New York Trip

I had never used airline miles and really did not have a firm understanding of what I could do with them. I had a notion that you could use them to purchase airplane tickets, but various commercials that I had seen left me with the impression that there were various restrictions on how the miles could be used making in my eyes their use more of a bother than a benefit. On a recent business trip, however, a couple coworkers were talking about using miles to buy tickets. I asked them how to do that and it turned out to be pretty easy. All you had to do is go to the airline web site, search for a flight, and select miles instead of dollars as the price. For fun I selected a trip to Hawaii for three and realized that I could get the me and the kids all tickets there with my miles—not just economy, but comfort class! Wow, who knew all these business trips could fund personal travel?

This year when discussing a summer vacation I told the kids that I had enough airline miles to go almost anywhere and figured they would come up with some really exotic ideas. But after a few weeks of on and off discussion they finally settled on New York City. I thought that this sounded like a fine idea as I had only been to Manhattan once and not as a tourist. That’s not to say that I just worked when in town, but I had not done any of the standard tourist things.

My New York adventure began when I flew into the cargo terminal at Newark, New Jersey around 2AM and a guy there laughed when I asked where to get a taxi or a rental. But he offered me a ride into town as his girlfriend lived nearby to where I was going. He stopped to get gas, (full service only in New Jersey), and pick up a 6 pack. He then proceeded to open and start drinking beers while driving. Luckily the ride was fairly short and he did not give me any reason to be concerned, but it struck me as a very strange thing to do. The rest of the week after work I just walked in random directions, ate at random places then caught a cab at some point. I figure the kids and I should have a little more structure.

At first we started to plan a trip to Yellowstone which got pretty involved. Then for some reason that changed to planning a road trip around the Southwest which also took a turn to almost doing. As time was running out to schedule things I finally said that we had to pick something. I think that this decision was mostly driven by Ann as she is planning to go into musical theater as a career and wanted to see a Broadway show. Liam said he wanted to see the Statue of Liberty which was the end of his input.

We struggled to find a show that both kids agreed upon and was age appropriate, and a stand-off ensued. Liam texted me one night and said that he would go see Bandstand, though, so I bought tickets for that. Tickets to the Statue of Liberty were a bit harder to come by as if you want to ascend to the crown you have to reserve a spot several months in advance. Luckily Ann, who is not fond of heights, said that she did not want to go up to the crown, but would go up the pedestal. Those tickets were also selling out, but I found an open slot that would also allow us to spend some time on Ellis Island.

I attempted to get tickets to one of the late night show tapings, but they seemed to be a combination of luck and monitoring web sites for batches of tickets to be released. I finally read some of the fine print and realized that you had to be 16 or older to attend which put an end to that as Liam was only 14.

The rest of the planning was mostly jotting down various sights that we could see, but not a formal schedule as I like to allow our whims on any given day to shape our vacation.

[Editor’s note: I sometimes take notes of highlights in my journal with the expectation that I will fill in the details shortly after while the events and feelings are still fresh. However, sometimes too much time has passed since the journal entry was first written (over 6 years in this case), and many of the details of that time have slipped from my memory. Therefore, this entry contains some brief notes or sentences that may not make much sense, like the following.]


Day 1

We started the day early and managed to leave the house en route to the airport pretty much on time. Due to my work travels I had an elevated “status” on the airline’s frequent flyer program. The kids were amazed at the magic of “Sky Priority” and how it got us to the front of lines. The TSA agent grilled the kids a little asking things like their names and when my birthday was. The kids struggled on the birthday question, but Ann managed to remember the year. I suspect the questions were more to see how the kids react and not so much getting the correct answers, though. Another difference of having the kids is that we were sent through the metal detector instead of the full body scanners. I am not sure why that was the case, but it was a bit nostalgic (and faster) walking through the metal detector.

We had not eaten breakfast and while it was getting close to boarding time there was a Max & Erma’s near the gate and we ate there. Then after a quick pit-stop it was off to the gate where we once again skipped the line as they were already a little into the boarding process. The kids marveled at the amount of leg room in “comfort” class and the fact that they had plugs to charge batteries and things. I did not see the benefit of getting first class tickets as the flight was too short to have meal service, but did have first class tickets for the return flight just to let the kids have that experience. (It was only 45,000 more points total for the three of us and as it turned out I had a lot of points.)

