New York City Traffic Jam

I was clearly in a place where the expectations were set but I didn’t know what they were; I’d face transportation trials and epiphanies I couldn’t have anticipated throughout my four days in New York City. Let’s begin with pedestrian traffic.

It should have been simple, crossing the intersection of 8th Avenue and 44th Street in midtown Manhattan or a simple task walking from my hotel’s front door to the curb. But both presented challenges I’d not foreseen. Facing the human gauntlet, shoulder to shoulder sporting intent stares and grim determination, was daunting.

As the crowds advanced upon me in Kentucky Derby fashion, I looked straight ahead, eyes lowered, walking slowly, very slowly. I expected that I’ll be ruffled and tousled in the melee; instead this wave of humanity seemed to ripple as it moved in almost a musical cadence, swaying from one side to another without a push or a shove.

After learning how to negotiate the sidewalks, next came public transportation. The all-day excursion to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island was my next test. We’d decided to try out the subway which was unexpectantly clean and airy feeling even though it’s underground. I was surprised to see shops in these tunnels and no sighting of the famous subway rat.

We walked, raced actually, for what seemed like miles to finally get to the subway car and settled in as the crowd exited and entered all around us. The sign saying the poles were not for pole dancing drew a mental picture in my head that made me smile.

Sitting across from me was a young boy, perhaps all of eight years old, traveling alone, impeccably dressed in his black pin-striped suit and bright red tie with a briefcase on his lap. I wasn’t sure if he was worried, scared or extremely curious since his little eyes bulged as his glaring eyes darted from the people and activities going on around him. Where could he be going on this Saturday of Labor Day weekend, I wondered.

My belief that we’d arrive at Battery Park in a short while was dashed when a heavily accented woman wearing a babushka interrupted our chatter; she advised us we’d have to get off the subway at Chambers Station and board a shuttle bus for the last leg of the journey. Liberty Island suddenly seemed so far away.

Soon we were back up to street level, walking a block or two and standing in line for a shuttle bus. On the crowded bus, an elderly woman, wearing a babushka, sitting next to me, hardly speaking English, was as worried, as I was that we’d actually arrive at our destination. It was puzzling that she kept turning to and questioning me when her young English speaking son sat right beside her. I did the best I could.

Scan0011Once arriving at Battery Park we stood in line to twice go through an airport style security check before entering the ramp to stand in line with several hundred people waiting for the next boat. Once on the island the lines both to enter the Statue of Liberty and to just get a hamburger discouraged us at every turn. Instead we viewed the Statue from outside and settled for an ice cream.

We opted for Ellis Island. More lines and another boat ride. Once there, the lack of crowds made me wonder if so much history held less interest for most tourists. The exhibits, though many were still in storage due to Hurricane Sandy damage, were well worth the time we spent there.

oct 31 006Then there were the taxis. Knowing the trip back to the hotel would entail, buses, subway, walking, I was adamant that I wouldn’t be able to repeat the trip due to my physical limitations. From then on, I opted for taxis every change I got and grew to love the sight of those little yellow cars that seemed to be everywhere. But there’s a skill involved in getting a taxi.

We asked one of the carriage drivers on Central Park South and he directed us to walk to the next block, cross two intersections to just the right corner and hail a taxi from there. Due to traffic patterns and visibility its best to find just the right spot. A helpful lesson, resulting in us getting a taxi within minutes every time. Of course we were three middle aged white women and knew that probably had something to do with it.

And that was just the first of many taxi rides. From Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, from the Cloisters with a view of the George Washington Bridge, the result was I got to see most of Manhattan as we whizzed past one sight after another. A glimpse of various neighborhoods with their shops and coffee cafes was refreshing. There’s much more to New York City than the frenetic energy of Times Square and Broadway.

Scan0013So many transportation options, so little time. Hop on Hop Off was something we never found time to do. The three wheeled bicycles lined up outside the Broadway theater was another we passed on. But our ride through Central Park was easy to arrange by just walking up to the carriages lined up on Central Park South; we made a deal with Dimitri and his horse, Luther and off we went.

Scan0014Dimitri said he’d take us everywhere we were allowed to go. Seems there are now some restrictions on where carriages are allowed and there’s even a move to actually do away with these rides citing traffic congestion and that the animals are being mistreated. Our driver and horse were pleasant and calm. Central Park was host to many activities that day: a concert, a play, a homeless person sleeping on the hill, families picnicking and three-wheeled bicycles for hire.

