New York City
My first trip to New York City was on December 31st, 1998. After spending the Christmas holidays in New Jersey, I took a train with my future ex-wife – things were still somewhat rosy at that time – to Penn Station in Manhattan. I took my first NYC cab ride to a friend’s very small apartment in the Upper East Side. We were only able to spend a few hours in the city since we had a flight back to Jacksonville the next morning. I remember walking around Times Square in the afternoon as crowds began to gather early for the legendary party of all New Year’s Eve parties that was to take place that night.
Later that evening, after spending time in the cramped one-bedroom apartment with a festive gathering of twenty or so friends of friends, the claustrophobia that frequently floods my nervous system began rushing in. Noticing the tell-tell signs, my wife and I stepped outside for some city air. I remember looking at my watch. It was 11:30 PM. How long would it take us to walk down to Times Square for the ball drop – 30 minutes? I figured that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for a small-town South Carolina kid, so we set off down the cavernous streets until we could walk no further. We were at least six blocks away from Times Square when the human sea stopped our progress. I could see the laser lights in the distance and before I could check my watch again, the chant of 5-4-3-2-1 told us it was now the opening seconds of 1999.
People were hugging strangers and singing Auld Lang Syne. The crowd surged to the rhythmic thump of music. A fight broke out between two guys with girls perched on their shoulders. As we pushed through the crowd toward a side street trying to reclaim our personal space, a yellow cab pulled up and discharged five tardy, tipsy revelers. As soon as the last girl stumbled out of the backseat wobbling on high heels, we quickly dove into the cab and gave the driver the address to our temporary home where we slept on the kitchen floor. Ah, youth.
A couple of years later, I found myself back in the City for a couple of days after attending a conference in Connecticut. It was September 2002, and the City and I both had large holes that were in need of repair. One hole was caused by a divorce (although amicable), the other by a senseless terror attack that, at least for a while, turned us all into New Yorkers. I visited what was then referred to as “Ground Zero,” staring at the huge construction site through a cyclone fence that still had dead flowers laced through the galvanized links.
I’m happy to say that after fifteen years, both holes have been filled in glorious fashion.
Last month, Karen and I flew from Atlanta to LaGuardia airport on a Friday morning. We’ve both found that cabin fever sets in for us around February. We arrived late morning and caught a cab to Times Square. After checking into the Hilton Garden Inn on 8th Avenue and 49th Street, we walked a block or so to the Playwright, an Irish pub, and had lunch.
This was Karen’s first visit to Gotham (and my first in 15 years), so we braved the cold, misty rain and took a long walk along Broadway, 5th Avenue, and 42nd Street. This gave us a good opportunity to see the Times Square neighborhood, Broadway, the New York Library, Grand Central Station, Nat Sherman’s tobacco shop, Radio City Music Hall. After a rest, we walked back down to 42nd Street and had dinner at The View, a revolving rooftop restaurant that gave us great, though cloudy, views of the city. After dinner, we went to the Music Box Theater where we saw the multiple award-winning musical, Dear Evan Hanson.
I’ll have to say that I’ve spent 40 plus years saying that I’m not very fond of musicals, but if you get the chance to see one on Broadway, you’ll come away with an appreciation.
On Saturday, we got a reprieve from the wet weather and spent the morning exploring more of the city. We took the subway down to Battery Park where we could view the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We then walked up to Wall Street where we saw the New York Stock Exchange and the old Custom House. We then walked up to see the new Freedom Tower and the World Trade Center area. This is a monument to perseverance more than defiance. Walking over the remains of thousands and looking up to see the new gleaming tower, the World Trade Center neighborhood gives you the sense that we are all part of something bigger than national pride or religious fervor. You feel like you are a part of a worldwide community.
We then walked up through Tribeca and SoHo and ate pizza in NoLita (North of Little Italy) at Lombardi’s. After lunch, we took a taxi back to the hotel where we freshened up. We then walked down to the Shubert Theater where we saw Bernadette Peters star in the amazing Hello, Dolly. After the show, we went to another Irish pub for a couple of drinks. I’m convinced that in every city, whether it’s in Brazil, Continental Europe, South Africa, or South Carolina, you will find an Irish pub. In NYC, there seems to be one on every block.
We then walked over to Patsy’s where we had a terrific Italian dinner. Frequented by both celebrities and tourists, Patsy’s may not be the hole-in-the-wall local joint that we typically look for, but it is certainly worth a visit if you want some authentic New York/Italian cuisine. Also, don’t be surprised if the white-clad chef and owner, Sal Scognamillo, pays you a visit a time or two during your meal. After seeing him interact with several other tables, we were convinced that this was where all the locals dine. But when he came to our table, we realized that he just treats everyone as a close friend.
After all of the changes over the years, the City was still familiar to me. Change can be painful but it can also give you more strength than you ever thought you could have. Things will continue to change; I just hope it’s less dramatic the next time I visit.
Karen was thrilled with NYC, and I’m sure we’ll be back soon to see Central Park, the Yankees and Mets, the Metropolitan Museum, and countless other sites. This quick trip was the perfect remedy for the wintertime blues.
Key spots to visit – too many to list. Seriously, it’s NYC. We enjoyed dinner at Patsy’s on 56th Street, the Times Square Diner for breakfast, Lombardi’s pizzeria at the corner of Spring and Mott, Battery Park, the Freedom Tower, Grand Central Station, the New York Library, and the Theater District/Broadway.