Saturday, December 04, 2004

postcard from the big apple

I sent this out to my friends, and I thought I'd share it with cyberspace...

Steve’s Thanksgiving Visit to New York City
November 27, 2004

The first part of the trip was largely uneventful. We left beautiful downtown Bonsack at 11:30 PM Friday night and made a stop in Lynchburg to pick up the other half of the passengers. We then went north on US 29, east on I-66, around the west side of the Washington Beltway, and then onto I-95 North and the New Jersey Turnpike and through the Lincoln Tunnel into midtown Manhattan. Save for a futile and amateurish attempt by the bus driver to find a Cracker Barrel in New Jersey without looking at a store locator or paying attention to the numerous billboards along the road, the ride up was decent, though I couldn’t sleep at all.

We arrived in Herald Square around 8:30 AM. The city was desolate, to my surprise. Most of the stores were still closed and the streets weren’t very full. Save for a 2 story inflatable Grover (official “spokes-monster” for the holiday) on the Macy’s marquee, there was little else of note going on. So I decided that we should go uptown to Bloomingdale’s, since we only ate there last time.

I hadn’t been on the subway in years, but it’s easily the best way to move around in the city, rats and all. One cool thing you can get these days from the MetroCard vending machine is an all-day pass. You get unlimited subway rides for $7.00. Considering the train is $2.00 each way, it adds up quickly to pay for individual rides. We got on at Penn Station and were supposed to get of at 59th and Lexington, but I screwed up on where we were and we ended up at Rockefeller Center, 10 blocks away.

No matter. Rockefeller was a great place to stop, if a bit crowded. I guess by the place being on TV all the time, that makes it all the more popular whether stuff is open or not.. We checked out the NBC Experience, very open and busy, where people can buy all kinds of NBC related crap and take a studio tour of “30 Rock.” We missed out on the tours (too early) and though a Conan O’Brien shirt was tempting for me to buy, we left empty handed.

I managed to get some cool pictures of Rockefeller Plaza, despite the crowds. It’s a lot smaller than it seems on TV, and having half of Iowa there didn’t help any. I wish I could ice skate because those people looked like they were having a ball, despite the ‘90s pop-heavy soundtrack. I guess if you’re enjoying yourself, it doesn’t matter if Ace of Base is playing.

On to Saks. I had an American Express gift certificate (that I got for spending too much money on my Green Card) and I decided to get my Mom an early Christmas present: Prada fragrance. Saks Fifth Avenue has the best customer service in the city, but it also has the most cut-throat fragrance sellers, too. While I was buying my mom’s stuff, I got accosted by this other fragrance Nazi that offered me something like 10 fragrances in 3 minutes. If I wasn’t having my purchased wrapped, I wouldn’t have kept standing there. When I did get my stuff, I left as fast as I could.

Despite the overzealous salespeople on commission, Saks is still one of the coolest stores in the city. They were having a sale like you wouldn’t believe: 30-40% off just about everything affordable. I could have cleaned up, but I was a good boy.

I went back in to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to see if I could make my interior pictures that failed to come out in September work this time. It’s such a beautiful and dark place that it doesn’t always work photography wise. Using the digital camera, I was much more successful this time.
I’ve always given short shrift to Trump Tower on my trips because I think it’s over-rated and just a little outré. But it’s still a cool building and I got a great shot of the place, even though my head was practically on the 5th Avenue sidewalk to get the shot.

Adjacent to Trump Tower on 57th Street is Niketown. Me going to Niketown is like leaving Whitney Houston around crack unattended: something bad might happen. It almost did. The bad and good part about a store like that is that they have EVERYTHING, and all in my size, too. I restrained myself and only bought one pair of Air Force Ones, the Independence Day series in red, white and blue. It was sold out everywhere else.

Lunch was at Fred’s, a great restaurant in Barneys New York at Madison and 60th. We got in without a reservation, and I’m happy to say it was the best $40.00 lunch I’ve ever had. Okay, so it’s the only $40.00 lunch I’ve ever had, but I wasn’t going to let this place pass by as many good things I’ve heard about it. I had an Angus burger, Estelle’s Chicken Soup (recommended), a Sierra Nevada Ale, and café latte to finish.

Boutiques are plentiful on Madison and 5th Avenues and we went to several. Ralph Lauren has one of the most striking at Madison and 72nd. It’s a former mansion and it’s like a Polo catalog come to life. Giorgio Armani’s store, also on Madison, is severe and elsegant, the perfect showcase for the goods he sells. Takashimya is a Japanese department store on 5th Avenue that’s easily one of the coolest stores in Midtown. It’s next door to Fortunoff, a massive jewelry and gift store that someone forgot to tell it wasn’t 1978 anymore. The design of the store would have made Weezy Jefferson very proud, but the merchandise thankfully was up to date and cool. Also highly recommended: Bottega Veneta, the World of Disney and Salvatore Ferragamo.

Columbus Circle is a part of the city I’ve never been to, even though it’s only a few blocks form Bergdorf Goodman. I took a picture of the new mall and office towers there last time without realizing what they were and so I decided to check the place out. After getting a little twisted around on the subway, I figured out where to get off and we checked out a well-designed mall with so-so tenants and I got an excellent picture of the place at twilight.

We started heading back downtown as the sun set. Getting off in Penn Station near Madison Square Garden we went to the busiest place in midtown: Kmart! Yes, Kmart. They may be dying in the suburbs, but in Manhattan the place was jumping. It’s a lot like the Kmarts at home except that the store is split onto three levels (one leading to the subway) and has substantially more cool merchandise than they do locally.

We still had a couple hours so a trip back to Rockefeller Center was in order, though honestly I would have preferred Times Square. I saw the Plaza aglow with light and fuller than ever with tourists frustrated that the Great Tree wasn’t lighted. After getting some shots of the tree again and one of Saks in full holiday dress complete with electric snowflakes, we went back up to FAO Schwarz which was impossible to get into earlier that day.

Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed. The store I loved so much a few years ago had changed owners and now is more about parents impressing other parents with what they bought their kids than what kids might actually find fun. It was nice, but it was sterile.

It was getting near time to go, so we went back downtown to Herald Square and browsed Macy’s, Dr. Jay’s, the cheaper-than-dirt Conway store, and the Manhattan Mall, along with one of the biggest Modell’s Sporting Goods I’ve ever seen at the otherwise lackluster Herald Center. It was only a short time before we were at our hotel in New Jersey, where we slept and left from the next day to go home.

The traffic coming back to Virginia was enough to make you pull your hair out. We ended up stuck in traffic for at least two hours with very brief respites in Delaware and in Manassas before coming down US 29 back to Lynchburg and Roanoke. Here’s a tip. If you need to stop for a rest and are thirsty, don’t stop at the Manassas rest stop: there are no vending machines period. And this is at an official Virginia Welcome Center! I voiced my frustrations to the attendant, and she said they’ve been complaining about it for years too with no result. Your state tax dollars at work!

Anyway, other than being tired and needing about two days of rest to recover, it was all worthwhile. And in two weeks I get to do it again! Until next time...

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