New York City is very walkable and a tourist should be prepared for hiking marathons. I traversed Time Square, to 30 Rock, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Radio City Music Hall and the Guggenheim. New Yorkers were friendly and helpful. All one had to do was look puzzled or confused and a stranger would ask what you’re looking for and then give accurate directions. Visiting New York City was invigorating and the memories still swirl around in my head of time spent in the hurried and harried maelstrom of traffic and people.

But it was also wonderful to get back home where I can get into my car and be wherever I want to be in ten minutes with minimal traffic and very few lines. The night I returned home and sat in the dark in my totally quiet apartment I felt both relieved and oddly abnormal. It took me two weeks, once home, to recover and finally feel rested. I think that means I had a great time!

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Into the Wild of New York City

Our plane, landed at La Guardia for a four day visit to New York City, Labor Day weekend, 2015. I quickly realized I’d gone into the wild, a different kind of wild, but the wild no less. Current wisdom says that it’s good to get out of our comfort zone and that’s what I did. Of the nine in my group, everyone but me was an experienced traveler who’d been to New York many times. I was nervous but excited to be doing something I’d always wanted to do; I had no idea what I was getting into.

For what little comfort I had, our plane might as well as been a helicopter dropping us on an Alaska glacier. Or, our hired van, whisking us through the city to our near Broadway and Times Square hotel, could have been a rickety wagon leaving us in a foreign village in the outback.

I’d just finished reading Into the Wild, the story of a young man (Alex Supertramp he’d named himself) who wanted to commune with nature and find solace by going into the wild, into the bush. Then I’d read Wild, the story of a young woman (Cheryl Strayer) who hiked the Pacific Crescent Trail in order to find herself after significant losses and disturbing life changes.

They both bought into the magical appeal of nature and were sure this experience would change their lives. Alex and Cheryl were naïve and ill prepared for what they were undertaking. Cheryl found herself and published a well-regarded memoir. Tragically, Alex lost his life. I’m not saying that my recent trip to New York City bears any resemblance to Alex and Cheryl’s ominous journeys but my expedition was certainly portentous in other ways. Urban wild can be as exhilarating as the wild of remote places.

A couple of pairings within my small group had extensive pre-planned itineraries; my humble goals were to see a Broadway play, take a carriage ride through Central Park and see a certain piece of art that had been featured in a recent movie. Due to my physical limitations, I was just happy to be able to visit New York and planned to see and take in as much as I could.

jluie 006jluie 007My hotel room on the twenty-first floor had two windows, one that faced 46th street and the other 8th Avenue with a view of the Hudson River off in the distance and Times Square two blocks away. Late at night I stood, leaned toward the window to look down at the jumble of lights, traffic, shops, theaters and hear the clatter in the street below. You’d have thought it was high noon.

Each morning, the quiet of the elevator as it dropped down to the lobby came to an abrupt halt as the door opened to a din of voices, chatter, laughter. That’s the last quiet I’d have until re-entering the elevator at night to return to my high in the sky hotel room.

New York is best known for Broadway and Times Square and it was just as depicted on TV. People in Disney and other cartoon character costumes expecting tips when they pose for a picture with a child. The very tall person in a Statue of Liberty costume. The old and wrinkly woman wearing ragged and worn jean shorts that revealed most of her bottom and a halter that revealed most of her top. Her look was completed with a scraggly straw hat. Was she part of Times Square entertainment, a regular New Yorker or a tourist just wanting to fit in? Who knows.

It’s not possible to walk but a few steps without being accosted by someone shoving a pamphlet or brochure into your face. Bargain tickets. Discount shows. Most of these young people, I’m told, are extras or minor cast members in Broadway productions. Moonlighting on a higher level. The bleachers on Times Square must be for serious people-watching or for rest as long lines form near the kiosk known for cheap same day tickets to a Broadway play.

Walking down 44nd Street with the colorful and bright marques of one theater after another. The Lion King. The Book of Mormon. Hamilton, all in a row. Sometimes next door to each other. And some people actually drive their car here, even though its $17.75 for one hour of parking in automat-style boxes that jluie 003elevate up and down into the ground and into the air.

Scan0015I quickly became accustomed to the $15.00 cocktail and the $20.00 sandwich. Location, location, location. Before the theater, we went to Sardi’s and in their bar I had an appetizer (grilled shrimp) and a cocktail. $40.00. I began to think of shrimp as my signature NYC dish and ordered it many times in many places for lots of money. At the top of the Marriott Marque’s View, the only revolving restaurant, one drink cost $15.00. At least they didn’t rush us as we waited for the New York skyline sunset.

