I’m used to waking up early–my weekday alarm rings at 5:30 and I get up on Saturdays around six to run. But 3:00 in the morning on a Thursday? That must mean I’m traveling.
This time, I was accompanying a group of theater kids–including my own child–to New York City.
We touched down in the Big Apple around 10:30 and headed into the city. We had lunch at Grand Central, walked around Central Park, dodged some rain and drizzle, then juuuuuuust missed our scheduled entry to Top of the Rock. So we regrouped and visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Plaza instead. Late in the afternoon, we checked into our hotel near Times Square, then changed clothes for the evening.
With 25+ adolescents, dining options need to include buffets or family-style service. This first night, we ate Chinese, then made our way to Times Square to see Finding Neverland, starring Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer, the latter delivering the best line of the show [spoiler alert] when his character, in a tavern, is asked whether “you say ‘cheers’ in your country?” Frasier Crane looked sardonically at the audience and said something like, “Yes, I believe we do.”
I really enjoyed the show, and afterward we waited by the stage door hoping some of the actors would come out and sign autographs. Quite a few of them did, including Morrison, but even though he signed all of the playbills around mine, he skipped me. Sad fact. Still, it was fun.
Back at the hotel, I set my alarm for 6:30. I’d been awake for more than 21 hours, but the next morning’s itinerary had us out the door by 7. I guess compared to 3:00, it was like sleeping in.
Our first stop was the Today show for their first summer concert of the year. Meghan Trainor was performing, and the little concert space had filled up with a disproportionate number of teenage girls shrieking “Meghan!” as though they were long lost friends. We had made it fairly close to the front, but thanks to the sea of phones and forest of selfie sticks, I couldn’t see much. A pink dress, some blonde hair. B could see even less. It was kinda fun, but we bailed after her first song and grabbed breakfast across the street while we waited for the rest of the group.
After the concert (I use that term loosely–I think she sang two songs) we walked over to Rockefeller Center for our rescheduled visit to Top of the Rock. Missing the previous day’s appointment turned out to be serendipitous because the weather was amazing.
B and I had been here a couple of years ago, and it had kind of freaked him out. Unlike the the Empire State Building’s wall and fencing, TotR’s glass barriers made him anxious. We started at the indoor observatory, and after a while he felt comfortable enough to go outside. He didn’t get too close, but he did take a few pictures and looked around. He didn’t volunteer to go up another level, but I coaxed him up there with a promise of ice cream.
From there, we visited the Lego store (it should surprise no one that B bought a Lego space shuttle) and then met up with the group for a tour of Radio City Music Hall. Built in the 1930s, it’s a stunning structure. The theater, the stage, the foyer, and the art appear to be appropriately-sized for King Kong himself. We visited the opulent Men’s and Ladies’ lounges and we met one of the Rockettes.
After lunch, we got brave. We took 46 people on the New York City subway from Rockefeller Center to the Natural History Museum. A passenger inadvertently bumped another one on the train, and the bump-ee started insulting the bump-er. “Do you speak English? We don’t need your kind in New York,” he sneered. Ambassador for NYC, he was not. Fortunately our stop was next and we herded our group out quickly.
After Natural History, we got back on the subway (incident-free!) to midtown and dinner, then back to Times Square for Aladdin. I don’t know what I was expecting–maybe the Disney factor caused me to underestimate it–but the performance was terrific. Everyone knows the Genie is Robin Williams personified, right? Who can possibly fill those shoes? Well, it quickly became clear why the actor won a Tony for this role. It was a lot of fun!
By this time, I think I’d managed a total of ten or eleven hours of sleep over the past two nights. And Saturday morning our first activity wasn’t until 9:30, so I could have moved the alarm forward and slept in a little. But I didn’t. I’d brought my running shoes, and Central Park was calling my name.
Our hotel was under a mile from the Columbus Circle entrance, so I headed north up 8th Avenue. A few people were out, but generally the streets were quiet. New York may be the city that never sleeps, but at 6:30 in the morning it’s definitely a bit drowsy.
