I rarely go anywhere without an express purpose. I’m not the type to book a week’s vacation at the beach just to go lay in the sand and read. If I’m at the beach, it’s because a band is playing or a show is filming, and not just because I want to “relax.”
So, in the 15 or so times I’ve been to New York City since the first time in the Spring of 2003, I’ve had a reason for going. After my last trip, there wasn’t another reason in sight, so a year and a half slipped by with no trip up north. And I felt it acutely. Seeing New York on television, I felt wistful. Hearing a song about it, I felt longing. And when a total stranger brought it up to me in the office one day, I caught my eyes watering. Thus, when I bought a plane ticket to the Big Apple this time, it wasn’t because I already had a ticket to some event there. It became a necessity, and I simply had to be there.
I made plans to share a hotel room with a group of girls – all but one of whom were complete strangers to me. I also realized that since they all had their own agendas, I was going to be on my own for the majority of the trip. I consider myself an independent person, but in the back of my mind, I wondered if I would get bored or lonely being on my own. As it turned out, I had plenty of company, and even when I didn’t, the city itself feels like an old friend and is a delightful companion.
In addition to the other irregularities, I also went into this trip without a full itinerary, detailing my every move. I had a list of places I wanted to go and things I wanted to do, but nothing was set in stone and I was on my own schedule.
Janice, the one roommate I did know prior to this trip, flew into New York early Thursday morning like me, and she had a free day. She had told me she wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and eat pizza, so I proposed a trip to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, followed by a walk on the Promenade, lunch at Grimaldi’s, and a walk back over to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge.
I loved this graffiti art we found along the way.
When we got back into Manhattan, we walked around City Hall and up to Federal Plaza, so I could be a nerd and sneak a peek at the FBI building.
We filled most of our day in Brooklyn, and before I knew it, it was time for me to get ready to go to my Broadway show. Conveniently, I was seeing “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, and it was less than a block from our hotel. In fact, we could see the marquee from our hotel window:
This Broadway revival is starring Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette…. AND the one and only Michael Park, who is extremely dear to me. I met him through his work on As the World Turns, so while I had heard his voice on several Broadway soundtracks, it was impossible for him to do TV and theater at the same time, so this was my first time seeing him on Broadway. When I found my seats – fourth row, center! – I felt like a kid at Christmas. I excitedly perused the Playbill and smiled at each mention of Michael’s name. I was so focused on seeing him that I hadn’t really taken the time to think about how I’d feel about seeing Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter, if you live under a rock) until he came shooting up a mere ten feet in front of me at the start of the show. I was equal parts astonished, overwhelmed, and delighted.
The show itself was magnificent. I highly recommend seeing it if you can – and preferably before year’s end, when the cast begins to change. It’s a musical with high energy and lots of laughs. I was completely smitten with it, and I could not clap and cheer enough at its conclusion.
The night I attended was special in that it was part of a charity night benefitting The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention group focused on the needs of the GLBT community, who are unfortunately at a higher risk of suicide due to bullying, rejection, and the other travails of youth. The cast did a Q&A after the show and several items were auctioned off to benefit the project. Daniel Radcliffe slipped back into his native British accent for this portion of the evening, which I found charming.
As the crowd stood for another round of applause, Michael spotted me from the stage and motioned for me to meet him at the stage door. A kindly security guard helped me navigate around the raucous crowd at the barricades, and before I knew it, I was whisked away backstage. Here is the view from the stage:
Michael continued the tour and showed me around the whole outfit. So many moving parts and so much happening at once, and it has to go right the first time, because there is no “Take Two!”
I got back to the hotel still grinning from ear to ear. Janice was already half asleep, and I was exhausted from very little sleep the night before, but I couldn’t manage to settle down for quite a while after such a fun night.
Friday morning, I got to sleep in a bit and had the morning to myself, so I went and had breakfast in the Renaissance Hotel. I discovered it one year at breakfast with Bradley Cole, and while it’s a little more pricey, we’re talking about $5 difference for $10 better food. Plus, the restaurant has windows on three sides, looking out into Times Square, and I find I can enjoy the Times Square experience a lot better while I’m looking at it from across the table that is holding my bacon and eggs.
While I was eating, I met some first-time NYC visitors who were from Australia. They had come to New York as part of a larger tourist group, but one of the couples had already been travelling for six weeks time at that point. They had wonderful accents and were equally delighted by mine, and I took turns leaning left and leaning right to give them travel tips for their time in the Big Apple. After all, first-timers have a tendency to get stuck in Times Square (like bugs in a bug-zapper, I read once), and I didn’t want that to happen to them.
