On April 1, we hopped a Vamoose bus in Bethesda and traveled up to New York City. A really easy way to make the trip. It took just over four hours with no hassle, no trouble parking and no tolls. And it cost only $54 each. Why would anyone drive or fly? Our good friends Ken Emigholz and Peggy Hawkins made the resees for us and accompanied us. We got a taxi to our hotel — one of the Hilton Garden Inns — this one on Eighth Avenue and checked in. A very nice room for “only” $270 with taxes per night.
Then we headed our for a short walk. Right around the corner was the theater where “Chicago” was playing and where we would be that night. We walked to Times Square and gazed up at the New Year’s Eve ball and various other iconic sights. This was a gift trip to Chris, so I did not bring my camera. Besides, I am a nature guy, not a city guy. But I soon regretted that decision. Well, not the decision to give Chris the trip, but the decision to leave my camera at home. There were lots of things to “shoot.” (Images included here are all from Chris’s camera. I made one, she made the three from the ferry and Peggy made the two of us.)
We returned to the hotel, rested up for a short time and went to dinner at an Italian restaurant across from the theater and just around the corner from the Hilton. We had a nice meal, but pricey as virtually everything in NYC is. We had great seats for “Chicago,” right in the middle and only twelve rows up. What a performance! Spectacular dancing, choreography, music, dialogue, the works. It has been a very long time since I saw a Broadway show and I had forgotten how exquisite they really are. At intermission I went up for a Diet Coke and was stunned by having to pay $10 for a “on tap” drink in a plastic glass. I suspect profit on this drink exceeded 90%! In any case, I was struck again how difficult it must be to perform like this six days a week with seven or eight performances. The physical demands for the dancing are really extensive. A very, very different world than mine.
The following morning, I awoke fairly early and looked out the window from our twelveth floor room. I noticed how many people were dressed in black. This was confirmed later on our walk. This is not LA! We got a “free” breakfast because Ken had made our reservations at the hotel and he has some high award level with Hilton. We had a nice corner table and we enjoyed not only the meal but observing all the different kinds of people passing by. As we departed, I asked the waiter for his country of origin and after some discussion, he revealed it was Mexico. I continued asking service people including taxi drivers and ended up with thirteen different countries: Bengladesh, Barbados, Yemen, Columbia, Argentina, Costa Rica, Egypt, El Salvador, Georgia, Jamaica. Sudan, and the Dominican Republic. In addition, two pairs of tourists asked me to photograph them. They were from Spain and Australia. Truly, New York is the crossroads of the world!
After breakfast we had quite a walk. We ambled around Rockefeller Center, saw the ice rink and an art exhibit with many large eggs, decorated by different people. We walked through the Palace Hotel that has sold condos for multiple millions each, eased our way through Tiffany’s, paying close attention to the Tiffany Diamond. We entered the Trump Tower and went up the escalators about five floors, marveling at the open center of the building, edged by mirrors and marble. it is opulence defined. We cruised through FAO Schwarz, the toy store and eyed thousands of different toys. Chris was enamored with a stuffed rabbit, so I bought it for her. Ken knows NY really well so served as our tour guide, pointing out all manner of things that we would not have seen and/or known.
After a brief lunch, we sat in the lobby of the Hilton awaiting the arrival of my friend of 59 years and my best man from my one and only wedding, Ken Wheeler. He arrived by cab promptly at 1PM. I had not seen him in a number of years, but he sounded the same as always. Always exhibiting the charm of his Texas roots. We took a cab to his condo, located in a building on West End Avenue at about 73rd Street. He has lived here for twenty years since his retirement as Provost at Rutgers University. His field is Urban History, so he too, served as an excellent guide to the city and its history. We dumped our luggage at his place and then headed out for a walk.
We took a bus over to Central Park and then took a rather long walk through this, arguably the most widely known urban park in the world. There was lots to look at, including blooming crocuses and unusual people, but I did spot 17 species of birds. These included a lot of Shovelers, which really surprised me. Concluding our walk on the west side, we entered the NY Historical Society to briefly view JJ Audubon’s original paintings of North American birds. There was far too little time to really appreciate the work, but we wanted a quick look. We caught a cab back to Ken’s home and got cleaned up and dressed for dinner.
We took a bus down to Grand Central Station and entered. We were both impressed with how large it is and how many people were walking seriously to their trains. We came to a meeting place of several corridors and Ken told me to face a corner and count to 20. Before I got to that number, Chris began talking to me and I looked around, thinking that she was right behind me, but there was no sign of her. It turned out she was 50 feet away talking into another corner. The acoustics are such that the sound somehow travels unabated over the ceiling and to the other corner. Amazing!
After Grand Central, we went into the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel, where Dorothy Parker had held court daily so many years ago. Then past a small park where books are available on shelves right in the park for anyone to borrow, as well as daily newspapers to read. I have never seen this anywhere else in the world. Finally we arrived at the club for dinner.
