Sunday, July 17, 2011

Go Ahead, Bite the Big Apple

Be sure to catch up by reading the 3 most recent postsThis is the 4th inning of our baseball journey.

DAY THREE (Part One):  The Tall Apple

We stopped to visit with my mother, Thomas’ grandmother, before hitting the road to NYC.  My mom is a huge baseball fan, a true Phillies Phanatic, and she watches every game on TV.  If memory serves, she took me to my first game at Shea, a 5-0 defeat at the hands of the mighty Big Red Machine of Rose, Bench, Perez, and Morgan.  She made me mad back then by cheering for the opposing team, something not encouraged in New York.  Her attitude was that she appreciated great play, regardless of who produced the effort.  She took the high road, while I drew my strength on the low road hating the competition.  C’est la vie.  I inherited her love of baseball, but not her sense of sportsmanship.  She asked Thomas for one thing from our trip – a postcard from Cooperstown.  We promised to deliver.

We emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel just after 12 noon, and the weather was no different on this day than it was on the day before.  It was musty and overcast, the kind of day when you needed to manually operate the windshield wipers because even the lowest intermittent setting created too much squeak-squeak across the glass.  Thomas was staring out the windows in awe, looking as far up as he could, although most buildings disappeared into the clouds above. 
“Everything is so tall.”

I don’t think that he was paying attention, but I did take the opportunity to educate him that while driving in NY, hesitation kills.  I preached the importance of automotive aggression and single-minded self-interest while navigating these mean streets.  Perhaps someday, he will replay this message in his head during a tight driving situation, and it will save his life and property.  A father can only hope.

I passed up several spectacular parking spots on the street for fear that I was missing a hidden sign that would authorize someone to tow my car to Connecticut, and instead, drove in circles for a good 45 minutes.  We had nowhere to be in particular until 7:05 PM in the Bronx, so our only commitment was to eat lunch at some point.  It was low stress NY driving, if there is such a thing.  We parked on 53rd Street, between 7th and 8th, and moved briskly on foot towards…anything, really.  We were happy to be walking finally, and happy to be in New York.

“Thomas, help me remember where we parked.”  The last thing we needed was to lose the car.  Thomas taught me a valuable lesson in the obsolete nature of human memory.  He plugged the street address of the parking garage into his phone.  As long as we remembered that the address was in the phone, and we remembered how to access that address again, and the battery held out, we’d be safe as kittens.

On the lunch menu, the only criterion was that chain restaurant food was out of the question.  We were in the greatest city on earth, and we were not going to settle for Chipotle, TGI Fridays, or Johnny Rockets.  We were in the Big Apple to take a bite out of life, and we were committed to eating differently.  For years, Thomas had talked about going to New York and having a meal in Chinatown.  I have no idea where this idea came from, or how long it had been in his brain, but I was destined to disappoint.  Chinatown was too far for this visit.  Maybe next time.

While looking for a decent lunch option, I made sure that Thomas read the menus of various eateries that were posted in windows and on sandwich boards.  The $12.95 grilled cheese freaked him out, and that was the intention.  I will raise at least one frugal child who understood the value of a dollar.

We found a world market type cafeteria, and its food choices reflected the melting pot that is NYC.  There were Italian, Chinese, French (not just fries and dressing, either), and Hispanic foods.  There were Italian, Asian, French and Hispanic patrons.  There was beef, fish, poultry and vegetables, all prepared in unique ways at different stations.  And there was noise, deafening clatters and voices and the sound of metal cars scrapping against concrete floors.

We decided to go light, since we would be walking all day, and we planned on eating ballpark sausage and peppers pretty much every other meal.  Our digestive tracts would need the break.  We filled our plates at a buffet of seafood and vegetables, and got out of there for under $16 total.  Take that NYC.  You will not bankrupt the Sherrier boys today.

Fully fed, but not stuffed, we walked.  We saw Radio City Music Hall.  We saw Times Square and the New Year’s ball on top of the One Times Square building.  We saw Rockefeller Center.  We saw freaks and geeks.  We saw the wealthy and the homeless.  We saw glistening real estate and grimy streets.  We saw glistening women and grimy men.  We took a walking bite of the Big Apple, and it was fun.

One particular stop was St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  This was a mandatory stop for us, ever since I had stumbled upon it a few years back while in NYC on business.    We lit a candle for Mommy because she we not feeling well at home, and we bought her a nice religious souvenir to lessen our guilt.

Coming out of the cathedral, the contrast from the peaceful tranquility of the church and the bustling streets of New York was dramatic.  Thomas commented to me, “It is so different than New York.  I can’t believe this place is right here in the middle.”  He was right.  It really was an oasis in the middle of chaos.

Seeing the City with a kid offered me a new perspective.  What excited him about Central Park?  The family of turtles on the rocks.  Famous landmarks?  The Plaza Hotel was Eloise’s Hotel.  The shops in Times Square?  We had to walk the M&M Store and take a picture of the American Eagle store and Forever 21 for his sister.  If there had been a driving tour of the famous sights from Home Alone II: Lost in New York, I am certain he would have wanted to take that.  I experienced New York as a real place.  For Thomas, I think it was more like an amusement park and a zoo.  Maybe that’s why they call it “Zoo York.”
I have one confession for this day in the City.  I did stop at an office building and ask directions at one point.  The previous evening, my sister had patiently reviewed the street sequence with me, and I had written it down.  Is it Park, then Madison?  Is the Avenue of the Americas also called 7th Street?  Is 5th Avenue just 5th Avenue, or does it have another name?  I was confident that I could, as a man, just figure it out along the way, but I was dragging a 12 year boy around the city, and we had a schedule.  Assuming the clouds above didn’t break free of all the water they were holding, we had a Yankee game at 7:05 PM.  I left the written instructions in the car.  Oops.

It was good that Thomas saw his dad embrace his ignorance and ask for help.  It was also encouraging that I was only one block off where I wanted to be.  Also good that the nice man at the front desk of the office building didn’t laugh at me or curse me out, at least not to my face in front of my son.  Who knows what he said once we were out of earshot, but I didn't care.  I figured I had won him over with my accent.

It was 4 PM when we retrieved the car, thanks to my memory and not Thomas’ phone.  It was time to battle Friday rush hour out of the city towards the Bronx.  No sweat, I thought.  As long as it doesn’t rain...

Next post:  The Evil Empire  - Yankee Stadium
 Cute picture from the day, until you realize that the stocking in Elmo's hand require the photographer to stuff money into it for the privilege.  I think if you refuse to pay, Cookie Monster kicks your ass, but I didn't want to find out. 

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