East Coast 08, part 8: The Big, Hot Apple

high of 90, humidity 87%

Back at the 7-11 parking lot (aka ‘bus depot’) in Richmond we found the bus. Good, good – no driver, but it’s probably easier to find one of those than to find a bus. A door in the back of a Chinese restaurant opened, revealing a small room with a mattress on the floor. “Mad Max,” the guy who drove flew our bus from Washington, DC, emerged. Alrighty, then – we should be in New York in no time. Hope that the mattress on the floor meant he’d had a good night’s sleep.

We departed Richmond about 0700 and made short work of rush hour traffic. Amazing to watch an efficient driver take full advantage of all available traffic lanes, and eliminate those silly wasted spaces between vehicles. Darlene wanted us to contact her when we reached DC, and was surprised at how soon she received my email; as if warp speed travel wasn’t enough, we also had a working Internet connection on the bus. We picked up passengers in Washington, slowed down just enough to let a few folks off along the side of the road in Baltimore, and made a 15-minute pit stop at some super gas station/mini mart.

State lines zipped by. Try this refresher in US geography: Which states would we not have passed through on our way from Richmond, VA to NYC via Washington, DC? a) Maryland; b) Delaware; c) Oregon; d) Texas; e) Connecticut; f) New Jersey. And for you advanced students: Which rivers would we not have crossed? a) Potomac; b) Rappahannock; c) Gunpowder; d) Susquehanna; e) Delaware; f) Volga; g) Mississippi.

Our friend Enoch tells us that the southern part of New Jersey is beautiful. Since his word is as good as gold, we believe him. But(t ugly) views from parts of the New Jersey Turnpike made us renew our commitment to doing even more to reduce our carbon footprints.

After a while the New York skyline became visible in the distance. Time to wake up Lauren and Susan, and time for Zack to stop taking pictures of Susan’s mouth dropping open as she slept upright in her seat. It was kind of exciting to enter the yawning western portal of the Lincoln Tunnel, cross under the Hudson River, and emerge in the middle of Manhattan.

Getting off the bus we stepped into 92 degree heat and 73% humidity. Whew. Thankfully it was only about a block to Penn Station. After several futile attempts to get to the subways in the train station, I finally broke down and asked for help. Then it took us another fifteen minutes to figure out how to purchase our tickets from a machine – real country bumpkins in the big city.

Our hotel was only three blocks from the subway station at Columbus Circle, a block away from Central Park, and right next to Lincoln Center. Though we’re hardly a ’boutique’ family, we were staying in kind of a boutique-ie hotel (got a good price on the Web). We dumped luggage in our tenth-floor room and started to check the place out, beginning with the pool on the roof.

The first thing I spotted on the pool deck was a woman lying ‘sunny side up’ on a chaise lounge with her top off. Oh, great! How much of this are we going to have to put up with?? We had to walk in front of her to get a good look — at the pool, I mean. Zack wanted to go swimming right away, so he was looking at the pool and hadn’t noticed anything unusual. When I remarked to him that the topless woman might be a bit of a distraction for us, he looked around and exclaimed, “Whoa!” That drew Susan’s and Lauren’s attention, and now we all had to work hard to pretend we hadn’t noticed and weren’t looking. Awkward.

The way the photo of the pool on the hotel’s website is cropped suggests that it’s larger, but the accompanying copy describes it as “the rooftop plunge pool” – now we know what that means. It was, nonetheless, wet and refreshing, and we enjoyed using it several times. Don’t really know if we saw Ms. Two-For-The-Show again, as we never got a very good look at her face.

Back in our room we unpacked and settled in, and considered our plans for the next day before going out for a bite. We walked to a nearby pizza place recommended by one of the hotel’s doormen. It was complete with crusts spinning in the air and Italian guys working behind the counter, and the pizza was great. We didn’t have either Parmesan or red pepper flakes on our table, and I spotted some sitting on the table of another patron. I walked over and asked if we could use his Parmesan and pepper flakes. He drew himself up, stared at me, and said, “Does it LOOK like I’m using them? Go ahead – TAKE ’em. And get out of my face!” I was so taken aback that I hesitated and asked him, “Are you sure?” He cocked his head, looked at me even more intently and said, in a louder voice, “My man! Just take them, and get the **** out of my face!” No need to continue this conversation. I brought the booty back to Susan and my wide-eyed kids, and we talked a little bit about what it’s like to live in a city with more than 8 million other people.

We hoped we could be on top of the Empire State Building as the sun was going down. But like Disneyland, we couldn’t tell how long the lines were until we’d already progressed quite a way, snaking back and forth, going up one corridor, down another, and around corners until at last we reached the elevators. I guess that’s part of accommodating the 10-20 thousand people who visit the ESB every day. It was about 9:30 PM and dark by the time we were on the observation deck; the lights stretched out forever and gave a great sense for the city’s size, density, and general layout. It wouldn’t have occurred to either Susan or me to use a phone up there, but Lauren marked the occasion by calling one of her good friends.

We got back to the hotel late and watched part of The Late Show with David Letterman. What the heck – we’re on vacation, and the kids enjoyed his humor. And even though we had foregone the hotel’s turn-down service, we somehow managed to get ourselves into bed and had no difficulty falling asleep.

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