Day two in NYC with our German exchange student began with breakfast at the hotel. Another thing to love about the Hampton Inn we stayed at was the continental breakfast ... it was better than just some danishes on a tray and watery coffee. Building your own Egg McMuffins is fun. And Geoff ate the equivalent of four breakfasts, to my horror. His philosophy was "It's free, so I'm going to fill up." My retort was "It's free, but no excuse to make a hugeassed pig of yourself dude!"
We packed up our stuff and concierged it at the hotel. Our car was in the bowels of the parking garage below us, and there was no returning to it until it was time to leave, so, we were psyched they offered this service. Seeing as checkout was at noon and we really didn't need to leave the city until 6pm if we didn't want to, it would have been a huge burden to schlep around our belongings for the day. Hurrah for the Hampton Inn.
Walking down the street, GES told us that she wanted to get some T-shirts for her family. We hit a stand for five "I Heart NY" t-shirts for ten dollars. Can't beat that. She wanted to mix and match colors, but the guy wanted 13 bucks for two black and three white. I haggled with him "what, just because she is changing colors of shirts you want to rip her off...???" The guy wouldn't budge so we stuck with the white. While arguing the price change fact with the dude, I realized that he was hardly "ripping her off" for three bucks when she's buying five T-shirts for ten bucks. Where else can you get five T-shirts for under 50 bucks... but he had no sign up saying that if you mix colors you have to pay more... yadda yadda, and so I thought that was not right.
I think she was disappointed, so I may have to get her a black one when I'm there next and send it to her. She bought postcards and we talked about why New York City is called The Big Apple, and what other nicknames there are for cities in America. She told me that there aren't any "pet" names for cities in Germany. I read her postcard she wrote to her parents and it was cute that she explained why the front of the card says "The Big Apple."
Walking into Times Square at 8:30 am is a lot different than at 8:30 at night. Everything is subdued and grey, the bright lights unable to compete with the light of day no matter how hard they try. Business men and tourists wander slowly through the street, replacing the night before's revelers. GES was surprised to see the difference in look and feel. We walked past the ABC morning show, where all the tourists were assembled wearing their fanny packs and waving their signs.
GES wanted to go to the Hard Rock Cafe because that's where the school tour group had been the day before for lunch, and she wanted to stick to some of their itinerary... I saw Doug cringe a little when she brought it up as a destination, because we're all "above" going to trendy touristy supertraps like that. We're snotty that way. The last place on earth I really wanted to visit was the Hard Rock.
I've always been of the philosophy that when you're given the opportunity to pick between Bubba Gump, Hard Rock Cafe and Virgil's... Your ass is going to Virgil's for Ribs. Because Virgil's is just Virgil's. It isn't a "philosophy" or a "concept." It is what it is, and because it just IS, it is the best. There isn't an effort to homogenize experiences across the board so that your meal at THIS Cracker Barrel is the same as the one in the other state you just left.
But ... we were hosting her, and wanted her to experience things that she could go back and discuss with the other kids, even if she wasn't there on the exact same day. She'd have the same overall experience, plus some. A wedding, and some other unique and different and beautiful things as only Doug could package them up for her.
She was shocked at the prices of the T-shirts, after seeing five for ten bucks at the stand outside. Thirty bucks for a Hard Rock NY T-shirt...She was kind of crestfallen. Up to that point she hadn't said it, I think she wanted a T-shirt from there more than anything else on the trip itself.
I offered to buy it or go halvsies with her... but she said no and started looking at refrigerator magnets and other trinkets. She ended up finding a kids size extra large T-shirt marked down to 12 bucks on the clearance rack and was thrilled. It looked like it would fit her perfectly (she's very thin) and was excited to buy it. The smile on her face at scoring exactly what she wanted for a lot less than she thought she'd have to pay was priceless. I would have bought the adult sized shirt for her if she let me... my kids didn't want one, so buying one shirt for one person who really wants it would be okay with me. If all three of them wanted one it would have been a different story.
