Saturday, January 1, 2011

OK, Where Was I... (NYC Trip Part III)

When last we were discussing the not-so-recent-anymore trip I took back to New York City (I was born and grew up there; lived in Queens, just east of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and just south of Da Bronx, until I was 25), I had covered my day spent at Old Westbury Gardens on Long Island, just 15 minutes or so southeast of my parents home. As much as I enjoyed the peaceful day of tranquility, it was time to get back into the running around portion of the vacation (which was about 90% of it...nuts, but I loved every minute...). And I certainly hit the ground running on this day, and didn't stop for quite some time.

This was Thursday, October 7, 2010, for those interested in keeping track of times
and dates and things like that (which would be me...). Mom and I were heading into Manhattan this day, with the ultimate destination (a phrase that would drive George Carlin nuts) being the American Museum Of Natural History. Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, it's front door overlooks Central Park at about 79th Street. This is the institution that was featured in the film Night At The Museum with Ben Stiller and Robin Williams, which actually was pretty decent (and I don't often say that about recent major Hollywood productions). However, that was not my reason for going there this time around.

I have very fond memories of going to that museum many times as a youngster, either on day trips to Manhattan with my Mom, or on class trips for school. Certain things are vividly imbedded in the mental rolodex, such as the giant blue whale on the lower level, the dinosaurs throughout the museum, and of course the immense and amazingly beautiful building itself. But as I say, this was the ultimate destination...the getting there was going to be half the fun...

My Mom, now in her mid 60's (not sure how this is possible, for, as we all know, no woman on the planet is over the age of 29), is not one for doing trips to Manhattan on her own. She'll go in occasionally as part of a bus trip with a local ladies' association, or with a friend from her volunteer work, but that happens maybe 3 or 4 times a year, and they have specific destinations to get to, and a bit of a rigid time schedule, which doesn't allow for much in the way of meandering and sightseeing. Since I hadn't been back to New York in about 2 and a half years at this point (and I'm really not sure when I'll be making it there again), I wanted to wander and absorb the fun of just being in Manhattan. And since I'm familiar with many more areas of it then Mom, she was looking forward to being toured thru sections of it unfamiliar to her.

Since she lives in Yentaville (my "loving" way of referring to Long Island), we had to take the Long Island RailRoad (LIRR) in. It's a pleasant roughly 45 minute train ride from my folks' house, taking you thru some of the more interesting areas of Long Island and Queens (do you know anyone who lives RIGHT NEXT TO the train tracks and has a REALLY NICE house?). The LIRR, if you're not on your way to the daily grind of work, is almost like getting a little tour of the suburbs of NYC. It's a very vital part of the commuting line of NYC, as many work-a-day people spend a couple hours each day getting to and from their chosen profession via it. When you're doing the same trip every day, it just becomes a place to read, have breakfast, sleep, catch up on e-mail or whatever, but when you're just visiting, it's a nice train ride.

The LIRR lets you out at Penn Station, located underneath Madison Square Garden, and just a couple blocks west of the Empire State Building. And, as a special treat for me, seeing as how I've been a mailman for over 15 years now, directly across 8th
Avenue from the Garden (the side we chose to emerge from) is THE main branch of the United States Postal Service. On vacation, and I STILL can't get away from it...Kidding aside, it is a magnificent building to behold, even amongst the many that Manhattan has to offer. The building occupies an entire city block...the real estate alone is worth untold millions of dollars, and the building that sits upon it, regardless of what it's for, is a priceless gem as well. The mammoth pillars that line the front are almost awe inspiring. 20 of them, each about 60 feet high and roughly 7 or 8 feet wide. And up above, running the entire length of the building, is the motto of the USPS; "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

As a roundabout way of getting to the museum (remember, the front door is about 79th Street, and we emerged from the LIRR at 34th...20 NYC blocks is 1 mile, and we were gonna walk the whole thing...and not in a straight line, either), we were going to head over to the West Side, uncharted territory for the female parental unit. We turned north upon hitting the southern edge of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which would play a major role in the upcoming weekend portion of my
vacation. Continuing north up 11th Avenue, we turned left on 41st Street, and stumbled upon one of the cooler playgrounds I've ever seen in my life. The slide you see pictured here is a functional piece of artwork called Playground by an artist named Tom Otterness. It made me want to be a kid again, as it was vastly superior to the slides I had in growing up in my neighborhood in Queens. I don't know if those kids will someday realize just how lucky they are, or how good they have it...I hope so.

