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Manhattan

 

New York City

I wanted to go to New York City not to fulfill any particular fantasy or because there was some artifact that I was enamored with. I wanted to go to New York City to have it as cultural touchstone—it is, after all, the most famous city of all time—and most of all to hate it.

I longed to despise this overcrowded, overbuilt, obsession with capitalism that takes up far too much screen time in far too many movies and waaaaay too many television shows. I wanted to go to New York and be so unimpressed, have an Epiphone of being underwhelmed.

That’s not what happened.


New York is amazing. It sparkles. It’s a city unlike any other. Or like all cities, in a way. We only went to Manhattan, but still there were parts that felt like Austin, San Francisco, Bogota, Tokyo, Detroit, Hanoi, Florence, and maybe every city I’ve ever been to (well, maybe not Albuquerque)  and yet it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

I loved Manhattan.

I loved New York City.

I was enamored with every inch of it, from the tops of spires (we went to 86th floor of Empire State) to the subways, to the rat I saw in the park. Ah, New York. How can you be worth all the bright lights that your promise?

I think perhaps our tour guides helped make it so.

Our dear friends Kumiko and Alex Galinsky live in Warren, New Jersey, a forty (fifty) minute train ride away from Penn Station. They moved to the States right around when we got pregnant with our firstborn (Ok, so it was Raquel that was pregnant, to be clear) and have visited us down in Ausitn a couple of times. I had promised to come and see them before they left the states, and I they were one of the most compelling reasons to get in an RV and travel all the way up to New Jersey.

Alex actually has the distinction of being the person we have met in more cities than any other.

Takayama, Hanoi, Amsterdam, Austin, San Antonio, Warren, and New York City have all served as rendezvous points.

That last one was because Galinsky had engineered a way to get us into the city. He was to take us to the train station, drop us off so we could ride, then he would return for Kumi-chan and bring her and all the luggage with him, and then he would find what I think of as a New Yorker’s idea of a right: free parking.

And this double rendevous was just the first part of the 48 hours of Manhattan (including entrance and exit with a stunning view) he had planned for us.

So, I present to you: 60 Hours of Manhattan.

We got off the subway at Penn Station and made for the surface, past cosplayers dressed as esoteric anime characters and more versions of spiderman than I could count. There was magic in the air already, thanks to a Comic Con, and Leo’s eyes twinkled every time he noticed another hero walking down the street.

We found our way to our hotel, which was located near 6th and 28th, in the heart of the flower district.

That alone might have made our stay in Manhattan magical. The hotel was nice and clean, and we were on the 22nd floor, which was extremely radical, but best of all was the morning stroll.

A ride down the elevator and couple of steps through the lobby and Leo and I would pull our masks down and smell the fresh city air. And it was indeed fresh, or at least comparatively so, because every morning about a dozen shops emptied out the interiors of their greenhouses onto the curb. We passed by bouquets by the dozen, plus ficus, corn plants, ferns, a dozen kinds of landscaping flowers, as well as breathtaking window displays or orchids and cut flowers. All on the way to get an absolutely perfect cappuccino. If we went all the way to the end of the block and looked up, the Empire State Building was right there. Amazing.

But I was getting ahead of myself.

We checked our bags, and made for Madison Square park. We walked down Broadway, on pedestrian boulevards made possible by the pandemic, until we reached the park. It was like something out of sesame street. Kids of every color and nationality played together in an urban park, with the city all around us, while I looked at oversized birds. A catbird, specifically, that was meowing and giving no fucks about all the noise and people everywhere.

We played and hung out for a while, and then we saw them, Alex and Kumi-chan, our saviors.

“So, you hungry?” Galinsky asked.

“Ravishingly so,” Raquel later told me that she wanted to say, by which she meant ravenously, but instead said only ‘we’re fine.’

“Pizza’s twenty minute walk, cool?”

Sure.

We set out south, until we passed into Soho and the city changed around us. No longer were we amonst the towering skyscrapers, but smaller, ten story buildings. We worked our way to Joe’s Pizza, and had an absolutely delicious slice of pie.

I have had New York style pizza before (thin crust, big slices, I get it) and that was what this. There was a spot near where I used to work that we would get food after a long week, Hoboken. It tasted like that.

Theres’ a window on 6th street, that always has hot slices at 1 in the morning. It tasted like that,

There’s a place called Homeslice, that makes fine pizza which I have drunkenly consumed at least a dozen times while jamming to live music. It tasted like that,.

