Our Epic Stateside Trip, Part 2b/4: New York City (the second time around)

Back to mid-August, 2013. We drove south on the Pike towards New Jersey, first. We have friends there, Sean’s old college buddy, Bob, and his family. They are great! We arrived slightly sluggish, a bit late, and still a little hungover from our food poisoning debacle, but Bob and Sue and their kids couldn’t have been more welcoming. It was great to catch up with those guys, and another one of their college buddies who drove from his place to have a mini-reunion. It was great to walk onto Bob and Sue’s deck, where the beer was cold and the pulled pork was perfect and the conversation made us laugh. It was such a great time, that I never once got my phone out of my purse to take a snap. Grrr. But we thank you, Bob and Sue, and your wonderful kids who set up a carnival in their back yard in honor of our kids’ arrival! And thank you, Colin, for driving the highways and byways of New Jersey to get to us.

The next morning, we enjoyed a yummy pancake breakfast before high-tailing it back to the Upper West Side, where Sean dropped us off before driving down and returning the rental car. Thus began:

Day 1: Monday, August 12th

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This was our midtown day. Just a note. Every year we make a pilgrimage to the New York Transit Museum, and get the kids a shirt. The N was last year’s shirt. We still have no idea why he picked it, since we never ride the N. So it was exciting to encounter the N in real life.

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Sean’s request was to eat at Carnegie Deli, something we hadn’t done since before we lived in New York City, and possibly only once ever because, Whoa. The portions are ridiculous. I mean, we knew they were big, we remembered that. But “big” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Preposterous? Absurd? Surreal? Terrifying?

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Thankfully, the pickles were plentiful.

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28This meal was followed up by a walk down iconic 5th Avenue. The shop windows; Rockefeller Center; the statue of Atlas; St. Patrick’s Cathedral; and ultimately our next destination, the New York Public Library. It’s a wonderful place, full of history, and such serious quietude that promises to fill little kids with nervous giggling because they know they need to be quiet.

Here, the kids and BaBa pose with one of the lions. And a random dude.

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05This trip to the library was followed by a walk to Times Square and the insane, and ultimately punishing, experience of Toys R Us.

It’s a 5-story toy store with a working ferris wheel in the middle. It is so over the top that it can’t help but sear itself into the memory of all kids who come to know it. Therefore, whenever we travel to New York City, the siren song of the Times Square Toys R Us calls to our kids. Endlessly.  So year after year we make a one-time stop with a clearly articulated agreement, which the kids are forced to repeat back to us, one hand in the air and the other on their heart, while looking us in the eye: one trip on the ferris wheel and one toy, under $10. We’re such idiots.

We rode the ride, and wandered helplessly amongst the throngs, splitting off into pairs only to lose the other pair. Multiple times. We circled the same displays, certain that we knew where we were going, losing ourselves again and again. We spent minutes upon minutes watching salespeople try to hard-sell us on a “magical” fairy-on-fishing-wire toy (who do they think I am?) or a kid nail art nail polish set (um… I caved on that one).  Sadly, it ended when our child, poor, sweet, angelic Auric befell the fate of many a child before him. With the over-stimulation of too many toys, he couldn’t bear to choose just a single toy. But the nightmare of his impending, toy-less departure overwhelmed him. He ultimately lay in a weeping heap on the ground, near the security guard at the exit, who surely watches this same melodrama play out a hundred times per shift. There was a final opportunity, seriously this time, to go in and pick a toy, which he did. And we were thankfully allowed to go about our lives again, the Toys R Us travesty once again blessedly in our past. For the time being…

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We finished the night with a dinner on Broadway, at our beloved Amir’s, and then a walk onto Columbia’s campus. The kids had a session of racing that followed with the inevitable wrestling match.

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Day 2: Tuesday, August 13th

We woke up to a New York City drowning in buckets of rain. So it was going to be another museum day, and specifically, the MoMA. Here’s what Auric looks like in an adult-size poncho.

Thankfully, we reserved our tickets ahead of time so that when we arrived at the MoMA with about 10,000 other tourists hoping to avoid the rain, we didn’t have to stand in the soggy line outside, waiting just to get in to buy tickets to get in. Yikes.

The following photos are of our enlightening, and thankfully dry, hours in the MoMA.

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It had “fined up,” as the Kiwis say, by the time we left the museum. So we decided to walk part of the way home through Central Park.

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.And to boot, when we arrived back at our Upper West Side apartment, we found that the scooters we’d ordered had arrived. The kids proceeded to scooter up and down the path of Riverside Park. I even tried it out!

