Friday, September 04, 2009


The Zen Mountain Monastery

Last month Atticus took his journey to the Catskills to attend a Buddhist retreat. This seemed like a totally reasonable excursion last February when he first asked if he could go on a retreat in France. No, I told him, France is a nice place to go for croissants and sidewalk cafes and to get treated rudely but it is not where you go for a Buddhist retreat. You should go to Bali or Thailand or something. But since that is a little far and a lot out of our budget you should find something in the states.

Which he did. In the Catskill mountains a few hours outside of Manhattan. But how will you get there? I asked. No biggie he assured me. I will fly into NYC and take a bus out. There's one that goes directly to the monastery, I can do this alone. Okay. Sounds reasonable and the retreat itself was very inexpensive. Turns out they don't charge you much to come sit and meditate for a few hours and eat vegetarian food and do chores in the hot sun. Not a lot of people signing up for that kind of thing I guess.

So we said okay but when he went to sign up he found out he had to be 18 or older to attend. We made a few inquiries to find out if they would make an exception. He was interviewed over the phone for about a half hour by a senior monastic (who no doubt wanted to make sure this kid knew what he was getting in to) and then he was declared fit to attend. So now, I thought, he's good to go.

But as the date to attend the retreat grew closer I began to second guess my decision to allow my 15-year-old to fly into LaGuardia, take a taxi to the Port Authority and find a bus into the Catskills. He's no stranger to travel, he's comfortable in major cities, but after all, he is only 15. So I came up with an alternate plan. Together we would fly into Albany. From there I would rent a car and drive him into the mountains and make sure I liked the looks of the place. After that I would abandon him--I mean leave him there--and he would take a bus back to the Albany airport and fly home alone when he was finished. I chose Albany because it seemed a lot more negotiable than LaGuardia and was about the same distance as NYC to the monastery.

Anyhoo, that is what we did and it all went very smoothly on the way there. Oh sure, the people at the monastery did look at me kind of funny when they asked where I would be staying during the retreat and I said I was hightailing it back to Chicago. But other than that it went fine. And he stayed and had wonderful time despite the fact that he had forgotten to pack bug spray, shampoo, and soap. After five days it was time to get himself home.

He had to catch two buses to get to the airport. I had warned him that if he missed the second bus he was kind of screwed because if he waited for the next bus he would miss his flight and I really did not have a plan B for him. I gave him a wad of cash and told him he'd just have to wing it if that happened. Of course, that is what happened.

He got on the first bus just fine but unfortunately, it was late which caused him to miss the second bus. So there he was in Kingston NY about an hour from his final destination. Did I mention he was in the Catskills? It's a bit, umm, rustic and remote there. But, he took matters into his own capable Buddhist hands. He went out front and looked for a cab. He found one being driven by an old Indian man with a turban and a long beard and asked if he would take him to Albany airport.

"I take you anywhere you want to go,"the cabbie said.

"How much?" Atticus asked. (He had $150 in cash and was praying it would be less than that.)

The cabbie sized him and correctly guessed he was a rather desperate kid whose parents would be anxious to see again and quickly said, "$115."

"Hold on," Atticus said and texted me if that price was okay.

While I am a big enough idiot to leave my kid in the Catskills, I am not a big enough idiot to try to negotiate the price of a cab ride from the only cabbie in Kingston by cell phone so I texted back, "Hell yes and remember to tip him."

Atticus got in the cab which he described as a beat up very old Lincoln. The driver's window did not go down so the cabbie had to open the door to pay tolls. The passenger window did not go up but luckily it was a nice day.

As they pulled away from the curb the cabbie picked up his CB and spoke to the dispatcher. "Don't bother me. I busy for the next two hours."

"Where you going? Got a hot date?" the dispatcher asked.

"Yeah, that's it."

"No really, where are you going?"

"Albany airport."

"Sweet! How much you charging for that?"

Now--even a 15 year old Buddhist can tell he just got scammed but he only chuckled, grateful to have a ride.

The cabbie did not miss a beat and replied, "You know, the usual we charge for going to Albany airport, $115."

"Oh right," the dispatcher said finally catching on. "The usual. Good job!"

The rest of the ride was uneventul. The cabbie was cheerful and talkative and offered to buy him lunch, which he declined since he was anxious to get to the airport.

Atticus arrived in Albany safe and sound and on time. Unfortunately the plane was delayed three hours due to bad weather in Chicago which means he could have safely caught the next bus but of course he had no way of knowing that was going to happen.

Besides, if he had grabbed the next bus he would not have this memorable story and as any good Buddhist can tell you, it isn't about getting there the most efficient way, it's all about the journey.


  1. Indeed it is, all about the journey. You must be so proud of Atticus! A Buddhist retreat at 15?! Jack was a few years older than that when he discovered Buddhism, and if he ever went on a retreat, I never got to know about it. What a great story!

    The Ever-Anonymous MM

  2. That's about as Bhuddist as you can get indeed.

    Don't worry about you leaving a 15-year-old in the Catskills like that. Here in the Netherlands
    we have parents who think nothing of letting a 13-year-old sailing around the world on her own.

  3. Talk about free-range kids! I do love this story, thanks for sharing it.