It's been a while, but I have finally had time to sit down and bang out the last part of my trip to New York. I am going to try and squeeze everything into one final, epic, post. And it will be epic, complete with a night on the town with a purple Santa, a scary cab ride, a ferry ride, one of the worst meals of all time (in a good way), Times Square and, of course, the return trip.
So why don't you come with me, BOTC, on a magic carpet ride...
So we are slowly being crushed to death on our way to Times Square, and some idiots decide to be idiots and start talking trash about K-State in the sort of generic, I-don't-know-what-I'm-talking-about way that idiots are prone to do. Then the idiots turn on each other and one of them smacks the other. This could have gotten bad, because the one who just got slapped is the sort of drunk where you have very little sense of what is going on (kind of like how I imagine BlackCats was after the Sunflower Smackdown). Fortunately, my friend, M, who is a trained Park Ranger, was standing right next to the offended party and had the good sense to lean against him enough to keep him from getting his hands up to start raining haymakers on the hapless crowd. They annoyingly continue to argue until the next stop. At this point the slapped guy has had enough and jumps off the train. As the doors shut, he flashes some paper through the window, with a big triumphant grin on his face. The slapper suddenly cries out, "Oh shit! He has my plane tickets!"
The rest of the train ride is blessedly silent.
At Times Square, my wife and I part ways with the rest of the group because they want to go look at things we have already looked at (Rockefeller Center, Times Square, etc.). We make plans to meet at a bar to be decided later and head out for some more of the Big Apple. As the only Catholic members of the group we really wanted to see St. Patrick's Cathedral (the one from Home Alone 2). We head over there, swimming through crowds of people the whole way (the crowds are much worse at night) and take some pictures as we explore the sanctuary. Apparently they still actually hold mass (services) there, and they have these hilarious signs that say "Use of photography while mass is in session is strictly prohibited". OK, you invite hordes of people the world over to come into your church at all hours of the day and expect them to just watch you conduct your services without taking pictures? They also want you to be quiet. Right. By the way, what kind of person could possibly derive any sort of fulfillment while they worship when they are being gawked at like some sort of exhibit in a zoo? Fortunately for us, there was no mass in session while we were there.
Of course, the building itself is absolutely stunning. It makes you think about how much hard work and effort people used to put into things. The detail is overwhelming. They don't make buildings like this anymore. Not just the style, but the total attention to every facet of construction. It also makes you wonder why man was able to build beautiful structures for millenia that almost effortlessly complements the surrounding landscape, but now is pretty much only capable of creating giant boxes without the slightest hint of character. Or giant, unadorned highways and bridges that cut across the landscape like a nasty scar. We don't seem to take the same pride in our construction anymore.
Sorry, not the best shot, but we waited to take pictures until we were right in front of it, and it is really big. Here are some better inside shots.
I know that is supposed to be Mary tending to Jesus after his crucifixion. I think the artist may have missed his mark a little because that looks strangely sensual.
Meanwhile the other group went to Rockefeller Center and took a much better outside-while-very close photo.
I am shamed. They proceeded to Times Square and found a bar called Celtic Pub Restaurant. Or maybe it was called The Playwright Restaurant. I don't know, they appeared to be the same place, but I'm not sure which was the official moniker. We decided that instead of meeting them up right then we were going to check out Bryant Park "real fast" by way of Times Square. For those not in the know, from our current location, that required us to head W for 3 block (From Madison to 7th Ave), S for 9 blocks (From 51st to 42nd St.) and then E for one block (From 7th to 6th Ave.) Considering that we had exited our train at Grand Central Station, which is on 42nd St. and Madison Ave., we had effectively walked a giant circle around Manhattan. Here is an illustration of our meanderings.
The purple dot is where we started and the red dot is where we finished. We discovered during this little journey (and you'll note above) that the Streets, (East-West) have much longer blocks than the Avenues (North to South). Also, in case you were wondering what my exact driving path through Manhattan was, we entered the island through the Lincoln tunnel and exited on the Queens Midtown tunnel. I have no idea what our actual path was. On the upside, we captured the wonderful picture I used to start out this post while traversing Times Square, a full day before the actual event. Apparently they conduct several test runs of the ball drop the night before. This was nice because we weren't about to spend a whole day waiting in line for a good spot the next day for NYE, and as such were able to get a better view than we would the following night.
We get to Bryant Park and have a look around. It is actually a very pleasant and active little park, with a nice little skating rink that looked more enjoyable than the one at Rockefeller Center. Here I am conquering it's fountain for K-State.
And here is my wife in front of the fun-looking skating rink.
