Wednesday, May 09, 2007

"If I can Make It There..."

New York Trip: Day 2

On Sunday we woke reasonably well rested and ready to hit the day. Our plan was to go to Chinatown for dim sum and then to the Statue of Liberty. We had to be at Penn Station no later than 6:00 p.m. in order to get a train to Newark Airport in order to catch our 8:20 flight back to Austin.

We packed up our stuff in good time, handed over our bags to the Bell Captain and were back on the street by 9:30, headed for Grand Central and the subway downtown.

The morning was a little cool--the wind was from the north and brisk but it wasn't too bad. We made it into the subway station and bought a couple more metro cards (we were buying the $7.00 one-day passes). Julie went through the tall turnstile and then I tried to go through, but with Dada in the sling, I accidentally pushed on the wrong set of bars and got locked out. I tried my card again and it said "you've just gone through, nice try". A bit frantic, I went back to the card machine and started to try to buy a single-trip card when an enterprising young man hanging out by the machine offered to sell me entrance to the turnstile for two dollars, which offer I gladly accepted. Reunited, we caught the 6 (or was it the 5?) back down to Canal St. and popped up once again in Chinatown.

I was expecting it to be pretty quiet at that time on a Sunday morning, but it was nearly as bustling as it had been the night before, although there seemed to be more people quietly asking us if we wanted to buy CDs or designer handbags. After a moment of confusion we got ourselves oriented and headed for the Jing Fang dim sum restaurant, which was the first one on the list Julie had made from the guide book.

P1000076We found the place and went up. It was a typical large-format dim sum place, with a sea of tables and lots of ladies pushing carts around. We got lots of yummy things, eating faster than we probably should have. Dada enjoyed the noodles especially, and ate the Jello layers off some little sweet bean desserts. After about an hour of eating we paid up and headed back down to the street.

Crossing Canal St. we noticed a cell phone lying in the street, so I rushed over and grabbed it, setting it on the base of a light pole there on the corner. It seemed like the something I had to do.

We did a little souvenier shopping there along Canal as we worked our way back to the Lafayette St. subway stop, buying some T-shirts and postcards. We went back down into the Subway and, after some puzzling, worked out both which line would take us closest to Battery Park and how to catch that line. I must say that I do not find the signage in the NY subway system to be, shall we say, understandable.

Anyway, we eventually got the train we needed and got off at Bowling Green. Julie went across the street to the post office to try to buy some stamps (for the post cards) while I bought a hat in preparation for the coming boat ride to Liberty Island.

We headed down the hill to Battery Park, only to be presented with a construction fence that appeared to block all access to the park. But we worked it out and wandered around and eventually found Clinton Castle, where you buy your tickets for the ferry to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. We got in the line for tickets, having walked past the long line to get on the ferry (long in absolute terms, but probably short relative to what it will be like in a month or two).

Not long after we got in line, a guy approached us and asked if we were taking any tours. At first we thought he was some kind of tour guide but when we said "no", he said "here, have our tickets--we just realized we don't have time to take the ride, we have to go back to {England|Australia|Ireland}.", handed us the tickets and walked away, looking a bit downcast.

Wondering at our good fortune, we stepped back out and got into the line for the ferry. It was only later that we realized we could have easily offered to pay the guy for the tickets.

The line moved relatively quickly and there were buskers every couple of park benches that kept things entertaining. I think it probably took us 20 minutes or so to get to the security check tent, where we had to do an airport-style security screen (except we got to keep our shoes on). After some struggle to put myself back together (belt, camera, sling, Dada, jacket, in that order), we hustled into the staging area where you get on the boat, only to have the gate closed right in front of us. Doh! But at least we'd be at the front of the line for the next boat and get our pick of the seats on the top of the ferry.

P1000080After not too long the next ferry came to the dock and we got on board, grabbing a good seat up top. Dada wanted food but we wanted to wait until we got to Liberty Island, which we did.

We enjoyed the boat ride, Dada's first. I was happy for the sling as it meant she could lean over the rail to look at the water without any great danger. She also enjoyed the constant parade of helicopters that flew back and forth across the harbor.

P1000085Finally, we arrived at Liberty Island and worked our way off the ferry. We found the food area and got in line. We were all pretty hungry by this point. It was about 11:30 by now but it was still crowded and the organization of the restaurant didn't help but I was able to get an order in. Amazingly, when I got my two trays with their tippy drinks (with Dada in the sling), there was an employee there to help us (Julie had been getting some soup for Dada while I got the hot dogs)--wow. I paid and she helped us get our food to a nice outdoor table.

We had a nice relaxed lunch, watching the wide variety of people there--families from all over the world. Dada got a little nutrition into her. Then we set off to walk around the statue and see what there was.

P1000088By this time the weather had cleared nicely--it was just about perfect, with a few fluffy clouds to accent the statue, a little breeze. We walked around the statue, marveling at its grandeur. Dada was walking--we had to insist that she actually use her legs for this part of the trip. She had a great time running about.

P1000094We worked our way around to the back of the statue in the hope that we might be able to go up to the promenade, only to discover that to go up in the statue you have to buy a special ticket at least two days in advance. We were sad. Dada is still talking about it--"we didn't have the right ticket". So we walked back around the statue--Dada had said she wanted to see the Lady's face again--she was somewhat concerned about whether or not she had ears; we determined that in fact she did have ears.

P1000097Dada ran around on the grass, ensuring that she would be in dozens of other families' photos.

