A Crazy Quick Jaunt to NYC

Dec 5, 2019   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

If it seems like we’ve been going nuts on travel adventures as of late, that’s only because it’s true. For a retired guy, I’ve spent an awful lot of time on airplanes and in hotels this year, plus there was more than three full weeks in my sister Mary’s condo on Kauai, so to me it feels like the adventures never end. And hey, it’s still just the first week of December. There’s time to add one more getaway if we want to. I’d be up for that.

This latest one was so crazy it now seems like it lasted multiple weeks instead of four nights and parts of five days. New York can have that effect on you. There’s so much going on, so much hustle and bustle, so much energy, and just so much of everything that is New York, you go on overload and never really come down off of that rush. It was wild, and wonderful, and sometimes frustrating, but all-the-time memorable. It was a heck of a way to spend Thanksgiving, and a total immersion trip into the Manhattan scene. While it’s happening, it’s mostly a blur and just too much to even comprehend. Once it’s over and we’re home, it sinks in a little more when you think of all the things we did, all the magic we saw, and the fun we had. Even the frustrating parts were all part of the adventure.

New York City  (Manhattan) looking north from the Empire State Building observation deck. The skyline keeps changing. (Click on any image to enlarge)

It’ll be hard to do this all chronologically, because even now I’m still not sure what happened when and on what days. It’s mostly a jumbled mess except for Thanksgiving Day, which was the highlight of the trip, I’d say. So, with that “jumbled mess” in mind, I’m just going to jump in and try to draw a straight line through it, but if anything is out of order I reserve the right to be absolved of any wrong doing. The same will go with the photos. I have more than will probably fit, so we’ll just do the best we can and I’m not going to stress over having them match up perfectly with the text. For instance, this first pic is from the top of the Empire State Building. We went there on Friday (I think).

The whole thing started off with a blizzard. We had a 10:00 a.m. flight from MSP to LaGuardia on Wednesday morning. The only problem was the 8 to 10 inches of blowing snow we were supposed to get between 6:00 Tuesday night and 10:00 in the morning on Wednesday. So, Barbara and I had the same thought at the same time. We should get to MSP on Tuesday night because the roads were likely to still be a mess on Wednesday. The new Intercontinental Hotel is now open at the airport, and it’s even connected to the terminal with its own TSA checkpoint.

We weren’t the only ones with this idea. We had a nice dinner at the hotel and the man and his son sitting next to us had done the same thing. And looking out the windows at the traffic attempting to drop off and pick up passengers in the raging snow storm, it was clear that a LOT of people were trying to beat the storm and get out of town early. The fact Delta waived any change fees because of the storm gave everyone a chance to get on earlier flights without having to pay those fees, and in all my years here I’ve never seen the traffic as backed up and gridlocked as it was on Tuesday night. It was madness. And our plan was a good one. Our friend and driver, Israel, who gives us a great rate to the airport and drives us there a lot, knew a back way into the hotel to avoid all those backups.

When we checked in, the woman behind the desk reminded us about the TSA checkpoint on the third floor, which was on the new skyway that connected to the concourses. She assured us it would be easy, but both of us were skeptical. How can anything be easy on the Thanksgiving holiday? And just look at the traffic out there now! We gave ourselves plenty of time on Wednesday morning…

I had a fear we’d get off the elevator on the third floor and the TSA line would snake all the way back into the hotel. There was no such line. As we turned the corner on the skyway, I was sure we’d see 100 people waiting to get through security. There was no such line. And there was the checkpoint, right in front of us. 10 people? 12? Nope. No such line. Just three TSA agents waiting for us. No line whatsoever. Crazy.

It had snowed all night. The wind had howled all night. The MSP snow removal crew worked all night. The runways and taxiways were clear. Of course they were. It’s Minnesota.

Amazingly, our flight to LGA left right on time, and it was half empty. I think that was just another indicator that a lot of people got out early on Tuesday night. And just leaving on time for LGA is a miracle. In the middle of the summer, on a perfectly wonderful day, you can expect delays flying into any New York area airport. It’s just the way it is. Way too many airplanes all trying to arrive and depart from three airports in close proximity to each other. Delays are part of the deal, but we left right on time.