That Starbucks coffee was a lifesaver, it really warmed us up and got us ready to stay out all night again, a prospect we had almost abandoned due to our extensive walking. We finally head back to meet the rest of the group at the Celtic Pub, and we ravenously tuck into our dinner, not minding that we are the only ones who are eating (our group had finished by the time we got there). It was a tight little restaurant, and we were lucky to be next to an older group of Wildcat fans that made this feel like a big family dinner. They really liked my friend, M, who was dressed as a purple Santa.
Interestingly, he stood out more when he was walking around in his camouflage jacket than he did as a purple Santa. Also, at the game, when I looked up at him from our seats (we had different seats because the seats we got were free) he looked like had frozen to death, due to the white for his beard and his complete lack of movement. Anyway, we get our check and head out to O'Lunney's, another Irish bar that is a lot close to Times Square. It is here we find out about tickets you can buy for dinner and open bar for NYE. Unfortunately, my brother was not yet 21 and they would not allow him to buy a ticket even if he paid for the open bar but wore some sort of band/markings to identify him as a minor. We would have to find another location on the morrow. We also realized that you can't really have a pub crawl in Manhattan, NY the way you would in Manhattan, KS, so this was our last stop for the night. My wife and I decide to leave early because our coffee has worn off and we head back to the hotel at 12:30.
We get on the train and realize that NYC buses stop running after midnight (in case you don't remember we need to take a bus or a cab from our subway stop to the hotel). From what we remember of the Flushing Street station, there was not a lot of cab traffic, so we get off at Mets Stadium instead, hoping for no particular reason that this will have more traffic, and as such, more cabs. However once we arrive we see there is little to no traffic, and we hastily scramble back into the station and ask the Metro worker where to get a cab. He tells us we have to go back up one stop to the 111th St. Station, and we comply. Once there, however, the street is ominously devoid of bright yellow cabs. We trudge back into the station and ask that Metro worker where the cabs are, and he says that the line of unmarked cars across the streets is the cab. He also helpfully tells us to ask the fare before getting in, and that it shouldn't be more than $10-15. We head back down, cross the street and ask the first guy we see how much to get to our hotel. $12. We hop in for a long quiet ride, which my wife later informs me made her very nervous, and she actually was afraid. He was kind of creepy, but we made it back to our hotel unharmed. We call our friends and tell them how to get back, then we dress down and fall asleep.
The next morning we wake up, late, again, and get ready for some sight-seeing. On the agenda is the WTC, lunch and the Statue of Liberty (via the Staten Island Ferry). We get to the WTC site, and I'm sorry to say, but there isn't a lot to see right now. They are still in the middle of construction, so it is a relatively brief trip, but there is a nice bronze mural next to the site.
Across the street there is a little church that I am surprised is still standing, given how comparatively small it is and it's proximity to Ground Zero.
In front of the doors there is a bell, called the Bell of Hope, that was forged by the people of Whitechapel Foundry after 9/11 and donated to NY as a symbol of solidarity. Whitechapel Foundry is the same one that made the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Each year it is rung on 9/11 to commemorate the victims. It was also rung after the London and the Madrid bombings. The indentations on the base under the bell represent the footprints from the WTC towers that fell in the attack.
We head back to midtown and drop our friend from Philly (K) off at Penn Station and then get some food at some diner where the waiter literally looks like he hates his life, and who serves us with minimal effort. We then go looking for a deal for tickets for NYE, and find one at Lindy's Restaurant, home of Lindy's World Famous Cheesecakes. I'm sure you've heard of them. The menu for the night is chicken, Surf'n'Turf (Filet Mignon with shrimp), or NY strip steak, all for the same price. The whole thing is kind of shady because he only takes our names, no card information and we don't have to buy the tickets in advance. He gives us some 'tickets' that are supposed to get us past the police barricades, but upon closer inspection show that they are passes for employees. We cross our fingers and leave.
We head back downtown, wait 30 minutes for the ferry to get there, then take the Staten Island Ferry to get a good look at the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.
When we push off there is a cellist who starts playing, and we debate paying him some money to start playing Nearer My God to Thee (the tune the played in the movie Titanic when the ship is sinking) but decide against it. We snap several good pictures of Ellis Island, Lady Liberty and the Bridge before arriving at Staten Island then disembarking and running around to make sure we don't miss the exact same Ferry on its way back.