It’s an international community where I was often the only English speaking white woman in sight. French. Asian. Italian. At the hotel coffee shop I watched a group from the UK signing in for a cake decorating convention. I had my picture taken with Jimmie Fallon. Not the real one. Madam Tussaud.IMG_20150907_135151717

 

 

 

 

Each day was non-stop. Morning to dusk. Once home, it took two weeks for me to finally feel rested. My only regret was missing the piece of art due to long, long lines. And not having a hot dog from a NYC street vender.

Now, my heart begins palpitating each night when Stephen Colbert begins his Late Night show with NYC scenes playing on the screen at his back. It’s also great fun to follow along with the designers of Project Runway as they cavort through NYC’s fashion district. I giggle as I mentally return to those streets. To that flash. I was there, I walked down that street, I know how that feels.

 

 

 

A New York Deli Experience

oct 31 007

A street food vender kindly pointed us toward a coffee shop on that steamy New York City day; we desperately needed something to eat and drink before embarking on our carriage ride through Central Park. Eating establishments were rare in this commercial, business area so we were relieved when we turned off Central Park South onto Madison Avenue and saw the large coffee sign down the block.

After walking past Barney’s New York department store on the left we navigated two crowded intersections. In my two short days in NYC, I’d learned that it nearly took a college degree to figure out how to avoid collision with the surge of humanity advancing upon us at these busy crosswalks.

Viand Coffee Shop was long and narrow; the cluttered counter allowed just enough space for a plate to sit at the very edge. Bar stools were on the right and very small booths along the wall on the left that could only seat one person on each side. We were a party of three, so sat at the counter in front of the cashier who took our order.

It seems I’d done something wrong asking what kind of bread came with the egg salad plate. The cashier barked an answer.

“No bread,” he growled. Actually he snarled at everyone in every situation. I gave my order and he shouted it out to the kitchen toward the back since there was no partition or door to separate them. Nothing was written down and hung on the circular spindle common to such establishments.

The word viand means food or a place that serves food and is of French derivation but the accents in this noisy establishment seemed harsh and guttural rather than French. Loud voices and heavy accents galore. Greek? Italian? Who knows.

This crowded 1950’s era, run down establishment is touted on the internet as a deli/diner/café/coffee shop. It’s much different from the Viand Café, located farther uptown with a more upscale atmosphere that boasts that its Michael Bloomberg’s favorite coffee shop. The internet says Viand Coffee Shop, where we were, is considered a quickly disappearing NYC deli/diner experience. Woody Allen has been known to frequent this place.

Internet reviews posted by past customers cover the whole spectrum from great to awful. Since arriving in New York City, I’d quickly become accustomed to the twenty dollar hamburger common near Times Square and Broadway, so the prices here were quite reasonable. The food was good and plentiful with little concern for portion control.

A second man behind the counter did nothing but pacing and watching. Perhaps he’s the crabby and bossy manager noted on internet posts. He and the cashier had an ongoing conversation, more like an argument, some of it in a foreign language with a sprinkle of English. Crabby manager seemed to be eyeing the movements of various diners and keeping the kitchen staff in line.

A steady stream of customers who were on a first name basis with the cashier picked up to-go orders; their playful banter signaled familiarity. A soup-Nazi-like heated argument ensued between the cahier and the crabby manager when we asked for our checks. It seemed the cashier thought it was the waiter’s job to write out our checks and the waiter was nowhere to be found. In all this chaos, I didn’t remember even seeing a waiter. So let’s get this straight: the cashier who’d given us menus, taken our orders and delivered our food was insistent it was not his job to write up our checks.

I was about to jokingly ask if this meant that our lunch was free but didn’t want to risk being yelled at again. The a waiter showed up with a note pad, asked each of us, with a grumble, what we’d had, scratched a number on the check and stomped off. Then, cashier then took our money which I guess was indeed his job.

As we got ready to leave, I asked where the restroom was. The cashier said it was across the street on the second floor of Barney’s New York. So we crossed the two busy intersections once again, checked out $500.00 dresses as we entered Barney’s and took an escalator to the second floor. The large, public restroom in this high end department store was complete with black and white tiled floors, large mirrors and a sitting room scattered with upholstered settees. I thought I’d been transported back to the 1920’s. My travel companion, Phyllis, grinned and commented: “that’s New York.”

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