Once they were “sorted,” and I’d finished my “hot breakfast,” I caught the subway and rode up, up, up, uptown, headed for Riverside Church. The train I was on (headed for 116th St.) had been running local (as opposed to express), but when we got to 103rd St, the intercom voice said, “Next stop, 125th St.” Luckily, I had the presence of mind to hop up and jump off, remembering there was something I wanted to see at 108th and Riverside. My fellow “Collars” (as we White Collar fans have come to be known), should recognize this house as the abode of one Mr. Neal Caffrey.
Of course, it’s June’s house, so Neal lives upstairs…
(A little trivia for you: When Neal’s tracking data shows him “at home,” his tracking dot is on the Upper East Side, maybe around 70th and 2nd, which is actually nowhere near the practical location of the house.)
From there, I walked over to Riverside Park and took that route up to 120th and snapped this photo of the first glimpse of Riverside Church as the trees break cover from the park:
As I approached the church, the bells were ringing, and when I walked inside, someone was playing the pipe organ, which added greatly to the experience. The church is so beautiful that pictures can’t do justice to it – in fact, looking back, the pictures almost look fake to me:
I had spent a little more time than I intended strolling through the park, so when Janice texted to say she was on her way to the Museum of Natural History (where we had agreed to meet), I started booking it back to the subway. On my way, there was a cabbie standing outside of his car on the curb. He looked at me, hopefully. “Taxi?” I initially declined, but then considered that I was sure to be late, and given that the subway skipped 116th on the uptown route, it occurred to me that it may be closed for construction, and I had already done a good bit of walking. So, I turned back to the driver and agreed to the ride. He seemed to like me, and drove part of the way before he ever turned the meter on, all the while quizzing me on whether I had a boyfriend in New York, or a boyfriend back home. He suggested I attain both, and jokingly yelled out the window (at the empty street), “Beautiful Amanda needs a boyfriend!” My mother would have liked him.
With my cab ride and Janice’s missed subway stop, I actually made it to the museum first. When we went inside, we watched the “Journey to the Stars” show in the Hayden Planetarium, which was quite fascinating but made me realize my desire for a nap as I looked up at the night sky. The space center itself was a pretty fantastic sight to behold:
Roaming into the Natural History side of the Museum, we strolled through some of the animal exhibits on our way upstairs to the main attraction…..
Leaving the museum, Janice surveyed the vendors on the street below and declared her immediate need for a hot dog and a Diet Coke. She purchased hers and we crossed the street to the Central Park side to find a park bench to sit on. There was a vendor on that side of the street, too, and the scent got to me (along with the sound of Janice’s Diet Coke bottle opening), and I decided to partake in this grand New York tradition myself:
Janice had a ticket for the City Sights cruise Friday afternoon, and I decided to get a ticket and join her. The problem: there were 40 minutes until the boat set sail, but in order to buy a ticket at the pier, you had to be there 30 minutes prior. You could buy a ticket at a satellite location, but again, it had to be 30 minutes prior. So, I called the cruise line and said, “I need to buy a ticket for your next cruise, but I cannot get to the pier in time, so can you tell me where else I can go to buy one?” In response, the girl tells me that I can buy a ticket at the pier up until 30 minutes before the cruise begins. [Wow. Helpful. Did I not just say that?] So, again: “Yes, I understand, but I cannot get there in the next 5 minutes. I am in midtown. Can you tell me the other ticket location?” “Oh, you can buy a ticket at Madame Tussaud’s, but you have to get it 30 minutes prior.” “OK, what are the cross streets?” She then replies with an address. [Honey! Are you new to this town?] “Can you tell me the cross streets, please?” “Well, it’s on 42nd Street.” “OK, 42nd street. And which Avenue?” [Clock is ticking, ticking, ticking…] “8th.” “OK, thank you.” [For annoying me to death and leaving me 2 minutes to run 4 crowded blocks and buy a ticket.]
I blazed quite a trail through the crowds on 8th Avenue, leaving Janice behind, only to get to 42nd and discover that Madame Tussaud’s was actually on 42nd and 7th, so I had another (long) block to run. Out of breath, I got in line and reached the ticket counter just at the cutoff time. Janice had caught up by then, and when I told the guy that I wanted a ticket for the next cruise, he hemmed and hawed [I feel like I’m back down south, for goodness’ sake] and told me that I *could* make it, but I was really going to have to hurry. [Thank you, Captain Obvious. This may be why I ran to your counter and am out of breath, because I have already gotten the ‘hurry’ memo, and I wish you would take my cue.]
