Downtown New York City is something that I've only ever seen in TV or movies, read of in books, or heard of in plays or on the news. It's fill of stories, millions of stories that have been told about this place and the people who have lived here for hundreds of years. Everything from Damon Runyon to the new version of Sherlock Holmes in New York in Elementary from the recent Avengers movies to Miracle on 42nd Street and from Seinfeld to seeing the coverage when the Twin Towers fell. For me, the whole city was stacked and layered and nuanced with Story.
Most of the major publishers live in this city, and so much TV and radio history centers here, and there are reasons for that. And here I was, coming to visit and see, for myself, what I'd only ever heard of or seen through lens.
Our driver in the morning was Luke, not Boris, and the ride through Lincoln tunnel was quick, easy, and given that we had a bus lane that was just for us, really fast. We got a good view of the city from the New Jersey side while on the freeway going in, and this is half of it.
I was just so happy that I didn't have to drive, and I could just look out the windows and watch the traffic and all the buildings that were going on alongside. New York City is a huge city, as expected, and completely filled with cars, buses, trucks, and people trying to get around, and all the traffic is really amazingly slow simply because it's so totally crowded.
And the buildings... were everything I'd expected them to be. Bright, shiny, worked in or lived in, and filled with people and life and an energy that was very very different than that of the big cities in China. Dick said that there's 7 million who called NYC home, but that the city has about 54 million visitors throughout the year. And that another several million come in every morning to work. So those who are here temporarily outnumber those who actually live within the boundaries of the city proper.
Within a few blocks of this park was the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, Lincoln Center (which houses the Metropolitan Opera House, the Avery Fisher Hall which houses the New York Philharmonic, the Lincoln Center Theater which is three theaters in one, the Alice Tully Hall, the Julliard School, the David H. Koch Theater, which houses the New York Balley, and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, which has a recording of every performance on Broadway), and Grand Central Station and Times Square are barely two blocks away from this park. It's pretty much the heart of mid-Manhattan.
Dick took a moment to explain the layout of New York, that all the Avenues went north/south, and all the streets go east/west. The streets are pretty frequent, but the avenues go a really long ways.
That in mid-Manhattan there are no alleys, which is why the trash is all out front on the sidewalk, and by the time they'd starting building here, there were rules about setbacks from the street, so that there would be air and light between all the buildings. Further south in Wall Street and at the tip of Manhattan, the skyscrapers went all the way to the edge of the street. And it made a real difference, too. The streets felt more open, inviting, and light could come all the way down to the ground, and it took none of the awe away from the height and beauty of the buildings themselves.
Denver is actually laid out more like this, in a way, most of the buildings have setbacks and are shiny-new, but not quite so big, on the most part, and not so many of them.
The building ran half the long block between avenues, with a fountain and plaza outside, and then another set of shops through what was called the English Alley down to Fifth Avenue. Downstairs was more shopping and some of the cleanest and biggest public bathrooms in the area.
I was glad Dick knew the importance of bathrooms, and this one was really impressive because it had an attendant in it, doing the cleaning, while directing women to the stalls and out of them to the wash area. She was no-nonsense about it, and it eliminated the dithering about whether or not a stall really was empty or not and all that. *laughs* I am impressed by the funniest things.
We'd go to any tourist site and someone there would know him, greet him by name, and get the return treatment as well.
He also said that all the good food carts were between 48th and 54th Streets, and to look out for the original Halal Guys, who did a brisk trade in Muslim Kosher food. *blink blink* Falafel and lamb on rice with all the fixings. There were similar trucks all over the city, but you could tell the "real" one by the block-long line next to it. I liked that as the indicator.
It is the whitest, brightest cathedral of this type of architecture I've ever seen. The renovation story says "A cathedral is a prayer sung in stone." And I think that they basically cleaned every piece of stone and/or replaced it with a piece that matched, and they're doing the same thing for every bit of the interior, including the mighty pipe organ, the stained glass, the pews, altars niches, and ceilings. Wow.
