"You are stuck here because of assholes," read the graffiti. The graffiti was painted on a ramp that was the last exit from I-87 in New York near 181st street, before the George Washington Bridge whisked travelers into New Jersey.
This was the first family trip to New York City. I've been, my husband's been, but we've not been as a family, until now.
It was last Thursday morning and traffic was horrible. I had expected it. We all did. But knowing there will be traffic in New York is nothing like actually experiencing the pains of said traffic.
We experienced plenty of traffic during our four days in New York. Coming from Boston, we were accustomed to traffic, but on a smaller scale.
Once in the City, we opted to see the Empire State Building, but a chance thunderstorm waylaid our plans by an hour or so. We waited in the lobby gift shops, sweating in the humid air, looking at what people considered humorous gifts.
The gift shops sported plenty of ESB paperweights, World Trade Center paperweights, books on New York and 9/11, and diecast cars formed into Yellow Cabs, particularly the newer Minivan Yellow cabs.
Once up the ESB, we enjoyed an excellent good view. We took several photos, which I will show in Part II. After surveying surrounding buildings and sights such as the Chrysler building, the Flatiron building, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Ground Zero, (an empty space between two other buildings designated as where the former World Trade Center stood), we spent our time watching traffic patterns 86 floors below.
We watched as 16 city buses, 10 Yellow cabs, 2 passenger autos and one man on a bicycle jockeyed for position along the street. You notice the large number of cabs in a city like New York, where it's more sensible to walk, take a subway or take a cab, than to drive.
After the ESB, we decided to go shopping. We hit Macy's on 34th street and Herald Square, just to see what the flagship store looked like. Those in our party not born with the shopping gene (my husband and son) passed their time sitting in the Starbucks at Macy's.Â Â
After Macy's we went to H & M, a popular Swedish chain. My daughter wanted something ultra hip, which she found. We were on our way to our next destination, when lightning again illuminated the then-darkening New York sky.
We ducked back into Macy's, which was the only store around with an entranceway large enough to protect us from raindrops as big as dollar coins. Rain was falling fast. We were wet from crossing the street.
The rain did not let up much. Between cloudbursts we inched our way to Times Square. It was useless. We got wet anyway.
For nearly 30 minutes, we kept time with refugees from a subway near Times Square, unable to go any further. We waited for nothing.Â Travelers were squeezed with us near the subway revolving exit doors; more people milled inside the station.
We heard an announcement.
"All trains uptown from 42nd Street to 96th Street are not running at this time, because tracks are wet."
We were soaked. After we realized nothing would change (trains would not run, the rain would not let up and we were as wet as we were going to get), we braved onward to find something to eat.
On our way towards an eatery that would serve people as wet as we were, we passed by haunts Times Square is famous for.
"Lace, A Gentleman's Club," boasted one marquee. "Hawaiian Tropic," a bar OPEN SOON, boasted a poster covering a building still under renovation. A photo of a woman in a bikini graced the Hawaiian Tropic poster.
A woman wearing a dozen petticoats wheeled her belongings in small luggage cart. She stopped next to the woman wrapped in a blanket, who was nodding off on the sidewalk, near the streetlight.
A man rushed by us, carrying a sign that read: "Need money for beer, drugs, and hookers. Hey at least I'm not bullshitting you." People laughed at his honesty, but otherwise ignored him.
We read a news ticker near Times Square. "Economists predict a gloomier economyâ€¦Planes in UK and US delayed nationwide in wake of foiled UK terrorist plotâ€¦"
The siren from a St. Vincent's ambulance sliced through the darkness, mingling with the clang that was Times Square.
We saw ads for some of the more popular Broadway plays, including Hairspray and Jersey Boys, on the life story of the Four Seasons group.
We finally arrived at TGIF, the largest in New York City, with four floors of seating available. We were cold, wet and very hungry. Friday's Â fit the bill.
After dinner, we need to go back Uptown to the New York-Presbyterian Hospital parking lot, where we had parked our car. The rain had stopped, so we were able to enjoy our walk from Times Square to the A train.Â We saw several other interesting sights.
