Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New York, NY - Being a Tourist

As much as you'd like to give the impression that you're a jaded New Yorker, when you no longer live in the city, you simply cannot escape tourist status, which is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you're with kids. We spent Saturday showing the kids around the city, visiting the places we used to love when we lived there, and approaching it with the same novel enthusiasm that they had.

We took the PATH train and got off around Times Square, though we didn't spend any time there because it had been decided that it was better seen in the evening, though that would entail being in the city for about eight hours. We hopped on a subway and headed for the Museum of Natural History. Of course, being tourists, we got on an express train and ended up on 125th St. in Harlem. We weren't alone, as a mother with two kids was there with us. Some guy on the train said the express ran local on the weekends, but this turned out not to be the case, so we went for a little ride. Besides, every neophyte New Yorker gets on the wrong train or bus at some point. The worst is when you're alone late in the evening.

The Museum is pretty much a must-see with kids, though it's one of those things I could easily pass on, much like miniature golf and kid's museums. Then again, you can squeeze in a homeschool lesson (who is the statue in front? He was the mayor of New York and President of the US) You go there because the kids get a lot out of it, but it does not get me as pumped. AND, it was a zoo, and it was expensive. I would just as soon hang out in front on the steps and eat hot dogs and watch people walk by, which we did. I taught the kids one of their many lessons in being a cynical New Yorker, and that's to make sure the vendor doesn't try to sneak in a sausage into your hot dog. In touristy areas, they do that, figuring you won't notice and they can charge you the extra dollar. It happens all the time. The kids seemed excited about it all, though not as enthused as I've seen them in other areas. I think dinosaurs will only get you so far with A&N. They're just bones, after all. The kids seemed more intent on feeding the pigeons, even though jaded New Yorkers might disapprove.

They especially seemed to like the dioramas, which the museum does an amazing job of. We spent the better half of the day in there, and by the end, we were ready for a walk in Central Park. After chowing on hot dogs from a vendor, one of N's favorite activities, we headed into the park, with our sites set on finding assorted locales. I think Central Park is probably better appreciated by adults, because there are a lot of cool things about the place, while kids just want to feed the ducks, play on jungle gyms, and ride in the row boats. Speaking of boats, A was adamant of renting one and rowing around the pond, but we were pressed for time, and the pond was crowded. We passed on it, much to her chagrin, which lasted the rest of the day.

We headed down to the southern section of the park, pointing out various points of interest, though again, I think the kids were a bit ho-hum on it all. In their defense, we were all tired, it had been a long day, and we still had a ways to go. R and I got into a debate as to whether or not one of the performers was still there, since it had been about ten years since we'd been back.

There is a guy who has been playing guitar in the park of years. He was there the entire time that I'd lived in NY, and he had a huge following. I'm not sure what his deal was, but he played acoustic guitar and was really talented. R said there was no way that he was still doing it, while I said he was. When we got to his regular spot, he was gone, and R smiled with vindication, but not so fast. It turns out he had simply moved his gig, for whatever reason, to the other side of the park. We went and listened, marveling at the fact that he was still there. The more things change, the more they stay the same. I really liked watching the guy perform, just an acoustic guitar and his voice, but there's something kind of sad about it all, as if they guy can't let go and wants to wallow in nostalgia. Then again, he's got a great gig, and probably enjoys his life of art.

We walked over to 5th Ave and caught the downtown bus. I'm not well versed in buses in NYC, I always walked or took the subway, so finding the right bus to get you where you want to be can be an adventure. We were hoping to get to Houston street, but the bus had a different schedule on the weekends, and deposited us in Astor Place, i.e. eighth street. Luckily, we had a quintessential New York bus driver who drove like a maniac and honked her horn, and I exaggerate not, every five minutes. I'm glad the kids got to experience that.

We headed into the East Village, my old neighborhood, and again, I was struck by how little things had changed. Sure, the place was trendier and probably more affluent, but it was still like walking into a circus, complete with punked out hair, multiple piercings on faces, and lots of black leather. Funky, to say the least, though at times you get the distinct impression people are just trying too hard. Our goal was to find food, and the East Village is good for cheap, novel, and good eats. Plus, you can find lots of authentic ethnic food.

We were seeking out Dojo, a Japanese eatery that serves all sorts of affordable food with an organic lean, but I'd forgotten where it was. We were near 9th street, the Japanese center of NYC, and sushi was a possibility, but that's always expensive and with kids you never seem to get enough. Finally, we settled on food from Afghanistan, which is a lot of like Persian food. One of my best friends is Persian, so I've been exposed to the stuff. We ordered kabobs and assorted rice dishes, and the food was good. The restaurant, Khyber Pass, has been around for years, and it's still standing. We had baklava for desert, and by the time we were done, it was dark outside, which meant Times Square was calling us.

Back out to the street and onto the subway, we set out sights on 42nd street. We got lucky in that the moment we emerged, we were in the heart of Times Square. The kids loved it, though it's incredible how many people were out there. In fact, I was struck by how crowded the streets were, everywhere. I realize it was a holiday weekend, but it's truly amazing.

We hung out for a bit, walked around and checked out the lights, and then headed back to Jersey. I have to confess, next time I'm much less inclined to stay in Jersey. Our big experiment in staying there yielded valuable information about or next trip to the Big Apple, and we'll plan accordingly. Taking the PATH train home is one more layer of complexity, and it's so darn crowded because all those Jersey folks are trying to get home from the city. Who needs it? Besides, the hotels in Jersey aren't that much cheaper.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

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