Big Apple Birthday Affair

Friday, July 18, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Birthdays are meant to be festive events, and when a milestone like 85 rolls around, the observance ought to be a big one.  "Where would you like to celebrate your 85th birthday?" we asked my mother.  When she picked up an apple and took a bite, we caught the hint—New York!  

This was not an easy choice.  A passionate traveler, Nanamama has left her footprints in all 50 of the United States—most of them multiple times.  But though she had been to New York City before, she had not visited the iconic sites and was ready to check off a few items on her NYC bucket list.  To round out the party, we invited sister Jeanne and nephew Steven, two of our favorite traveling pals and booked a flight for July 14.
Since Steven was the only non-driver among us, the rest of us motored to Tennessee to hook up with him for a flight from Nashville to Laguardia.  On Sunday, the night before the flight, our travel group had a celebratory dinner at P.F. Chang's in Franklin with Steven's mom, Kathy (pictured above).  "By the way," Kathy cautioned, "you may have a bit of a problem with the weather tomorrow."  Her cousin had been delayed in Syracuse when his flight to Nashville that evening had been cancelled.  But our flight wasn't due to leave until Monday afternoon, we scoffed, confident that Sunday's thunderstorms would be barely a memory by the next day.

Day 1 - Monday, July 14

Monday:  Steven and Nanamama haven't seen all those cancellations and delays on the board
Kathy was correct.  On Monday, that same ferocious storm system had stalled over the Northeast.  Our 1:00 flight was delayed till 2:15, then cancelled.  Delta re-booked us on a 6 p.m. flight, just a few hours before notifying us that this flight also had been postponed—initially until 7:57, and again later to 8:42.  We had arrived at the airport, passed through security screening, and settled in for our wait at the gate by the time the final notification was issued.  This flight too, doubly delayed, had been cancelled, and Delta had re-re-booked us on a 7 a.m. flight Tuesday. How their agents must have been scrambling!  With a departure that early, we opted for a two-bedroom suite at a nearby airport hotel, hoped for better luck the next day, and called it a night.

Day 2 - Tuesday, July 15

Arrived in New York—CHECK!
Tuesday's weather was more congenial, and our flight lifted off without incident, landing at Laguardia on time at 10:15.  With five people in our party, we wouldn't fit in a standard taxi, so we had booked a car for the ride to our Manhattan hotel.  Wiro Limo, with whom we had been in constant contact throughout yesterday's schedule changes, had a driver waiting for us with a spacious Chevy Suburban.  As we rode through the clogged streets of Queens and into Manhattan, we learned that David, our driver, had moved to New York from the Dominican Republic in early September, 2001—less than a week before the events that would change the city and the nation forever.

Having lost one day of our trip, we hit the ground running.  OK, riding.  After dropping off our luggage at the Residence Inn on E. 48th Street, we discovered that David had no further engagements that morning.  So we made arrangements for him to drive us to Grand Army Plaza at the southern border of Central Park, where we could begin working on Nanamama's NYC bucket list.

Carriage Ride in Central Park—CHECK!
Lunch at Tavern on the Green—CHECK!
Then we were off to spend a few hours at the incomparable Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest art museum in the United States and one of the world's ten largest.  David was still with us, carting us to Tavern on the Green and then to the Met.  When we arrived at the Met, we saw taxis by the dozen and said goodbye to David, confident we could find a suitable ride after our stroll through the exhibits.

Metropolitan Museum of Art—CHECK!
After several hours of exploration at the Met, including a little performance art by Nanamama and Steven in the European sculpture court, we were all ready to get back to the hotel and move into our rooms.  When we exited the museum, we began our search for a yellow minivan taxi that could transport five.  After watching hundreds of taxis stream past with only two minivans (both full) among them, we finally flagged a small SUV, whose driver assured us he had room for five.  Exhausted all, we squeezed in, ultimately settling Steven on my lap to enable us to have everyone belted in.  Lesson learned.  An almost 12-year-old boy who is about to pass you in height is not a child to carry on your lap.  We would not make this blunder again.

