I’m finally back from my trip to New York City for a week. Actually, I returned to Milwaukee on Friday evening, but I’m only getting around to writing this up just now…
Overall, the trip was a very enjoyable and interesting experience. While some aspects of New York were a bit head-scratching, a lot of other elements reminded me of life in other big cities, particularly Chicago (the major metropolis I’ve had the most frequent exposure to).
To start cataloging my experiences, I may as well start with the plane flight to and from New York. While I’d never been on an airplane before, I was expecting an utterly miserable experience, from all the complaints about airlines I’ve seen by others (and the jokes about air travel on TV, movies, etc.), plus the current paranoia-driven security hype. Thus, I suppose I was surprised to note that the actual plane experience wasn’t as bad as I feared, aside from some of the turbulence (especially when we were landing in LaGuardia, thanks to the last remnants of Hurricane Ernesto), though I still found the taking off of my shoes for security as silly. One reason my experience wasn’t as bad I suspect is my flying on a smaller airline, (Midwest Airlines, which supposedly emphasizes a first-class/business-class-style flying experience (leather seats, two seats per row, meals, free chocolate-chip cookies, and whatnot. I did appreciate the free cookies Midwest gives away (baked on board the plane!). If it means anything to anyone, the jet I was on was a Boeing 717.
Upon arriving in New York, I took the bus to the youth hostel I stayed at, HI-New York on Manhattan’s upper west side. The bus was OK, and I got to see some of Harlem (including the Apollo Theater) on the trip there. The hostel itself was so-so compared to my other hostel stays in Portland and Milwaukee; the computer room and TV room were nice, plus it had a large number of people flowing through (most of them seemed to be from the UK or Europe). However, I wasn’t too thrilled with the conditions of the bathrooms, nor that they messed up my reservations and I was forced to change rooms for the last two days I was there (and that the new room was “coed”, which involved one female roommate along with two male ones—-I didn’t know they even had such mixed-gender rooms, let alone my not enjoying having to change clothes in the bathroom). If and when I go to New York again, I’ll probably either spring for the cost of a hotel room or, if I go the hostel route again, get a private room. All the above said, however, my roommates were pleasant and courteous; most of them hailed from the UK.
As for New York itself, while my time there was spent almost entirely in Manhattan, I can see why native New Yorkers probably can’t imagine living anywhere else, given the sheer size and scope of everything I saw there—the culture, the number of places to go, amount of things to do, and so forth. That, and the economic allure, given the number of corporate headquarters and flagship stores located there. While I did do most of what was on my list, I didn’t get to see or do everything—Central Park, the Empire State Building, and the Brooklyn Bride among the things missed.
A list of what I’ve seen while there includes:
- The United Nations: The first thing I did was go on a tour of the United Nations. Very interesting to see the inside of this facility—a lot of the rooms apparently haven’t been remodeled in some decades (one meeting chamber *was* in the process of being remodeled when I was there). The tour guide, who was French, was pretty informative about the UN’s various functions. And yes, as the song on “Animaniacs” entitled “U.N. Me” put it, there was a gift shop selling T-shirts and flatware (and just about everything else). (And as long as I’m note that song, I’ll note that someone on the subway was singing the old church hymn the song was based on, “Down By the Riverside”…)
- Times Square: A monument to American marketing—-the famous moving billboards, neon lights, etc. were all in full display here. Also saw some flagship stores of chains like Toys ‘R Us (with a giant Ferris wheel inside) and Virgin records, as well as managed to see the “Naked Cowboy,” some guy who plays around there wearing only a cowboy hat, guitar and briefs. While I never heard of this guy until recently, he apparently has his own website and following (including merchandise of him I saw being sold around Times Square). Who knew…
- Rockefeller Center and NBC Studios: I took the tour that was offered of both facilities. The NBC tour consisted of a look at the set of a new syndicated talk show being filmed there, the set of the NBC evening news, and the set of Saturday Night Live. The tour would’ve also included a look at the set of Conan O’Brien’s show, but they were doing some sort of sound check/filming preparations at the time. The tour guide was impressed (during a “Name That Tune” bit with old NBC TV show theme songs) that I knew the names of so many theme songs. Also got to see the famed Rockefeller Center, which featured an informative tour guide (who apparently was at least in his seventies, judging from his memories of the place during the 1940′s).
- The “Today” show: I went to the “Today” show set twice, once on Tuesday and again for a much longer period on Thursday. On Tuesday I was mostly just passing through en route to the above tours at NBC/Rockefeller Center, but did manage to get to see Al Roker in person (talking to the crowd members near me). The Thursday visit was much more interesting; I managed to appear on the show during the last hour or so, and got to talk to both Ann Curry and the day’s special guest, Donny Osmond. Curry noted the United Nations T-shirt I was wearing, and asked what I made of the tour/the UN overall, plus made a remark on how they could be doing more, mentioning Darfur. Osmond noticed I was the only younger person in the front of the crowd (among a bunch of middle-aged women), and shook my hand, joking that I probably “have no idea who he is” (as the crowd laughed). Later he was willing to pose for a photo with me. Also got to meet another vacationing person from Milwaukee in the crowd. All in all, pretty fun.
