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Ryan's Great Adventures
Volume 53: Sat September 25, 2004
Our third day in New York City, Amanda and I decided to bum around for the most part. We woke up late and headed off to letterbox and sightsee. Our first stop was the The Little Red Lighthouse, inspiration for the children's book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. Apparently, it's a very famous story, though I don't ever remember hearing it, about the poor little lighthouse having a great gray bridge (the George Washington Bridge, to be precise) built over it, and it feels sad and depressed that the bridge gets all the attention. Or something like that. I still haven't actually read the book, but it sounds like a very sad story to me.
The bridge is impressive, but the lighthouse is cute and very scenic sitting under the bridge, so I don't know what the lighthouse has to be so depressed about. It's probably one of the most famous lighthouses in the world! And the bridge—just a footnote to other bigger and better ones such as the Brooklyn Bridge or Golden Gate Bridge. I mean, really, was George Washington Bridge the best name they could come up with?
Our work done, we drifted back to the subway and worked our way back towards Grant's Tomb, a famous landmark I'd heard so much about and finally, could definitively answer: Who really lies buried in Grant's Tomb? It's given me nightmares, never being sure....
Okay, so maybe I did know it was Grant and his wife in the tomb—but get this—they aren't buried! Yep, that's right, they're eternal resting place is in a sarcophagus resting in plain view. So the surprising and unexpected answer about who was buried in Grant's Tomb—nobody! I was shocked. All these years I'd been lied to and deceived. I wanted to blame somebody, but I didn't know who.
After getting over this sudden shock, I started to appreciate the place a bit more. It's far more grandiose than I ever expected. Turns out (which I didn't know this, so I thought it was interesting and locked away in memory to impress people with later) that Grant's Tomb is the largest mausoleum! Of what, I'm not exactly sure. The displays claimed it was the largest one in the world. Some Internet searches I did said it was the largest in the United States, other website claims it's the second largest of the western hemisphere, and others claim it really is the largest one in the world. Regardless, it's definitely abnormally large! Grant's tomb took longer to build than the War Between the States that made him famous had lasted, and construction required over 8,000 tons of granite.
It was filled with informative displays about Grant's youth, his miserable failure of a life until his rise to prominence during the Civil War. I spent an hour wandering around inside examining all the displays. Simply fascinating. I was surprised that so few tourists seemed to visit this very interesting place!
I finally caught up to Amanda, long bored and waiting for me on the steps outside. Next up on our whirlwind tour: A visit to the Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that saw battle during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. After being decommissioned in 1974, it was turned into an air, sea, and space museum residing in Manhattan.
One of the few Concordes also calls this museum it's home, and Amanda was anxious to check it out. Sadly, by the time we arrived, all the available tickets to go inside the Concorde were sold out, so we only admired it from the outside. It wasn't that heart-breaking of a loss, however, since one of those famous planes sits in Amanda's backyard in Seattle's Museum of Flight. It won't be hard to visit one in the future!
We made our way to the flight deck of the aircraft carrier and into the belly of the beast. (I've always wanted to use that term!) It has wonderful displays describing the history of the ship and the museum was well worth the visit.
But there was one display I found rather startling, a memorial to the victims of 9-11. Immediately after that tragedy occurred, the aircraft carrier was used as the headquarters for 700 FBI agents, once again coming to the defense of America. My heart jumped when I noticed the window of a plane among other debris. I didn't need a caption to know where that window came from, but I read it with growing horror anyhow. Amanda, looking elsewhere hadn't noticed the window yet, and I nudged her.
She gasped loudly and covered her mouth in shock. It's a hard thing to look at. The window was placed in a glass box along with other debris picked up from the site of the World Trade Center—papers, disks, ash, and more.
We eventually put the display behind us, and headed down to the submarine docked next to the ship. Amanda wanted to explore the submarine, which we did without much of anything to report. It was a submarine—small and cramped. Before you're allowed to enter you have to pass through a small hole set up to discriminate against fat people and anyone else that might get stuck trying to tour the sub, but Amanda and I made it through okay.
