Like most people from the Midwest, I never had any burning desire to visit New York City. To me it was just another famous, but potentially dangerous place that I had seen in movies and on television. It was where you could ice skate at Rockefeller Center, visit the Statute of Liberty, see celebrities in restaurants, eat pumpernickel bagels with a smear of cream cheese, and possibly get mugged. It seemed crowded, expensive, and intimidating — sort of like Chicago, but even worse. Actually visiting there seemed out of the question.
All of this changed for my wife Diane and me about 15 years ago, when our youngest son decided to attend art school in Manhattan. Suddenly, we were thrust into making routine trips to the city. You never know what life has in store for you. For a while our son shared an apartment in Jersey City with other art students. It was in a rather scary neighborhood that was featured in the opening credits of “The Soprano’s” television series. Once on a visit there we saw a couple of guys steal a car right in front of us.
We always drove to New York. Crossing the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan, I quickly transformed into a very aggressive driver and while we were in the city I constantly worried about two things — (1) finding a restroom and (2) finding a parking place. It usually took a couple of weeks for my driving to return to normal. Once, when we were dropping our son off at school, Diane had to fight off a pushy New York motorist, who attempted to take our parking spot.
Our son decided to stay in New York City after he graduated, so we have continued making trips there. Because of this we’ve ended up spending several Christmas holidays there, and we just returned from our most recent visit.
In the past we have done a lot of the normal tourist things like taking the bus tour, seeing the Statue of Liberty, taking a Central Park carriage ride, and going to the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. When our oldest granddaughter was with us we attended an off-Broadway play and a performance of “The Merry Widow” at the Metropolitan Opera. The opera was much more comprehensible than I imagined, although I think we were lucky that it was a light operetta. To bone up for the performance I found two video versions of “The Merry Widow” to watch, so we would have some idea about what was transpiring. It sort of helped.
Of course, we have visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. I was amazed that you could walk right off the street and immediately see some of the most famous paintings in the world. I could even recognize them. I once got a “D” in a college course on artistic masterpieces, so I felt imminently qualified to share my opinion. It’s easy to get a sort of cultural overload in places like New York City. I must admit, however, that my favorite part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was the cafeteria, where they served a high tea.
Finding a place to eat in New York is always a big challenge. Once we were walking down 9th Street near the theater district looking for a restaurant. From the sidewalk, Diane looked inside the large open windows and spotted actor Mathew Broderick. She stared. He stared back aggressively and we quickened our step away. Apparently New Yorkers tend to ignore celebrities and he was annoyed by this breach in etiquette.
In general I like the diners. The food, especially breakfast, is good and they usually have nice croissants. The cost is also relatively moderate, compared to most other places, but they can be awfully noisy and crowded. Our favorite bagel place is close to where we usually stay, but it always has a line at least a half-block long. Also they tend to be impatient once you get inside, but it’s worth it.
At some point we always seem to find ourselves eating in some little Italian restaurant. These are usually good too, but to me they always looks like the restaurant where Michael Corleone kills rival mobster Sollozzo and the crooked police captain in the “Godfather” movie.
I didn’t realize how dependent we were on our car until we visited New York. The city has changed a lot due to the number of Uber and other smart phone application-based transportation methods. We started out using the subway and taxi cabs. A New York visit always means a lot of walking and it’s hard to know just when to catch a cab or Uber, instead of walking. I think anything farther than eight blocks is probably the bare minimum to avoid embarrassment, but even that can be a long walk.
This year we went to the Top of the Rock, which involves taking a high speed elevator to the 67th floor of the Rockefeller Center. There are observation decks there and you can even go up a few more stories to the very top, if you wish. From the Top of the Rock you can see the rivers on both sides of Manhattan, Central Park, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and in the distance even the Statute of Liberty. Looking straight down you can see St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue with its impressive twin 100 meter Neo-Gothic spires. A lot of the visitors were taking selfies, but unfortunately it was rather foggy the day we were there, so we didn’t get the best pictures of the skyline. After a while I also felt kind of dizzy.
Like other Christmas Eves we attended midnight services at an imposing old Episcopal Church a few blocks away from our hotel. The music, the singing, the processional, and the sermon were all very impressive and uplifting. This year there weren’t as many people coughing in the church during the services, so I guess the flu isn’t quite as bad this year. It always feels kind of strange to walk to church and back again on Christmas Eve, but spending Christmas in the city is always so different from spending the holidays at home.
Humorist Dave Barry said, you know when it’s time to go home from a trip — that’s when you’re dirty enough, broke enough, and sick enough. New York City is a nice place to visit during the holidays and a huge art community, but it seems an exhausting place to live.
— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., who prefers fresh air to Times Square, lives in Jeffersonville and is the CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems. He can be reached at email@example.com.