At Columbus Circle I ran into the park, still heading north. I love how just a few steps in, Central Park is quiet enough to make me forget I’m right in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world. I hadn’t brought my headphones–I just wanted to enjoy the park.
As I ran, I noticed a few people wearing highlighter-yellow safety vests and wondered if Central Park had suddenly gotten serious about enforcing crosswalk usage. But I soon saw the real reason–a cycling race was taking place in the park, and the volunteers were ensuring that pedestrians didn’t get flattened when the peloton sped by. They used an elaborate whistle system, almost like Morse code, sending alerts down the line. Then the motorcycle escort appeared, followed by a hundred humming wheels and a blur of vibrant color. As quickly as they appeared, they were gone again. Until their next circuit, anyway.
After another mile, somewhere north of the Natural History Museum, I turned sort of east-ish and south-ish. I meandered around the Shakespeare in the Park theater, the Bethesda fountain, and some kind of lighthouse. I encountered so many runners, I felt like maybe I’d somehow joined a race. I found Cleopatra’s Needle behind the Met, then continued due south down the mall following a south-ish, west-ish direction until I got back to Columbus Circle. Back on 8th Avenue, shops began showing signs of life, but the quiet storefronts were a jarring contrast to the activity in Central Park.
Door to door, I ran five miles, and despite the early hour, it was glorious. I stopped to take a few pictures, but other than that I never wanted to walk, never felt it was difficult, never looked ahead to a red light or a possible stopping point. It was one of those rare, gorgeous mornings when everything clicked.
After shower, breakfast, and coffee, I met up with the crew and we went to Madame Tussaud’s. We had over an hour in there, but B and I really only needed 30 minutes. Done, and done. Then we headed to Chinatown for lunch and shopping. I’m not much of a shopper, but I found a coffee shop that fit the bill.
Next up, we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, along with about half of New York City: the gorgeous weather had brought out tourists, runners, people walking tiny dogs or riding rental bikes. From there we went back to Little Italy for dinner at Puglia. I had the napkin song stuck in my head for hours afterward!
After a quick change of clothes, it was off to Les Miserables. I’d never seen it before, never even read the novel (bad English major!) so I was surprised that the actors sang everything, including dialogue. They were all extremely talented, but my sleep-deprived brain struggled to follow along. I’m pretty sure B slept through most of it. After the show, we got to stick around and meet the stage manager and a couple of cast members. One of the guys played sixteen roles in the show, and apparently that night he performed the barricade scene with a hole in the back of his pants. The woman who plays Cosette told us the scenery had some kind of snafu, because of which she barely made her entrance. This was news to the stage manager who started furiously texting someone. At some point the guy who plays the lead appeared, then disappeared. A minute later he emerged from a side door. Guess he didn’t want to chat. One of the actors called him out, but he just kept a’walking.
I don’t know about the kids, but after we got back to the hotel I crashed.
All of a sudden, it was our last day of the trip. We started with a voyage across the harbor, past the Statue of Liberty, on the Staten Island ferry. On the Staten Island side, everyone had to get off and then get back on again, but it’s free so what can you do?
Back in Manhattan, we walked through the financial district. Apparently it’s good luck to touch the bull statue’s, erm, brass balls. I noticed they’re shiny, much like Freddie Mercury’s butt in Montreux.
The September 11 Memorial is a bit different since B and I visited in 2012. I guess because of construction, the site had been surrounded by fences, and we had to have a timed entry ticket. Now the walls are gone and the eight-acre site has an open, welcoming feel. Flowers adorned several names as the newly-completed Freedom Tower watched over the pools where the towers once stood.
The number of people taking selfies and posing for smiling pictures turned my stomach though. Maybe they’re too young to remember, maybe they’re just rude. But my students were, at the oldest, a few months old at the time, and I saw all of them behaving respectfully.
I just ran one day, but I walked the High Line, wandered Greenwich Village, and fought the crowds in Times Square. None of it can offset the Magnolia Cupcakes or the gallons of coffee I consumed, but you can’t accuse me of being sedentary.
New York City may never sleep, but I can only do that for so long. Zzzzzzzzzzz.