The interior was lined with candle stands, for those that wanted to offer a candle, and there were large numbers of people just there to pray in the pews. The security at the front entrance was there, but was cursory on the most part, just a look into your bags to make sure that you didn't have anything dangerous, but they were thorough about looking into everyone's bags.
I was the very last person out of there. *laughs* I also got a medallion from one of the vending machines by the tiny closet of a gift shop. I gave it a five dollar bill and it gave me a shiny gold-colored medallion of the Cathedral and two gold-coin dollars as change. I loved both.
From there we headed north along Fifth Avenue and got to see bits of life in the Big City that I hadn't expected.
Beijing was crowded. Nearly three times more people live there, but there weren't so many cars that traffic went down to this. The utterly prohibitive cost of driving in Beijing made it so that the traffic flowed when there was any, and most people did mopeds or bikes, but here in NYC, the sheer number of cars made it so that no one could get anywhere fast, even if you had a siren and flashing lights.
And even the foot traffic got in the way of the fire fighters doing what they needed to do. This was just a street-level shop fire, and they were able to get in pretty easily, but afterward, when the fire guys were trying to fold up their hoses, the foot traffic couldn't wait on them to finish and tried to step around and even over the hoses while they were trying to get them back on their truck.
And they were all over the city, too, we saw them here, by Central Park in several locations, and when I checked them out on their website, the map is pretty dramatically full all through the boroughs. Dick went through, with us, the five boroughs of NYC, and they are Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. We spent all our time on Manhattan, and it was more than enough for us on the most part.
We strolled up Madison Avenue for a while until we went left through Bonhams, to Niketown and the base of the Trump Tower.
Turns out that the term "Big Apple" was actually coined by jazz musicians, who were talking about all the venues across the country as fruit ready and ripe for the picking. There were so many of them throughout the United States, that it was a veritable orchard of places to play. But the prime piece, the Big Apple, was New York City. And that is how the city got its nickname of The Big Apple.
Like I said. Stories. Whatever this city might be short of, it isn't stories.
This is the Apple Glass Cube front to its store in the basement of the GM building. It sits right smack in the middle of the plaza before the building, and just across Fifth Avenue from the Pulitzer Fountain, and kitty corner to the south east corner of Central Park.
Behind it was FAO Schwartz, which Dick explained, was going to have to move out soon as the rent was too high for them to afford anymore; but the big piano was still in it, and we should see it while we were wandering about. He also said that he was going to take us into Central Park just to show as a glimpse, and then leave us to find our own lunches and return to the Five Faces statute to meet up with the smaller Canadian group that was going to join us for the rest of our days.
EA Educational Tours. Dana Clanin's the taller one and is Jet's jazz band teacher, and the teacher of all the bands throughout the grades. Her bands are so big that they've had to split the brass and percussion from the woodwinds in order for them to fit into the band room, and the halls are lined with instrument lockers. Beth is the choir director, and I think it's the performance choir that came.
Normal Band, Choir, and Orchestra are taught every other day, but students can sign up for jazz band, performance choir, and a special orchestra. These special music groups meet every day, during the half hour quiet reading period that helps bracket lunch so that they can do lunch in two waves to accommodate everyone. But it takes a certain kind of dedication to do it, and so Dana and Beth only opened the trip up to the kids that did the extra music, because the educational focus of the trip was on the performing arts.
We really love Miss Clanin (Mama C to the kids), her attitude and methods, and sheer enthusiasm for kids making music is something I've always loved, and it was great getting to travel with her. Jet has always enjoyed playing for her.
We were just brushing the edge of all that, a quick introduction by The Pond (that is the name of it. *laughs*) in the southeast corner. And Dick took us all onto this rock, like a lot of the other rocks throughout the park, and he happily explained that it is unlike any other rock in the world, because it was made of Manhattan schist, and lumps of that schist was throughout the park as decoration.
Middle schoolers love the near-miss of "schist" with other words, and he took great enjoyment in that, and rattled off a list of the things that could be found in the park. He took us back to the Pulitzer Fountain (which is also right in front of the Plaza, which I think is the Plaza Hotel, right on the Grand Army Plaza, and let us go.