Afterwards, we decided it was time for lunch. I twisted Amanda's arm where we headed out to Lombardi's, supposedly the oldest licensed pizzeria in the country. I've heard about those New York style pizzas, and where else should we check it out but the establishment that's been throwing them out the longest? So it was off to Little Italy. Or somewhere in that vicinity, but I remember more walking through Chinatown to get there than Italy.
When we arrived, the place was bustling and we had a tough time just getting through all the people waiting at the front door. The waiting list, we were told, was at 20 minutes. We put our names on the list, then Amanda decided we'd hang out at the bar so she could drink. I got water. On the rocks. She got a couple of beers. The lush. *shaking head* =)
Amanda poked me in the side. "Hey, look at the pizza on that table!" as she pointed to a nearby table. It had meatballs. Big, honking meatballs that looked like the size of a small basketball, or perhaps a very large golf ball. Plopped right there on the pizza like that was a normal thing. How fascinating.... Amanda and I reminisced about the pizza with 'sausage' that we ordered in Central America—that turned out to be a hot dog sliced lengthwise and set out on the pizza like spokes on a wheel. We were so enamored by the sausage pizza, we even took pictures of it.
I nudged Amanda. "Hey, we need to order a pizza with meatballs, and take a picture of it. This is too funny not to get a picture of!"
Our name was called and we quickly followed an employee through a maze of rooms and hallways to a small back room where I imagined shady poker games may have been played in the old days. Probably a former mafia hideout. I turned around—and Amanda was gone! Just like that. Disappeared. I figured she must have darted into a bathroom on her way to the table and I started to sit down just as Amanda turned the corner. Turns out, she just got lost on her way to the table. Said she started heading into the kitchen when some of the employees got her straightened out. Not sure how I lost her from the bar to our table, but it was rather a confusing maze to get back there!
We ordered a pizza with meatballs (among other ingredients). The pizza arrived, and—I'm happy to report—it looked good enough to eat. After we took pictures of it, of course. Amanda took a few shots, the flash attracting strange looks from nearby diners, then we dug in. And it was pretty darned good. But it was just too much for our small stomachs. Amanda did her part valiantly stuffing away half that pizza, but I failed on my side of the pizza and was left at the end of the meal with one slice uneaten. I felt embarrassed and humiliated. Beaten by a girl.
Our waiter bagged the last piece for us, then we wandered around town some more. Amanda wanted to hit Canal Street for some cheap shopping. The place was packed. People everywhere, jostling for position. Having no interest in clothes and fake watches and all that girl stuff, I stayed on the far side of the sidewalk trying to stay out of everyone's way while keeping on eye making sure Amanda didn't get too far away. If we got separated, we'd never find each other again!
Amanda started looking through a bag of DVDs, which seemed kind of strange—being in a bag and all. The owner suddenly closed the bag unexpectedly while looking around, and then opened it up again for Amanda to browse. Hot DVDs! Well, pirated ones, at least! Wow! I was pretty excited, let me tell you. I calmly looked around and kept an eye out for cops while Amanda browsed the selection. I'd be the lookout man in the operation, I decided.
Amanda purchased a few of the DVDs, then we continued on our way. I was disappointed to see illegal and knock offs and pirated DVDs everywhere, though. I had no idea it was so common out here! Makes living on the edge seem downright respectable. Took the wind right out that sail.
Looking closer, I noticed many of the shopkeepers with walkie talkies, and Amanda said they keep an eye out for each other and will warn each other whenever they catch a cop sniffing around. This perked me up a bit. Organized crime!!! We're dealing with organized crime! Wow!
At another store, Amanda purchased a wallet to replace her aging old one, and after the money exchanged hands, the woman pulled out a sheet of labels, peeled one off, and put it on the wallet. It was a fake wallet. I couldn't believe it. Pirated DVDs I could understand, but a fake wallet? *rolling eyes* Does anybody even look at the sticker name on other people's wallets? When I see a wallet like that, I just figure it came from Wal-Mart or something. Do people really think the name on a wallet will impress anyone? Was there anything being sold on Canal Street that was actually legal?