- The Museum of TV and Radio: A museum near Rockefeller Center dedicated to preserving old television and radio broadcasts, including letting visitors view or listen to the ones of their choice. Being the animation enthusiast I am, I opted to view two shows I hadn’t seen in years: “King Leonardo and His Short Subjects” and “The Rocky Show.” The former was the first TV show produced by the animation studio that later gave us “Underdog”; it featured the adventures of a lion king and his skunk right-hand man trying to prevent the king from being overthrown by his doofus brother and brother’s gangster-voiced hench-rat. The latter show was a syndicated 15-minute version of “Rocky and His Friends”, the first “Rocky and Bullwinkle” series, though when I saw it as a kid, the station aired two 15-minute episodes back-to-back to form one half-hour long show. The opening credits feature a circus-wagon parade, with Rocky playing the calliope and doing various stunts; the episode I saw at the museum was the “New Greenpert” storyline.
- The Apple Store: Specifically, the Apple store located around 57th street or so, next to FAO Schwartz, featuring a glass elevator and the entire store located below street level, with a glass-building structure on the street level the only visible sign of the store. The store itself was quite busy the several times I went there, and offered the standard Apple store features, including free use of their Internet-connected computers.
- CNN studios: CNN’s New York facilities offered a tour as well, though since the network’s facilities are mainly in Atlanta, it probably wasn’t as interesting as it could’ve been. Managed to snag a CNN mug at their gift shop, though.
- Various stores, including an H&M store on Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s and Sak’s Fifth Avenue. The former, I bought a few shirts at; the latter two were their chains’ flagship stores, and quite expensive/high-end—$330 for a long-sleeved shirt?!
- Christopher St.: The site of the famous Stonewall riots in 1969 that helped start the modern gay rights movement had a few statues commemorating the event, plus was interesting to see the neighborhood. Apparently one DVD shop there was proud to announce that they offered to convert their films for PAL and the little-seen-outside-of-France SECAM broadcasting formats—at least gay French visitors won’t have to feel deprived thanks to this store’s efforts…
- Chelsea: Part of the heart of gay life in New York, it was interesting to see how different the “gay area” here differs from that even in Chicago— a much bigger and more spread out area, with more open displays of public affection by guys (i.e., hand-holding). Also noticed the guys there were, erm, more buff-looking than the ones elsewhere… guess hence the expression “Chelsea boy.” I went to a few bars in the area (not being able to easily find any night clubs), with said bars not feeling too different from the ones in Chicago.
- Greenwich Village/Union Square: Went to the Strand bookstore, which claims to be the country’s largest used bookstore—given its sheer size (three or four floors’ worth of books), it might well be true. Bought a copy of a recent Al Franken book as well as “Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants,” about conservative leanings in the media, plus a few T-shirts. Also went to a comic book store down the street from the bookstore, plus walked around the actual square a bit.
- The Statue of Liberty: As iconic as one would expect. The tour guide of the Liberty Island grounds could’ve been better though (and spared some of the attempts at “humor” that apparently wound up offending some of the German tourists present).
- A book reading/discussion by the author of a book on evangelical Christian churches’ rise in power in the U.S., apparently partially humorous in tone.
- Broadway: I went to one Broadway show, the musical version of “Hairspray” at the Neil Simon theater. Very entertaining show, even without Harvey Fierstein or Tevin Campbell (or several others, per the understudy notes given with the program). Was surprised to learn there’s a movie version based on this musical (vs. the original 1980′s movie) in the works. After the show, I bought a copy of the soundtrack.
A lot of my time there was spent just walking around, in which I saw various interesting miscellaneous sights (ranging from the usual street vendors and panhandlers—the former, there’s a lot of there, the latter, I didn’t run into as much—to other tourists).
The food in New York seemed variable—there were a lot of chain restaurants present, but also local eateries that varied from expensive and not worth the money to cheap and decent. Given my eating habits, I got rather sick of eating French fries toward the end of my stay there, though. One noteworthy food aspect: the lemonade served at a place in Chelsea named “Better Burger”; I thought the lemonade there was quite delicious.
The subway there wasn’t as bad as I was expecting (or media depictions made it out to be), aside from the amount of graffiti on some of the cars (though graffiti is pretty ubiquitous in New York, moreso than even in Chicago I figure). I had a $24 one-week unlimited use pass, which also helped keep transportation costs down (including not having to take any taxis).
One down side, of course, was how expensive everything there is—my guess that most things would be twice as much as they are back home wasn’t too far off the mark. $1.50 or $2 for a bottle of Pepsi, a hamburger and fries going for upwards of $10, etc. Another observation: few stores there would give cash back on a purchase made with a debit card, or if they did, it was limited to a small amount over the amount—very different and surprising to me, being used to using such purchases for cash and not needing to bother with ATM fees. Whether it’s out of concern over being robbed, or to cut down on the expenses of running a business in Manhattan, or too many people trying to use the cash-back feature in the past, or part of some plot to get people to use fee-laden ATMs (as I wound up having to use), I don’t know…
The people I encountered in New York, while they could be curt, weren’t as rude as I was expecting (or as depicted in popular media). A few seemed fairly friendly (admittedly one of them was at a bar I went to…).
Overall, the trip was quite an interesting and fun experience. I’d be open to going back to New York again in the future (and yes, even flying to get there if need be), though my next trip will probably be to some other city I’ve not yet been to (Washington D.C. or San Francisco leading the list of candidates).
Oh, yes, one more thing: as expected, I took plenty of photos of my trip to New York, on display for all to see (Donny Osmond and all).