Sadly, Dick was supposed to have handed out lunch money for everyone, and he completely forgot to do so. Luckily, most of us had enough cash, at the beginning of the trip, to float ourselves, but it was not a great thing to do. Part of the plans for the trip was that the kids would get money, regularly for the meals, as not every kid is good at regulating how they spend.
John and I, of course, had a bit more money along with us. We looked at the Halal carts and realized that we can get pretty good falafel and gyros at home. What we couldn't get was Peruvian Fusion food and Korean kim chee tacos. Yeah. Korean/Mexican fusion was pretty amazing for me. Only in the Big City where all kinds of cultures mix and mesh and play off each other. Next time, I really want to go to the Momofuku Noodle bar, but we were either too far south or too far north on the most part, except for the last day, but Greenwich Village had all kinds of other classical New York City lures.
John's spicy pork bowl was very tasty. I got a short rib taco, a falafel taco (the surprise made me buy it), and a fried chicken wing taco at the Korean taco cart. The short rib one and very sweet, tender meat with just a hint of spice and the crunch of cabbage, green onions, and the salty crumble of Mexican cheese. The falafel one was okay, but well... chickpeas and a mediocre salsa. The one both John and I liked the most was the spicy, crunchy chicken wing, nestled in Vietnamese red onion pickles. Yum. It made me very happy, that last taco.
The first on that list was this, Carnegie Hall. It's got a beautiful facade and front foyer and ticket booths. We went inside, and found two ladies at an information desk in front of all the ticket booths, and they had little buttons and programs and the most excellent advise that we should go two doors down and visit the museum of the Hall.
So we followed their directions, found a tiny hallway that fit one guard and one elevator door. The elevator was tiny, could barely fit six people, and we were going up to the second floor.
The Museum itself had lovely displays, with a wall with nothing but playbills of old performances. There were monitors with various recordings of old performances going on, and there was a lot of the history of the hall and everyone that had come to it. One of my favorites was that of a nail in a bit of beaten up floorboard. It was called "Horowitz's Nail" When Vladamir Horowitzh, in 1965, decided to do a "comeback" concert in Carnegie Hall, he had rehearsals in the hall beforehand. And he'd begin each rehearsal but ordering the stagehands to move the piano about until he was pleased with the acoustics. Unknown to him, the first time he did that, the stagehands hammered nails into the stage where the legs of the piano rested. The amusing thing was that for all that he began every rehearsal with moving the piano around, the stagehands noticed that almost every time, the legs of the piano ended up on the nails.
One prominent theme in the gift shop was the old joke about Carnegie Hall: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" "Practice, practice, practice." There were t-shirts, notebooks, postcards, neckties, and coffee mugs with "Practice, Practice, Practice." written on them. I kind of liked that.
I realized, at this time, that I wished I'd brought along my bottle of water in my backpack. I'd decided that morning to just have my purse, and drink water out of John's water bottles, and that was mostly working, but I was pretty thirsty through the walk in the open of the park. Both John and I had brought our river hats, too, which was very nice in the full sun, and everyone else was slathering on the sunscreen.
This is also where the teachers' picture was taken.
There were two floors of store to the place, and there was a huge candy store, and you can see behind the piano there was a custom car shop, with all kinds of equipment and customizations you could make to an RC car. Body types, colors, engines, frames, tires, everything could be made the way you wanted to make them, and I'll admit that I thought it was hugely better than the stuff a bear thing elsewhere on the same floor. There were all kinds of toys, a huge corridor with nothing but stuffed snakes of a multitude of colors, there were Legos, science toys, Barbies, a whole Disney section with signed limited edition prints of various characters.
After that John and I ran off to the NHL store, where I bought a Ranger's hat, simply because they were playing in the Stanley Cup while we were here. Win or lose, it was a nice way to remember what else was happening while we were here, and I wanted to buy a Ranger's cap in New York. I used to follow hockey pretty closely.
We made it, in plenty of time, to meet up with the Canadians and everyone else. We had to wait a bit for Dick.
I think that part of the fun of walking through a city is seeing the things that are hidden to most people. One of those things that I delighted in was this waterfall feature. There's something like it but different in Seattle, too, where the water falls all around the place where people walk.
