Anthrocide is the official website for D.L. Hamilton, author of several Christian novels and essays.

Four ‘Seeds in the Big Apple (Part 2)

On Saturday we headed to New Jersey which would be our home base for our excursions in NYC. Although it was too early for check-in at the hotel in Edison, New Jersey, we wanted to go there first to sort of get our bearings and take whatever transportation to NYC was nearby. The hotel was a Comfort Inn that we could see on the left side as we drove down the multi-lane street past it but since the street had a tall cement divider and allowed no left or U-turns we could not get there. Matilda would tell us to turn right now and again but that made little sense (rather like Columbus sailing west to get to the east). After a mile or two we took her advice at a street with a sign pointing right that read “All Turns.” What one did was turn right and immediately swing around an island to the left, went over an overpass and then navigate onto the desired road going the desired direction. This did not bode well for us finding our way around.

Rick had heard somewhere that one could take a subway into New York City from nearby locations in New Jersey but if that is true we never found it. One thing we were sure of is that we did not want to drive in New York. Now that we’ve been there that was truly one of the most intelligent decisions of the whole trip. The hotel clerk told Rick he could go two stoplights down, turn right and take a commuter train into NYC (this was on Saturday). Despite Matilda’s protests Rick followed the clerk’s directions and we wandered around in a residential area for a while before realizing that he should have said three stoplights down. Anyway we parked at the New Jersey Transit station in a numbered place. A sign saying “Pay for Parking” pointed to a machine that had Rick put in our space number and $4. The question was, did we need to put a receipt or something in our car window since we were warned that unpaid parkers would be towed? Inside the station the person running the little snack kiosk, when Rick asked that question, curtly replied that she had no answers. Period. We shrugged and set about buying tickets for the trip into NYC. Penn Station, New York City, was the final stop, so we had the right train. But unlike some low-cost subway ride, the fare was $12.50. Each. One-way. If you do the math that means $50 per couple round trip. Oh well, this was a once in a lifetime event, so we bought the tickets. A train arrived promptly and the ride in was quite comfortable. In about 50 minutes we arrived at Penn Station beneath the streets of New York City.

At this juncture I need to make a confession. I had not done any preparation for getting around in New York; all I knew I wanted to do was see the Statue of Liberty and go up into the Empire State Building. I sort of despaired at having any hope of divining the mysteries of the subway system so I left figuring that out completely to Rick. Now that I’ve experienced it, I realize that if I’d taken a little time to become somewhat familiar with it in advance I could have helped him out. Rick knew he wanted to get to Times Square where we could pick up a tour bus. He asked the station agent and she told him we could take the red 1, 2, or 3 subway to 42nd Street (yes, as in “…Tell all the gang at 42nd street that I will soon be there…”). Penn Station has tracks for NJ Transit (which we had ridden in on), Amtrak, and the NY Subway. We, with some difficulty, found our way to a subway platform marked with a red 1 to await the next train. Buying a ticket was not much different than buying one for a BART train in the Bay Area and we were told we could by one 4-ride ticket and pass it from person-to-person as we went through the turnstiles. That was fine except the fourth person, Glenda, could not get the ticket to work. For a moment it looked like she was going to have to buy another ticket when it finally let her through.

I must note that TV had given me a misguided impression of the NY subway. I expected a filthy, reeking, graffiti-riddled hell-hole littered with winos and bag-ladies and expected the trains to be ancient and rickety. Except that the platforms were obviously pretty old, it was none of that and the trains were clean and well-maintained. A red 1 train arrived and we climbed aboard. Penn Station is actually at 34th Street. We watched the stations as they passed: 28th Street, 23rd Street, 18th Street. At this point in unison we all looked at each other and said, “Weren’t we supposed to be headed to 42nd Street?” We decided we better get off at the next station which was, I believe, 14th Street. Fortunately there was a stair-bridge thingy that let us cross to the platform on the other side without having to re-ticket. We boarded another train and retraced our steps past Penn Station and, at last, to 42nd Street/Times Square. We wandered for a bit not knowing which subway exit would take us where then decided just to go for it and walked out onto Times Square which was everything you’ve seen on TV: Huge Jumbo-tron advertisements, scrolling news headlines, and mobs of people. The New Years ball was still in place where it had dropped-to last January (somehow I had thought it would have been removed till New Years—interestingly it is much smaller than I had thought). I had also assumed that Times Square was a confluence of streets that get blocked off during new years but it actually is a sort of grassless park with little tables and chairs where people can just sit or bring their food from one of the myriad eating establishments that surround it. A tour guide would later tell us that native New Yorkers don’t frequent Times Square—it’s for tourists. We were approached by one of the tour bus hawkers and Rick asked where to get tickets. “Over there at Planet Hollywood” was the response. He headed off while I sat with the girls at one of the little tables and marveled at the enormity of it all. An older woman spotted Becki taking pictures and asked if she’d like her to take one of the three of us. Becki immediately said no rather curtly—a surprise coming from my sweet, gentle spouse. When the woman left, Becki explained that it was a bit too odd that someone would so purposefully volunteer to take our picture so she was concerned that the woman wanted to just steal the camera. I congratulated Becki on her quick thinking—that didn’t even occur to me, but she was pretty sharp to think of it. Rick returned with tickets for two bus tours, the Statue of Liberty, and the Empire State Building. Before boarding a bus we decided that we needed a potty break and some lunch. (Note: Throughout this narrative, just assume that anytime there is the slightest change from one thing to the next that someone in the group had to find and use a restroom first—me as often as not.) Being in the heart of New York City we certainly weren’t going to eat at McDonald’s (although there is one right there on Times Square) but had to find something New Yorkie. We spotted the Roxy Deli café near where we would board the bus and decided that fit the bill. Sandwiches were mostly in the $15 range—yes, that’s for one sandwich although each one had a pound of meat on it. We decided to share even though per the menu that was $3 extra. Becki and I ordered a hot pastrami on rye, the most New York Deli thing I could imagine. We were told the $3 would be waived if we ordered a side dish so we got a huge plate of excellent fries for $6. Not sure the economics of that worked out. But the sandwich was awesome. Becki wasn’t sure she even liked pastrami, and rye is not her favorite, but she is still raving about that sandwich till yet.