Exhausted from our early rising and full day of activity, we opted for dinner in the neighborhood and walked in the rain to 525LEX at the Marriott hotel around the corner on Lexington Avenue.  A satisfying meal and delectable shared dessert later, we sloshed back to the hotel and fell into a dreamless sleep.

Day 3 - Wednesday, July 16

Wednesday's weather forecast called for a 100% chance of rain for the morning, so we opted to reschedule our visit to the Statue of Liberty, which we had booked for 8 a.m.  Instead, David picked us up at 10 and we headed back north, this time for a visit to FAO Schwarz.  It wasn't on Nanamama's bucket list, but she loves to see Steven enjoy himself, and at the oldest toy store in the U.S., everyone feels like a kid again.

Playing the Big Piano at FAO Schwarz
Steven and Nanamama even played the Big Piano.  Though Steven was just dabbling, Nanamama, organist at her church for more than 50 years, stepped off an unconventional rendition of Amazing Grace.

The predicted rain had not materialized, so from FAO Schwarz, David shuttled us over to Rockefeller Plaza, where we gaped in the window at the Today show in progress, admired the plaza where the famous ice skating rink and Christmas tree mark the winter season, and took a peek at the amazing creations at the Lego store nearby.

Rockefeller Plaza—CHECK!
With 2:00 tickets to the new National September 11 Museum, we headed south toward the financial district with our faithful David at the wheel.  He dropped us off just north of the World Trade Center complex on Grennwich Street at the Blue Planet Grill, a contemporary restaurant serving brick oven pizza.  Though she was tempted by the wide array of menu offerings, Nanamama had a hankering for a Philly cheesesteak from a New York street vendor.  The restaurant staff graciously invited her to bring her sandwich in to dine with the rest of us, so everyone was happy.

Lunch from a street vendor—CHECK!
Fortified by lunch, we walked the few blocks south to the World Trade Center complex where we checked out the memorial to the victims and first responders of the 9/11 terrorist attacks before entering the museum.  Named "Reflecting Absence" by its designers, the memorial comprises a field of trees interrupted by two large recessed voids marking the footprints of the missing twin towers.   Each cavity is encircled with a waterfall around its perimeter with a smaller cascade in the center of the lower level.  Names of the victims are inscribed around the parapet.

9/11 Memorial
Between the two memorials is the National September 11 Museum.  Both the memorials and museum were respectful and somber tributes to the lives that were lost in this horrific event.  Exhibits in the museum put a face on the enormity of loss on that fateful day.

National September 11 Museum
Upon leaving the museum, we asked David to drive us to the South Street Seaport.  Though we had some interest in checking out this historic district with its restored 19th century commercial buildings and the tall ships docked there, our primary purpose was visiting the TKTS booth, a same-day discount ticket broker operated by the Theatre Development Fund.  At the time we arrived at the booth, about 4 p.m., the wildly popular TKTS location in Times Square, which opens at 3 p.m., probably had a thousand or more people in line.  At the quieter South Street booth, there was one group of four in front of us.  In less than five minutes, we scored five half-price tickets for that night's performance of the Tony Award winning Pippin.

South Street Seaport
Our transaction complete, we wandered around the seaport area for a few minutes, especially entertained by the trapeze school underway on one of the docks.  "Forget fear.  Worry about the addiction!" a sign advised.  That was not a concern for anyone in our group but we did enjoy a few minutes of vicarious frisson as the trainees boldly released their grip and flew through the air.

Times Square Toys R Us ferris wheel (not on the bucket list)
Too late for a respite at the hotel before our dinner and theater plans, we asked David to deliver us to Times Square, where we had just enough time to stop by the massive Toys R Us store for what we thought would be a quick ride on their in-store ferris wheel.  The ride turned out to be a stop-go six-revolution marathon for Steven, Nanamama and me, as the wheel halted for loading and unloading as almost every car reached the bottom.

