Saturday, August 9, 2008

New York City, 2004

There were six of us. Joe, myself, and the cousins, Haruko, Rieko, Yuri, and Tsuyoshi. We were bunking in two separate hotel rooms at The Portland Square Hotel, just a few blocks from Times Square. It was quiet enough, with small, but tidy rooms. And, thank goodness, air conditioning, since it was the height of summer and it was HOT! In the 90's.

When we arrived in the city mid-Thursday afternoon, we had parked the van at a reserved parking garage and walked the 10 city blocks to our hotel, luggage in tow. Once there, we checked in, cleaned up, and headed out for some immediate adventure.

We stopped first for some lunch, which is a bit tricky when you can't really translate the menu to your guests. We found, somehow, that steak translated well, and, so, that's what the cousins ordered. After lunch we made our way to Battery Park, and to the Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty tours. Post 9/11 the Statue of Liberty was not open inside for tours at the time, but the grounds were open. We spent some time there, then got on the ferry to go over to Ellis Island. The museum was open and we spent quite a while there looking at all the exhibits.

There is an incredible display there. It stands floor to ceiling, and, maybe, two rooms wide or more. In it there are hundreds of photographs of people that have come through Ellis Island over the decades. You walk in one direction and see all the pictures, one by one, but when you stand back and walk in the opposite direction, the display becomes a giant, waving, American flag. I remember seeing this, then pointing it out to Yuri, who is twelve. I watched her walk along looking at the photographs, and then saw a surprised look come across her face as it changed into the flag. She laughed and clapped her hands.

We took the ferry back to Manhattan, and made our way up to the Financial District, and then to Ground Zero. It was strange to look into this wide empty space in the middle of this vast, iconic, metropolis, knowing what had happened. However, I found it even stranger to look towards the cityscape from the ferry coming back from Ellis Island and realize that those two very tall trade center buildings were, indeed, missing. We found our way to the Metro and headed back to mid-town.

To be honest, I can't recall exactly what we did after that. If we had dinner, or stopped anywhere else. I can remember that we were all exhausted from the long drive, and a day full of sightseeing and walking. I do recall that once we got to our room, Joe and I just dropped down on the bed and moaned about how tired we were, how our bodies ached from all the walking, and the heat. A little while later we managed to freshen up a bit and walked up the block to Langan's New York Bar & Restaurant for a glass of wine to celebrate our first day in NYC. I've no doubt the cousins were fast asleep by then. It had been a long day.

The next morning we met in the lobby and, together, made our way to the siteseeing tour, where the cousins met up with their translator and received a two-three hour tour of the city and the surrounding buroughs. This left Joe and I a few hours together, which we spent walking the city streets, and into Central Park. As mentioned in my previous post, this is the point where romance falters and the human condition kicks in. My digestive tract revolted and we bolted for the nearest restrooms. Finally, after a few hours we found ourselves running late to meet up with the cousins after their tour of the city.

We did catch up to them. They had stopped for a bite to eat near the tour company building, so we were able to find them pretty quickly. They wanted to find a currency exchange office so that they could exchange their yen for dollars, etc. It took a while, but we finally found one.

After that they wanted to do some shopping. We got on the metro, but, somehow, I had gotten us on the wrong one. So we got off, asked a stranger for directions, and got back on the right subway car. Next up, we visited Grand Central Station. They had some shops there, but not what we were looking for. So, we had a snack in the food court, and some guy overheard us talking about where to go, and he gave us a few pointers. He said if you had only one day to shop in NYC then you had to go to Macy's. So, off we went.

Macy's is huge. A little intimidating, if you ask me. We were really looking for touristy stuff, but it wasn't easy to spot. We finally asked one of the clerks and they told us it was in the basement, or some such thing. Ooh, that's where they send the tourists.

Anyway, we made our way down there and spent some time shopping. At one point Joe had to caution his cousin about being too open with her money. She needed to be careful. We found a wad of cash lying on the floor near the checkout. Oy-vay!

Evening was approaching. We made our way back towards Times Square. Then headed to Rockefeller Plaza. Took in some of the sights. Sat for a while and just absorbed the view, watching the people come and go. In the summer the center of the Plaza is like a big party, not a skating rink. It looks so different than that familiar image. We walked by NBC, Radio City Music Hall, then made our way south towards the Empire State Building. The building featured in so many movies. So many happy endings.

You have to understand, it had been a busy day. We walked a lot. I was a bit sick for a while. It was exciting, but a little stressful, as any good vacation might be. We managed to communicate between bits of Japanese and English, but it was frustrating not to be able to just converse.

After 9/11 the security at the Empire State Building had become a maze of checkpoints, photo id's, and rules. Just getting from the lobby to the elevator exit at the observatory deck takes forever. The entire way up, from floor to floor, you have to cue up for baggage xrays, id checks, and so on. They even photograph you. (And, you can even purchase a copy of said photograph -- we didn't).

So, it's dark now. We've been on line forever. We're so close to getting to the point where we can step out on the observation deck. Just a few people in front of us. Then it's our turn, I go up the last few steps to enter the shop that goes out onto the deck, and hear someone calling to the cousins to turn around.

They are turning back away from the line and heading in the wrong direction! Where are they going? All this security! I don't know what to say because my Japanese is sooooo limited. So, what do I do? What do I do?! Well, I growl! I turn towards them and, honest to God, growl! Stomp my feet. Joe motions to me to go ahead into the shop towards the observatory deck. He will handle it. I go inside. Feel the blood rushing to my head. Not even aware of how embarrassed I should be from my display. I had a meltdown, right there in the Empire State Building, in front of maybe 100 people. I wandered around the shop waiting for them to follow. They did not. A woman came up to me, "Excuse me," she said. "Would you like a Xanax?"

I didn't accept the Xanax, but thanked her kindly. I was calming down. We had been in line a long time. The cousins couldn't wait any longer and needed to use the restroom. That's where they were headed. Perfectly logical.

Finally, they were back. We found them out on the observation deck looking at the sites. Joe and I walked around, looked at the view of the city. Amazing. We were standing together. He put his hand in his pocket, pulled it back out, held it out, opened his palm, the ring glistened. "Still want to marry me?" he asked. I'd just had a major meltdown at one of the most famous places in America, and he still asked me to marry him. What else could I say? "Oh, alright" I said.

We found the cousins and showed them the ring. They congratulated us. Took our picture. We browsed the gift shop, then made our way back out of the building to the city streets below.

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