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That night, we finally caught up with our great friend, and old colleague of Sean’s, Dan. We ate at one of our favorite Morningside Heights restaurants, Symposium, a local institution. Here we are walking home from dinner. (And fyi, that’s Toothless that he’s holding, from the Dreamworks movie How to Train Your Dragon. That was the toy that turned things around for us at Toys R Us.)

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Dan is great! He’s a funny and sweet guy and we love catching up with him. The kids find him fascinating.

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Day 3: Wednesday, August 14th

01Today was a day that Thora and I had been looking forward to for many months, specifically since the previous January, when I first introduced the kids to the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz. Once we’d seen that, and listened to the soundtrack through countless pancake breakfasts, I decided that when we were in NYC, Thora and I would see Wicked. To get ready for the famous story (which is told from the perspective of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West), I started reading Wicked, the novel, to her. Umm. Mistake. I pretty quickly got to the first sex scene and realized that I would need to read at night and then summarize the plot for her the next morning. Leading up to this day, we’d had many months between watching the movie and arriving in New York to anticipate the musical, to talk about the story, and the idea of the story changing, depending on who is doing the telling. We were psyched.

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After Sean and I ran through Central Park, we split up into pairs for the day. Auric and Sean rode the train up to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, where he did his training, to visit with old colleagues and mentors. They followed that up with a few (apparently very serious) hours at the Central Park Zoo.

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Thora and I started our day together with brunch at a great place on Broadway, Community, which specializes in food made with locally-sourced ingredients.

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We followed that up with a manicure. Thora went for two colors, while I took inspiration from Elphaba’s skin color.

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Sean and I had seen Wicked many many years ago. I knew to what to expect. But as is usually the case, the fun is experiencing it again through Thora’s eyes. It didn’t disappoint. It was late afternoon when we got out of the show. We then walked our way down to 34th and 5th, to the Empire State Building where we met Sean and Auric. It was magical being up there with the kids, watching them take in the view of the city, the impossible crowding of high-rises, the streets so far below flowing with undying streams of toy-like traffic. Below are photos from the ESB. I love the ones in which Thora is pointing out landmarks to Auric.

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Day 4: Thursday, August 15th

33This was our last full day in New York City and we were making a second trip out to Brooklyn. This time, we got lucky and our time in NYC overlapped with my great friend and former co-worker during my Labyrinth days, Elizabeth, or as my kids know her, Aunty Lizzy. We met her and her littlest boy at the New York Transit Museum, a great museum which occupies an old and unused subway station in Brooklyn. You walk around inside restored subway cars from many eras, and explore many exhibits that illustrate the history of mass transit in New York.

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There’s also a hands-on kids area. The kids love getting behind the big steering wheel of a modern-day MTA bus.

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And of course there’s the awesome gift shop. This year’s shirts are the A for Auric, which feels good since we indeed have a long history with this train, and the T for Thora, the 2nd Avenue Local, planned but yet to be built.

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27After lunch, we met up with Elizabeth again, this time at the awesome Pier 6 playground on Brooklyn’s re-vamped waterfront area in Brooklyn Heights. We’ve been making a trip out to Brooklyn for several years now, specifically for this playground, and each year more has been made of this expansive public space. The park is made up of four enclosed areas: a water park, a slide park, a sand park, and a swing park. We usually find ourselves exhausted and hot on a blistering summer day and barely leave the water park. This year was no different.

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35.After the kids had had enough splashing, we strolled along the water front and got ice cream at an insanely good ice cream truck and ate it overlooking the water and the lower Manhattan skyline. Here we are posing for a snapshot before Elizabeth and her mom walked us back to the train where we hugged goodbye and parted ways, her back to her Brooklyn apartment and us to the Upper West Side.

That night we had our final dinner with Dan and his fiance at his Riverside Drive apartment. As we scootered home, Thora lost her wiggly tooth. Sheesh, talk about a busy vacation. Our kids teeth were falling out!!!

01Day 5: Friday, August 16th

This was our last morning in New York City, the city where we lived during the first four years of our marriage, the city where our first child was born, the city that made Sean the doctor he is today. I hate leaving New York City, especially when it might be years before we return. This was the photo that I snapped as we were on the RFK Bridge on the way to LaGuardia, looking back at midtown. As Thora says, “New York, New York, New York. The city so nice, they named it thrice.” Till next time.

Lucky are we that we have friends all over the country, and so as the grief of leaving threatened to overflow, we began to visualize landing in San Francisco and being met by old an friend from our days in Tucson, Sean’s rugby buddy, Joe. The Epic Stateside Trip had one final stop: 30 hours in San Francisco. Stay tuned…

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