Liam had been looking for a neck pillow for a while, but had not found one that was comfortable until the night before when Ann wanted to go to Target to pick up some makeup items. We did not go in thinking about getting a neck pillow, but knowing it would take a while for Ann to do her thing we just wandered around the store and happened upon the travel section where Liam found the perfect pillow for him. On the way over to the airport he had it out and around his neck, and was anxious to try it out in flight. However, he also wanted to try the gamepad I had for my tablet. I let him play with things and he found a game he liked even though we couldn’t figure out why the gamepad didn’t work with it. Meanwhile Ann was positioning herself like she wanted to go to sleep, but couldn’t get comfortable. Now the other night when we found Liam’s perfect neck pillow we texted Ann asking if she wanted one too. (Yes we were in the same store but Liam was like “just text her” when I said we should go find and ask her. I am not a technophobe, but just don’t get this texting thing for some reason.) She replied no. But on the flight Liam gave her his to try and she promptly dozed off. I half watched Liam playing a 2D platformer on the tablet and half watched the LEGO Batman movie on my phone.

I had received a text from the airline the night before saying the weather conditions may cause delays to my flight, so was a little worried. However, not only did the flight depart on time, but when the captain came on the PA system to talk to us he said that the flight time was going to be 30 minutes less that it was supposed to be. He also said that after drink service we would probably have a bumpy ride the rest of the way.

We did arrive 30 minutes early and while there were some bumps they were hardly noticeable. But I think that they hurried this flight in because of a storm system as I found out later that flights after ours form Detroit to New York were heavily delayed.

We took an Uber to the AirBNB and even though we were there three hours before the normal check in time the place was cleaned and the owner let us move in early. He was not there but we texted a little.

Since it was raining we decided to go to some museums. Now I had checked the weather and expected rain, so brought a couple umbrellas. I did not however bring any jeans or a jacket, (or tell the kids to do likewise), because temperatures were supposed to be in the upper 70s and 80s. I did think about packing my rain parka, but decided that it would be too hot and that the rain would probably feel good. Liam and I packed hats, though. Unfortunately it was much colder than the forecast would have had us to believe so Liam, refusing one of the umbrellas was shivering and Ann, while she did use an umbrella and brought jeans, did not bring a coat or sweater of some sort, so was also cold. We forged ahead at the kid’s instance with the idea that we’d stop somewhere to buy a pullover of some sort for both of them.

You would think that after several times of unexpected cold spells in the middle of summer vacations I would just have everyone pack some warm clothes just in case. One of these days I’ll learn that and put aside my aversion to overpacking.

The idea was to go to the subway station and breeze on up to the Guggenheim. We found the station a few blocks away, bought a 7-day unlimited Metro Card and made it onto the platform. That is when I realized that there were two different entrances to the subway depending on which way you wanted to go on the line, (uptown or downtown), that there was no walkway between the platforms as I was used to in other cities, and that we were on the wrong platform. So we exited the station, crossed the street to the entrance to the uptown platform and tried to enter. But the gate just beeped at us and gave some message about us using the card again too soon. There was a manned information booth at this station so I asked what we could do and the gentleman told us that we had to wait 18 minutes before the card would work again. Therefore we decided to walk around a little to pass the time.

A block away we stumbled on a Levi’s store that had a New York pullover that Liam liked. As we left Liam found that the zipper was pulling away at the bottom, so we exchanged it for another one which seemed in better shape. With our necessary 18 minutes burned and Liam feeling much warmer we headed back to the subway and managed to get on the train and to our stop without further incident.

At this point it was well after lunch time and we were planning to find a place on the few blocks walk to the museum to eat. However there did not seem to be many restaurants in the area. We did pass a Panera, but although I pointed it out to the kids I was hoping for something more unique and the kids seemed to feel the same way. We should have stopped as there was nothing more until we reached the museum and saw the line. I asked if we should walk a few more blocks just to check for things of if we should just eat at the museum as I was sure there was a cafeteria. The kids wanted to get in the line and get inside. Ann’s shoes were soaked and the size of the line was not something we expected.