So, yeah, it transported me through space and time to three separate places, pretty good slice of pepperoni pizza.  (Detroit style pizza is better though).

At this point, it was raining, and Leo had a bit of a meltdown, and we had to succumb to him pressuring us to get him a toy. The next day was his birthday, which we had all planned out for him, but the suspense seemed to be literally killing him. He ended up with a sword, plus on the way to the toy store, we passed the ghostbusters HQ, so all and all, well worth the detour.

Satiated, we went to the statue of Liberty, which I would have liked to see closer, inspiring as it was from even far away, and the site of the Trade Towers, which was an impressively somber fountain sinking into the earth. I have never seen anything of that scale dedicated to loss before.

I was in the 8th grade when two planes were hijacked and crashed into the trade towers. I watched the second tower get hit and fall to the ground in real time, in middle school. Nine Eleven is probably the single most influential moment of life, or at least it was, until the Coronavirus was unleashed on the world. It was sobering to be there. It made me feel hollow, and like something had been broken that could never be put back together again. And I suppose that’s what happened, only so much more than that happened too.  

We left and wandered down Wall Street, unimpressed with the trinkets being sold on the steps of these shrines to capitalism.

Alex and Kumiko had had asked us what we wanted to do, and we had given them nothing but food we wanted, so our next stop was more eating. We made our way on the subway and back uptown to Nom Wah Tea Parlor and ordered dim sum on the street.

One of the most amazing parts of our visit with Alex and Kumiko was any little thing we mentioned, they would find. I had literally said, yeah, I’d like to eat some food in China Town, and they had found a place that had line halfway down the block, that we had somehow arrived at just the right time for. We ate dim sum, the best of which were dumplings filled with soup, on what Alex told me was once the most dangerous streets in New York, and that the tight, blind corner allowed for gangsters to have their pick of people rounding the bend. I shrugged. Good dumplings, the greens weren’t bad either.

Xander did get too hungry and had a full-blown meltdown unlike anything I had ever seen, in which he would not eat, drink, or stop crying for thirty minutes, despite mommy and daddy both knowing that he was pissed precisely because he needed food in his belly. Ah. Such is life, is it not? We finally got some sticky rice in him and he calmed down, but it was not easy.

Desert was next, and when I mentioned that I wanted a cannoli, our hosts eyes lit up.

“There’s a place up this way, no? On the left?”

“The right!”

“No, the left!”

We crossed from China town to Little Italy (they took the paper lanterns of the lights strung across the street, and switched out the gold for green) and were on our way to the cannoli of my dreams. Actually, I botched the order and got a chocolate cannoli, which had too much chocolate and thus overwhelmed the perfect texture of the original creation. But Raquel got an éclair that was divine. I’m sure mine would have been too if I got what I actually wanted, but I had already engulfed the whole thing, so was good.

We caught the subway back to the flower district (At some point someone got Leo some Pokémon cards, which completely blew his mind. Leo: Pokemon CARDS daddy! Can you believe it? They make pokemon CARDS! Me, a recovering Pokeaddict: shakes head sadly. Then, we slept.

Or most of the Mitchells did anyway. I, for one, did not sleep, as earlier in the day Alex had casually asked me if I’d like to go out for a whiskey later, because if so they needed to make reservations right at this instant.

“YES!” I said, eager to spend an evening with adults, only adults, and no children at all. “I mean… if that’s alright with you, darling,” I said oh so smoothly. Because of this decision, I know found myself flashing my ID, covid card, and wondering if I should have worn one of my classier wrestling shirts as I was ushered into a bar in downtown Manhattan.

A man cradled a guitar as he crooned Beatles lyrics to a jazz trio.

A thousand bottles of whiskey were all around me, many of which had tags that labeled them someone’s personal stash.

A puff of smoke.

A snatch of conversation.

Scattered applause.

A woman’s laugh.

The smell of steak.

Which is all to say when the server proffered us with a whiskey menu sorted by geography, and my dear friend Galinsky handed it to me, I completely froze.

“Whatever you like, my friend!” he tells me with a grin, as if I am at all qualified to make this decision.

I look at a few countries worth of whiskeys.

“What?” Is all I can manage aloud.