A young Travolta-look alike of a NYPD officer posed for photographs with young children.Â A strange bicycle that could hold eight cyclists sported 7 young women and a guy, all of whom posed for photographs.
The next day, we took the ferry to Ellis Island. Ellis Island is the second stop on the ferry tour. Liberty Island is the first stop. In order to go into the Statue of Liberty itself, you need to book tickets well ahead of time. Tickets for the ferry are available on the same day.Â We decided we could see Miss Liberty well enough from the boat and opted to go directly to Ellis Island, where there was a museum.
The museum is reasonably interesting. About 100 million US residents have ancestors who came into the US via Ellis Island, between 1892 and 1924, the dates of Ellis Island's operation. You can look up how many people from the 2000 census have descended from which countries. I found 32 million Germans and 20 million Irish and 5 million Native Americans. You can check this yourself at www.ellisisland.org.
Security was tight getting onto the ferry, perhaps more than usual because of the previous day's foiled UK terrorist attack. My husband had brought his Swiss army knife with him to the ferry, (and, unlike the day before when ESB officials held the knife for him until we returned from the ESB); the US Coast Guard confiscated my husband's beloved knife.
We wanted to see the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) next. It was miles away from where we were after we exited the Ellis IslandÂ ferry in Battery Park City. It was also after 6 p.m. The museum closed at 8 p.m.Â
At this point, we were near Wall Street, several miles from the MoMA. I saw a young man in a suit and stopped him for directions. His directions were excellent: "Get to Grand Central Station; take a local up to 51st then walk to 53rd and 11th.." It was a hike, but we made good time.
The MoMA had an exhibit on Dadaism, which some of us enjoyed. I particularly liked the New York school, which featured Marcel Duchamp as its forerunner; Dadaism, New York School style was poised to bring industrial design into being as a particularly American art form. Duchamps famous Fountain, a porcelain urinal, was shown at the exhibit.
After the MoMA, a lovely street vendor from Moscow was selling T-shirts based on political posters from early Communist-era Soviet Russia.
One poster from 1931 featured a poster of a woman in a bandana; the slogan read: "No More Kitchen Slavery"; another T-shirt featured a poster of a baby with a bullet-shaped pacifier in its mouth; the slogan read: "No Better Baby Pacifier," signifying the government's reliance upon weapons, with an obviously ominous symbolism. These are available via www.russiantshirts.com.
Back on the subway, we were treated to another performance. By this time, it was close to 11 p.m. on a Friday night.Â
We had just settled into the crowded car when a man walked through our car from back to front, talking loudly.
"My wife weighs 389 pounds, I tell you. She wants people to come for dinner and champagne. I tell her, get a bottle of water, put an Alka Seltzer in it and call it Dom Perignon.Â How much you guys pay for rent? $1,800 or $1,900 a month? I pay $2 a month. I'm living on this train, I tell you. This is my condominium."
The man moved toward the next car. A man with no legs entered our car and shuffled along the floor.Â As he shuffled, he held out an empty coffee can, panhandling for money.
"Give what you can to my friend, here. Give what you can," The first man said.
The man repeated his story as he moved to the next car, and his friend shuffled after him.
All three nights we got back by midnight to our not-so-tony Inn in the not-tony village of Ardsley in tony Westchester County. But it was clean and cold, and a definite step up (or three) from where we once stayed, at the Econolodge, near Silver Springs, Maryland.
Another trip we will see what I've seen before -- the lovely villages ofÂ Rye, Larchmont and New Rochelle, along Boston Post Road in Westchester.
On our way toward home, we stopped in Yonkers at Homefield Bowl for a game of Tenpin, then off to Foxwoods, in Connecticut, where I donated $5 to the one-arm bandit. The buffet at Foxwoods is well worth its $15 price, which includes more than 100 entrees and desserts.
At long last, after much traffic along the way back, we were happy to be home in Massachusetts.. Our two cats were at the door, waiting for us.