Monday, May 9, 2011

Emily's Big Adventure - Tour by Auntie Nettie

This is Emily.

Don't you like how much respect I'm getting from my "niece?"

Emily is the daughter of my friend Wendy. Wendy and I have been friends since we were younger than Ms. Emily here. In fact, back in the day, I was Wendy's maid of honor, the first time I had the 'honor' of being a bridesmaid. We were both so young, in actuality Grandmary did most of the work associated with the MOH position. While things didn't quite work out with that marriage, I don't think my skills as a Wendy's bridesmaid had much to do with the state of things.

When I was back in CT last fall for something for GrumpaMax, Wendy and I were standing around reconnecting and Ms. Emily kept whirling in and out to see what was going on. Her mom had been telling her all along that we knew each other and had for years, but I don't think Ms. Em believed her. (Honestly, after a day together in New York, I don't think she still does.)

It's great connecting with dear long-time friends, but dang ... does it make me feel old to realize that Emily is the age Wendy and I were, JUST YESTERDAY! (cue the theme from "The Lion King.")

Anyhow, in another wonderful circle of life moment, I am yet again taking over where Grandmary has left off -- that of New York City Tour Guide Extraordinaire - or Extra-Weird-inaire. Wendy has been down to see me before, but this time Emily was going to join her.

Thanks to Grandmary I had many opportunities to visit New York, beyond the school trips, and then later during the college, post-college, and now working years. You get old and jaded and you forget how exciting those firsts can be.

The first train ride.
The first trip to New York.
The first time in Grand Central.
The first subway ride.
The first time in Times Square.
The first Broadway show.
The first New York street-car pretzel.
The first New York hot dog.
Lots of firsts...

This is the story of Emily's first trip to New York, or at least my version of it. I suspect that Emily's version gets shinier and bigger and more exciting every time it's told ...

I met up with Wendy and Emily in Grand Central and gave them a quickie tour, pointing out some of the little things. I told Emily there would be a quiz, and so, here it is:

What symbols are on the grand ceiling of Grand Central?
Why are some stars brighter than others?
What's up with the hole in the center of the ceiling?
Why is there one darker patch on the ceiling?
Where is there a secret staircase?
Where are the whispering corners and do they work?
Why will I be sending you a book on Greek myths? (Seriously! What are they teaching in schools these days?!)
Has anyone ever found a squirrel to eat all those acorns?
Why are people wrong when they call it Grand Central Station?

This is an open book quiz, Emily. Some of the answers can be found here.

After the tour, a bathroom break, and some refreshments, Emil got her first Metrocard and got to experience the difficulties of learning the "swipe" that would get her on her first subway ride. Unfortunately, Auntie Nettie forgot to be a good teacher and not the fun auntie, and taught her the trick of "subway surfing/swaying." Wendy demonstrated why you always hold onto the bar. Sorry Wend.

When we arrived in the Times Square subway station, I didn't rush us above ground. At that hour on a Saturday morning, it was still relatively uncrowded, so I made a point to show off the "hidden" Lichtenstein that hovers just over the heads of the rushed commuters. If you aren't looking up, or distracted by the musicians, you miss it. It's a great piece of Pop Art, probably worth more than me, my debt, and my wardrobe put together times 10.

We then ventured into the heart of Times Square - on a Saturday, during a holiday break. (The things I do for family!)

One of the things I always do when I'm doing a tour of Times Square is take people to the Times Square Visitor Center.

I do this for a few reasons, the most important of which is to show people where there are relatively clean, free public restrooms. Think about it. Restrooms are important. You need to know where the public restrooms are throughout the City, and if you don't have a smartphone with the locator app, these things can be vitally important to know.

The Visitor Center is also fun for the typical tourist reasons - brochures, tour information, souvenirs, and photo booths. You can buy the expensive items like t-shirts, mugs, and other stuff to weigh you down. [Travel tip - travel light!] However, nothing beats the souvenir penny stamping machine for economy, ease of travel, and sheer amusement for children of all ages. The Visitor Center is also handy if you need to pick up emergency items like rain ponchos, cameras, feminine hygiene products, etc. etc. etc.