The line seemed to move rather quickly for a while then stopped. There were a couple food trucks in front of the museum and I kept trying to convince the kids to eat there, but they seemed really suspicious. At one point Ann said that in the 20 minutes we had been in the line she had not seen anyone buy any food from those trucks. As if on cue a man walked up and I pointed it out to Ann. But then the man took a soft drink from the vendor and walked off without food which Ann said proved her point. For the rest of the time in line we watched the occasional person visiting the cart to see what they bought and it was always a drink.

We finally were close enough to the entrance to see how things worked. They would allow a certain number of people through the security checkpoint and then close the entrance for about 15 minutes. After about 45 minutes we were a few people away from the checkpoint. A lady came up to me and asked how long I had been in line and where I had started, so I told her 45 minutes and we started around the block and halfway up the street. She shook her head and walked off saying, “I give up on New York!”

Now I knew that I could have bought a City Pass or tickets in advance, but I did not know if and when we would be going to the Guggenheim. Other places like the Statue of Liberty where I knew we wanted to absolutely go and did not want to spend hours in line I did make prior arrangements. And 45 minutes was not too bad except it was cold, we were wet and very hungry.

While in line I checked the museum’s web site and there was a restaurant, (although by the time we got in it would be closed), and a café with sandwiches. When we finally got in Ann checked her bag even though they said that it was small enough to carry and we set out to eat. I saw a sign that said the café was on the third floor “tower”, so we went up a few flights of steps and found nothing more than the circular walkway it what we determined was the “atrium” section. So we went back down looking for some entrance to the “tower”. We finally gave up and just went up the circular walkway like everyone else.

After a while we found that the circular walkway branched out to other areas one of which was labeled the “tower”. At this point we were taking our time looking at things, but finally made it to the third-floor entrance to the café. There were lots of empty plates in the display case along with two baguettes filled with something, a couple bananas and a few bags of chips. We asked a lady behind the counter what was left and she offered the two remaining sandwiches—which did not sound appealing to either kid—and soup. When I asked about the soup what I heard was gazpacho and something tomato. Since I thought warm soup sounded good and I knew that the kids would not be happy with tomato soup I ordered three gazpachos. Now those who know what gazpacho is may be scratching their head at my decision, but I did not know. As I quickly learned “gazpacho” is cold tomato soup, which met none of my goals of warm soup that did not have tomatoes. The kids ate a little, but were not into it. At least they gave us some bread that was quickly consumed. I was not opposed to the gazpacho, but it really did not fit the bill of something warm, (which was probably not on the menu being August).

The artwork got progressively uninteresting as we moved further up after lunch. (A few days later we saw a vendor with a scarf that had the following phrase printed on it: “modern art = I could do that + yeah, but you didn’t”.) I think as we progressed up the floors the art did not seem to reflect skill and/or we did just not connect with it. We did press on, but the top floors were finished quickly and we headed back down to the subway and our rented apartment.

The apartment had several fans, so we hung clothes on them or pointed them at soggy shoes and redressed. While things were drying out we decided to walk to a grocery store a few blocks away and pick up supplies. On the way we passed a couple long trailers with doors facing the sidewalk with various signs on them some pressed in plastic and others handwritten. The handwritten signs said Bachelorette #1, #2 and #3. There was also a food truck with a “Crew Only” sign and around the corner a couple more big trailers with one looking like some sort of control room. I imagine that they were filming some TV show.

After getting some breakfast food we headed back to the apartment and found our soggy garments had been dried sufficiently for the next adventure.

We were hungry at this point and wanted to try a pizza place a couple blocks away, so headed out. There was a short wait then we were guided through the main dining room, through the kitchen and down a hallway to a second seating area. I usually just drink water or iced tea, but they had something on the menu called an “Italian Ice” that I decided to try. The kids followed suit. The drink turned out to be a carbonated fruit soda with a bunch of whipped cream on top which confused us and got a couple people near us to ask what we ordered. The pizza was not especially to my liking with a cracker-like crust and little cheese, but was filling.

Then it was back to the subway to head uptown and visit a bookstore that a friend had recommended. Ann browsed and ended up buying a poetry book while Liam and I wandered about the different floors. Then we headed to Union Square to walk around a bit. As we followed a path into a darker area away from the stores I saw some animal leap across the sidewalk. I asked the kids if it was a squirrel and Liam said it looked like a chipmunk, but thought it was a rat. A minute later we saw another animal crossing the sidewalk and there was no doubt this time that it was a rat. Ann wanted to leave right then, but we had to keep walking a bit to get back into the lights of stores.