It was then, I realized, I was sadly out of my element. I think Amanda would have been happy to buy the wallet regardless of the name on it, but it surprised me (and disgusted me, truth be told) that people would care about some so superficial as the name on an article of clothing. How shallow are these people?!
With no other plans for the day, we decided to head back to the hotel and watch our ill-gotten DVDs. =) First we watched The Bourne Surpremacy, a fun action-filled film running around most of Europe. Still being early in the night, we then wasted the rest of the night by watching Collateral.
The next day we woke up late. Our big plan was to go visit the Statue of Liberty—tickets for which Amanda wisely purchased online a week before. The line for tickets at Battery Park was crowded with what seemed like thousands of people. Also, a week or two before, the statue itself had finally been opened since 9-11—or at least the base of the statue was. People still aren't allowed to go up to the crown. Tickets for viewing up this lady's skirts had already been sold out by the time we arrived. Good thing Amanda was thinking ahead and bought them earlier in the week!
We found the line to board the ship that would take us to Liberty Island, then followed it and followed it and followed it some more to the end of a very, very long line.
The guys selling fake watches and sunglasses were out in force. And Amanda did the unthinkable: She started looking at sunglasses. I didn't have any on me at the moment (they were left behind in all the last minute packing), and Amanda didn't like the ones back in Seattle. Can't imagine why—stylish orange and black things that we found in a geocache for free! Amanda seemed determine to rid the world of those sunglasses that had served me so well, and started checking out one vendor's selection.
I put my foot down and told her now. "Only $15!" the vendor would exclaim.
"No," I said. Totally unnecessary. There are prefectly useable sunglasses back in Seattle.
"Okay, $10!" said the vendor. Amanda seemed eager.
I pointed out the flaw in her logic. "Look around! It's cloudy and overcast! Why the heck do we need sunglasses when there's not even any sun!" I was sure I finally had convinced Amanda out of her foolish quest for sunglasses.
"Okay, just $5! Only $5! I won't be able to feed my children, but you two seem like a cute couple. Just $5!"
Amanda caved. It was a sad moment. She whipped out her new (but fake!) wallet to purchase equally fake sunglasses. Unfortunately, the money used to purchase them wasn't quite as fake. Would have been fitting had it been so, though. New York is full of cheap, fake knock-offs.
The sunglasses went into Amanda's bag (although my persuasive argument that they weren't needed didn't stop her from buying them, her buying them didn't require me to wear them!) never to be seen for the rest of the trip.
The line moved swiftly. Just before boarding a tent was set up where security guards looked for illegal and dangerous items. Not quite as serious as airport security—I was allowed to wear my shoes through the metal detector here—but definitely not a place to make jokes about bombs either.
We boarded the boat like cattle and headed to the top, open-air deck for the best views. I've seen people packed into phone booths that had more room than the top deck, so upon seeing the masses of people, we moved down one deck and found an empty seat for ourselves.
The ride didn't take long, and soon we found ourselves at Liberty Island, home of "Liberty Enlightening the World" (the official name of the Statue of Liberty). We had a couple of hours before we had to report for our turn up the base of the statue, so we circled around it taking pictures and reading the plaques that described the history of the island and the statue. Very fascinating stuff, really, but mostly we were killing time until it was our turn to go up into it.
Security inside the statue, as it turns out, is significantly more vigorous than was required to get onto the island. No bags would be allowed for one thing, so Amanda and I went to put her handbag into one of the nearby lockers.
These lockers are SO cool! I've never seen such technologically advanced lockers in my life. A panel in the center of them all took money and assigned you an available locker. Key? None. The machine asks for your fingerprint. So I put my thumb in the scanner, and immediately an image of my thumbprint showed up on the monitor.
This was kind of scary, come to think of it, as I thought about them comparing my print against terrorists, registered sex offenders, and other violet criminals. Not that I had any reason to suspect they were doing that, but what a clever way to find potential terrorists. "Hey look! Use our lockers! Just need a print!" Probably filed away in some computer recorded until the end of time.
The machine asked for the fingerprint again—the same finger—just to make sure it could recognize me when I came back later. Belatedly, I wondered what would have happened had I tried putting something else in the scanner. A leaf, perhaps. Or maybe a toe print, though that might have been a difficult one to do given the physical restrictions on my body movements.