We had back to our hotel, dress up for NYE activities, and then head back to Times Square with no problems. We are getting pretty good at this whole public transportation thing. We check out the southern portion of Central Park as a group and discover that it is a pretty nice place to be in the early evening, despite all the scary stories we've heard. We encounter a few raccoons and snap some unimpressive photos. We couldn't seem to capture the background too well, because it was dark, but in real life you could still see a lot and it was very pretty. We make our way back to Times Square, passing through Tiffany's on the way (gag). Our 'tickets' prove enough to get us pass an obviously rookie cop, and we get to Lindy's at 6:30, a full hour and a half ahead of our reservation at 8:00. This is a good thing, the manager tells us, because the guy who took our reservations earlier only wrote down a name and this new guy was on the verge of giving our spot up to somebody else because he didn't have some card information as collateral.
We wait out side for our table to clear and we get to observe the Times Square loading process. It is not dissimilar to watching cows be herded onto cattle trucks. They break the street up into sections, cordoned off with those metal gate barriers (they had been stacked up on the sidewalks all week long and I hadn't noticed them until they used them), and would fill up a section, close it off, move that section forward, close it off again, and then fill the section up again. I'm not sure if I made any sense, but hopefully you can get what I am trying to describe. These steps are obviously necessary, because every-time a new section is opened the people stampede to fill it up, despite the cops yelling at them to stop and the fact that they will run into a metal barrier within a few hundred feet. We asked one cop how they get everyone out, since they were so careful about letting everyone in, and he said they just opened the gates after the ball dropped. We shutter.
Our table is finally open and we sit down, ready for our meal. Everybody chooses the Surf'n'Turf because, duh, Filet Mignon. Well, almost everyone, B actually chooses the NY steak without shrimp, and the waiter talks her into getting shrimp with it, even though that wasn't an option, because there is no additional charge. This gets our something-is-amiss senses tingling, and we joke that they probably have had the Surf'n'Turf meals prepared all day long, kept warm under a heat lamp, and didn't want to have to prepare something different for her. Our suspicions mount when he comes out a little too quick with our meals, and they are nearly confirmed when everybody's plate looks exactly the same, only instead of Filet Mignon these are NY strips. Strangely, though, this does not bother us, and our dinner experience is enlivened by all the jokes we make about how we got suckered, and what other ways they were planning on short-changing us. We have another round of hearty laughter when the waiter asks if we are ready for our cheesecake and then disappears after we say yes, even though the menu gives us three very different cheesecake options and none of us was able to express our relative desires. Sure enough, we all get identical plain cheesecakes. This makes us even merrier. I'm sure our heartiness was helped by the many rounds of drinks we were ordering (the tickets did not include an open bar).
Here we are being merry with our party favors.
Why did they give us leis? I have no idea. Here are the classy (read: cheap plastic) party favors we were given:
Midnight is swiftly approaching, so we call for our checks, and this night of amusement at catering ineptitude is capped off quite nicely in realizing they have severely undercharged us for our tickets. They were supposed to have been $75 a person and included the meal and two glasses of wine, but M and I had each had about 5 drinks over that, and yet nobody had been charged for them. In the end we felt like we had come out on top.
We head outside, where the street is now heavily crowded, and make our way to the metal barriers, leaning over to get a glimpse of the ball drop (we were ten blocks away, aka "In Times Square vicinity" according to Lindy's). We manage to see the final ten seconds click off and the fireworks, but no good pictures. We meet this random British guy who plants a kiss on B right after the ball drops,
then disappears before he can be charged with sexual assault. At least I'm assuming that is why he disappeared. I'm sure it could not have been that because as soon as the ball had dropped we made a dash for the subway, attempting to outrun the mob that was about to be let loose. We are surprisingly quick, and the ride back was very empty. Emptier than pretty much any other ride we'd embarked upon during our entire stay. We get back to the hotel and try to stay up late with more drinking but fail and fall asleep instead.
The next day we wake up only an hour before check-out, frantically get ready and pack, then hit the open road. Using the superior skills of our map-reading, we manage to circumnavigate Manhattan without hitting downtown and without paying a toll. Quite impressive. We decide that we don't want to stay at the No-Heat hotel and push through the night, arriving in Kansas bright and early the next morning.
By the way, that picture from my second post, the one that I never got to? Well, that was just some video screen in Times Square that displayed the images from a camera that filmed the crowd. We are in there somewhere, but I couldn't quite pick us out. Not really that exciting.
So there you are, my trip to NY and back again. It was a great trip and I would love to visit NYC again someday. I know that is so cliche to say (coming from Southern California, I got that a lot when I first moved out here) but I really don't think I would want to live there. At the very least I wouldn't want to raise a family there. But it was a wonderful trip, distractions and all (except for the salute, although it was at least memorable).
I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed typing/experiencing it!