There was a beautiful, quiet little plaza behind this wall, where a coffee shop was doing great business, and from the tables you couldn't hear any of the traffic noise because of the white noise of the water covering it all up. I love those kinds of things.
Also, walking with Dick, I got a better sense of the flow and beat of the traffic, not only on the streets, but on the sidewalks as well. The sidewalks here are always full of people, which is very unlike Longmont, and even a bit unlike Denver. In Denver, the traffic flows really well, so most people drive through or around things, and just stop where they're going, and there just isn't a huge amount of foot traffic except when venues have special events. Here with the traffic the way it is, and the subway bringing lot of people in on foot, there's always a flow of people on the sidewalks.
It's a "Square" that is actually a triangle. Yes. Broadway cuts diagonally through mid-town Manhattan and is the longest street of a single name in the US. Times Square has requirements for the lighting on all the "store" fronts, and the one church that fronts the Square was required to have a bit advertising board on it with neon. They got to have some say about what went on that board, too, which is a good thing, as at one point the board was showing Victoria Secret ads, and they were not pleased.
It's amazingly imposing standing on the ground in Time Square in real life. It really does all tower over you. There are bleachers in the middle, just so that people can sit and absorb it all for a while. The theater for American in Paris was right there in the square, at the Palace theater, right across 7th Avenue from the bleachers, just to the left of that McDonald's in the picture. The bleachers were to the right.
The prices were much higher, too, of course, and the $10 we were supposed to have had for lunch would not have gone that far; however, it was far better than the restaurant prices we'd seen.
And up there, behind all that, is the Empire State Building.
So this last Christmas, my sister Kathy found some really great presents for John and Jet. They included the two halves of mid-town Manhattan, the east and west sides of it, including the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and the like. It's got the slant roofed shiny building that's now owned by the Japanese, and all the things in between. John and Jet had a great time building it, and Jet really got fascinated by the Empire State Building and everything around it.
Dick has forgotten to give us our money for lunch, and he kind of made up for it by giving every kid a fifty dollar bill for all their lunches. It kind of made sense? But it might not have if these kids hadn't been as good as they were at regulating themselves. Jet, in fact, had a plan on how he was going to save his money so that he'd have something afterward; but that's just how Jet works. Dick also gave us another ten dollars for dinner, because the central office had given him another $100 that he'd have to break into ones to give us the other two dollars. He promised it for when we got back, and that was all right.
The front area had the made to order foods, including pizzas, sushi, sandwiches, and grilled items. In the back were two enormous buffets of both hot and cold foods. You just bought everything by the pound!
I loaded up on fresh fruit, including several slices of grapefruit along with strawberries, melon, and the like. I also had a huge mound of something that looked like pot roast (there were no labels on many of the hot foods, other than the Chinese-style dumplings, which were labeled with what was inside them) and another of smashed potatoes with some of the skins still on and good and lumpy instead of just blended smooth. I got a few cooked carrots just to complete that. We paid at the front. The lady just stacked all of our boxes on top of each other and charged the going rate, along with a few fountain drinks.
We then went downstairs into a nice clean little dining area and much of our group ate down there. There was a clean bathroom, and with only us there was no wait. So it was quite nice.
And the food was quite nice. The pot roast was savory and tender and the mashed potatoes was everything I'd hoped they'd be, hearty, tasty, and with good texture and hot enough to really satisfy. I was amused to find that Jet got grapefruit, too, of the dozens of things he had chosen from. So we had a really excellent meal for not that much money.
The first lines, however, were for the security searches. The art deco design was extended throughout the building, and the floors were like this even in the hallways we were waiting in to get through security. I was really impressed by them and the gold bar dividers between the coming and going lines of people. Security was pretty tight, and they xray searched all the bags, and did the metal detectors on all the people.
Dick commented that since 9/11, security had tightened up everywhere in the city, and New Yorkers are just really used to and good at getting through security lines. There just are a lot more of them, and since everyone had had some direct experience with that day, they just go through it as a matter-of-course.