Meanwhile, I am wondering just what the hell am I supposed to do here? The whiskeys vary in style wildly, and in the last four years I have not drunk more than a bit whiskey and every now and then, and often mixed with honey, at that! Now I was supposed to make this decision? I didn’t know if I would order something far too fancy or not fancy enough. Words were bandied about, words like: ‘peat’, which I know I didn’t like, and words like ‘smoky,' which I know I did like, but maybe not in this context. But I was here for whiskey, so maybe it would be good in this context. I knew I liked whiskeys that were smooth but I also felt like ordering a smooth drink in this place, would not be, well… you get it.

So I froze. I flipped a page or two, mumbled about a flight, and then inspiration struck. I was in Manhattan after all… wasn’t there a drink… or something… that I could.

“I’ll have an old-fashioned,” my brain said, noticing that there were in fact drinks on the menu. I had done it! I had saved my self the embarrassment of ordering a whiskey I knew nothing about, but had ordered alcohol, so I could get a little bit of help in the not caring so much about what other people thought department.

“Excellent sir, what kind of whiskey would you like in that?” He asked and began to rattle of makers that had phonemes in their names that I wasn’t familiar with.

Galinsky jumped in.

“He doesn’t like anything peaty or smoky. He likes it smooth.”

“Actually,” I might have said, but the server was nodding, so better to not mess with anything.

“And would you like our smoked old fashioned then?” The server asked, to which I nodded, and was then left puzzling why I had refused smoky whiskey, then ordered it smoked. Context I guess, context is everything.

The drink arrived and served its function. When the server came around the next time, I was able to babble at her long enough that she could reccomend something.

The Isle of Jura was smoky and smooth and floral and a bit sweet, she claimed.

I looked at Galinsky, who gave me a reassuring nod.

Wonderful, I said, and asked for it on ice, which was probably a faux pa, but hey man, ice is nice.

I found it delicious. Strong and sweet and smoky and smooth, what more could you ask for?

“Not really my thing,” Galinsky confided in me. “But a good one.”

“He likes the ones that really stink,” Kumiko said with a nod. She had ordered regular drinks, instead of whiskeys, bless her.

I got another of something else, the band stopped, and by then I had enough courage to suggest we go somewhere else, for like a beer, my treat (8-dollar beers aren’t so bad after the whiskeys he had taken me out for). We found something close, the Oscar Wilde yadda yadda yadda and wandered over only to find a bar overflowing with both people and Halloween decorations.

It was, quite frankly, otherworldly.

My college instincts kicked in instead of my covid ones, and I immediately cut in front of the crowd of people trying to make up their minds about going into the most crowded, over the top place on the whole street. I knew where I wanted to be, inside there.

I told the hostess I needed three, when she asked if the bar would be fine, I said hell yes, and waived Alex and Kumichan ahead of the people that although I had not skipped, but my friends were now doing exactly that. Getting into that bar and calling my friends to skip the line was a proud NYC moment.

Because the bar was great. The soundtrack was all nightmare before Christmas, Harry Potter and Ghostbusters, the decorations were skleletoons and spooky clowns everywhere, and the beers were on draft, and right in front of us.

We drank and people watched and chatted and had a wonderful time. God it was great. We had fries that could have tasted like anything, but drunk as I was were fantastic with their truffle oil goodness. We told stories and talked the past and the future, ah what a night to half remember.

We awoke, as I previously mentioned, to flowers and cappuccino, a wonderful way to wake up, even if (especially if) you must ride down 20 stories in an elevator. 

It was Leo's birthday (FIVE YEARS OLD!!!!) and we did the things. We went to Times Square. It was as expected. We went to Rockefeller Center, I got chills thinking how many times the work that came out that building made me laugh. For Leo’s birthday, we went to the Lego store. Leo’s mind exploded, though it was Xander who was the kid obsessively building Legos once we were inside, not his older brother. We left and somehow found ourselves in the middle of the Columbus day parade. We went to the upper west side for a delightful (under seasoned) brunch. (Not lunch, our server assured us they only served lunch on Mondays and Wednesdays. Or was it Thursday? Either way, there would be no lunch served today).

We even had a birthday cake that we had to bring on the subway that Raquel and Leo fought about when they went into a bakery to buy it. Very NYC experience. 

We went to bed early that night, tipsy on champagne because I hadn’t been able to find beer for sale anywhere, only the good stuff in NYC!

The next morning, we woke, once more, to flowers and cappuccino. Lovely! Go to New York and get a hotel in the flower district. It makes all the difference.

Today, all we really had planned, was to go Central Park.

I will freely admit, this is the part of the trip I was most excited about. Regular readers may know why: the birds. 

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