Wandering thru the playground, we then made it over to the West Side Highway (which officially now has the designation of the Joe DiMaggio Highway, but it'll always be the West Side Highway to me and millions of other New Yorkers), hitting it just south of the Intrepid Sea, Air And Space Museum. Another museum that I've been to several times (again, school trips, and most recently in 2005 when I played tour guide for a now retired co-worker and his wife...and seeing as how he is an actual Vietnam Veteran, the Intrepid visit was an emotional experience for him), it's very unique as the museum is the actual aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, used during World War II. While we weren't going there this day, just seeing it from the street is still something special.

We now turned back right at 51st Street, and made our way over to 9th Avenue, directly in the heart of Hell's Kitchen. In the 1970's and early 1980's, you wouldn't be caught dead in Hell's Kitchen...well, actually, if you WERE caught there, odds are you WOULD be dead. But it underwent a major revival, and is now a very trendy, upscale place to live. It also has lots of funky looking buildings in it, and is almost the embodiment of what Manhattan dwelling looks like. We just slowly but steadily made our way uptown, enjoying Manhattan on an absolutely beautiful sunlit day. Nothing else like it.

Eventually we decided to take a break, grabbed a snack and a drink, and sat in Dante Park, right across from Lincoln Center. While Mom sat and watched the world go by, I went across the street and took a few pictures of the fountain in front of the Metropolitan Opera House, always a good photo subject. It was now 10AM, and we'd emerged from the depths of Penn Station at about 8:30. We'd already walked (in a bit of a zig-zag fashion) probably 2 miles in NYC, plus a mile early in the AM to get to the LIRR station from the folks' house. We knew we had much museum walking to do, and still another slightly more than half-a-mile to go to get there, so we figured we'd best get a move on.

Traversing up Central Park West was the quickest, and most interesting, way to complete the rest of the journey to the museum. Surrounded by the beautiful park on the right and stunning architecture on the left, plus the hustle and bustle of the sidewalks and Central Park West (8th Avenue), you can't get any more New York than this. I was grinning ear to ear doing nothing but walking, talking with my Mom, and taking pictures.

One of the beautiful buildings we passed on the way was The Dakota, the apartment complex that John Lennon lived in when he was murdered. Seeing as it was October 7, 2010, what would have been his 70th birthday was only 2 days away, so there were even more people than there normally would be congreating around the building, as well as at Strawberry Fields in the park right across the street. I've never been the biggest Lennon fan in the world, but I can appreciate his talent, and certainly the impact that he had on countless millions of people around the world.

Look how long this entry is, and we're only just getting to the museum now. To be continued...

Blog Post Soundtrack; Pearl Jam (live), Queens Of The Stone Age (live), Prong, The Raconteurs, The Crystal Method, The Who, James Brown, Anthrax, Pantera, Mike Patton, Orange Goblin, Suicidal Tendencies, Portishead, Muddy Waters, Johann Strauss, Björk, Black Sabbath, John Lee Hooker, Faith No More (covering The Dead Kennedys), Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rollins Band, Black Flag, Fu Manchu, New York Dolls (kind of appropriate, huh?), Kyuss, Foo Fighters, Eddie Izzard, Bill Cosby, Helmet, John Frusciante, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica (live with Cliff), Audioslave, White Zombie, Vangelis, George Carlin

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