The BEST part of the Center is the interactive New Year's Ball display.

You can also add your own wishes to the confetti that will rain down on Times Square on New Year's Eve. It's better and less claustrophobic than being there. I make the same wish every time I go, and it has yet to come true. Here's hoping for 2012! (Don't ask - I'm not going to tell.)

I think Emily was wishing for another visit soon. Wendy was wishing I wasn't taking the picture.

Another reason I spent so much time at Grand Central, underground, and at the Visitor Center is that it was POURING this particular Saturday. And sooooo windy, that umbrellas and hairdos were worthless. Unfortunately, the line at the TKTS Booth in Father Duffy Square is not undercover, so we were pretty wet by the time we got to the front of the line and finally settled on our matinee tickets for the new Broadway show, Wonderland.

Since we had time to kill, and things to do before matinee time, we walked up Broadway to see some of the sights. We stopped by souvenir shops for 10 for $1.00 postcards, t-shirts, and other necessaries and then headed north. We passed Columbus Circle, where we waved at Central Park (next trip), and then up to Lincoln Center.

Along the way, Emily had a mid-morning snack of her first New York pretzel, which she munched on while splashing me and Wendy---exclaiming over and over "THIS IS SO COOL!". We passed sculptures along the way and continued to pose at important sights, before heading to my office at the Big J to pick up more souvenirs, go to the bathroom, and then go to the Bookstore for a bag like Auntie Nettie's.

Same pose, different location.

Lunch at a vestige of by-gone New York was quick, (you can't beat old diners), and we jumped back on the subway downtown so we could make our show. Emily was an old pro at the "swipe" and "sway" by this point, so there were no problems getting on the subway.

Here's are more my tips for being a tourist/visitor.

~When going up and down the stairs of the subways - STAY ON THE RIGHT.
~Stand to the sides of the subway car doors when waiting to enter - AND ALWAYS LET PEOPLE OUT FIRST.
~Do NOT text, talk on the phone, and walk. Pull over and do your stuff and get out of the stream of walkers.
~Whenever possible, avoid Times Square for the half hour leading up to, and immediately after, a show. It is madness. MADNESS, I say.
~Try to be at your theater at least 35 minutes before showtime. Who cares if you have to stand in line? You are not in the mob of folks still trying to get to the show.

Somehow, I don't know how, I managed to get us to the show and in our seats, at least 5 minutes before curtain. We bobbed and weaved, holding hands -- all three of us, snaking and abreast -- as I pushed and maneuvered us through the sea of folks also trying to stay relatively dry and make it to their matinees.

The show was at the Marriott Marquis Theatre, which is a more relaxed Broadway theater for a first show experience. Most venues will not allow late seating, people leaving and coming back through performances, or any food or drink in the hall. It is also MUCH bigger, so we had a bit more knee room. Wonderland is loosely based on the Lewis Carroll novel of Alice in Wonderland, so it was a good, Rated G entry into New York theater. Yes, there were innuendos, but they were pretty tame, and some of the references made me chortle with glee, even if the younger set couldn't figure out why. I think Emily enjoyed it. She was perched up on her seat, quiet the entire time (which is unusual in and of itself.) As a "techie," I'm sure she was analyzing the production values.

We took our time leaving after the show. Despite the fact that it was in a hotel, and had more facilities, the lines at the ladies room inevitably took forever. And then we had had to have photo ops in front of the shiny, "funky" escalators, (Ms. Emily's description), and giant posters of the show. I hate having my photo taken, so I'm sure there is a grimace on my face on Emily's roll of film.

I frankly was stalling our departure - partly due to the weather-and also because I knew what the streets would be like as everyone left matinees at the same time. Luckily, the entrance/egress to the Marquis is right near Shubert Alley. Another photo op and shopping opportunity! Yea!!! Postcards, pins, and pictures, oh my!

If we had had more time (and funds), there were so many activities that we could have done right there: Bowlmor Lanes, the Harry Potter Exhibit at the Discovery Times Square, plus Sardis.

