carol, and cousin Jean took a train to New York and sailed around New York harbor taking in the sites before scrambling to catch the last train back to Terrytown. Our flight on Sunday from Stewart was uneventful although we were all exhausted from jet lag, the east coast heat, and humidity. We had another layover in Chicago and then a 5-hour flight back to San Francisco where we picked up our van and made the hour and a half drive back to Santa Rosa.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

2007 Indoor Track & Field Championship

You probably haven't heard the sage advice to visit your West Point cadet during the “gloom” period, January - March before.

My wife, Shelley and I flew back to West Point for the President’s Day weekend in 2007. We decided to fly in and out of Stewart/Newburgh airport to determine any advantages over flying to Newark or JFK. Ordinarily we would fly Jet Blue and we’re thankful we didn’t this time. The only disadvantage of flying to Stewart (SWF) is there are no direct flights from the bay area so we had a layover in Chicago’s Ohare airport.

There was a pretty bad storm that preceded us by a couple of days and the effects were still evident. Our plane in San Francisco was an hour and a half late to begin with and we couldn’t land on time at Ohare because, by the time we got there, they were reconfiguring the runways. But all in all, we made it to Newburgh, New York at 11:30 instead of 10:00 PM.

The cost was $350.00 per person round trip. If you add up the price of the flight to one of the other airports plus the cost of transportation to West Point, it’s about the same. Stewart is a small regional airport. It’s very clean, not crowded, and there are 8 gates. Ticketing, security, and baggage claim are at street level while the gates are on the second floor.

We left San Francisco at 10:00 AM and the flight to Chicago was approximately 4 hours. The 2-hour layover at Ohare allowed us to try the Chinese food at the food court. The flight to Stewart was 2 hours and Kevin met us at the airport and drove us to the 5 Star Inn just outside the main gate next to the West Point Museum.

Here are some photos from the hotel as well as the Patriot League Indoor Track and Field Championship.
The weather as you can see was below freezing and we got to eat brunch on Sunday in the cadet mess hall. Every time we visit West Point we are astounded not only by the beauty but by the positive and professional environment our sons and daughters enjoy at the Academy.

We discovered a few eateries we had not known before and thought we would pass these tips along for your enjoyment. We had breakfast twice at Andy’s which is a block off the main drag in Highland Falls. We also had dinner one evening at Pineapple’s Steakhouse in Montgomery. You pass it on your way into town going to the Thayer gate.

The accommodations at the 5 Star Inn are as nice as the Thayer, only at half the price. The building we were in was part of Ladycliffe College at one time. So was the West Point museum. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at West Point and highly recommend Stewart Airport and the 5 Star Inn.

Kevin did very well and took 3rd place in the Shot and 2nd place in the Weight throw.