The afternoon wearing on, we bought some ice cream for Dada and ourselves (Dada wanted chocolate ice cream with chocolate sprinkles--what we ended up with was chocolate frozen yogurt with sprinkles that tasted like chocolate chalk, but Dada liked it). With our cones in hand, we got in the queue for the ferry to Ellis Island and back to Manhattan. The trip back was just as thrilling as the trip out, with Manhattan spread out before us (we did not get off at Ellis Island--we were pretty sure that it would not have anything to offer Dada at this age). We got off the ferry and wandered back into Battery Park.

P1000103We came onto a little fountain plaza with jets that shoot up--you can walk among the jets. Dada wanted to touch the jets, which we did.

Now it was time to get back to our hotel, collect our bags, and make our way to Penn station. It was a little after 3:00, which had been my rough time goal, figuring it would take us at least an hour to get from Battery Park to Penn Station, given that we had to collect our bags.

We found the Bowling Green station and grabbed the 5 train back to Grand Central, enjoying the opportunity to sit down for awhile. Dada fell fast asleep in the sling as soon as the subway got under way. We got out at Grand Central and walked back to the hotel. We had made good time so we took the opportunity to rest there in the hotel lobby. I collapsed onto a couch with Dada asleep on my chest. I ordered a very welcome beer and chilled while Julie arranged for our bags.

Around five, we roused ourselves and headed out on the street to wait for the doorman to get us a cab to Penn station. After some struggle to get a cab, we got loaded up and took cab ride number 6 (Dada had been carefully keeping track of the number of cab rides we took). It was a quintessential NY cab ride, with a chatty driver from Ghana, dashing through crowded midtown streets, only to discover that Penn station was awash with Rangers fans just leaving Madison Square Garden following the Rangers' loss. The usual cab stand in front of Penn station was blocked off but the cabby was able to convince the cops to let him drop us off next to the barricades, which we had to duck under.

We rushed down into the bowels of Penn station, headed for the NJ Transit side, bought our tickets and literally had about two minutes to make the train. We rushed to the platform, jumped on, and pushed our way through the cars crowded with Rangers fans, finally finding an open backward facing seat, putting us knee-to-knee with a couple of fresh-faced kids heading home from a day in the City.

After some momentary anxiety over which stop was actually EWR, we got off at the Newark Airport stop, went up and over and got onto the little Airtrain monorail that takes you right to your concourse. I love this aspect of Newark Airport, that you can take a train from Manhattan right to concourse C.

Since we were not checking our bags, we checked in at a kiosk and got into the security line. The line was long but moved fast enough and soon we were inside Airworld, my second home. Now in the warm embrace of the air transport system, I breathed easier.

P1000111We had about an hour before we had to be at our gate, so we made our way to the Continental President's club, which my AmEx card gives me access to when I'm traveling on Continental. We found some seats, made a little nest, grabbed some snacks (crackers and cheese, an apple, some water to drink). Julie went and got me a beer while Dada and I snacked and then went over to the big windows to watch the airplanes. Julie found a USA Today ("The hometown paper of Airworld") and relaxed.

As our boarding time approached, we made the obligatory potty stop, collected our bags, and headed for the gate, which was of course at the end of one arm of the concourse. We had to remind ourselves not to rush, there was no hurry, but it's such an instinct. I had to keep slowing down to let Julie and Dada (who was, remarkably, walking) catch up.

We made it to the gate area in good order. We had a small problem with our seat assignments, which was that we had two seats in one row and one seat, a middle, in the row in front. I asked the gate agent if she could do anything and there wasn't much she could do. Oh well. I could have given her our tickets and waited to see if somebody didn't show, but I decided I'd rather get on the plane earliest rather than bet on better seats.

Dada watched airplanes and played on the ground, burning off a little energy. By the windows where we could see the planes, we met a deaf Rastafarian who was obviously part of a band (he had a collection of guitars next to him). We used our pidgin sign language to remark on the big airplanes.

As we were waiting, the gate agent motioned me over and told me that a window seat had opened up next to our row, which allowed us to take a window seat that we could trade for the window seat next to the two seats we already had, so I took that gratefully. Nobody in their right mind would trade a window for a middle, but trading a window for a window not next to a three-year-old is a no-brainer. Such is the currency of air travel.

Boarding time finally arrived and we asserted our privilege as a family traveling with small children to board as soon as we could. We settled into our row, putting Dada into her pajamas (which we had packed into her little backpack).

The band settled into the rows around us, with the Rasta dude sitting across from us. They were running out of bin space for their instruments, so Dude was trying to put what looked like a case with a mandolin or maybe a ukulele under the seat, which wasn't working. So I handed him a blanket to try to disguise it, which he accepted gratefully. The flight attendants never challenged him.

The flight was uneventful, although Dada stayed awake for most of it, finally going to sleep across Julie's lap after a fit of maddening squirming. Thank goodness for the portable DVD player we had bought for the trip--Julie and I were both way too tired to really have been able to engage Dada for the whole flight.

We arrived in Austin at about 11:30 p.m. and made our way off the plane, Dada once again awake. We got into the car (we had parked in the garage as close in as we could) and zipped back home, grateful for having built a house only 10 minutes from the airport.

Julie got Dada back into bed while I cleaned up the worst of the dog pee that had accumulated due to the combination of drugs that make the dogs very thirsty and the malfunctioning of our electronic dog door that effectively trapped the dogs in the house.

Finally, Dada in bed and the pee flood under control, we collapsed into bed and fell into a deep and welcome sleep in our own home, vowing to never again fly so early or so late with a child.


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