Instead, I started ushering my charges back East, towards Grand Central through the madness of Times Square. As a bonus sighting for the day, we not only saw a film shoot (what I now think might have been the Glee folks in town for an episode), and the ubiquitous Naked Cowboy sighting. As Emily and Wendy dove into the crowd of women to really ogle the guy, someone started laughing at my exclamation: "Of course she wants to see the Naked Cowboy. She's a 12-year old girl!" (Just wait honey -- your mom can tell you, they ain't all built like the Naked Cowboy!)

Since we had time, and we were in the area, we headed past Radio City Music Hall, towards Rockefeller Center - where I was pleasantly surprised to still see people skating on the ice.

When I pointed out Prometheus, Emily was not pleased that I was asking her about Greek gods again, but I think I appeased her with a trip into the Lego store. Not only is Rockefeller Center pretty impressive, but the replica made out of Legos is amazing. Then there was the dragon that wound its way through the store, and that other Titan, Atlas, with the world on his shoulders. (I've already posted the Star Wars legos. Darth and Crew were on the rooftop patio cropped out of the picture on the left below.)

Rockefeller was decked out for Easter, and all the tourists were scrambling to get their photos taken with the finery. This is the closest I got. Photo ops are cutthroat. Watch out for those European tourists. They say Americans are pushy?! Please. 'scuzi. Por favor! Ay carumba! (Yes, I know that was Italian and then Spanish. Gracias.)

Since we were there, we also headed over to St. Patrick's Cathedral to look around.

Here's one of my last tips for visitors to the Big Apple.


Emily, Wendy, and I were in the City for what the Catholic's consider Holy Saturday. I explained my philosophy when visiting holy sights, even if it's not my denomination or belief system. To wit:

If it was Mass, or there were other services going, we were just going to stay in the back and look around.
We weren't going to take photographs.
We weren't going to explore.
We weren't going to converse.
We were going to be respectful and leave quickly.

Unlike other people. (Hello? Would you want people traipsing through your church services? I don't think so!)

If, in the strange event they we were actually interested in a comprehensive tour, we would make arrangements to come back sometime later in the fall -- say, when services weren't being held, so other worshipers could find the peace and tranquility that they were there to find ... Especially during Easter Weekend.

Turns out, it was time for Mass, so we came. We saw. We left. As we lingered outside on the steps, and I pointed out "fun facts" about Art Deco highlights on the building across the street (ala Ted Mosby), Emily got a preview of the Easter Hat Parade. Unfortunately, we think she was actually one of the more "eccentric" New Yorkers and not someone previewing her chapeau!

Finally, it was time to head back to Grand Central to grab some dinner and put my exhausted visitors on their train.

Before they went, Emily had to have her New York hot dog. Now, it wasn't from a street cart, and we didn't have time to make it to Gray's Papaya, but luckily for us, the lower concourse dining area has options for everyone, including hot dogs for Emily.

Don't disturb the eating Emily!

So, to recap:

There were a LOT of firsts, but this is just the beginning. Tours by Auntie Nettie (trademark pending) have already been reserved for the fall, where hopefully we can unhurriedly explore the City in better weather. I'm also going to call on my "connections" to get some behind-the-scenes personal tours of the theatrical stuff at the Big J, as Ms. Emily IS.SO.DRAMATIC!

Thanks to Wendy for traveling down to see me in my neck of the 'hood.

Thanks to Emily for to reminding me how exciting this City is, even as I am in every day and have become jaded, cynical, and super "alert." (When I see something, I do say something! but usually it's something I can't repeat here on this blog...)

Thanks to Grandmary for all those many trips and tours when we were both younger, and for her patience for all those giggling teen aged girl trips she hosted for me and my friends when we were Emily's age. She assured me that yes, I was that excited, and yes, I was that exhausting too.

5/11/2011 Note: After 31 previews, and 33 performances (including the one we saw), Wonderland is to close on Sunday, May 15th, according to this New York Times article.

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