Macy’s Parade. First time for all of us, and right outside the window.

Upon arrival, we had some coordinating to do. Barb’s sister Kitty was flying in from Orlando but was due in quite late Wednesday night. Nephew Todd, his wife Angie, and the Twincesses Bella and Stassi were flying in shortly after we arrived. Angie’s dad Rick was also on his way in, but he had handled all of his own accommodations. Once we got into the city, Barbara made sure everyone was checked in and only had to show ID to get their keys, but the notable thing was that we weren’t all at the same hotel. The Florida crew was at the Marriott Courtyard right on 6th Avenue near Macy’s. We were at a small boutique hotel called The Hendricks, about five blocks north, as was Rick. It was a nice place, and really modern, but it was a very old building they’d renovated so the rooms were still the same microscopic size they were in the 1930s. With a king bed in our room, you had to walk sideways (not kidding) just to get around it. And good luck if both of us wanted to get dressed at the same time. A real estate agent would’ve called it “cozy” but it really was a nice place. The staff was terrific.

Todd and Angie’s room at the Courtyard was specifically reserved because it had a view of 6th Avenue. That would be the very road the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade comes down. We could avoid the crush of humanity on the sidewalks and view the parade from the room. Worked like a charm.

Bella and Stassi were mesmerized. The rest of us were, as well. We’ve all seen this parade on TV too many times to count, and finally we were all there to see it in person, right across Herald Square from the biggest Macy’s in the world.

Go slow and keep ’em low!

The biggest worry about the parade was the wind. The organizers don’t allow the balloons to fly with winds over 30 mph. The forecast the night before called for 30 to 35 mph with gusts well over that. The first thing we did in the morning, even before walking back down to the Marriott from our hotel, was to check on the status. The balloons were a “Go” for liftoff, but they’d have to keep them really low. Normally, they’d be up five or six stories, but with 25 mph winds they had to be held just a few feet off of the street. We didn’t care. It as awesome.

We’d also gotten some great advice from the check-in staff at the Marriott. We’d heard all sorts of talk about having to get inside the building before 5:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving because everything gets blocked off. Since we were walking down from our hotel, that seemed daunting. But the girl checking us in said “Don’t worry about that. Just come down 5th Avenue instead of 6th. The parade route on 6th will be a madhouse, so go down 5th and come in the back way. We’ll give all of you credential letters to get you by the police at 5th and 35th. You can stroll right in at 8:00.”  This was priceless advice, and absolutely correct. I had not exactly been “jazzed” about getting to the Marriott at 5:00 a.m. Crisis averted.

Being right near the end point of the parade, near Macy’s itself, we could watch the whole thing get started up by Central Park on TV and memorize the floats and balloons, which would get to us about an hour later. Funny how so many of the balloons were characters from newer kids movies I know nothing about. Like the guy in the photo above from the movie “Frozen 2.”  I knew who Snoopy was, though!

Macy’s at Herald Square. This would be THE Macy’s as seen in too many movies to count.

We’d been over to Macy’s the afternoon before, and actually did some shopping over there for a “sound machine” to help us sleep in the noisy environment that is Manhattan. What a classic place. The old school wooden escalators brought me back to my childhood when our mom would take us shopping in downtown St. Louis, at Stix, Baer, & Fuller or Famous-Barr. Those were old school downtown department stores too, and they had the same Art Deco design and the wooden-slat stairs on the escalators.

On Thanksgiving evening, we had dinner reservations at really nice place on Columbus Circle, right at the southwest corner of Central Park. Amazingly, there’s a new urban mall there, all indoors, walls of glass, with high-end shops and modern design. It almost seems out of place in Manhattan, where everything has such old-school history to it, but it was a terrific oasis in the middle of the city. Can’t even imagine the cost of that property. Hence the very high-end stores.

