Ten years ago September 9 posted a sultry warm day for a lingering summer. My friend Alia had her Porsche Boxer waiting at the Newark Customs. The convertible had just made a trans-Atlantic voyage. She asked for company to pick up the two-seater and I agreed on the stipulation that we drove north along the Hudson to New Paltz. I extolled our destination of Lake Minnewaska Park and the boreal beauty of the farther lake's slanted granite beach. ""One last swim before autumn.""Sounds good to me." Alia's family dated back before the invention of sliced bread. She spoke perfect English.The Customs officials were helpful in processing her car and we threw our bags in the trunk, then she pointed the Porsche north. Alia's car had diplomatic plates. She kept the car below 90, except for the uphill runs on the Northway. State troopers only maintained downhill speed traps. The wind ripped through our hair. We made good time listening to her collection of 80s hits. Our friendship dated back to London. Leicester Square. 1986. She had arrived at the Cafe de Paris in a rubber dress. Her provocative attire earned immediate entrance and I was slow to realize that this sliver of a blonde was a diplomat for the shards of the English Empire.Exiting at New Paltz Alia switched to the radio. NPR reported how America's delegation at the South Africa conference on racism had contested the vote on Israel's mistreatment of the occupied territories.
"That's not good." Our new president was born-again. Israel was always right in their eyes.
"Israel has a right to protest any accusation as does the countries opposing it." The blonde diplomat was 100% on the side of compromise to achieve peace.
"Stolen lands." I felt the same way about the north counties of Ireland, but said nothing. We were on a road trip and the day was far too beautiful a day to ruin with an argument over oppression. I directed Alice through the college town. The students crowded the sidewalks with smiles on their faces. None of them were going home until Xmas. A few miles out of town the sheer cliffs of the Shawangunk Ridge rose from the valley. Climbers come from around the country to attack the ascent routes. Hundreds of car lined the road to the park. The lot for Lake Minnewaska was surprisingly empty, although it was after Labor Day and school was back in session. Throwing towels over our shoulders and carrying bathing suits in hand Alia and I set out for Lake Awosting. Few hikers were on the trail. Unusual for such a lovely day. The path had been built for vacationers at the Lake Mohonk Resort. A carriage road designed to offer panoramic vistas of the Hudson Valley. Alia and I enjoyed our walk and after 30 minutes Lake Awosting came into sight.
Deep blue water surrounded by evergreen pines.
No one was on the granite beach or in the lake.
A female park ranger on a ATV rolled up the trail. The hefty female in her 30s braked within a foot of us. “Where you heading?”
“Lake Awosting.” I had been coming here since the 80s. Once I had jumped off the cliff into Lake Minnewaska. A good drop of 70 feet. Once was enough.
“You’re not going swimming there?” Her voice adopted a threatening tone of authority.
“Why not?” I was dumbfounded by her interrogation. This was America. The Land of the Free.
“Because it’s against the law to swim in the lakes after Labor Day.”
"My friend has been saying that Lake Awosting is the best swim in the Catskills. We thought that we might test his theory." Alice's accent was pure Oxford. The language of command.
“There are no lifeguards.” The ranger gunned her engine, as if she had been instructed to enforce this mandate by GW Bush himself.
“I can swim three miles. What’s the problem?”The problem was that lawyers were waiting for some drunk fool to jump into the lake and break their back, so they could sue the state parks for several million dollars.
“It’s the law.”
Alia touched my arm. She had diplomatic immunity. Also tact. I had neither. Only a sense of outrage. Explanations were a waste of breath. Law was the law. We turned away from our destination. Swimming in the crystal water was a forbidden pleasure.
“I hate this America.” My America of GTOs, fighting with your fists, and Schlitz beer was extinct.
On the way back to New York the radio announced the USA bailing out of the Racism Conference in South Africa in protest of a nearly unanimous condemnation of Israel for their occupation of Palestine.
“Another thing I hate about America. Israel.” Police against swimming were synonymous with the Israeli Defense Force smashing down doors in Jericho. I needed a drink. Alia and I stopped at a bar in New Paltz. Three beers later I was ready to resume our return to New York. Alia was sober. She never drank liquor. Her thrill was speed and the Porsche hit 140 on the Freeway.It was the only freedom left in America.Speed.And Alia could drive fast.