I just returned from a weekend trip to New York City, something that has become an annual family event in recent years. Here are some observations:
Getting There: This trip we rode a bus to NYC and it was a great experience that I highly recommend. C&J Bus Lines from Portsmouth, NH, runs a luxury coach from Portsmouth to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Times Square that stops at the Holiday Inn at Rte 133 in Tewksbury. For anyone living in Greater Lowell, it’s a great option. You park your car at the hotel and wait in the lobby for the bus to arrive. Tickets must be purchased online and come with a boarding pass for a reserved seat of your choice. The bus has ten rows of three plush, reclining seats with overhead storage bins and folding tray tables. The rear of the bus holds a restroom and a snack bar with complimentary coffee, water, fruit and snacks. The Port Authority Bus Terminal is a clean, well-maintained facility filled with vendors of all types. The round trip per person price is $139 which is quite a bit less than Amtrak Acela and matches the cheapest Jet Blue airfare. The bus ride takes four to five hours depending on traffic but if you factor in travel to the airport and time for security screening, I’m not sure flying is much quicker.
Getting Around in NYC: There are yellow taxis in abundance but walking and riding the subway are my preferred methods of transportation within NYC. Each trip on the subway costs $2.50 using a paper Metro ticket that is sold from vending machines at each station. The lines are all numbered so just some elementary map reading skills allow you to get around. In Boston and Washington, you have to know the station at each end of the subway line to know which train to board. New York is easier: you’re either going uptown or downtown. One thing I still find confusing is local vs express trains. Locals stop at every station on the route while express trains stop at only select stations while zooming through the rest. Seeing your stop as a blur through the window of a subway train can be frustrating.
9/11 Memorial Museum: My first visit to the 9/11 site was back in February of 2002 when viewing was on a plywood platform and many of the nearby businesses where still closed and covered with orange spray paint declaring things like “triage” site. A more recent visit came after the memorial pools were complete. This trip was my first to the 9/11 Museum which I found to be an amazing accomplishment. A large glass and steel box marks the above-ground portion of the site but the bulk of the museum is below ground. Timed entrance tickets to the museum are available online ($24 each) and everyone must pass through airport-like security with body scanners and metal detectors. A series of ramps and escalators bring you down several floors below ground level with the foundation walls of the World Trade Center forming several of the sides of the excavation as does the undersides of the two memorial pools. There are many artifacts placed along the route down to the bottom floor where you find a very poignant memorial room lined with photos of all who perished in the attacks. Another part of the museum has an almost minute-by-minute timeline of that morning that begins with a video loop of Matt Lauer on the Today Show announcing the breaking news story. Near the exit to this part of the museum is a “reflection room” that provides short video responses to prompts like “how has America changed since 9/11?” or “are we safer since 9/11?” from American notables and ordinary citizens. This, and the entire museum, I found to be very nuanced, telling a complex story in a sophisticated, thoughtful way.
New York Public Library: On every trip to NYC the New York Public Library is a mandatory stop for me. I find so much about the building and its contents inspirational. There’s always an interesting exhibit that draws on the holdings of the library. This trip, the exhibit was called “Over Here” and it featured posters from World War One that were used by the American government to promote support for the war among the citizenry. There was also a great 20 minute film about the history of the library and some of its most important holdings. Just walking around the place is an amazing experience. We went to the third floor rotunda to view some murals mentioned in the film. Off to the side was a large glass display case with a single book inside – a Guttenberg bible. If you like books, art, architecture, be sure to visit the New York Public Library.
Bryant Park: Just behind the library is Bryant Park. My generation will recognize this as the site of major protests during the Vietnam War but now it’s an amazing public green space in the heart of the city. This time of the year it’s transformed into a “Winter Village” with a large public skating rink and row upon row of vendor huts selling all types of food, clothing and gifts. In warmer weather, the parks hosts concerts or movie screenings almost every night and the perimeter is lined with café tables, ping pong tables and table-top chess sets. It’s a great place to people watch.
Closing: Recently I heard an interview of Amy Poehler, the star of Parks and Recreation and a Saturday Night Live alumni. The Burlington, Mass native was promoting her new book. She said that during her Saturday Night Live years she would spend the day riding the New York City subway listening to people talk, scribbling down bits of their dialogue in a notebook she carried. She used this as material for skits in the show. Instead of finding material for comedy routines, I like wandering the streets of New York, riding the subway, sitting in Bryant Park or lingering in a coffee shop and watching the world go by. It’s a reminder that lots of very different people can function together quite well in very close quarters while putting the tasks of everyday life into a broader perspective.