The Chagall stained-glass windows at the Pocantico Hills Union Church… the boardwalk at Playland… Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. Westchester is replete with iconic spots, both natural and man-made. But I may be the only local resident who calls the Westchester County Airport—weirdly known as HPN—her favorite Westchester “happy place.”
I know that some of the neighbors who live near it are not fans of my happy place. And I get it. Growing up in a little town whose high school was in the flight pattern of JFK, it was normal for our teachers to stop mid-sentence several times during each class period for the thundering roar of the jets overhead—and then pick up right at the word, or even syllable, where they had paused. And yes, airport traffic rumbles over my house in Rye now, too. I’m also aware that my home airport is not the most fancy or modern and could use many upgrades. But what it is now is miles removed from the original bare-bones, WWII Quonset-hut-like structure I remember sending my kids off from in the ’90s to visit their grandparents.
I love the airport’s location right off I-684 (just 15 minutes from my house) and its unassuming, homey vibe replete with chatty personnel. And should I encounter a more tight-lipped security person, I enjoy getting them to crack a smile, sort of like a tourist goofing with the British Beefeater guards at Buckingham Palace. After warming up one serious-looking fellow recently, I finally succeeded in making him break character. As he dubiously compared my hubby’s “follicly challenged” appearance with his decades-old license picture, he finally just advised him “not to get a new ID photo anytime soon if you can help it—I did, and I don’t recommend it.”
We have a long history with our local airport: family vacations, our daughter’s college commutes to Chicago, and our son’s jaunts for athletic competitions all over the country. Now that we go back and forth from it to Florida throughout the year—no schleps to LaGuardia or (shudder) Kennedy for us—I like to think of our frequent trips to Palm Beach International (PBIA) as flying a fancyish Greyhound bus down South and arriving in the time it takes to watch a few episodes of Law & Order. Full disclosure: I’m the one wearing clothing as close to PJs as legally permissible.
Yes, it’s fun to escape the county from my happy place, especially right before a big, impending “weather event.” But even better is coming back home to it. With its oversized aerial photos of stone-walled fields and modern corporate headquarters, and single, seasonally decorated luggage carousel, it offers up its own local welcome mat. While it may not be the most impressive one on the aviation block (I’ll confess I lust after the in-terminal massage, shopping, and comfy seating options at PBIA) there’s still no place like it for this frequent flier.
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Freelance journalist Laurie Yarnell of Rye, a former features editor for Westchester Magazine, writes frequently for all the Today Media publications, including Westchester Home and 914INC.