At the end was, of course, the huge line. The doormen said that the stairs were closed, too, as they had people coming down them, and they had to let them all through before anyone could go up those stairs as they were really narrow. "Clearing the bodies," I heard someone mutter.
Then five minutes after we'd joined the line, Dick said that the stairs were open, and he led the charge. Turns out that the guard had just talked about opening the stairs, but hadn't done so quite, yet, and Dick was the one that actually opened the door to the stairs up. I was following John, but not quite quick enough, so that there were half a dozen people between us.
Dick stopped on one of the platforms to see who had been crazy enough to follow him, and cautioned us against going too fast. Halfway up, there was also a doorman in full uniform who said that we should take it easy, that it was harder than you thought to go a full six flights.
But no one slowed down too much. By the fourth staircase, one of the ladies in front of me said, "Feel the burn..." But she kept going, too, stopping only, like me, to take a picture of what was in front of us. It really was pretty narrow and steep, and I was definitely feeling it by the time we pushed out onto the observation floor.
It was so cool up there. The wind was going pretty good, but not crazy, and typical for that high up in the air. It was a beautiful view off the deck, in all directions; and we were the first for our time group, so it started out relatively uncrowded, as the elevators brought people up a half dozen or so at a time.
There were walls up to about waist high, and then over them were iron bars that it was easy to poke a camera through to take a picture. This one, obviously, is to the West, toward the sunset. Dick said that today and tomorrow was going to be a phenomenon called Manhattanhenge. On Friday night, at 8:12 pm was going to be, supposedly, when half the sun would align with the street grid of Manhattan, and on Saturday, the full sun should be visible between the buildings. But looking at this photo, the ground level layer was foggy, and by the time we were supposed to be going down to ground level, the cloud layer had thickened significantly. I don't know how many people actually got to see it...
Dick told us, later, that all the roofs in the city were required to have wooden water towers built on them. It was a union thing as well as a fire safety thing, because the water pressure from the street wouldn't get water up to a fire if it were on top of the buildings. So every single rooftop actually has a wooden water tank, but they can be hidden or disguised as other things, so long as a fireman can still get water out of them if there actually is a fire. If you click on this photo in flickr, you can actually see a good number of the water tanks. There's four on the white building in the center, with the turquoise restaurant addition on the roof. There are also people, tables, umbrellas and the like as well. *laughs*
This is the top of the Empire State Building, where you normally find King Kong and Fay Ray. This picture also has a good indicator of the iron work that surrounds the observation tower. It is all covered like this, too, probably to just keep people where they belong and not up like King Kong along the outside of the building.
The whole building took fourteen months to build. They sometimes did four stories a week in the winter before the spring in which it opened. They had a lot of Native American's on the work site because they had less problems with the balancing problem of being up on the girders. There was no OSHA, and no safety systems required. Of the same era was the pictures of the construction workers eating their lunches on an open girder, but that was in the building of the Rockefeller Center, not the Empire State Building.
He talked a little about the history of the building, including the fact that one of the common nicknames for it is the "Empty" State Building. It has never really done that well with businesses. It just isn't set up well for them, and has problem renting out office space between the ground floor and the 80th. There is, however, always tourist traffic to the roof and the observation areas, one of the reasons why businesses don't do quite as well, since all the elevator capacity is mostly taken up by the tourists.
There was a person inside the suit! So I gave him a hug and asked if I could take a picture with him, and this is the result. *laughs*
And on the edge of the Square, they were doing some road work and using the vast network of steam tubes that ran through the city. Originally the steam was used to heat many of the buildings, but it was also used to power road work equipment. Tubes were setup to allow it to vent up into the air, not directly at people or cars, and this picture shows one of the venting tubes.
I found that fascinating, when so much of the city is so new, to still have small reminders of the fact that there is still a piece of history buried under the pavement. The history here isn't obvious the way it is around every corner of London, or in the narrow alleys of the Hutongs or Temple of Heaven in Beijing, but it's still there.
The ride back to the hotel was very short, and given that I'd done more than 30,000 steps in just the one day, I was more than ready for bed. I didn't even try to digest anything, just showered and fell into bed, knowing I'd have to be up at 7 am for breakfast the next day.