Visiting New York City

Text by Michael Broschat, with Melissa Meier

We’ve been on the road many times since last writing to you, and I’ve even tried to write about some of it. There was too much, ironically, and as an email message must have some limit, nothing was ever sent. OK, we’re going to forget about everything that’s happened in the last few months, and concentrate on the current trip. We’re in New York.

NYC was rather the last travel obstacle I can imagine. By ‘obstacle’, I mean some place that prejudice argues more against visiting than attraction can match. While I’m aware of the glamour of NYC (I’ve seen all the same movies you have), I’m also aware of the well-publicized problems. Although I enjoy living in a real city now, I’ve imagined NYC to be rather too much of the good thing I’m enjoying in DC.

We’re here because Melissa wants to attend a Mac convention. I have no interest in same, but thought I’d come along for the NYC experience.

My initial reaction has been one of relief. It’s just like any other city, really, except that it’s immense. I don’t think there’s an end. We’re in mid Manhattan, and have seen only lower Manhattan, having walked most of the way from our hotel to Battery Park (the way to get to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from where we’ve more or less just returned). Although there are places where the Tall Buildings do look like they do in the movies, there are lots of place where the scale is much smaller, and it feels just like our new home in DC. For example, we were in the East Village tonight for dinner, and it seemed a mixture of Capitol Hill in Seattle and, say, the Dupont Circle neighborhood of DC. There are roughly the same densities of people walking around on the streets, but NYC gets its nearly 8 million people by having some places with much higher buildings and, more importantly, many, many more neighborhoods than any other city (except LA, which has nearly no scale at all).

We accidentally stumbled upon the Musuem of Modern Art on our way to somewhere else, and got into line to see a Bonnard collection (post-Impressionism). We were so tired after that, we didn’t look at any of the rest of the museum, but maybe tomorrow. Also on the way to Battery Park was one of the famous NYC camera stores (Melissa and I are interested in such things), so we stopped in at B&H to check their wares. Most employees (and ownership?) are ultra-conservative Orthodox Jews. It was like being in the Dutch country of Pennsylvania (where we’d just been the day before), except that the Amish and Mennonites were now Jews. Odd at first, but the guys (no women outside the home) proved to be as fun-loving as any other set of guys, and we had some good conversations.

Finally, we made it to the boat to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Not the best of days for visibility (but cool—few could expect such weather as we’ve had thus far in July), but good enough. We spent just a few minutes at the statute and rather more at Ellis Island (which is very nicely restored). Coming back, we were much reminded of the ferry into Seattle from Bainbridge. Even the number of Tall Buildings visible at any particular time was about the same as in Seattle. We then subwayed up to the East Village to eat at a restaurant much recommended (“Best Affordable French Restaurant”) in Melissa’s Frommer’s guide to NYC. We agree. Jules’ Bistro was worth the trip and the money (not cheap, but it’s NYC). We did get hit by the “no credit card” (except American Express) policy that plagued us more than once in NYC today, but there’s a cash machine close by, so you’ll be able to retrieve your first-born or whatever you leave as collateral.

In short, we’re enjoying our experience here, but it’s No Big Deal (in case you have also put off a visit to this famous spot of America). Downers so far: the subway is efficient but old and dirty (we’re rather spoiled, we find, by DC’s); we’re glad we’re not driving (other than into the garage connected to the hotel); the hotel is not worth recommending (we learned of it from Arthur Frommer’s guide). Good stuff: people are friendly and helpful—there’s little of the mad rush that we get from movies about NYC; there are so many different languages being spoken at any time that you can feel you’re the only English speaker. Way Cool.

Back with you, after Day Two...

Melissa: This isn’t my first trip to New York—my eternal best friend Betty (we met on a street in Paris) grew up in Flushing, and when she was assistant manager at the Librairie Larousse on Fifth Avenue, I used to drive my little old Bug up here from Philadephia to spend the weekend. It’s pretty much the same as it always has been, I think, and I still don’t like dirty, but so many museums and churches and restaurants and stores and languages and taxis and people! We played a little game yesterday—a quarter to the first person to recognize the next language....

I haven’t stayed in a hotel like this since my student days in Europe—but what did I really expect for $110 per night on 51st, between 2nd and 3rd? Frommer’s guide said it was secure, well-managed, and clean—all except the carpets, that is. Oh well. By the time we decided to come, convention rates were sold out for the big ones (I’d love to stay in the Waldorf Astoria for $245 :-), and we had to fend for ourselves. But there’s a subway stop two blocks away, and we can walk just about anywhere we want from here, and there are windows that actually open and absolutely no noise from the street (however that works), so if you want a “cheap” hotel in midtown Manhattan, we could recommend this one.

Wednesday and Thursday I’m off to MacWorld Expo. Heaven on earth! 80,000 Mac-heads, all jostling for a glimpse of the new iMac....