There was a subway station at one corner or Union Park, so we headed there. Unfortunately Ann did not make it through turnstile after swiping her card, so we knew that we had to wait 18 minutes until the card would work again. Since Ann did not want to wander around the park for that long we just walked down Broadway to the next station. By that time her card was active again and we got on a train and made it back to home base.

Day 2

The day started with Liam deciding to take a walk around the block while Ann got ready. He came back a little while later and said it was really neat and people said hi to him and he was told that the coffee shop next door was really good. I told him we should get coffee, so we headed out. Liam picked up a couple Café Mochas and I got an Americano. We then went back, made breakfast and took it to the patio out back. All to ourselves with high buildings on three sides and a wooden fence on the rear. Plants, grill, Christmas lights throughout. Liam said that we should get coffee every day we were here.

The weather was perfect. Cloudy, but no rain and comfortable for shorts. Took the train to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Great museum, but would take several trips to take it in as there are so many things to see and after a while you just got dulled with information overload.

The visit lasted longer than I expected, so the plan now was to grab a small lunch as we had tickets for a 7PM show and I wanted to eat an early dinner. Ann also wanted to get some Spandex since she was wearing a dress to the theatre that evening. We found a Target a few blocks away, so walked there and ate at a burger place on the way. Then we took the train to Brooklyn and managed to find our way to the entrance to the walking / biking trail to the Brooklyn bridge. Two lanes one for bikes and one for pedestrians. Ann is very afraid of heights, so we were just going to get some pictures at the base of the bridge then explore the area under then take a train back. People kept stopping to take pictures causing traffic jams. People kept walking in the bike lanes and the bikers were ringing bells / alarms obviously frusterated. I was a tourist myself and was getting annoyed with people just stopping suddenly in front of you and while I was on foot I could imagine how annoyed they were with having to stop for people in the bike lanes especially when going uphill. Ann bravely made it across the bridge.

Since Chinatown was nearby, we walked there with the intention of getting some takeout and heading back to the apartment. But we reached the fringe of Chinatown, so moved a  block over to Little Italy. It looked a lot like Chinatown with the same souviouner shops with Asian clerks and  even Italian restaurants with Asian waiters. But then things seemed to get more Italian. We grabbed some Pininies and walked back to the apartment.

I told Ann that recycling was mandatory in nyc and she said good. I figure it’s because te mob needed a way to launder money and bought some recycling companies and got the politicians to mak it mandatory.

Took the train to the show. Passed by the mess that is times square. Got there in time. Great show.

Wandered around times square shopping but not buying anything and looking for a bathroom (none to be found). We were going to take the train back but google said significant delays, so we hailed a cab.

Harrowing drive back with lane markers seeming to be a suggestion and not one people took.

Day 3

The kids and I once again ate breakfast on the patio and got coffee from next door. After just one day we already have a routine that seems like one we’ve kept for months or longer. We had tickets to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island at 2 and were going to stop at a museum and a park before, but the kids did not seem that into the schedule, so we totally rearranged the rest of the week. Today we would spend a little time in Central Park then head to the statue. With the new plan in place we headed to the subway with a quick stop at a corner drugstore to pick up some sunscreen.

We ended up getting on the wrong train, but I am feeling a little more comfortable with how the trains work, so we went North to where the bottom of Central Park would be then transferred to an Eastbound train for a few stops. Liam wanted to go to the zoo as he remembered that the cartoon Madagascar was set in the Central Park zoo and he was hoping to see King Julian. The kids then went through the names of the other characters although I think that they mixed up some of the penguins. I am pretty sure that “Private” was not the one in charge, but they insist he was. Anyway, I looked to see if they had lemurs (they do), giraffes (they don’t), and penguins (they do). In fact when you enter the zoo there is a sign with a lemur on it pointing to the ticket booth. I wonder how many kids ask where “King Julian” is. While we did not have time today to visit the zoo, Liam took a picture of the lemur sign and we vowed to come back the next day.

