There's a park called Gravelly Point on the Potomac River at the north end of the airport where, depending on the wind direction, you can watch the planes either take off or land. It's probably no farther than a hundred yards from the boundary fence to the end of the runway, so the planes are really close. The Mount Vernon Bike Trail, which runs 18 miles from Roosevelt Island to, you guessed it, Mount Vernon, goes through Gravelly Point, too, and for us, that's probably the easiest way to get there.
When the wind is from the south, which it usually is in the summer, the planes fly down the river and over your head as you stand there, and you never have to wait very long to see a lot of planes. From far away, they seem to be going so slowly, almost floating, until all of a sudden that whine becomes a deafening roar, and a hundred thousand pounds or more of shiny curved aluminum and rivets are impossibly suspended just a hundred a feet above you, and then they speed past, touch down with a slight skid and a little puff of smoke, reverse their engines, and slow down. Meanwhile, you can hear the air whistle and eddy above you, still spinning from the turbines. There's only the one runway, so they have to turn off right away, either because another plane is approaching or one is waiting to take off. Sometimes you can spot the next incoming flight while the next outgoing plane is still taxiing, and it seems like there couldn't possibly be enough time between them, but there always is.
When I watch the planes, I never imagine myself either coming or going, nor, as close as they are, do I ever see the people in them. Even so, had I nothing else to do, I could stand astride my bike and watch them land for hours, turning my head from north to south, following one after another, a witness to each as it safely reaches its final destination.