Having a daughter is kind of like having a “Grow Your Own Friend Kit.” She spent every day of her life within my home until she was college age. Most of her travel habits have been formed within our own family culture so there’s a comfortable feeling being together on vacation with only a suitcase apiece and each other. We brought the same basic clothes, the same electronics and accoutrements. We knew each other’s taste. I knew I would enjoy the things she wanted to do and Elizabeth by now had resigned herself to my own eclectic interests just as long as I didn’t get arrested.
Elizabeth started out suggesting an honest talk about what each of us expected out of the trip and, most importantly, who was an early riser and who wanted to sleep in. She may have been remembering the Sunday mornings I got her out of bed before she was ready or possibly the time she was in the third grade and woke me up one Saturday at 8am. That certainly wasn’t a pretty scene but she never woke me on a Saturday morning again. We got everything squared away and were off like horses at the starting gate, carefully remembering to charge all of our electronics every night. We took up every outlet in the bathroom and spilled out into the floor outlets.
We met a sparkling lady seated next to us on the plane. She offered to share her bag of almonds with us and we just had ourselves a little party right there on Row 25. We talked about a little bit of everything. Then in one sentence I discovered I was sitting next to possibly the only black person in America who didn’t vote for Obama. And I was rendered speechless. Fortunately the plane landed just then.
The first thing we did was to get a Metro pass so we could grab any subway train or bus. Our family is big on public transportation. It gives you the freedom to get yourself anywhere without needing to call a cab. We got a card that was good for the week at a price of one cab ride. And we took the subway everywhere. There is so much to see and do in New York you can walk around and do two one-in-a-lifetime things in a span of three blocks. But it’s also a big city and walking across town is impossible.
We played dueling apps for a while with each of use consulting our smart phones for subway maps and GPS but found ourselves on the last day wandering around with a folded-into-limpness paper map and that worked as well as anything. We also found out the subway map app doesn’t work in the subway, you can’t get a signal.
So, here’s what we did with ourselves in New York: World Trade Center, St Paul’s Chapel, watched a protest at the proposed Islamic Activity Center, took gobs of pictures of a new building we couldn’t figure out the name of but it has the most interesting design I’ve ever seen in my life, Fire House, watched people go into an Orthodox Synagogue on Friday night with the men wearing yarmulkes and prayer shawls, listened to businessmen talk over lunch, listen to a couple of union guys talking to some kind of mediator, rode the subway with someone who had BO, prayed a lot when the subway got crowded and different man (thankfully without BO) held onto the rail overhead putting my face right in his armpit, went to church at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, saw a street chalk drawing, heard a magnificent organ, choir and congregation of 500 singing some classic hymns, listened to a family musical group sing at the Bethesda fountain then watched a guy propose to his girlfriend in front of the same fountain, ate a hot dog with sauerkraut, hot roasted nuts, pizza, organic salad, tiramisu, hummus, dolma, tabouli, gazpacho, vanilla milk shake at Hagen Daz, fish & chips, Pain au Chocolat, almond croissant, an incredible plate of risotto , equally incredible smoked ricotta fritters, saw The Fantasticks, A Little Night Music and Avenue Q, toured the grounds by Ground Zero and heard stories from a retired fireman who was there that day, watched two separate bagpipe concerts, watched the dedication of a Metropolitan Transportation Authority memorial for 9/11, saw the battered iconic world globe that graced the World Trade Center Plaza and then survived the collapse of the Twin Towers, visited both the Metropolitan Art Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, visited the Statue of Liberty….I know I’m leaving a bunch of stuff out but my fingers are tired of typing.
We found one of the best-kept secrets in town, too. There’s another TKTS booth where you can get half-price tickets for Broadway shows. The most popular one is in Times Square and the line for tickets can sometimes be a three-hour wait. We found out there’s another one near our hotel in the southern tip of Manhattan. We usually took the subway to get there but it was only a couple of stops. With a subway station almost outside our hotel door and the other end across the street from the TKTS booth, there was not much to whine about. We got all our tickets there and the longest line we ever waited in was three people.
We invented a new technique we call the Clif Notes of Museum Touring: Instead of wasting a lot of valuable time wandering around the museums I found out you should visit the gift shop first. You can get a refrigerator magnet and maybe a coffee cup saying you visited the museum but viewing the gifts tells you which is the most popular paintings or sculptures. Then you just go see the fun stuff. If your art isn’t good enough to make it on my refrigerator why should I walk around a lot to see it? Touring the gift shops can save you a lot of time.
I do have to say one work of art was worth seeing in person: Van Gough’s “Starry Night.” Seeing a photograph of this painting doesn’t do it justice. Nothing compares to seeing it in person. It’s a very three-dimensional painting and it was as though I was seeing it for the first time. One gets the idea that cobalt blue was on sale that week because he used it so liberally. The brush strokes stand out 1/4 of an inch from the canvas.
We also thought of another new technique, kind of a corollary to the Clif Notes for Museums. You might call it a Virtual Marathon. We ended up in Central Park at the end of the New York Marathon. In fact, I can honestly say we crossed the finish line. It occurred to me we might get a runner to loan us the number pinned to her shirt and get a couple of photos of us wearing them and running through the park for a couple of paces.
This was supposed to be funny and it’s not. I apologize. I consulted Elizabeth to see if I missed something funny that happened to us and she agreed that the vacation was too smooth. She reminded me that I have sent her on many a guilt trip so she comes with vast experience. Funny stories usually come from when things go array. Nothing went wrong; it was a perfect vacation.
However, tune in next week for a totally different subject as my journey takes a detour of sorts.