Finally, he handed me my ticket and we ran back across the street, hailed a cab, and said, “Pier 78, and drive like a maniac!” Our cabbie seemed to enjoy the challenge and he lived up to it nicely, getting us to our destination with 5 minutes to spare. We all got in on the fun of yelling at trucks that tried to cut us off and pedestrians who walked out into the street wherever and whenever they pleased (aka speed bumps).
Once our boat set sail, we moved out onto the bow of the ship for the best views (and the surfing sensation whenever we passed through the wake of a larger vessel). I enjoy the cruises for the tour guide’s facts about the city, the views on both sides of the river, riding under the beautiful bridges around Manhattan, and the up-close views of the Statue of Liberty.
Plus, there are always gems to see that don’t coincide with the skyscrapers of the financial district, like this old Domino Sugar plant in Brooklyn:
When we arrived back at the hotel, windblown from our boating adventure, I had just enough time to shower and change to head down to the Village for dinner. That is, of course, before I missed my train like a bozo, putting me five minutes behind, and then got turned around in the notoriously confusing West Village. I walked to the intersection of three different streets (not part of the grid system), and stood bewildered in a triangular median trying to figure out which way to walk. A local came by, so I solicited his help to point me in the right direction. He said he was on his way to work and I could walk with him. I took me half a block to realize that he actually had less idea where he was than I did, and another block and a half of me trying to convince him his way was illogical, before I just thanked him for his “help,” waved goodbye, and turned back to walk the right way.
Luckily, it was all worth the confusion, as I finally got to meet my friend Lana, who I correspond with regularly for work purposes. Since we all deal with exasperating people at work, we can also agree on what a treasure it is to meet someone you are actually happy to hear from in the course of the day. Lana is one of those delightful individuals, so it was great to put a face to a voice and a name, and we had no shortage of things to discuss over our delicious dinner at Tremont.
After dinner, we took a walk around the Village to our mutual chorus of “oohs and ahhs” at the perfectly situated brownstones that line the streets. Lana even pointed out Carrie Bradshaw’s front stoop for my friends who loved Sex and the City.
We got back on the subway together, but my stop came up first, and far too quickly, so we bid adieu before the train doors could close again. I’m really thankful that I have another NYC trip planned wherein I’ll get to spend more time with her! I’m glad I remembered to snap a quick photo from our first meeting:
Saturday morning, I rounded the block to stand in line with other hopefuls to score rush tickets to “How to Succeed,” as my friend Chris was coming in from Staten Island and wanted to see it, and this was a great opportunity for me to go see it again, pretending I was doing it for her sake, but knowing all the while that I wanted to go again, regardless. The guy behind me in the ticket line thought he had an AMAZING voice, and he wanted to display that to his captive audience by singing Jesse McCartney’s “Beautiful Soul” over and over and over again. I thought that was surely the depth of all despair until he took a few moments to segue into some John Mayer song that I don’t remember, but sounds an awful lot like “Oooh, baby, I love your way” (like most John Mayer songs). Moments like that, my friends, are the reason we own iPods. I cranked up some Florence + the Machine, but then discovered that the quiet parts of the songs still allowed his singing to seep through, so I switched to Lucero. Take THAT, terrible-singing-girly-man.
I was about ten people from the front of the line when the ticket girl came out to announce that the evening performance was all sold out, except for standing room tickets. I figured the matinee would follow suit before I could reach the front, but was delighted to get to the window and be able to walk away with two matinee tickets for $30 each. I practically skipped away from the box office and texted Chris with the news.
She was taking the bus into the city, so I still had a few hours to kill. I decided to head downtown and walk around some areas I hadn’t been before. I first headed to Madison Square Park and walked around it before roaming over to Park Avenue and heading downtown a bit further.
I walked through Gramercy and discovered that their park was by key-access only, so instead I just enjoyed the architecture in the area and seeing people out walking tiny dogs on a Saturday in three-piece suits. I also love getting pictures of old buildings with new buildings reflected in the windows (and vice-versa), like this one:
Having enjoyed my stroll thus far, I decided my legs could carry me a bit further, so I walked for Union Square, where I found a Farmer’s Market in full force.
The Farmer’s Market reminded me that I hadn’t had anything to eat since dinner the night before, but I didn’t leave myself quite enough time for a meal. I had resolved to eat cheesecake for lunch, but as I was picking up a slice to take back to the hotel, I thought I should eat something at least slightly more practical, and had a croissant instead.
As I was inhaling that, Chris was arriving from the bus station, and shortly we headed over to our show.
I love the performance photos that are always along the outside of the theater for each show. Here’s one of Michael from a fun sequence in “How to Succeed.”