We boarded the tour bus and the guide was a woman who informed us that she loved being in parades and had been in one as the “Kentucky Fried Mermaid.” Google it and you’ll see her. There was a Korean parade going on so traffic was slow and the KFC-M had to do a lot of ad-libbing. She was a bit annoying such that at one point when she went to help some new passengers an entire family got off the bus complaining that they couldn’t take her anymore. Being on a tour bus (we sat in the open in seats on the roof of the bus) allowed us to act as touristy as we wanted (“Gawwwww-leeeee! Lookit the size o’ them buildin’s!”).

We got off at Ground Zero but truthfully most of it is just a huge construction site (see the plans here). There was a museum on one of the perimeter streets but we still were wanting to get to the Statue of Liberty. We got back on another tour bus with a less annoying guide and made our way to where the tour boats take you to Liberty Island. Here we once again went through an airport-style shakedown (except we could leave our shoes on) then boarded the boat. We disembarked at the island and walked around the statue but one has to get separate tickets well in advance to go up onto the actual pedestal and to go up into the crown they were selling tickets to do so in December. Still it was very cool but with the walking and jostling through crowds us oldsters were starting to wear out. The next stop for the boat was Ellis Island which has a museum but we opted to stay on the boat till it got back to Manhattan. We then got on another bus and finished our “downtown” tour ending up near the 50th Street subway station.

We once again bought subway tickets so we could get back to Penn Station and once again Glenda’s took several tries before it worked. We knew we needed to get on a red 1 train but when we got to the platform I saw that it ended at “South Ferry” right back where we had just come from. “Don’t we need to be on the opposite platform headed the other way?” I asked Rick. He agreed so I asked a young woman waiting for a train if there was any way to get to the other side headed the other way. She said, “No, but you can get on and go to 42nd Street where there’s a crossover.” We thanked her and did that very thing, lamenting that we had once again had to do a U-turn in the New York subway. We started riding and got back to the 50th Street station, then the 59th Street station when, again in unison, we all realized that to get to 34th Street (Penn Station) we had been right the first time. We got off again, this time needing only to walk to the other side of the middle platform and boarded a train headed the other way. A New Yorker sitting on the train with his girlfriend listening to our confusion asked if he could help. He confirmed that we were now headed the right way. When they exited at 42nd Street he told us that Penn Station was the next stop. Still way too confused, I wondered aloud if we didn’t need to go back past 28th Street and so on. Another New Yorker wearing a set of iPod headphones reassured me that Penn Station was indeed the next stop. He was correct. Despite dire warnings not to look like tourists and never to speak or make eye contact with New Yorkers, here we had met three very kind and helpful New Yorkers within a few minutes.

We entered Penn Station and by now it was about 8:30 p.m. and we were hungry. There are places to eat under there so we opted for New York pizza-by-the-slice. They were huge and while I am a Chicago-style deep dish fan, the thin crust on this was light and airy and not the tasteless cracker stuff like one gets at so many pizza places around here. Maybe I was just hungry but I enjoyed it a lot. We went up to a waiting area with lots of doors and with people milling around. There were monitors with some sort of information on them but I could make no sense of them; they could have been hieroglyphics for all I could tell. I mistakenly thought this was for Amtrak people so I didn’t pay much attention to them in any case. Rick asked a cop how to get to New Jersey and was told we could catch the NJ Transit to Edison on Track 10. We went through some doors and down an escalator and within a few minutes our train arrived. Some 50 minutes later we got back in our rental car and after several U-turns and “All Turns” adventures ended-up back at our hotel, exhausted. I went to sleep wondering what adventures—and how many more U-Turns—awaited us on Sunday.


2 Comments so far

  1. doctormac October 10th, 2010 9:18 pm

    New Yorkers are generally great, I think they wear their rep as a badge of honor, but it’s largely hollow. If you really want to have some sterotypes blown try (foolishly) navigating the subway with a baby in a stroller. Can’t remember how many NYers volunteered to help hoist it up and down the stairs. They sort of seem to melt around babies.

  2. dlh October 11th, 2010 8:44 am

    Then again, from our experience that’s a lot of stairs! Or maybe if one knows where he’s going, not quite so many…

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.