Broadway Musical—CHECK!
With the theater just a block away, we had dismissed David for the day.  So when we were finally were released from the ferris wheel, we walked around the corner to the convenient Crossroads restaurant inside the Marriott Marquis.  After an excellent meal, we stepped next door to the Music Box Theatre on West 45th Street for the evening performance of Pippin, a circus-inspired musical fable about the fictional son of Charlemagne.  And thanks to Annie Potts' inviting the audience to sing along on the chorus of her solo, we can all say we performed in a Broadway musical.  Back to the hotel to rest up for our last full day in the city.

Day 4 - Thursday, July 17 

Still left over from the previous day's agenda, the Statue of Liberty loomed large on the bucket list and on the day's priorities for Thursday, as did the Empire State Building.  Tickets in hand for a 12:00 cruise to Liberty Island, we were picked up by David at 10 and made our way south toward lower Manhattan.  With plenty of time to spare, we stopped in at Wall Street to check on our investments and then slipped into the historic burial ground at nearby Trinity Church on Broadway, the final resting place of Alexander Hamilton, Robert Fulton, William Bradford, and other notable early Americans.

Wall Street—CHECK!
Continuing south on foot, we made our way to Battery Park just in time to join the long line for an airport style security screening prior to boarding the ferry to Liberty Island.  Thousands of other people wanted to visit the Lady that day, and the security staff did a commendable job moving visitors through the screening process efficiently.  Though the sun was beating down as we waited for screening and boarding, once we were on the ferry, the cooling breeze and a refreshing snack quickly made us forget our overheating.

Visit to Liberty Island—CHECK!
Always a Lady
After we paid our respects to the Lady, another ferry ride brought us back to Battery Park where the ever faithful David was waiting for us.  How he managed to deal with the crazy Manhattan traffic and always find a spot where he could wait for us was quite a mystery, but we were very grateful.  We piled into the SUV for a ride uptown to the Empire State Building.  By then, our snacks were fading so we made Foley's Irish Pub our first stop.  After lunch, we walked across W. 33rd Street to the Empire State Building.  As with the other major places we visited—the Met, Statue of Liberty, 9/11 Museum—we had purchased our tickets online, so the only queue we had to join was the one for the elevator ride to the main observation deck on the 86th floor, and later to the top deck on the 102nd floor.

Empire State Building—CHECK!
From the main observation deck, Nanamama picked out a sign she had been looking for—Macy's, the world's largest store.  So when we made our way back to street level, we parted ways.  Ken returned to the hotel on foot, while the rest of us went to Macy's.

Shopping at Macy's flagship New York store—CHECK!
An hour of shopping later, we caught a cab back to the hotel and decided to return to 525LEX for dinner when the wait at the seafood place across the street stretched beyond an hour.  Then it was back to the hotel to pack up and prepare for a 9 a.m. transfer to the airport the next morning.

Day 5 - Friday, July 18

Since we knew that David would not be driving us back to the airport due to previous engagement, we had bidden him farewell the previous day.  His reliability, cordial service and unflappable demeanor added immeasurably to our enjoyment of New York.  Friday's skies were clear, and our return flight to Nashville was routine and uneventful, a pleasant change.  Everyone in our traveling birthday party gave two thumbs up to our three-day exploration of New York, agreeing that we couldn't have asked for better traveling companions.

Happy 85th Birthday—CHECK!

Our wonderful driver, David
Meeting another transporter
Monet at the Met
Our travel angel, Jeanne
Steven does a little magic
Performance art at the Met's sculpture court
A fun place for all ages
The new One World Trade Center tower
The last column removed from Ground Zero
At the Music Box Theatre waiting for Pippin to begin
The beautifully landscaped Trinity Churchyard
Trinity Churchyard
Liberty Island ferry
Nanamama on the Empire State observation deck
Posing for tourists on the observation deck
Empire State Building lobby
Jeanne, who is no longer afraid of heights, at the Empire State Building
So, why do they call it the Flatiron Building?