Last month, Roger and I won a contest. The first prize was a trip to New York City...
I thought I'd hate NYC. I’d heard all the stories about the slummy neighborhoods, the muggings, the traffic, the stress, and the arrogant, rude people. You can add to that my preference for sunny weather and a laid-back way of life.
On the plane, Roger (who never worries) worried that the airport would be closed–due to the approaching snowstorm expected to bury the East Coast in frothy white stuff. The pilot announced that the brunt of the storm would come in late and we’d just miss it. He sounded confident. I like that in a pilot.
As we approached JFK, streaks of glitter swept past the plane as the pilot set the plane down like a puppy on a pillow. Everyone applauded. Big white flakes were sweeping down from the sky when we peeked outside. But, surprisingly there wasn’t much of a wind. We called the Super Shuttle. Yep, they’d be there in twenty minutes. Half an hour later (one a.m.) they still hadn’t arrived. By now the airport was deserted. The monitors were showing that flight after flight had been cancelled.
New Yorkers like to deal. Outside two guys in separate vans offered to undersell the few remaining taxis, who would take us to mid-town Manhattan for fifty bucks. They just happened to be out there in this storm and were “concerned” for our safety. Yeah, right. Roger asked to see a license and one of them produced what looked to be a standard driver’s license. No thanks.
We grabbed a taxi. The driver from Ghana grumbled all the way into town about the storm and how hard it was to make a buck in NYC.
The contest folks were paying $225 a night for our room at the Helmsley Park Lane, but the reviews on Trip Advisor had been all over the place from “you couldn’t pay me enough to go there again” to “an outstanding hotel, you won’t find a better place to stay.” We asked for a “refurbished” room (a tip from a Trip Advisor commentator) and were assigned a nice one on the 20th floor.
Because of the white out, I didn’t find out until the following evening what a fantastic view we had. We could see the entire expanse of Central Park, including the ice skaters on the rink below, and a big chunk of the skyline.
The next morning, I wasn’t sure how or if we’d get any breakfast (the restaurants nearby were closed). So I broke down and ordered a “small” pot of coffee from room service–for $10, including tip. If I had wanted to add a roll, the total would have been more than $20.
And I thought Santa Barbara was pricey.
The contest people took pity on us and invited us to breakfast in the hotel dining room, so we wouldn’t need to spend 20% of our total allotment on a couple of meals. All the contestants seemed like really nice folks–a farmer from Iowa, an enlisted man and his wife, a very reserved couple from England. We all stood and introduced ourselves. A poet from Portland read his contest entry, a poem about a pair of terns.
We had the rest of the day to ourselves. But much of the city was shut down and it was still snowing. The hotel left us a note saying not to expect any housekeeping–the maids hadn’t been able to come in to work.
All our plans went right out the window with the blizzard. Plus we couldn't get hold of a good subway map (the hotel didn't have one), but it didn't matter much because lots of places were either closed or too hard to get to in all that snow. So we never got to some of the places on our A list. We got to others on the C list, just because they nearby, easy to find, or on our way to someplace else.
Luckily, we were within walking distance of MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. But it was hard work walking those few blocks. The sidewalks hadn’t been cleared yet, although everywhere we saw men with shovels and snowploughs working the streets. We read later that they had called up all the sanitation workers and had cancelled everyone’s vacation so the streets could be cleared as soon as possible. An all-time record 26.9 inches of snow had fallen.
The snow was crunchy and beautiful and hadn’t yet turned into muddy slush and ice. We spent the afternoon walking through three of the six floors, while the blizzard raged outside. The blizzard turned out to be a blessing in disguise that kept the worst of the crowds away.
The MOMA exhibits are laid out in such a way that even if you don’t know anything about art, you “get” it. Moving from Cezanne to Picasso all the way to Andy Warhol and beyond, each room demonstrates how art in the 20th century changed–from representational to pure abstraction to conceptual.
I thought Roger would be bored. But he loved Van Gogh’s Starry Night and also Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World. When I was ready to go, he wanted to stay longer. We walked to Rockefeller Center, where almost everything was closed. I got a pretty pathetic Reuben sandwich (no sauerkraut).
All the service people seemed stressed and overworked. But soon the sun came out. Big chunks of ice were falling off the top of the skyscrapers and crashing on the sidewalks below when we hit the streets again. We escaped being beaned more than once.
Everywhere in New York, you see interesting murals and other artwork. You go into a little courtyard and there’s a Brancuzi or another piece of sculpture by someone you've heard of all your life. At the Port Authority Bus Terminal, they play classical music over the loudspeakers. I like that in a city.
We went to the Empire State Building–not my favorite. They forced everyone to have a picture taken in front of a backdrop of the building so they could sell it to you at the end of the tour. Roger and I said "no" to this. At the observation deck, there was no way to get oriented. Nothing to indicate what we were looking at or even which direction was North, South, East or West.
At the American Museum of Natural History we saw the Asian and African artifacts, and the Darwin exhibit. On the streets, the ice had gotten slippery and dangerous. In some places, you’d step on what you thought was a hard surface that looked like the brown, lumpy asphalt–and it turned out to be a puddle full of melted ice.
Times Square. Neon signs, flashing lights–Fisher-Price, Footlocker, United. I got to the Hershey shop where they informed me that the checkered kisses that someone had recommended were a "special edition" and no longer available. I couldn’t take my eyes off the steaming Cup O’ Noodles on the side of one building. We stuck our heads in Madame Tussaud’s (just so we could say we’d been there) and saw Jackie O. and Marilyn.
We had a great meal in the Village (at Pesce Pasta) and took a tour of the U.N. We stood on the balcony of Grand Central Terminal at rush hour on Valentine’s Day and watched the flower-toting stockbrokers hurrying to get home to their sweeties.
It takes a lot of energy and vitality to navigate through the traffic, the various urban hazards, and the proffered free deals--free energy drinks, free subway tickets. A man with a heavy Brooklyn accent offered to sell us a couple of show tickets. (O.K., we probably looked like a couple of rubes.) Maybe that’s why New Yorkers seem so alive and vital. I’ve been in other big cities where the crowds were sleep walking and dead-eyed. Not in NY.
We stopped and watched street theater, guitarists, and break dancers in the subway stations. On the train, someone got out a Jimbe drum and began performing. Everyone we talked to–to ask for help or directions–was kind, helpful, and friendly.
Well, almost everyone. We got off at the wrong subway stop once. I went up to an information booth and asked the woman, “Where am I?”
She looked me up and down in disgust.
“Honey,” she says. “You in New YAWK!!!”
I loved it!
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