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Ryan's Great Adventures
Volume 52: Tues August 31, 2004
Amanda and I boarded a wonderfully trouble-free flight to Philly, where we'd change planes for New York City. It was an exciting moment for me, since my only experience with NYC was changing planes at LaGuardia on my way to Boston after getting off the Appalachian Trail.
Our flight into New York arrived just before midnight. A large sign on the side of the runway welcomed me to New York. I had arrived in the Big Apple. Somehow, it seemed anti-climatic, but whatever....
After being in New York for just a few minutes, I knew I was in a special place. Signs were posted warning against ugly looking guys offering rides in taxis or limos. Another sign warned not to allow anyone but a uniformed porter to handle your bags. Welcomed indeed!
We collected our bags, then Amanda called a shuttle to haul us and our bags to our hotel. It would be an hour wait, we were told.
So we found a nice bench and made ourselves comfortable. It was after midnight when the shuttle arrived, but it didn't seem so bad since we were still on Pacific Time where it was just after 9:00pm.
The shuttle ride may have been the most thrilling and frightening ride of my life, except for an instant or two that occurred in Greece. I've been on roller coasters that were more tame!
The shuttle would accelerate at speeds that I thought only astronauts would ever feel, then stop even more suddenly or serve at speeds that I only imagined race car drivers could achieve, all the while tailgating another equally reckless driver. Amanda assured me that this driver was excellent—an observation I suspect was based on the fact that we didn't die and we weren't seriously injured during the ride.
The shuttle pulled up at our hotel for the night, with a cute and charming name of West Side Inn. Don't be fooled. It was a dump. What looked like several teenaged delinquents sat on the steps out front smoking. We stepped through them into the seedy little hotel built in the same spirit of Central American hotels and just a notch below the Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, for those of you familiar with that. It was wonderful! Very possibly, I thought, murders had occurred in this very building! Despite the very low-end look of the hotel, I was afraid to ask Amanda how much it would cost—I had a hunch I didn't want to know, so I didn't ask.
The hallway was narrow, requiring Amanda and I to walk single file. Our room had a sink, but no bathroom—that was down the hall and to the right. A small fan blew in cigarette smoke from outside the window. It took a couple of minutes to find the elusive light switch, and when we turned it on, I was sure I caught a couple of cockroaches in a compromising position before they scuttled off.
The bed sagged about two feet when I sat down on it. It would be a challenge not to fall off while sleeping. I was ready to meet that challenge.
And we slept. The next morning we woke to a large garbage truck outside our window. Not having thought to bring any towels for ourselves—and since none were apparently provided—we skipped showers and decided to head out immediately.
Amanda and I walked down to the nearby subway station and purchased week-long tickets. This and our feet would be our primary means of transportation around the city during our stay, and we intended to get our money's worth.
The subway reminded me a lot of the one in Boston. It was unusually hot in there, even early in the morning, and unusually dirty and grimy compared to other mass transit stations I'd used in most other large cities. Though in defense of New York subway systems, none—except for Boson—have been in use longer than this one in New York which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary next year.
I pulled out a subway map and was discouraged to see countless crisscrossing lines. It looked like the bus map for a large city, not a subway map that usually are quite simple to read with few crisscrossing lines. I've seen maps of electrical circuitsthat looked easier to understand.
Later, I would learn, New York has over 200 miles of subway tunnels, over half of them underground, and 468 stations! Yikes!
We headed south to Times Square. Where else to start our adventure in the Big Apple than Times Square?
Neon signs screamed out everywhere, reminiscent of Las Vegas, though arriving in daylight spoiled much of the effect. I was actually most fascinated by the scrolling marquees with news and stock market reports rounding the corners of the buildings. Very hypnotic.
Amanda wandered around rather aimlessly. She claimed to be showing me around, though I half suspect she was lost and using that excuse as a cover. Amanda finally started walking with purpose down to the Circle Line dock, where we purchased tickets for a round-the-island, three-hour tour. A three hour tour.
The skipper was a mighty man, but there was no sign of Ginger or Mary Anne.
I enjoyed the cruise. It sailed under 19 bridges that surround Manhattan. We cruised past the Statue of Liberty for my first close-up view of this symbol of freedom.
And it was a beautiful, clear day for the adventure! A large, husky fellow gave us a narrative of where all the big celebrities lived and in which buildings. He explained where the World Trade Center buildings once stood, and how the event affected neighboring buildings and the city. He told us the Empire State building was designed to anchor blimps—the future of long-distance travel, or so they thought at the time—where passengers would walk on a harrowing plank over a thousand feet above the ground to travel between the building and blimp.
The cruise helped me to get my bearings of the city, as now I knew where the major features were in relation to one another.
But as all things must come to and end, so too did the cruise. We disembarked and started heading up towards the Empire State Building, our next stop.
