Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mike’s Bar-B-Que Adventure: New York City

Part 2 of a 5-part series

Despite a leisurely 10 AM departure time, Friday morning, July 10th, was a bit of a scramble to get out of the house. I’ve lived the “road warrior” life – the businessman who, when compelled to do so, stops at home to remind the kids what daddy looks like then jets off once again on the success express. I hated it, but it did make me an experienced traveler. Traveling with your spouse, on the other hand, can be a very different matter, particularly when he or she isn’t used to it. One key difference – it’s not necessary to brief your wife about how to care for the kids while you’re gone. Gramma and Grandpa have no way to know the minutia of running the household day-and-night for a full weekend, so in was necessary to prepare and review some five pages of detailed notes about everything from how to operate the DVD changer to how to make Raman Noodles. While we were reading through the family “owner’s manual” together, my father reflected how he and my mother had prepared similar documentation for his parents (on a yellow legal pad in red felt-tip pen, if my childhood memory serves me) before their first trip without the kid(s). I suppose this, too, qualifies under the heading of “circle of life.” Soon the play was done – the younger parents had satisfied themselves that they’d done what they could to minimize confusion and frustration while they were gone, and the older parents had humored them congenially. There were hugs all around, then my wife and I were zipping down the highways to Hancock Airport (SYR).

I’ve often said that I like Syracuse certainly not for the weather (which is not as bad as strangers believe, but still nothing to get excited about), but because it’s “just right.” It’s cosmopolitan enough that everything I’m likely to want is here, be it visual & performing arts, dining, entertainment, education, infrastructure, services, or whatever else. Most all of the “big city” stuff is here, just on a more modest scale. Yet Syracuse dodges many of the “big city” hurdles, most notably traffic. You can get nearly anywhere you want to go in the greater Syracuse area within 20-30 minutes, and what most cities would consider “traffic” is unheard of here. With the exception of the Harrison/Adams off-ramp during rush hour, or areas of heavy construction, traffic in Central New York just doesn’t get congested in a way with which other urban areas are familiar. As such, the trip to the airport was speedy and uneventful, precisely how I prefer it.

The one thing Syracuse doesn’t tend to benefit from is a high volume of passengers to, well, pretty much anywhere. Though we seem to pack a couple of JetBlue flights each day, USAirways just uses smallish De Havilland Dash 8 planes (now manufactured by Bombardier or somesuch, but I still think of them as De Havillands) for the SYR to LaGuardia route. These planes feature twin turboprop engines (I always look for the gigantic rubber band, but I can never see it. It must be under the fuselage) and the unerring ability to make my wife sick during flight. Friday morning was no exception, particularly during a mildly turbulent landing. I confess it made me a wee bit queasy, and that’s not common. Soon we were meeting Henri, our limo driver, and were speeding toward Midtown Manhattan. A glance at my wife made me wish I’d held onto one of the bags from the seat-back pocket of the airplane, but soon enough she dozed off and we were across the East River and into Manhattan.

The distance between my home and the Syracuse Airport is around 11 miles. The distance from LaGuardia to the Millennium Broadway hotel on 44th Street off Times Square is 10 miles. Travel time in Syracuse was 20 minutes. Travel time in NYC, thanks to ample traffic at Noon on a Friday – over an hour. I got to tell my wife one of my few NYC jokes: “Nobody drives in Manhattan. There’s too much traffic.” [rimshot and applause go here]

We were on the 43th floor of the hotel, which is, I think you’ll agree, pretty high up. Even when I traveled a lot, I didn’t often stay in hotels that were so tall. Our corner room was smaller than the DoubleTree and Hilton Garden Inn hotel rooms I was used to, but it was a corner room with a magnificent view of Times Square so there were no complaints there. Moreover, one of the windows could be cracked open a few inches, so you could hear the dulcet sounds of the pseudo-Peruvian flute bands clashing with the entrancing tones of the Jamaican steel Calypso drums, all competing with the cacophonous roar of automobile engines and honking horns. Yeah, we closed the window again pretty fast. It was funny to note, though, that unless you were standing right near them, you couldn’t hear the musicians at all from street level. I think on Sunday my wife noticed that for all of our time in the area, we’d never actually seen the performers. I told her there weren’t any – just sidewalk kiosks with speakers and a robotic arm that would periodically dump the nearby tip hat into a secure coin hopper. I may have to write a story about that, because it cracks me up to think about it.

I mentioned in an earlier blog entry that I’d sought out some advice online for things to do in the midtown area. Some of the most emphatic (and well-meaning) advice I received could be paraphrased as “For the love of all that’s holy, don’t go to Times Square.” Setting aside for the moment the impracticality of this advice (after all, we’d essentially be living IN Times Square for two days, given where our hotel was situated) we elected to ignore it. Friday afternoon consisted almost exclusively of a walk around Times Square.

But it wouldn’t be fair of me to gloss over one pressing issue that immediately consumed our attention once we’d established our central-Manhattan base camp: ravenous hunger gnawing at our innards like a parasitic alien larva. Which is to say, more simply, it was past lunch time. In this instance we did not ignore the advice I’d received and we walked up 44th street toward John’s Pizzeria. In actuality, we walked down 44th street away from John’s, then figured out we were going the wrong way and turned around. I never really did feel like I got my bearings and was always surprised when things were in the opposite direction of where I thought they’d be. Yet somehow I’d gotten my orienteering merit badge when I was a Boy Scout. Go figure. Maybe I needed a compass. What we did have was a map of the area, courtesy of the (very helpful!) concierge desk, the which proved an indispensable tool during our stay. By the time we were leaving, my wife had even managed not to cringe and mutter “we look like tourists” every time I pulled it forth and unfolded it in full view of the streaming passers-by. I’d decided that, hell, we were tourists and I was damn well looking at my map rather than wandering around lost for two days.

John’s was, sorry, nothing special. We were seated in a smaller dining room toward the front, which lacked any grandeur that the website might imply you’d experience in this converted cathedral. The pizza was nearly as good as hometown Syracuse favorite Pavone’s, but not quite. Still, it filled us up and got us going, and didn’t break the bank to do it so I’ve got no complaints. I might even go back again, but I’d ask to be seated upstairs to get the full visual experience. And visiting New York City is all about visual experiences, as we’d soon learn.

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