By Sylvia Hubilla
Round Rock, Texas
“These vagabond shoes are longing to stray right through the very heart of it, New York, New York…”
I love New York! Always have, always will…..in my mind. It seems like I can never say no to New York. Every chance I get to visit this city that never sleeps, I jump at it. It’s like a high for me, and I don’t know why. Now that last sentence even sounds like a rap – “New York, New York, it’s like a high, and I don’t know why…” See what it does to me?!
And so my next trip to New York…..
My daughter told me she was bringing her three children for a 5 day trip to experience the city and would I like to come. She saw some tickets on sale with Southwest Airlines. It was like an invitation to happy hour! A no-brainer. So what do you think my answer would be?
I immediately booked my round trip ticket without even checking my account balance, on the same flight as my daughter’s. I had been having some health issues for the past two weeks. But who cares? I threw caution to the winds, like some secret love affair was about to happen.
“Mom, remember all the walking and subway stairs you have to navigate. Are you sure?” my other daughter cautioned me. “And, it’s summer and New York can get really hot,” she continued. None of that fazed me. This was two months before the trip, and each week my excitement grew. It was going to be mostly, a walking tour. The key words – travel light. So the five of us each armed ourselves with back packs, with only the barest minimum inside. I was the only one with a check-in luggage, where we put in some goodies and souvenirs from Texas for my brother in New Jersey who thankfully opened his home to us to be our base.
Finally, the day came. We were all filled with excitement as we went through the process of boarding and choosing seats close to each other, not to mention window seats for my 3 grandkids. We got seated and buckled up, ready for take-off. We were all giving ourselves high fives…..until the pilot made an announcement.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are being asked to delay our flight by two hours, due to inclement weather in New York. We will have to ask you to disembark, and we will give back your boarding passes as you step out of the plane. We will make an announcement for boarding in two hours, and you will follow your same boarding number. Please bear with us. Thank you.”
Uh oh, is this a peek of what’s to come for our New York trip? But no, I’d take the rain over the blistering sun anytime! This positive attitude was still alive and well, even after the reboarding and well into, finally, take off. But soon, the ride became too bumpy for comfort. Several times the announcement of turbulence ahead kept us buckled up for the rest of the 4 hour flight.
At last, the announcement, “We have started our descent…82 degrees in Newark, New Jersey, with chances of rain.” We made it! Wow, 82 degrees. It felt so good to leave the triple digits of the Texas summer behind, even for just 5 days.
Soon we walked out of the terminal of the Liberty International Airport, into a warm, cloudy, and muggy afternoon. New York now was just a trainride away.
It was so good to see my brother again. We saw each other just two years ago in the Philippines for our late mother’s 100th birthday. But it has been 19 years since I last visited him in his home. My nephew is now a grown man!
Looking over our crammed New York itinerary, my brother said he will bring us to Edison Station every morning, where we will board the train that will bring us to Penn Station in New York City. And we should go back to Penn station in the evening, and board our train again to go back to Edison where he will pick us up. We just need to give him a call when we reach Metuchen, the stop before Edison. Now we have a plan. This will be our daily routine. We did a dry run that night. We learned how to get the tickets from the machine. We were all set.
Woo hoo! New York, here we come!
We were up bright and early. After a breakfast of bagels and lox, and armed with our back packs, my trusted umbrella and sunjacket, and my daughter with her NY app downloaded into her iphone, we headed out for Edison train station. My brother bade us goodbye and wished us luck. We waited for our 8:00AM train for New York Penn Station.
The enthusiasm of the teen, the almost teen, and the pre-teen, and their determined Mom was contagious. I flexed both my mental and physical muscles, especially the legs and feet, to prepare myself for what’s ahead. Bring it on, New York!
Walking out of Penn Station and onto the busy sidewalks of New York City, brought back the memories of my first New York visit in the Autumn of 1994. It was love at first sight. I was young then.
My daughter whipped out her NY app, and said, “Alright, let’s do everything within walking distance first.” That sure brought me back to the present. The words “within walking distance” is relative, to age, I mean. And that means keeping pace with 2 marathoners, 1 football linebacker, and the budding 10 year old football linebacker.
What exactly is walking distance? The question in my head was soon answered. “Let’s go to Times Square. It’s just about a mile and a half from where we are now. You think you’ll be okay with that, Mom? We’ll play it by ear. When you get too tired, we’ll stop and rest.”
That definitely sounds good. We stopped in the first convenience store we passed and got a bottle of water each. Then before anyone became “hangry” (our word for feeling angry when hungry) we stopped at the first hotdog stand we saw. New York dogs all around. This is so New York!
Soon, Times Square – the huge neons, TV screens, the ticket line for the Broadway Shows. I’m falling in love all over again!
From here, we decided to board a bus tour. It was called, a “hop on- hop off” tour. It means, we could go down any part we pass and want to explore, and then later, get back on another bus, to finish the tour.
We were having fun taking a lot of photos as the bus wound its way around the famous New York landmarks, and listening to the information from the tour guide. Then the sun hid behind clouds, and I started to feel a few drops.
Soon the tour guide was starting to distribute plastic ponchos for the rain. We gamely put them on, and the tour continued as the rain poured.
We decided to hop off at Chinatown. By this time the sun was blazing. We literally were left out to dry. We decided to have lunch at one of the Chinese restaurants there, along Canal street. We had some dimsum, and duck.
