Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Trip - New York City Impressions

We're exhausted. Both of us.

This morning I woke up at 3am and couldn't get back to sleep, because I was worrying about my safety in New York and whether I should use my normal purse or switch to the other one I brought for dressier occasions. Sometime after 3:30 I fell asleep and woke to the alarm at 4:15. I switched my essentials to the dressy purse, and we left an hour later, leaving Scooter to spend the day in the motorhome.

We got to the Park & Ride sooner than we expected and were able to catch the earlier bus. It was a two-hour ride, and I snoozed for most of it. I woke up in time to see "New York Times" in giant lit-up letters on the side of a building as the bus pulled into the Port Authority bus depot.

Could I have looked more like a tourist? No.

When we asked for a city tour, we were directed to Gray Line Tours, a double-decker-bus tour company. I explained to the tour-selling lady what we wanted to see: The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island--go to them, not just cruise by--and the Empire State Building, Ground Zero, and maybe the UN, but probably not take a tour of it. She told us the cheapest option (the Downtown Tour), which was better-priced than any of the tours we saw in their brochure, so we took it. The tour allows you to get on and off where and when you want to (provided it's one of their stops).

Our first tour guide was Dominic, an Italian from Long Island (pronounced, "Loh-uhng Island"--words like Dawn and sauce are practically two-syllable words), and he sounded a lot like a guy I used to work with who was originally from Brooklyn. There were a lot of people who sounded like New Yorkers or New Jerseyites I've known. I wonder why...

Dominic had been an engineer until his company outsourced and downsized him out of a job many years ago. Then he tried his hand at telemarketing, hated it, and quit. A friend of his told him about the tour guide jobs with Gray Lines, and he's been doing it ever since. We liked him the best of all the tour guides we had.

He told us about the changes in the city since ten or twelve years ago. When Mayor Giuliani came in, Times square was full of homeless people, peep shows, and crime. But Giuliani took charge, got homeless shelters built, contracted with Disney to get rid of the peep shows and replace them with more wholesome fare (Mary Poppins is playing in one theater there), and he cracked down on the city's crime. Now the city is one of the safest in the country, and again downtown is a place where people want to go. Plus (I don't know if it was Giuliani's doing or a successor), they've made it illegal (punishable by a $350 fine) to honk your horn for any reason besides an emergency. The place is much quieter than it was when we got stuck in Manhattan traffic on our way to visit my then-husband's relatives on Long Island in 1982.

Dominic gave us some celebrity news as well. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie just rented a really big apartment in one of the Waldorf-Astoria buildings for only $100K a month (not a typo). Robin Williams got on Dominic's bus a few months ago and took the microphone to give the tour for about five blocks, then he got back off. And they're still filming Sex and the City and Law & Order episodes in town. We passed a spot where Law & Order was filming. He pointed out other landmarks from the movies, like the Daily Bugle building from Spiderman and the building with the Tango scene from Scent of a Woman. I hadn't seen that movie, so I didn't care about it as much as the Daily Bugle.

I felt out of place quite a bit there, especially in the eatery we stopped at for a mid-morning bite to eat (we'd eaten breakfast way earlier than usual and wouldn't last until lunchtime). People coming in grabbed trays, went to a counter here, paid over there, and left us in their dust, still trying to identify some of the food being offered. We selected chicken parmagiana on some sort of bread I've never seen before and asked them to cut it in half for us. Then we didn't know where to wait and when to pay. The guy who answered our questions and heated our sandwich (in a brick oven) was very nice to us, but the whole setup had a way of making newbies like ourselves feel every bit the outsiders that we were.

But I didn't feel out of place in terms of attire the way I thought I would. Sure, there were areas in the upscale and financial districts where everyone on the sidewalks were dressed in classic corporate-wear, but everywhere else, non-tourist people (you could tell) wore jeans or even schlumpy clothes.

Renovations are going on all over town. Just the other day, according to Dominic, someone working on the outside of a building dropped a 500-lb object, and it smashed a taxi. The driver had some cuts from the broken glass but was otherwise unhurt.

Most of the renovations right now are to convert office space into condos, because there's much more money to be made from condos. Small ones cost millions to buy, and rents average $4K a month for a 1 bedroom and $6500 a month for a 3 bedroom. That must be why there are people willing to ride a bus two hours to work and two hours back every day from New Jersey.

I've known people who thrive on the rush and energy of big-city life, but I'm not one of them. Cities wear me out, and New York City wore me out faster than most. My mom and I agreed we really were glad we went. But neither one of us will be going back.

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