Unlike Thursday night, I hadn’t told Michael I was coming to the show, so afterwards, we went over near the stage door and stood in the masses until I could get the guard’s attention. I said, “Could you let Michael know that Amanda is here?” “Michael Park?” “Yes, please.” “And he is going to know you by your first name?” “Yes.” He was looking at me in sheer disbelief with that “Suuuure, lady, whatever you say” expression on his face, and I was rather doubtful that he was going to pass the word along. Apparently he did, because soon I heard Michael’s voice from inside say, “Where’s Amanda?” and we were handed VIP badges and ushered to the stage. Michael had some family visiting as well, so Chris and I seized the opportunity to act like fools and take photos in front of the elevator used in several portions of the show, including where the actors come out to take the final bow.
Of course, we spent some time chatting with Michael and snapped a few more photos:
As it turns out, we did well to get matinee tickets, because Michael had an injury and was sending his understudy on for the Saturday night performance while he got checked out.
Chris and I were both ravenous by that time, so we opted for a leisurely evening and prix fixe dinner at CharleyO’s, near the hotel. Since we only get to see each other on rare occasions, it was a great chance to catch up without feeling pressed for time.
After Chris left to head home, and after a considerable inner debate with myself, I decided to take my chances at heading back over to the theater in an effort to have my Playbill signed by Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette. I am not a fan of crowds, but weighed against the notion of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I bit the bullet and joined the ranks of crazy fans at the barricades.
Space was cramped and I was plenty uncomfortable even as we heard the show ending inside. Once John Larroquette stepped out the stage door, the crowd smashed together beyond what I even thought possible, and I would have run away if it were an option. The truth of the matter, though, is that I couldn’t even move my right arm, and it took considerable effort to wriggle my left arm free enough to lift my Playbill up and hand it to John Larroquette.
I had hoped that the crowd would ease back a bit once he was safely whisked away in a waiting SUV. No such luck. They knew that eventually Daniel Radcliffe would step outside, and they were not going to give an inch until then. As we waited, though, Rob Bartlett, who played Twimble and Wally Womper in the show, came out and signed our Playbills as well.
When Daniel Radcliffe came out, the crowd erupted in cheers and personal space became a pipe dream. I had arms on all sides of me – on top of my head, even – and I probably could not have been under more physical pressure if a semi-truck had rolled over on top of me. Luckily, I was well positioned in the swarm of Playbills and programs, and when Daniel Radcliffe was directly in front of me, I simply held my Playbill up and he signed it as I held it.
When he finished signing for our side, he moved quickly to the other and was met with the same frenzy there. Time is hard to gauge in a situation like that, but I can’t imagine it was more than 5 minutes between the time he stepped out of the stage door to the time that his SUV was driving away. As he escaped the scene, so did I, pushing my way through the finally-loosened crowd to fresh air and freedom. I could only look at my signatures with a sense of euphoria and proud accomplishment, given what I had endured to get them.
The crowd at the stage door helped prepare me for the crowd in the hotel room on Saturday night. With hotel prices, you just keep cramming people in to lower the cost. We had five in the room Saturday night, so I had someone sleeping next to me and someone sleeping at my feet. All part of the adventure…
Sunday morning sent us our separate ways. Janice, Breda (a Saturday night room addition), and I went to breakfast and then walked along the street fair that had set up on 8th Avenue. Along the way, we stopped so I could pose for this picture with my boyfriend, Alan Rickman.
We walked along the street fair, Janice and Breda stopping to look at wares, and me stopping to take pictures, and when I realized we’d reached 50th Street, I bid them farewell and walked toward Rockefeller Center, stopping for more photos along the way.
Janice had given me her ticket to the Top of the Rock, because she wasn’t going to have time to go. I’d been up a few times (and I love it), but I had not been up during the day. So, that was my first stop.
With no pressing engagements, I spent a fair bit of time just sitting in Rockefeller Center, tourist-watching next to a fountain. (I’ve never met a fountain I didn’t like.) Then, I proceeded up 5th Avenue, taking more pictures along my way. I can’t afford to do any shopping on 5th Avenue (seriously, who can?), but I did splurge with a stop into Lindt Chocolatier for some truffles to savor along my walk.
Note the reflection in this slanted building:
And this is Grand Army Plaza, at the southeast corner of Central Park. I love how shiny that building is across the street.
While I was in the neighborhood, I did something I’ve never done and went inside the Grand Plaza Hotel. Wow. I’m not sure I could fake belonging there on my best day, but I was certainly out of my element in my “I’m-going-to-the-park” attire.