While walking to the cruise, pedestrians waited until the light changed green before crossing the street. Cops at every street corner directed traffic making me wonder, briefly, why they bothered to install signals if they weren't going to be used. (I had forgotten about the Republican convention going on just down the street at the Madison Square Garden.)
The walk back, sadly, was a big disappointment. Pedestrians played a bizarre game of chicken with the cars and buses on the road, not unlike the game of Frogger. And Amanda imitated their strange and dangerous behavior while I meekly followed behind her.
Eventually we made it to one of the main streets that was closed off completely, and series of cops ten feet from each other blocked access except for intersections. Something big was happening, though Amanda and I had no idea what. Amanda pointed out a couple of secret service cars—that were anything but secret—that drove down the street. Hmmm....
Many of the pedestrians held up posters supporting or disparaging President Bush. A couple of women wore large, phallic rockets in their nether regions. I secretly hoped to watch a riot break out, or at least an arrest happen, but it was pretty boring and quiet. Watching the news coverage of the convention and the thousands of arrests later that night in the hotel was more interesting.
Amanda and I finally clawed our way through the massive crowds to the Empire State Building, got in line, and ascended to the 80th floor in a remote-controlled elevator. We got out briefly so they could take our picture behind a backdrop of the Empire State Building, then got onto another remote-controlled elevator to the 88th floor observatory and gift shop.
The views were amazing, to say the least. The Empire State building was the tallest building in the world for over 40 years, and since September 11th, is now the tallest in New York. I was shocked to learn that from start to finish, the building went up in just 14 months—an average of two floors per week. And this was back in the early 1930s. Wow!
A helicopter with a gun-toting guy hanging on the side circled the area, presumably as part of the security for the Republican convention. He waved to us on the observation deck, flying a stone-throw away. Or maybe two stone-throws away. We waved and took pictures.
The activity on the ground was just as interesting where we could see all the closed streets and the thousands of protesters and supporters clogging the sidewalks.
Then it was back down the to the 80th floor where we admired our picture taken on our way up, but decided not to buy. And finally another ear-popping elevator ride back to the bottom.
We crowded through the streets once again, this time to Tad's Steakhouse where we decided to eat for lunch. We both ordered the #7, a fillet minion with a potato and garlic bread, and it was good. Though, I'll admit, I've had better!
Afterwards, we headed out to Rockefeller Center where we, at the last minute, decided to take the NBC tour. We saw a quick video of the history of NBC and clips of their most famous shows, then they herded us into some of the sets including where they film Dateline, Saturday Night Live, and the NBC Nightly News by Tom Brokaw. (Though, after the elections are over, he plans to retire.)
Also, we learned that a long line we had passed while getting into the studios was for the Conan O'Brian Show, a man I'll admit I hate with a passion. What a bunch of losers. But on the other hand.... it might be interesting to watch them film a show!
So I asked our tour guide, Sam, about how to get tickets. =) Reserving them six months in advance wasn't a viable option, but we could get standby tickets if we waited early the morning at the 49th Street entrance. And that's what we decided we'd do the next morning. (We also checked into watching Regis and Kelly—Kelly's a real cutie!, but they were out of town for the week.)
The NBC tour came to its inevitable end.
And then it was off to the Brooklyn Bridge. It was our plan to walk across this historic and famous structure. We took the subway into Brooklyn and decided to walk back to Manhattan rather than the other way around so we could enjoy the lights of the city, at dusk, from our perch on the Brooklyn Bridge.
It was packed. Apparently, we were not the first people to have this brilliant idea. People crowded the one side for pedestrians, while bicycles rushed along the other side going at speeds that, if properly channeled, approached Earth's escape velocity.
But it was a nice walk. Amanda and I took the necessary photographs, and we read the plaques. By the time we reached Manhattan, it was getting dark. We wandered around, checking out drug stores hoping to find some cheap towels before going back to the hotel, but we failed. Tired, we jumped on a subway and headed back.
The next morning, Amanda and I woke up early and headed out to Rockefeller Center, where we got in line for standby tickets to watch a filming for the Conan O'Brian Show, a truly awful comedian who is slightly funnier than a slug, but not quite as funny as a rat.
But hey, the tickets were free! And as much as I dislike the guy, I have to admit, watching a show actually being filmed might be interesting. And Bruce Hornsby and someone else that Amanda wanted to see (forget who) was supposed to be on, so it wouldn't be a total waste.
The tickets would be handed out at 9:00 am, so we got in line by seven to make sure we'd be at the front. Then we waited.
Oh, the things I could tell you. The bugs outside of Rockefeller Center that early in the morning were awful. A girl, looking like she was in her teens and dressed like a slut spent the whole time sucking her thumb. I occupied my time writing these very adventures on Pocketmail.
At last, the tickets were handed out. Amanda got number 39, and I pulled number 40. We were directed to return at 4:15 later in the day, but until then, were free to wander about the city.