Ken belongs to two elegant clubs in the city. This was the Century Club, a 168 year old club for artists, writers, and actors. Membership is very limited and included such luminaries as Meryl Streep, Henry Kissinger, Alec Baldwin, Yo You Ma, Michael Blomberg and others. There are only 2400 members worldwide, with many who live out of town. We met Ken’s long time lady friend, Ellen White, at the club and enjoyed a superb dinner. Ken had a car and driver take us home where we crashed after more than 14,000 steps that day! One could easily say it was a full day!
Thursday, the 3rd, we arose at a reasonable time and Ken cooked us a breakfast of bacon and eggs. Then we went underground to the subway system and headed south. With a transfer we were all the way at the tip of Manhattan where we caught the Statin Island ferry. This boat is free (can you believe that?) and gives great looks at iconic places around the city. As we pulled away, there is a wonderful look at lower Manhattan, including the new World Trade Center. Further along, one passes the Statue of Liberty, which was spectacular in the morning light, and Ellis Island, the famous arrival point for millions of immigrants last century. At the far end everyone must exit and then re-board for the return voyage on another boat. There were dozens of tourists doing exactly as we were doing. And the cell phone cameras were at every window!
I was stunned on both subway rides to have seven different people get up and offer their seats to one or all of us. At one point a middle-aged Hispanic woman offered her seat to me, as the other two of us were already seated. I have never had this happen before and was a bit unnerved to think that she believed I was an old guy who needed to sit down. I told her that women always were to be seated and we had a nice exchange of communications. New York has a reputation for people being aggressive and nasty, but I saw no evidence of this. Everyone we interacted with was as pleasant as one could hope for.
At the end of our subway ride north, we exited in an area of many small shops and mini-deli’s. Ken suggested that we get sandwiches at a Jewish deli because, well, that is what visitors to NYC are supposed to do. So we did it. We carried our food over a few blocks to another section of Central Park, found a bench and ate our victuals. Chris and I split a chicken salad sandwich and it was plenty!
After lunch we walked a short block to the Met. One could easily spend a month inside this fabulous art museum, but for most of us, there is a limit to how much time we can enjoy. Upon entering, I asked the ticket seller if they had an arrangement with the Smithsonian, but was told that was not the case. The woman did tell me that we could pay what we wanted and indeed the sign above her head said “recommended” fees. I had never seen such an arrangement. I paid just slightly below the senior rate. We enjoyed a bit over an hour mainly in the modern art section, looking at works by Monet, Talousse Latrec, Gogan and other Impressionists. Upon exiting and right on the steps of the Met, I looked up and there was a Red-tailed Hawk soaring above the buildings. Was this the famous Pale Male that created such a stir in 2004 when a wealthy apartment building decided to prevent it from nesting again? I didn’t get a close enough look, but it was probably either that bird, its mate, or one of its many offspring. Quite a thrill!
We took a cab back to Ken’s place and rested up. We were all pretty tired from the intense day before. After cleaning up, we dressed for dinner in the other of the exclusive clubs: the Lotos Club. We met Ellen at the club and shared a fabulous seafood meal. Ken gobbled a lobster, Chris had her favorite scallops and I munched on Halibut. Chris and I shared a chocolate moose dessert to die for! During dinner Ken entertained us with the story of the nude paintings that grace the “grill” dining room. When women were admitted by court order to the club in the nineties, some new female members objected to the nudes, which were, of course, all young women. After offering to have paintings done of nude men, the issued died a natural death,. No new paintings appeared.
After dinner we all took a cab back to Ellen’s assisted living facility. We were her first visitors to this studio apartment and we were regaled with stories of her travel and Ken’s near death experience in Katmandu. the following morning revelie occurred later than normal. Ellen came over to join us for another breakfast cooked up by Ken. It was a particularly nice end to a marvelous visit to NY.
We went downstairs at a bit after 10 to catch our 11AM Vamoose bus and for the first time, had a hard time getting a cab. There were a half dozen open cabs going the other direction, but it was illegal to take a Uy to pick us up. An Egyptian cabbie finally took the chance and picked us up. It took a bit longer to get down to 30th and Fifth for the pickup point and the bus began loading within a few minutes of our arrival. We were off promptly at 11, but for some reason, the Lincoln Tunnel was closed that morning, so we had to drive all the way up to 178th St to travel across the GW bridge and into NJ. This caused a 30 minute delay in our arrival, but it was still an easy commute back to Bethesda!
Ken was very kind to provide taxi service back to Chevy Chase where our car was parked. There we had a drink with him and Peggy and exchanged stories of how we spent the time since we had split on Tuesday. Soon it was time to return to Darnestown and find out how unhappy our cats were with our absence!