With all the walking I had done on the earlier days of my trip, I was tired, with aching feet and a shin splint that left me hobbling slightly. Thus, I had intended to hire a pedicab at the base of the park and pay him an exorbitant amount of money to drive me around while I took pictures. (I really love riding in those things.) Still, I knew the pedicabs couldn’t go everywhere I wanted to go, so I decided that before I hired one, I’d walk into the park a little ways and look at some of the bridges around the pond. That turned into a walk past where the ice rink would have been, and then a walk to see the carousel, and then I realized roundabout the Sheep Meadow that I was too deep into the park to even find a pedicab. I was exhausted and dehydrated, but I didn’t have much of a choice other than to keep walking. Luckily, I found a beverage cart and got myself a huge bottle of water and sat down on a park bench and listened to a violinist playing through some beautiful tunes for passersby.
After getting some water in me and a few moments of rest, I felt inspired enough to keep going, having resolved that I couldn’t be too far from Bethesda Fountain, the Bow Bridge, and Cherry Hill. So, I walked on, and as I went, I stumbled upon group after group playing live music in different areas of the park. I walked from a jazz band to an ambient orchestra in a matter of minutes. The charm, spontaneity, and community of it all kept me motivated along my way.
My sense of direction had served me pretty well up until that point, but after walking through unfamiliar woods in The Ramble for a while, and not having the stamina to wander aimlessly, I did pull out my phone to check the compass and make sure I was walking northwest. I was, and I ended up exiting the park at the Museum of Natural History, at 80th and 8th. At that point, I was very tempted to just faint on the hood of a taxi and let it take me back to the hotel, but somewhere in me was a dogged determination to keep going, so I hoofed it on over to the 79th Street station and got back to the hotel like a New Yorker should.
I was grateful for a shower, a rest, and a few bites of the cheesecake I’d picked up the day before. I only headed out again to enter the lottery for tickets to The Book of Mormon. It is clearly the “must-see” show on Broadway right now, and while it wouldn’t normally interest me, I was persuaded that the social and religious implications were reason enough for me to attempt to see it. Admittedly, I had no idea what I was getting into. Unlike with “How to Succeed,” where the early bird gets the rush tickets, the lottery system only requires that you show up, write your name on a slip of paper, and hope your name is called. There is only a 30 minute window to enter, so I arrived 10 minutes before names were to be drawn and got my name in the running. As the announcer was about to start the drawing, I heard people around me discussing how it was their 10th or 11th try at tickets. That gave me a pretty good idea of my chances. I didn’t win, of course, but since I didn’t have my heart set on it, it was no great loss. We were told, however, that if our names weren’t drawn for the $32 tickets, we could get in the cancellation line and hope to get tickets at retail, starting at $180, and going on up to $475. No thanks, buddy!
My walk over to the theater was not in vain, however, as I found another church to duck into along the way: St. Malachy’s.
Janice had set up a dinner at Daniela’s, right across from our hotel, with some of her friends who I had not met. They agreed to let me join in the fun, and we did have a fantastic time sharing laughs over pasta. I had the prix fixe again (usually the best deal), so I got to have my choice of desserts. I selected the chocolate mousse cake without hesitation, and allow me to tell you that it was AMAZING.
After dinner, I was quite content to go back to the room and relax. I’m pretty sure that I was fast asleep before 11pm, which usually doesn’t even happen when I’m at home.
Monday was going-home day, but we were up early enough to get packed and head out to breakfast and still do some walking around before we had to come back to the hotel to check out and head to the airport.
I proposed walking back to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th and actually going inside this time. They were having a service (presumably for Columbus Day), so we were able to stand in the back and listen to the congregation singing before slipping back out again.
Oh, 5th Avenue. Where stores can afford to decorate the sidewalk and even Forever 21 looks classy.
And another fountain!
And finally… back to the bright lights of Times Square.
Janice’s flight was an hour earlier than mine, so we rode back to the airport together and I had extra time to kill. I would like to take this moment to thank whatever entrepreneurial genius conceived of the notion to put a spa in the airport. I rolled my suitcase right on over there for a foot and leg massage, then face, head, and shoulders massage, and then they just let me lay there in this awesome massaging chair for another half hour. I happily gave them the money that I had planned to give the pedicab driver the day before, and used the last $20 to finally buy The Hunger Games in the airport bookstore, which was a good way to not face going back to reality.
Even so, as my flight took off from LGA, I couldn’t help put press my nose against the glass and look down at the beautiful city below. I watched without blinking until the city I love was gone from my sight, and then did the only logical thing left, and cried.