The monitor flashed a locker number—our locker—with directions to put our stuff in it, close the door, then push the button on it to lock it.
We found our locker and did just that. Then headed to the line to actually enter the statue.
Another security checkpoint was set up that we'd have to make our way through. Another metal detector, but this stop had a new contraption I'd never seen before. A large machine sat in front of the metal detector that we'd have to pass through first. We were directed to stand in it, and a puff of air would blow around us. Several seconds would pass with nothing happening, then a green light turned on indicated we had passed the 'smell test' (no scent of explosives and such, I presume) and we were then permitted to move forward through the metal detector.
I wondered how long it would be before these machines started showing up in airports. I had little doubt they were being tested for a bigger rollout in other security conscious areas. Girls, don't wear short skirts unless you want everyone to get a view of what's underneath. ;o)
Having survived this security checkpoint, a group of us were led into the base of the statue. On the bottom floor they have the original torch that was taken down in the 80s and replaced with the current one that is at the top of the statue now. The ranger gave us a quick lesson on the history of the statue and the torch, then we moved up to the next level where they had a nice, museum-like setup with pictures of the statue's construction in France, displays explaining how it was held together, and they really emphasized the fact that the green, copper skin of the statue is only as thick as the thickness of two pennies put together and amazed us with great trivial pursuit questions such as the original person designing the statue wanted to fill it full of sand to keep it structurally sound. But fortunately for everyone in the room, he died and Mr. Eiffel came along and nixed that idea for a better conceived one that was actually used and allowed us to go in the statue.
When the ranger got done with his talk on the museum level, we waited on another line to climb the stairs to the foot of the statue. The elevator, we were told, was closed due to 'technical problems'. I was okay with the stairs. In fact, I preferred it.
Unfortunately, just as it was our turn to hike up the stairs, they finished 'testing' it and allowed us to get on. It wasn't even a choice. The elevator was available, and we had to use it. Somehow, I didn't feel too comfortable being part of the first group of guinea pigs to test this elevator after a ranger had gotten stuck in it earlier that morning.
On the way up, however, we joked that wouldn't it be funny if we beat those people who were ahead of us in line that ended up having to take the stairs up and gave them an evil smile and asked, "So why didn't you take the elevator? It's working now!" =)
We got off the elevator, climbed up a small flight of stairs, and stook at the base of the statue itself. Holes were cut into the ceiling so we could view the structure's inside. Our ranger gave us more history and lore surrounding the statue, and finally said we could wander about as we pleased.
We went outside and walked around the statue—probably the worst view of the statue there was, strangely enough. At such close range, at such a steep angle, the statue couldn't fit in your photos, and the parts that did just looked bad. However, this is probably the best vantage point to be had of Manhattan Island. Amanda and I took the obligory photos, then started back down.
At our lockers, I walked up to the monitor, typed in our locker number, and put my thumb in the scanner. Our locker popped right open. Scary. Belatedly, I wondered what would have happened if I put a different finger in the scanner. Maybe the thing doesn't work at all, but it's just a secret ploy to gather fingerprints from the masses! Should have tested it with the wrong finger just to make sure it wouldn't open just for anyone.... Oh, well. Next time, I'll be ready.
Then we tromped back to the boat where we boarded and headed over to Ellis Island where so many immigrants passed through so many years ago.
I was surprised at how many people on our ship chose not to visit this fascinating place. They already paid for the boat ride out—why not take maximum advantage of it?
But I wasn't too bothered by this fact—just meant it was less crowded for Amanda and me to check it out. The main building is beautiful, both on the outside and the inside. We learned interesting things about the island and the immigrants who were processed there, a place where about one-third of the entire US population can trace a relative to.
We learned about the six-second physical during which dozens of medical conditions were checked. We learned newly arrived immigrants were directed up a flight of stairs to be processed, and doctors secretly watched if they had trouble climbing the flight of stairs. Those identified would be singled out for more thorough inspections.
We also learned Bob Hope had entered America through this room.
The quality of the displays was fantastic—informative, interesting, and historical. The people who entered America through this building changed a country and a world. Those tourists who chose to skip this stop on the tour made a large mistake.