The restaurant was The Blue Bird and we were fortunate to get a table for a group as large as ours. Sadly, Bella had started feeling a little under the weather during the parade, and she was sick by then. Angie and Bella stayed behind at the Marriott while the rest of us dined on a fixed menu of traditional Thanksgiving fare. Turkey, stuffing, and multiple sides the whole table could share. It was fabulous, and the service was impeccable. We just wished Bella and Angie could’ve been there.

Todd, Stassi, and Kitty all enjoying our Thanksgiving meal in NY

The meal was also really creative and very well presented. They actually stuffed the dressing into each individual slice of turkey. It’s hard to explain, but it was delicious.

Friday was moving day. We all were checking out of the rooms we’d been in for two nights (actually, Angie’s dad Rick stayed at The Hendricks because he’d booked his own itinerary) and were headed further uptown to the Residence Inn at Broadway and 54th. The Residence Inn actually shares the building with another Marriott Courtyard. That’s the same Courtyard, just north of Times Square and south of Central Park, where Barbara and I stayed when we visited New York earlier this year. Same place, but to get to our Residence Inn rooms we had to use a different bank of elevators. The Residence Inn actually occupies the top half of the building, so we got to shoot right past the first 34 floors before we got to our hotel. We were on the 51st floor, if I remember correctly.

It was nice to have a much bigger room at the Residence Inn, although our room strangely had no drawers. Not kidding. There was a shelf in the closet, but not a drawer to be found. It was a little hard to unpack, but the view made up for it. Also, the other quirky thing about our new room was the fact the bathroom door opened out, into the room, right next to the double doors for the closet. If the closet doors were open, you couldn’t get in the bathroom. It took some getting used to, but it was a nice place. The two hotels also shared a bistro on the fourth floor and a full hot breakfast room on the third. Nice amenities for sure, and we took full advantage of the massive breakfast buffet.

There’s Central Park, somewhere out there between the new buildings

The view from our room, way up near the top of the building, was pretty priceless. It would’ve been even more priceless had two new skyscrapers not been built directly in the line of sight from our room to Central Park. Still, there it was on either side of the new skyscrapers, and out the other side of our room we had a pretty nice view of the Hudson River, as well.

This building boom in Manhattan is pretty remarkable. New tall structures are going up all over the place, and one of the noteworthy things you can’t miss is the transition to super-tall but super-skinny buildings. After all, it’s not just the cost of the building itself that’s steep, it’s also the land it’s sitting on. Some of these things are crazy skinny.

If you go back up and look at the first photo I posted, and enlarge it, you can see a number of these new designs going up at the same time. One building, the second new construction from the left, looks like a giant pencil and it appears to be all condos. If that’s the case I’d have to guess that each condo has its own floor with 360-degree windows. There’s just not enough room in the footprint for more than one. And I’m sure they’re not cheap. Ya think?

Todd is a realtor now, but he used to be in construction and he was telling us how they’ve come up with this technology to make these skyscrapers so ridiculously tall but equally ridiculously narrow and thin. There’s a lot of tech that goes into the structural integrity of such a place, not to mention how they have to keep it from swaying in the wind. Quite frankly, some of the new construction projects give me the heebie-jeebies just looking at them. Like “How in the world can that thing stand up?”  I’m kind of flabbergasted by the design, but I get it. Office space is in pretty good supply in New York, but new housing is rare. The whole area had gone decades with little new construction for condos and apartments. Now, these new buildings are popping up like mushrooms, except they often look like single blades of grass.

Two Minnesotans on top of the Empire State. Amazing experience.

We did manage to get to the Empire State Building that day. Somehow we squeezed a lot in, didn’t we? I don’t think any of us had been to the top before, so that was cool. Here’s some advice if you’re ever thinking of it: 1) Be prepared to stand in line for a very long time. They did a big renovation a few years ago, and made the whole process more like a Disney ride. Instead of just standing in endless lines, they route you through a series of displays and rooms full of images and movies, in an effort to make you think of that stuff and not how long you’re in line. 2) Also, just like at Disney, when you come back down guess where the elevator lets you off…  Yep, the gift shop! 3) Spend the additional few bucks to get the “Express Elevator” all the way up. The normal elevators don’t make it to the Observation Deck, so you either change elevators (which means more standing in line) or you can walk up six flights. We walked. I wouldn’t do that again. Those old stairwells are original to the building and very cramped. Lots of switch backs. Also, feel the burn baby.

