New York New York it’s a hell of a town
The Bronx is up and I’m Brooklyn down
- “Hello Brooklyn” – Beastie Boys, 1989
We survived our first trip to New York City. I’ll admit, as a child of the Midwest in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I’m a little shocked we weren’t mugged ten times, weren’t dropped in a sketchy neighborhood by a dishonest cab driver, didn’t see wilding in Central Park or open drug deals in Times Square, and weren’t constantly run into by either impolite people or gigantic rats.
I kid. A little.
Our trip did get off to an odd start. We sat at the Indianapolis airport for three hours because a “major thunderstorm was sitting on top of JFK.” Or at least that’s what our gate agent told us. Turns out, it never even rained at JFK! Now there were storms in Pennsylvania that were headed east, and I guess the FAA was worried about planes stacking up if the weather got bad. But turned out we got in three hours late for no reason.
We did have plans to be on a tour bus at 7:00 Friday. Fortunately being late didn’t affect that at all; we just hopped on a later bus.
We cabbed it into the city. In rush hour. That was fun. I was very happy that the security screen between us and the driver kind of blocked my view of what was in front of us, because this was the classic New York cabbie ride: he was weaving in-and-out of traffic, cutting other folks off, slamming on his brakes to avoid people who cut him off, and constantly on the horn. It was kind of fun, if also a little nerve wracking. I decided to stare at my phone most of the ride.
We stayed at the Midtown Hilton, which is at 53rd Street and 6th Avenue. Turned out to be a great spot to walk just about anywhere. We checked in, went up to our room, opened the door, and, whooops! The lights were on and there were clothes hanging on all the furniture. We backed up, let the door shut, and scampered back to the elevator as quick as we could. Fortunately we didn’t see anyone, so we were hoping that whoever was in the room was elsewhere and we didn’t give someone who was in the bathroom a heart attack. I think the clothes were scattered about more in an attempt to get the wrinkles out rather than us walking in on folks who had quickly disrobed to get busy.
For our troubles one of the hotel managers gave us meal vouchers that we used to have a quick bite at the bar. Then we hustled down to Times Square to catch a tour bus.
The tour was very cool, although a couple things made it not as good as it could have been. For starters, we were riding after dark, so it was impossible to figure out directions during much of the trip. Even checking our maps and phones, I was generally lost. And our guide was an odd fellow. I think he had a little Rainman in him. He would ask folks where they were from, and if they were from overseas, he would quickly rattle off a bunch of facts about their country. He spoke in a very quick monotone, our little earbuds were not the best, and we were riding on top of the bus so at times we couldn’t understand what the hell he was saying. And he would also sometimes spit out tons on information without taking a breath. “This is building X, that is building Y, here is were so-and-so was born, there is where such-an-such started.” And so on. I know there’s a ton of history in NYC, but his delivery was overwhelming. He also had a nervous little laugh that made him feel like a comic who was bombing on stage. He did do a dope little freestyle that combined lyrics from Biggie, Jay Z, Springsteen, Blondie, the Papaya King song, along with his own.
Anyway, we went from Times Square down to Brooklyn and back in about 90 minutes. It was a good use of time.
Saturday S went to some morning sessions at her conference and I went out walking. I went up to Central Park, which was amazing. I couldn’t believe how many people were out running. For awhile I thought there was a race. Then I realized with more people on Manhattan than live in Indianapolis, and one major park, I guess everyone comes here to run. I was also amazed by the rock outcroppings that were all over. I just expected it to be a big, flat park. I guess much of that part of the island probably used to be like that, right?
I walked all the way up to the Dakota, took the obligatory pictures, then worked my way back south along Fifth Avenue. I really didn’t have any goals on what to see, so just kind of meandered. Later, when I looked at a map, I realized how close I was to cool things but missed because I wasn’t paying close attention.
After her sessions S and I went out again, walking up to Central Park then grabbing lunch at a little cafe.
Later in the afternoon we were to meet up with her college friends at the 9/11 Memorial. Looking back, I would have planned that differently. We arrived at three different times, so kept getting off track in the museum. Plus I don’t know if that’s the best area to reunite with people you haven’t seen in over a decade. We were all smiling, laughing, and joking around and it didn’t seem to fit the mood of the location.
That area was obviously a little overwhelming. There’s just so much everything there. Memories, emotions, history, spirits of those lost. Even if the site didn’t have our full attentions, it still made a powerful impact on me.
We made a quick stop at our hotel to change and then headed to the Upper West Side for a drink at a snazzy little bar, then dinner at a fancy place that caters to our host’s rather serious food issues. There was no meat on the menu, which caused all three guys in the group to grumble a bit. But I must admit, the food was fabulous. I was just hungry again before bedtime. After dinner we walked to another bar for a few more drinks before calling it a night.
Sunday we went out to our friends’ home in New Jersey. I know I’ve said this before, but we’re doing alright. We have a nice, big house on a decent chunk of land. Holy shit, though, S’s former roommate is living in a whole different world that we are! Their house is fatter than fat. Over three acres, an honest-to-goodness carriage house, full tennis courts with basketball hoops installed, a nice pool. They live on a ridge that apparently George Washington used as a camping spot to keep an eye on British troops coming over from New York in the 1780s. It was pretty swanky.
The guys headed over to the Montclair Golf Club to play a little golf. I’ll share about that in a different post.
After golf we Ubered back home. I ended up in the front seat and got to talk to our driver, who was fantastic. He was a super nice dude from Trinidad. He had that wonderful Caribbean accent and was great to talk to. There was some huge Brazilian festival going on that blocked off Sixth Avenue, so he had to drop us about 10 blocks from our hotel and we had to navigate through an absolutely jam-packed Times Square to get around a concert that was blocking the sidewalks. That felt like the New York I grew up hearing about. People crammed into every space, moving at whatever pace the crush would allow. Amazingly everyone was being cool with each other, despite the heat and crowds.
The only famous person we saw all weekend was tennis instructor Nick Bollettieri who was walking opposite us on Sixth Avenue Saturday. And I didn’t recognize him, just noticed him when a guy next to us stopped and shook his hand. Oh, and we almost played golf with Maury Povich’s cousin or nephew or something. We managed to avoid that, though.
Our flight home Monday was uneventful; hell, we even landed about 30 minutes early.
New York was fun. There is obviously so much to do and see that you can never get it all done. As excited as I was to play golf, looking back I kind of wish we had been able to spend that day in the city, too. But going to New Jersey also gave S and her friends a day of low-key time to catch up, which is more important than checking a bunch of things of a touristy list of things to do.
Another thing that really amazed me about the city is how much we all know about it, whether we’ve been there or not, because of pop culture. Looking at a map of Manhattan, almost every neighborhood’s name seems familiar because they’ve all been the settings for songs, shows, movies, and books. I may not know how they all all relate to each other, but the names I definitely know.
I’m glad I finally got there, after over 47 years. Hopefully I make it back again to explore more of the city some day.
- They took pains to point out that he didn’t actually camp on their land. Still he was on the same geographic feature they live on. ↩