Amanda and I spent a surprising amount of time wandering the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island—much longer than we had anticipated—and finally called an end to this excursion and reboarded the ship back to Battery Park.
We didn't really have any plans for the rest of the day, but this was my first time in this part of Manhattan and I wanted to look around. We walked up to Wall Street, though being a Sunday there wasn't much going on.
Afterwards, I dragged Amanda towards the World Trade Center site. Amanda didn't want to go, but I wanted to see those 16 acres of land that changed the course of history. I didn't really know what to expect—a sense of closure, perhaps? It wasn't far away and I told Amanda she could wait while I checked it out briefly, but she didn't want to split up so we went together.
There wasn't much to be seen but a large hole in the ground with a fence keeping people out. It didn't have the shock value like that small airplane window back in the Intrepid, but perhaps it was because I was ready for it this time. I just had a sense of sadness looking at that empty hole, trying in vain to imagine how chaotic it must have been three years ago, almost to the day. I heard sirens in the background, and wondered if the people responding to that emergency had also responded to this one before us.
We didn't look at the site for very long and started to leave. And along the way we stumbled upon a remarkable site: St. Paul's Church, right across the street from Ground Zero. Built in 1766, this church stood unscathed—not even a single broken window—while the Twin Towers collapsed across the street. The sign in front explained that George Washington worshipped here, and he prayed at this church the day of his inauguration. The stories that church could tell. Later, I would learn, the church was made into a children's book called The Little Church that Stood. I never even knew this church existed or its story when I dragged Amanda out to the WTC site, but I'm glad we found it. It was very inspirational with a story of hope and survival.
Amanda and I left. Amanda admitted that going to the site wasn't as hard as she expected it to be, and I was glad we found that inspirational little church.
We decided lunch, or rather getting close to dinner at this point, would be next on our agenda, and we wandered eastward to Pier 17 and the Sequoia Restaurant. We took a table on the upper story with incredible views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River. The food was okay, but the views are the best reason to go.
We ate the complimentary biscuits while waiting for our food, and I noticed a Coast Guard boat sitting in the river. With what appeared to be some serious weaponry on board in the form of machine guns mounted in the front and back of the boat. Amanda and I watched it rest in the water, apparently doing nothing and going nowhere. Eventually a second Coast Guard ship with an equally impressive armament arrived and also drifted around with no particular destination.
I commented to Amanda that I hope this meant there wasn't a bomb threat, since it appeared they were guarding the pier we were eating at.
New York City, I belatedly realized, takes matters of security much more seriously than any other American city I'd ever been to. I wondered where those boats were when 9-11 happened, or if they were ushered in after the fact. A city under siege.
Dinner was served. I dug into my hamburger. Amanda ate some awful looking thing that allegedly was dredged out of the ocean, but she seemed to enjoy it. We paid our bill and decided to call it a night. We hoofed it to the subway station and headed back to the hotel where we watched another illegal movie on Amanda's DVD player.
That was our last day in New York City. We woke up at 4:00 the next morning for a 4:30 shuttle back to LaGuardia. This driver drove like a normal person, and I feared my short time in New York City inoculated me against fear of New York City drivers, though Amanda later confirmed to my relief that yes, his driving was darned near boring—a sure sign of insanity in this part of the world.
Insane or not, I liked this driver.
Our shuttle took us to several other hotels around the area picking up passengers, and our last stop had four people waiting for airport rides with only two seats available left in the van. Strange, I thought, that was extraordinarily bad planning on their part. They should have had one van pick up all four of the people and the second van running around could have picked up us up.
While the two guys were getting in our van, a second shuttle pulled up behind us. And it occurred to me, they had planned it well. The two girls that couldn't fit in our van probably weren't going to the same airport as we were. Maybe to JFK or something instead. If that were the case, it would make a lot of sense to have two different shuttles picking up people from the same place. I felt very smart for figuring this out. =)
We arrived at the airport with no further issues. On the plane to Seattle, we watched another illicit movie—Spiderman 2—on Amanda's DVD player.
And that was that. Our trip was over.
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