So this is the point where I’m really not too sure what happened on what days. I know we did the Empire State Building on Friday because Rick was with us. He had plans to see friends over near Queens on Saturday. On Friday night, we had dinner as a group at Angelo’s, a classic New York Italian place with great pizza. It was epic, and so very much everything you expect in New York. Bella was with us for that, but it became clear during dinner that she still wasn’t over her illness. Stassi, meanwhile, was coughing a lot. This sort of thing happens with twins, right? Things get handed back and forth.

Our plans for Saturday included a trip to the Museum of Natural History as the day’s high-point. Bella was way better, but by then Stassi needed to stay in the room with her mom, so Todd, Barbara, Kitty, Bella, and I took on the daunting task of getting up to the museum on Central Park West. It’s at 81st Street, right across from the park. That’s a long way from the Residence Inn. Like about 30 blocks. We decided to take the subway. No pun intended, but things got a little “off the rails” on this excursion.

What a pro. This is hilarious and so perfectly Bella

We knew which lines would get us from Columbus Circle up to the 81st Street stop. We had it all dialed in. No one, however, clued us in to the fact the trains run different schedules on Saturday. We waited for the C train, got on, and about five minutes later watched the 81st Street – Museum stop go flying by the windows. Turns out, we were on an express instead of a local. There was no sign, no announcement, no nothing. You just had to know. There were a few other nervous tourists on there with us, trying to figure out what to do. Fortunately, a couple of NY natives and subway pros explained it all to us and told us how to get back to the museum. Or so we thought. We got off at the next stop, at 125th street, way up north of the park in Harlem. We crossed over to the southbound tracks and got on the D train toward the museum. Guess what…  Yes sir, we were somehow on another express train and we passed right by the museum stop once again, finally arriving back at Columbus Circle where we started.

If there was one good thing about the lengthy trip to nowhere, it was the fact Bella was not only feeling better but she became an instant subway pro within minutes. This picture of a 3-year-old subway expert cracks me up. “Just sittin’ here ridin’ the New York subway like I do it every day.”

She’s just sitting there between two local strangers, with others standing all around her, and she couldn’t be less fazed by it.

We finally made it back up to the museum, once again relying on the advice of a few locals to make sure we got on the D train local, instead of the express. It was well worth the aggravation to see all those fossils and bones, and Bella (who was feeling all better) couldn’t believe all the things she was seeing. If you’re in NYC and have some time, go to the Natural History Museum. Just make sure you’re on the local subway line, not the express. And don’t be afraid to ask the locals for help.

It wasn’t easy to get to, but the museum was outstanding!

This fact bears mention because, as much as most New Yorkers would not like to admit this, they are generally pretty kind and helpful. If you’re nice to them, or ask politely for help, they will typically go above and beyond to do whatever you need.

For instance…

One night Barb and I headed back to the Hendricks Hotel in a taxi because there was one was right there on the curb and the nearest Uber (we’d been using Uber for just about everything) was five minutes away. When we got out of the taxi, the driver couldn’t pull all the way up to curb on the one-way street because of other cars in the way, so we were pretty much out in the middle of the road. Two seconds after I got out of the car, after sliding across the backseat to exit on the curb side, I knew I’d left my phone in the vehicle. I’ve never lost a phone. Not once. Never. Now I know the horrible feeling you get when you realize your whole digital life is now missing and probably never to be seen again.

The taxi was already gone. We had used cash, so we didn’t have a receipt that would provide the taxi number or maybe a phone number to call. There was another taxi on the curb, but the guy was off-duty and at first he just kind of waved me off. He thought we wanted a ride. Then he rolled his window down and I told him what happened. He really didn’t have much input as to what to do, but I think he could see the distress on my face and when I turned away he yelled, “Hey, I got an idea. Just have your wife call your phone! Call it over and over until someone answers!” That was actually a great thought.