The kids then set off along the South part of the park to take pictures. Ann has gotten pretty good with her camera and was checking for lighting, adjusting ISO and shutter speeds, and posing Liam in just the right way to get her shot. After some photos on rocks, bridges and by the water we wandered into a nature preserve area. This venture was cut short, however, when Ann asked if we felt rain then patted her head and found black stuff on her hands. As far as we can tell a bird had chosen to relieve itself as Ann passed under it. Ann was not happy and we managed to find a sprinkler where she could wash off her hand then a bathroom where should could wash off her hair.

Since it was about two hours before our statue time slot we headed to the Southeast part of the park and grabbed a train that took us all the way to the bottom of Manhattan. The reserved tickets do not really cost any more than regular ones, but if you want to get into the pedestal or the crown it is best to have them. Otherwise you have to get in line early in the morning and hope you can pick one up. (Not the crown—those are sold out months in advance. Thankfully Ann is not fond of heights and did not want to do that anyway.) While there was still a seemingly endless amount of lines, the reserved ticket holders had smaller ones. It has become a running joke to ask, “what should we do next? How about we go stand in a line! Doesn’t that sound fun?”

After standing in line to go through security then standing in line to get on a boat we finally made it out to the Statue of Liberty. We picked up lunch at the cafeteria and Liam managed to find us a table inside to stand around. Now getting a table at all was difficult and finding any room inside where it was air conditioned was nearly impossible. People inside were sitting on benches or even the floor. Liam then managed to snag us a table with “seats”. The seat was a piece of metal in a T shape with a roll of padding around the top. The padding had long since lost its padding properties, though, so it was actually more comfortable to stand.

After lunch we headed to the pedestal and went through another line and round of security. After that we had the choice of standing in another line, (although at that point a very small one), or climbing the stairs. I convinced the kids to take the stairs. Hey, there were only 215 total and we had already had to go up some of those to get to the elevator! So we started up the stairs where they had helpful signs every so often telling us the remaining number to go. At first it was a cheerful “only 176 more stairs” which slowly turned into “ugh, 100 more to go” then pained questions of whose idea was it to take the stairs anyway. Of course we had someone built and with a jovial attitude like a personal trainer behind us. I wasn’t going to let on that my legs were starting to burn then turn to jelly, so kept up the light banter of encouragement with the kids whenever I could without exposing my heavy breathing.

Finally we made it to the top and while Ann hugged the wall most of the time she did take several pictures and was glad that we had made the trip up.

Trip back down, museum, work call, another line, Ellis Island, another line, back to the start.

Planned route back first based on the shortest walking distance, but decided on less time. Wall St. home. Ann showered.

Tonight the kids and I decided to wander around Chinatown and randomly pick a restaurant. It ended up being a shared table and the other people there recommended the Lo mein. The barker recommended the pork dumplings. I wanted to try the duck and the kids wanted the won ton soup. It was an excellent meal. Then we wandered through Little Italy and found a bakery where Ann agonized over chocolate truffle cake, chocolate mousse or gelato. We all ended up with galetto. Finally we passed by a place with several cameras, lights and boom microphones where they were getting ready to film something. This was all within five blocks of our rented apartment…

Chinatown, random restaurant, great food, little Italy, ann desert decisions, gelato, film crew. All within 5 or 6 blocks.

Day 4

The initial idea for today was to go to the Central Park Zoo and then to Coney Island. We did neither of these things. We did go to Central Park, but when we got there the kids decided that they really did not want to go to the zoo and would rather just wander around the park. They started with climbing rock faces of increasing difficulty until I put a stop to that for safety reasons. So then they found a tree to climb which also seemed a little precarious, but they did not push things too far.

Ann’s main goal was to see the oblique, so we headed in that direction stopping to watch some artists and dancers, singers and musicians, statues and other sights along the way. There is quite a bit of things to see and do. Went in search of food at the reservoir. Mexican place closed, but found another place, not so great. Headed back to castle then conservatory. Lots of pictures taken. Basically walked length and width of the park. Took the train back to the apt. to rest and clean up. Went through city housing on the way to the station. Wandered into Little Italy and had a fantastic meal. Then off to the Empire State building which did not impress the kids at all. Got lost in Rockefeller Center but finally made it out to see Radio City Music Hall. Back to the obscene Times Square then back home on the wrong train. Ann sang in subway station. Trains skip stops so were a few blocks away from where we wanted.

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