The staff told us we could go down and wander through the restaurant if we wanted. I had no idea it would be open, but it is New York afterall, and why not have buffalo wings at 9am if you have the chance...
We had eaten the breakfast of champions for free back at the hotel so hunger wasn't an issue, but we did want to see the decor. We spent a great deal of time reading all the little plaques and talking with GES about what the Filmore East and Filmore West are, who Jerry Garcia is, what a Jam Band is... Jess was very informative and it's nice to see she has been paying attention.
We laughed at a lot of the Beck memorabilia, not because Beck is funny but because he was on Futurama and GES had just seen the episode at our house. "Bending in the Wind" is one of our favorites.
She took a picture of a guitar from Linkin Park and Doug thought that was funny. "I've heard of them," she told him. So of all the stuff down there, she knew The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Linkin Park.
For me, the most poignant thing there was a portrait of Kurt Cobain from when he was probably six or seven. I've written here over the past few years about my thoughts on Nirvana and how sad I think his whole life turned out to be. Looking at that portrait made me just start crying... the look in his eyes and knowing about the man he turned out to be, it really struck a cord in me, very viscerally, very deep, and I felt my heart break on the spot looking into those little blue eyes.
I had to walk away.
Doug and I recently had a whole huge discussion about art and whether or not the backstory to the piece (painting, music etc...) adds to a depth or dimension of understanding for the listener. I thought to myself as I walked away crying from Kurt Cobain's portrait... why does he make me cry so hard when I find his music overrated? What is it about him, about this photo, about how I see his life that devastates me so? Do I see my own son in his face, the blue eyes, the blonde hair, the not quite right-ness that Geoff so exhibits... or do I mourn for that little boy himself without projecting my own thoughts as a mom onto him?
I went in there saying "Please and pish posh! Yet another Tourist Trap!" but have to say that I loved the interior, loved the layout, loved the design, loved the memorabilia, and had a much better time than I thought I would have had ever.
I actually think I would go back to try the food. What I saw being brought out to the dozen or so tables occupied by eaters looked pretty damn good. So yeah. I'd have buffalo wings for breakfast one of these days for sure. Even if they cost an arm and a leg... just to do it.
We left the Hard Rock and walked East on 42nd street. We got over to the NY Public Library and enjoyed some time between the lions (heh, PBS TV reference) and watched people mulling around and talking and enjoying the unbelievably beautiful September day.
We walked down Library Walk, enjoying the plaques in the ground and their quotes. We laughed at Robert Pinsky, not because he's funny but because he was on The Simpsons (you know my family cannot go one day without connecting to something from The Simpsons and Futurama, and in one day, nay -- in one hour -- we had two things to quote and laugh about). Because we were walking in reverse of the plaques, we had to stop, turn around, read them... and then proceed. This, I'm sure, annoyed the regulars. Heh. But... a poem or quote not stopped and read when stomped upon or tread does not appreciate itself. And we had a lot of fun.
Doug had wanted to go to Grand Central Station. The last time I was there I had to stand the whole time because every bench surface in the place smelled of piss. So I stood for three hours with my suitcase resting on the tops of my sneakers, so it wouldn't absorb any piss stench through the bottom.
What a difference.
The place was and is amazing... That's all I can say. Simply gorgeous. We stood beneath the gorgeous constellation sky, marveled at the beauty of the place... loved the downstairs restaurant concourse and seating area... it washed away all of the prior experiences and memories I had of this place.
We came out through the Met Life building and walked a couple of blocks until we got to a famous statue of a man hailing a taxi. Doug had seen it in his NYC guide and thought since we were nearby we'd check it out. Then, he stood in a position making it appear as if the man's finger was picking his nose. GES thought this was funny, so I got her to do it too.
Isn't that just spectacular?