So we jumped on the subway and headed back up to the Museum of Natural History, a large but impressive looking building bordering Central Park. In front they displayed a large banner proclaiming that the frog exhibit was open for visitors. Frogs. Was that the most interesting thing they could find?
I was, at times, in awe. Especially of the large dinosaur skeletons, something I'd never seen before. The brontosaurus skeleton towered far above my puny little existence and stretched across the expansive room.
Other exhibits, while tastefully and carefully arranged, didn't impress me as much. Like the African animals. I'd seen elephants, lions, water buffalo, and giraffes before—when they were alive. In large herds. Roaming wild. In Africa. And a bunch of stuffed ones, in comparison, just didn't do it for me. Even zoos were more interesting—at least the animals were still alive and moving to help keep my interest. After visiting Africa, however, those stuffed specimens just aren't the same.
My interest picked up again at the asteroid exhibit where I got to view some very impressive samples left over from meteors. The biggest one was so heavy, it was mounted on a base that went through the floor below us and was imbedded directly into the bedrock below the complex.
I also enjoyed a fascinating film about gold learning such useful information like a single ounce of gold can be drawn into a wire over one mile long! This kind of information will help me greatly when I go on Jeopardy! =)
Our time in the museum over, we wandered into Central Park—my first venture into this famous landmark park.
Part of it was to honor John Lennon, which I thought seemed out of place until Amanda explained that he was killed at his nearby apartment complex—the Dakota—as she pointed the building out. Hey, I was five at the time it happened. I didn't know this was where he was killed!
After our wandering through Central Park, Amanda and I found a Borders Bookstore near Columbus Circle that we decided to do some research at. Amanda wanted to try out a couple of eating establishments, but she didn't know where they were located, and when I spotted the bookstore, I pointed it out and suggested they'd have LOTS of books about New York and places at eat.
We settled on Gray's Papaya, essentially a glorified hot dog stand but without the stand. The place was teaming with crowds of people, but there was nowhere to actually sit to eat. So we grabbed our dogs and found a nice place in the shade to eat lunch. The hot dogs, allegedly, are the best in New York, a quality I didn't really agree with myself—but I'll give it credit on one point, they were the cheapest food we found on the whole trip, setting us back less than $6.00 for four hot dogs and two drinks. Let it be known, for that reason, Gray's Papaya is highly recommended. =)
Then it was back to Rockefeller Center, where we were told to line up by the number we were given earlier in the morning. We found our spot in line and waited.
One of the employees came out and said anyone above 50 could leave. They were still figuring out how much room they had for stand-by people, but Amanda and I made the first cut! YES!
Strangely, none of the people above 50 actually left. Very bizarre—to wait in a line with no hope of getting in. I pitied them—they clearly had nothing better to do than wait in line for nothing.
Another ten minutes passed, then they announced that they were cutting 40 and over.
Hmmm.... That's not good. Amanda and I had 39 and 40. Maybe they could squeeze both of us in? What to do?
We followed the crowd. Strangely, nobody above 40 left. Even the above 50 crowd was still hanging around, presumably hoping for a miracle since it was clear as day they had no hope of getting into the Conan O'Brian show that day.
A man with $40 walked down the line, asking if anyone would sell him their tickets. He needed two more. Amanda and I passed on the offer, as did everyone else.
Another several minutes passed, then they announced that the numbers 22 and over were cut.
We had failed. We would not get to watch the taping of the Conan O'Brian show this trip.
Amanda and I left at this point, though, strangely, nearly everyone else continued to stay in line. I told Amanda that we should have sold the tickets for $40 after all, since they were worth nothing now.
A double failure. Ack!
Dejected, we figured it was time to pay for tickets that would guarantee us a seat somewhere.
We hoofed out to Times Square where they sold tickets for Broadway shows—most at half price. Our first choice, Hairspray, had only one ticket left, so we hurriedly selected Movin' On, promoted as a play with lots of Billy Joel music. Amanda suggested it because, "At least we know we'll enjoy the music."
It's hard to argue with logic like that.
We killed time by eating dinner at TGIF, then meandered to the theatre just as the doors were opening.
My initial reaction, upon seeing the theatre, was to notice how small it was. This is a BROADWAY SHOW! It should be BIG! With lots of GLITZ and FLASH! I'd been to high school productions that were larger than this. But it was nice, in a quaint, antiquated sort of way. Just not what I really expected.
My second surprise came when I tried to sit down, and my knees hit the chair in front of me. Airplanes had more leg room than this!
I tried to make the best of it, but Broadway was testing my patience.
The lights dimmed and the show started. It was awful. Amanda describes it as a ballet set to Billy Joel hits. If it wasn't for the thin plot described in the program, I wouldn't have had a clue what was happening. No acting—just singing and dancing. It was a huge disappointment. No wonder they were selling tickets for half price!
By the end of the show, Amanda and I were more than happy to leave. We jumped on the subway and whisked ourselves back to our room.
Day two was over.
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