After lunch, more walking, exploring the shops, playing the haggling game, pretending to walk away, and coming back, when you finally get the price you want. We passed by a couple of young guys I thought were rapping, and when I got nearer, they were actually reciting a litany of brand names like Loise Vuitton, Hermes, Rolex, etc., etc. They were actually catching the attention of those wanting to buy knock-off brand items.
We spied Little Italy from the sidewalks of Chinatown. We decided we will have dinner there. But first we had to catch the tour bus and hop on back to finish the rest of our city tour. So we decided to put off Little Italy for tomorrow. While enjoying the last half of our bus tour, we were treated to a heart stopping experience of siren sounds and a mass of firetrucks and police cars crowding the streets of Manhattan, and people pouring out of their buildings. My heart was literally pounding as I imagined the worst scenario happening around us as our bus was caught in the middle of all these.
Our guide was shouting, “Everybody stay seated please!” We were eventually directed to other streets and had to be satisfied with just catching glimpses of other landmarks.
We never really found out the reason for all that – a bomb threat, a terrorist threat? But I was glad to see the quick response of the City’s Finest. It made me feel safe.
That evening, I met with my best friend from elementary days. We haven’t seen each other in years! I really appreciated her coming to see me, braving the downpour which came again with a vengeance in the evening. The meeting was perfectly memorable – until we made a choice to have dinner in a restaurant on 42nd Street. We would have prefered Little Italy, but the weather just did not cooperate.
The meal would have been okay, inspite of the rude server. Maybe it was just unfamiliarity with their culture, I thought. But when it was time to pay the bill, the series of events that followed, really confirmed my first impression. First, they just informed us at this point that their machine broke down, which I highly doubt, and so would accept only cash. Then he took away the receipt. Then the waiter came back demanding in a rude tone that my friend pay 18% of the bill for tip, and in the absence of the receipt, how could one compute 18% of what? So he had to produce the receipt. Then my friend had to go to the cashier to demand her change, which the waiter never brought to our table.
I felt so bad for my friend. How dare those people mar our perfect little reunion! We walked her to the subway. Thank goodness the rain has let up. We all gave her a hug and thanked her for dinner. It was sad to say goodbye. It will probably be years before I see my BFF again.
We were tired. We were damp. My hair was getting frizzy again from the humidity in the air. I hated walking through the city’s grime after the rain on the sidewalks of 42nd. I hate those rude staff in the restaurant! I hate New York!
My body felt like my first day in the gym after a long absence. We were ready to call it a day. I wonder how many miles total I walked from 8:00 AM to past midnight. I felt like I’ve been through the wringer – and it was only Day 1 of our trip. In my head, I told myself, New York is only for the young. I will never come back.
But after a warm shower, a good night’s sleep, I was gung-ho for Day 2!
It’s true – this city never sleeps. It was still buzzing when we were walking back to Penn station. The last train that leaves for Edison from Penn is at 1:00 AM. So we maximized our days, cramming as much of New York as we can until almost midnight, everyday. For four straight days.
I never felt so proud of and amazed at myself! And I never felt so tired and pummeled to a pulp. Up to now, I can’t believe I climbed 192 steps from the ground up to the base of the Statue of Liberty. Without my health coach, (read my daughter) I know I would have backed off from the challenge.
Navigating the subway stairs left me huffing and puffing like the big, bad wolf. My friend told me she almost never travels by subway anymore, preferring the bus, to save her knees from, literally, the wear and tear. But then I had a cheering squad. So my aging feet and knees plodded on.
I actually enjoyed the subway. Where else will you see, in the midst of the rush hour, a young man whip out his violin, and make the most beautiful, soothing music to quiet the soul, inside a packed train.
And it was in the subway, oddly enough, where I fell in love with New York all over again. On two separate occasions, strangers came to my rescue, like guardian angels in disguise.
We were told by a friend, that it’s easier to just have one ticket for everyone, and just pass it on as we go through the turnstiles, and we did exactly this. We filed through, five of us, one at a time, me, being the last. When my turn came, the turnstile wouldn’t turn! We tried swiping the ticket several more times – nothing. We just loaded the card with $30.00; it can’t be empty. I looked around, perplexed, and very worried. We will miss our train!
I must have looked so lost and helpless, for suddenly, I saw a knight in shining armor coming towards me. On his armor was emblazoned NYPD. “Is there a problem, Ma’am?”
This damsel in distress could not be more relieved and happy. It turns out, the card can be swiped only 4 consecutive times, and not more at one time. So this kind, good-looking policeman, swiped his own card to let me go through and join my family waiting on the other side. Truly, New York’s finest.
Next, we went down to a station planning to buy my card there, only to find out there was no ticket machine. We were tired from walking. We were looking at the map, trying to decide what to do next. A man walked up to us, and just asked, “Need help?” Turns out he was a Metro Transport staff, obviously on his way out, maybe on his break, but still went out of his way to help us. He used his key to let me in. I couldn’t thank him enough.
I Love New York City!
On the fifth day, I rested. I was done. My body told me so. No amount of cajoling from the grandkids can make me get up and go again. That’s it for me…..until next time. The song is still playing in my head, “I want to be a part of it, New York, New York…”
(For more of Sylvia’s writings, visit singlesixtyandfree.blogspot.com)