Barb called and called and called. Finally, on maybe the 10th or 12th try, the driver answered. He said, in broken english, “I heard it ringing but couldn’t stop. I have it now. You want your phone back?” He was 35 blocks away. 15 minutes later, he pulled up to the curb and handed me my phone. I handed him a 20-dollar bill. And the other off-duty guy was still parked there. I went over and shook his hand to say thank you for the idea. He said “Happy to help. Glad you got it back. I couldn’t even imagine losing my phone.”

This sort of stuff completely blows the New Yorker image of being rude, or mean, or inconsiderate.

So anyway, on Saturday night the plan was to take both girls down to the area surrounding Rockefeller Center. There’s plenty of classic New York to see and experience there, and some fun Christmas shopping for the girls as well. We had both of them in a stroller, and not long after we got to our first stop, a store named “American Girl” Stassi started to show signs of not feeling well. She went from giggly and laughing to instantly falling asleep in the stroller, right in the middle of New York craziness. Angie was with us, this time, so that was good. The poor woman had barely left the hotel for two days with Bella being sick first. We talked about options, and everyone still had things they wanted to do and see, but I made it clear to Angie that I’d go back to the hotel with her if she thought Stassi needed to do that. At first Angie was not sure, but then she said to me “If you want to go back with me and Stassi, that would be really nice.” I don’t think she wanted to ask. She’s 100% self-sufficient and a very strong woman. I think she was just worn out by sick babies and the offer of help was too good to pass up. I was happy to do it.

So Todd, Barbara, Kitty, and Bella stayed behind and spent quite a bit of time around Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, and the whole bustling area. Todd even took Bella down to the Rockefeller Center skating rink and rented skates for them both. He can get around just well enough to keep her between his legs as she shuffled her skates to stay upright. I know this because I saw the video later. For a little Florida girl, it must’ve been quite an experience.

After all that, we flew home on Sunday and managed to get out of snowy and icy LaGuardia only about two hours late. We got home, though, and that’s the key part. It was a trip to remember!

There are so many other stories and so many other photos, but my fingers are running out of the energy and I need to type this with a minimum of typos. I will leave you with one additional photo. At one point, when everyone was going in different directions, I took a walk down near our midtown hotel because I’d seen a Google Maps listing for a business I recognized, just a few blocks away.

Hey. It’s Mood!!!

If you’ve never watched the TV show “Project Runway” this storefront will mean nothing to you. But if you have, and I’ll admit the premise of the show is pretty cool and Barbara got me watching it for a number of seasons, this place will be more than a little familiar. The show features a competition among a group of young fashion designers, who are put under tight time constraints and lots of challenges, in order to see which designer can wow the judges with the ensembles they create, sometimes in just hours.

I hadn’t realized we were so close to the Fashion District of New York (also known as the Garment District) when we stayed at The Hendricks, so it was a lot of fun to walk the streets and see actual designers walking by, with garment bags full of creations over their shoulders. It’s not hard to spot the models on the sidewalks, either. It’s a neat area, with little shops that sell nothing but beads, or buttons, or “stretch material” or other necessities, all around. At first you think “How can there be a button store in Manhattan?” but then you realize where you are. Mood is central to the show and central to all of that. It’s a “go to” store for fabrics, accessories, and other things all designers need to take their mental creations and make them real. In every episode, the aspiring designers are sent to Mood with a small budget, and they literally run through the store to collect everything they need.

Yeah, I’m a “Project Runway” geek. I got a huge kick out of finding Mood and taking a photo of the place.

So wow, that’s enough right? My hands are tired and my brain is mush. I need a break.

See you next week. I doubt I’ll have this much to write about, but I’ll give it my best effort.

As per usual, if you just read this blog and you kinda, sorta, maybe liked it a little, please do me a big New York favor and click on the “Like” button at the top.

Bob Wilber, at your service, back from New York, and ready for more…





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