We walked up to St. Patrick's Cathedral and didn't go into Rockefeller Center because Doug really couldn't see the point. The area was mobbed with tourists, and it was just too incredibly tight with people... all to ... stand and look at the NBC building and a golden statue. Boring! After St. Patricks, we walked down the street to St. Thomas' Episcopal Church. Contrasted with the gaudy touristy chaos at St. Patrick's, St. Thomas' was just about empty, and infinitely more beautiful, peaceful, quiet, dark, lovely... serene. And I'm not saying that to catholic bash -- don't get me wrong. St. Patrick's is lovely. But I think it is woefully overrated compared to other churches, Catholic or otherwise, in the city.
We didn't go all the way up to 110th to St. John The Divine. If we had more time, we would have. I like the contrast between St. Patrick's and St. John the Divine, and have written about it here before.
All said and done, I think the Episcopal Church in Manhattan has the better buildings. Nuff said.
Continuing on, we went to the southern fringes of Central Park and took a nice little walk through the lower end of that city oasis... enjoying the silence, looking at wedding photographers doing a shoot for some engagement photos, some fashion photographers (or students... who knows...) doing some shots of skinny girls in fall clothing silhouetted against the trees and skyline.
We emerged by Columbus Circle with Geoffrey weeping that he was starving to death (hardly) and we spent a few minutes hanging around on the Columbus Circle Statue, just watching people and traffic and enjoying the moment. Here's where I snapped my favorite picture of the entire trip.
This photo was a complete accident.
I was trying to take pictures of the pigeons at the foot of the figure on the statue. They were talking to me, and cooing nicely. I figured, I'll take the shot, and crop it down.
When I got home and opened it up, I was so pleased to discover what I'd caught, and screw the pigeons, I'm not cropping this one down. It came out so nicely, contrast of statue and building, stone and glass, and blue sky. The way the building looks to tilt inward while the statue figure tilts inward as well. And my pigeons are at the bottom of the shot. I didn't cut them out...
I don't attribute magic to things, but I smile to myself and thank them for calling to me, getting my attention, and bringing me to take this shot. I love it, and I can stare at it all day. That's why I put it in here in the larger size... but if you click on it you can go to flickr and see the shot I uploaded and enjoy that as well in larger format.
We wandered down 9th Avenue instead of 8th... Doug felt that 9th was closer to the "real" New York than 8th, which would still be full of clothing stores and chain restaurants. We were looking for somewhere to eat that wasn't a Bubba Gumps or Pizzaria Uno, or another Ray's Original Pizza. We found a little Thai restaurant about three blocks north of the street we'd have to turn down to get to our hotel. The food was great, the Singha cold, and the rest for having tromped all over the city was well deserved. We ate spicy hot delicious curry and pad thai and rices and soups and satay and springrolls.
Stradling the border between satiated and food-coma, we rolled ourselves down to the hotel where we retrieved the car. Geoff thought it was awesome that our car got to ride an elevator. We hit the road at about 4pm, realizing that we didn't really know how to get out of Manhattan to go anywhere other than Long Island or New Jersey. We drove north and cut east on 125th Street, which is the "heart" of Harlem. It's a very different city, but from my memory of "back in the day" it was a lot nicer and built up than it was at one time, in the 1980s. The Triboro bridge was right ahead of us, so we just rolled on through the traffic lights (Doug was not happy with how long it was taking us to make eastward progress) and crossed the bridge, got out of town and began the trek home. We got home in about 5 hours, which is par for the course with Connecticut commuters being in our way all the way to New Haven.
It was a great trip, and I'd do it again.
Things we didn't get to do but wanted to do: Jess wanted to go to Yellow Rat Bastard and shop for shirts. Chinatown/Little Italy. St. John The Divine. The UN building. But... those were spread too far apart for where we were at any given time, and we'll just have to visit the city again sometime...
I think GES enjoyed herself, and she took one million pictures of the city and everything in it. It was a lot of fun, and I wish we had one other day there to spend... at least, so I could have soaked in the hotel hot tub that night, because boy -- was I sore for five days after the trip.
Alright. Enough babble... gotta get Geoff out the door to school. More later.