Thomas Hoving, pilot extraordinaire

Thomas Hoving died today. Before you read his obit, I would like to tell you a story about him.

Thomas Hoving, his wife in the passenger seat, stopped along a winding country road outside of Pawling, NY on a dreary day in 2005 to pick up two hitchhikers.

"Where are you two headed," he asked as they got in the car.

The two damp travellers looked at each other. "We're not sure. Town I guess. Is there a taxi service in town?"

"Where are you trying to go," he asked again.

"Well," a pause. They exchanged glances again. A shrug, as if to say it couldn't hurt to ask.

"We're hiking the Appalachian Trail. And at the last road crossing, we..." Here, the speaker received a quick glare from his companion. He gulped and continued guiltily, "I... kind of... left our camera on the side of the road. It has all our pictures on it - all the way back from Maine. It was about 10 miles back. It's not exactly an expensive camera, but..."

This time it was the sound of the rain against the roof of the car that caused his distraction.

Having doled out the proper amount of shame, his companion picked up the story in a brighter tone. "And it is in a ziplock bag. Anyway, best case scenario, we get a ride into town, and then find some way back out to that last road. We can see it on our map, and if we could just get a taxi from town or something, we might be able to get it, get back here, and get back on the trail with enough time to make it a few more miles to a shelter for the night."

Now it was Mr. and Mrs. Hoving's turn to exchange glances. Having settled the matter wordlessly as only long-married couples (and apparently some pairs of AT hikers) can, they spoke up.

"Nonsense," said the wife.
Mr. Hoving added, "We'll drive you wherever you need to go. We're not doing anything anyway. And look at your clothes! You must be drenched."
"And hungry, I'll bet," added Mrs. Hoving. "First things first though, where's your map? Show us where that camera is."

That was Shian and I 5 years ago. I have to admit that I was the guilty camera-leaver.
Actually it was more complicated than that. We had a custom of taking pictures of ourselves at the state lines. The night before, we knew that we would cross out of New York and into Pennsylvania in the morning. Looking at the map, we could tell it was right at Hoyt Rd. We also knew that the state line was a short few miles into our hike - and we didn't hike together in the mornings.

We decided that in order for us to each have a picture of ourselves at the state line, Shian would take the camera with him in the morning, as he left early. He'd take a picture of himself at the NY state line, and leave the camera for me to do the same. We agreed on a spot - knowing nothing about and never having seen the area - defined by these guidelines: it should be on the right side of the trail, just before the road, near the biggest tree around.

When I got to the spot, it was already raining. I didn't think Shian would leave it out in the rain, but I looked anyways. I didn't find it. After not too long, I gave up and hiked on. I caught up with Shian some miles down the trail.

"So, did you get the camera?"

What ensued was probably pretty amusing, in a cheesy sitcom kind of way. We thought we were joking. With increasing gravity, each of us tried to convince the other that we were serious and that no, YOU must be joking. It turns out I was serious that I actually didn't get the camera, and Shian was serious that he actually left the camera.

Anyways, as we drove along with the Hovings - out of the rain, on our way to our lost camera, things looking up - we got back to our normal conversational selves. That is to say witty, engaging, cheerful, energetic, and synergy-powered. We asked what Mr. Hoving did with his time. He said he was retired - and that he was an amateur pilot. Cool enough but nothing ground breaking. Simple, modest.

Later in the conversation, he started a sentence with "Back when I was the director of the MET, I..."
Um what? Yea, he was the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 70s. And yea, that didn't make the cut in an answer to "What do you do with your time?"

Later, "Yea, and when I was the NYC Parks Director, I..."
Um, ok.

Later still, "Yea, when Malcom Gladwell was interviewing me for his book Blink, I..."

Some pilot.

The rest of the story only needs a summary, really. We got the camera. The Hovings took us to their spacious and well decorated house. Mrs. Hoving did our laundry and cooked us a meal. We took showers in a shower that must have had a 10' square footprint. We talked about art and Mr. Hoving's life. They drove us back out to the trail and sent us on our way, richer by one chance experience.