Sensory Overload – Day Six


The Stately Kykuit Estate

We were to meet in the lobby at 8:30 for an excursion to Kykuit, the Rockefeller family estate. Knowing we wouldn’t be eating for a few more hours, I decided to walk the streets and look for an eatery where I could get a couple breakfast sandwiches to take with us on the bus. I walked into McDonalds, and as one would expect, the place was jammed: with students, tourists and people on their way to work. There were nine registers and ten lines. After about fifteen minutes I was up to bat. I ordered two Egg McMuffns sandwiches, and coffee. I sat down to eat mine, which was dry and had the taste of Syrefoam, with no hope of salvation. Seeing the line was snaking outside the building, I decided to take it like a man and eat the damned dried up thing. Poor Sandi, by the time we got on the bus and she could eat, hers was beyond salvaging; the muffin was hard and the eggs were expiring. So much for an American Icon.

As we boarded the bus and headed out to the suburbs of NYC, we actually saw privately owned cars, no taxis, people were actually driving a car, and the freeway was full of them. Well, this is more like it, I thought. I couldn’t live in a city without my car…or at least a front porch. We bused through quaint little towns, then into Sleepy Hollow, and I remembered that storied little town from my school days. A bust of Washington Irving greeted us as we entered the city. What a lovely little town; small Mom and Pop stores, quint little antique stores, churches and rolling greens. And even porches and garages.

The Fountain Overlooking The Hudson Valley

Kykuit, a Dutch name for “high point” sits on a hill with terraced gardens overlooking a breathtaking view of the Hudson Valley. It has been in the Rockefeller family for four generations. The guide that took us through the estate was amazing. She’d been doing this for only three years, but knew every nuance of the place, from the 20th century sculptures, art collections, fine furniture and a collection of Chinese ceramics. The coach barn held cars from the 18th century and horse-dawn carriages that were all used over the four generations.

The estate had it’s own tourist/souvenir shop at the entrance to the park where we read and admired stories of this amazing family. Lunch was at their deli counter, which took about a year to get to the front of the line, but was worth it. Next we were bused to the Union Church, a short ride from the estate, which the Rockefellers had attended. The windows in the church are dramatic, incredibly stained glass work done by artists Matisse and Chagall.

Our Pedi-cab in Central Park

Our bus was to return to the hotel, but Sandi and I had longed to see Central Park, so we whined a bit, and were dropped off at the entrance to the park. What a sight to see. It was Memorial Day weekend, and the park was mobbed with people, sunbathers, ball players, walkers, bikers, dogs, cops on horses and pedi-cabs. Sandi and I decided to see the park from the Pedi-cab, which is a surrey hitched to a bicycle. We felt sorry for the poor fellow pedaling the bike as he struggled up inclines with about 300 pounds in his carriage. He took us to the John Lennon Memorial, a large plaque set in a clearing where people were sitting and signing his songs. Our biker told us that Ono had paid one million dollars to place that plaque in the park. We chose to ride for just thirty minutes (and of course you cannot see the park in 20 minutes) because the price per hour would surely pay the mortgage on my home.

Leaving the park, we decided to walk back to the hotel. It was about fifteen blocks, but we wanted to see everything before leaving the next day. When we saw the Plaza Hotel, we had to go inside. Again, amazing, breathtaking and all those other adjectives that don’t come to mind right now. Just walking through those hallowed doors made us feel inept. We casually walked toward the dining room, peeked at a menu and almost fainted. We were pretty hungry, but not for orange juice and a croissant for $50. We walked the hotel, upper and lower floors, and were amazed to see another city of shopping downstairs. Food courts, bakeries, sushi, anything you could want was there; but, still at an exorbitant price.

Scarfing down our tube steaks at the Plaza

We decided to find a little café on our walk back to the hotel. As soon as we stepped outside, I spotted a grimy little hot dog stand on the corner. Now, how can you go to New York without eating a New York hot dog? We both ordered one, and with nowhere to sit and eat, we decided to sit down on the stairs of the hotel. We wanted a steak dinner at the Plaza but settled for a tube steak on their steps. By the time we drug back to the hotel, all we wanted was our jamies and a good movie on TV. Are we getting old?

At 7 a.m. the next morning, not wanting to piss off the wait staff again. Sylvia and I headed down 45th, and found a quaint little French restaurant where we had a delicious Eggs Benedict breakfast. Sandi slept in and breakfasted with some of the other gals. Then we had to do the unthinkable—pack our suitcases and prepare to leave. With my bucket list fulfilled, I sadly packed and bid a farewell to the great city of New York.

Sensory Overload – Day Five

Our Trip to the Big Apple

We were treated to a continental breakfast at Tony DiNapoli’s restaurant, a few steps from our hotel. Our guest speaker was a famous playwright, Jeff Sweet who regaled us with stories behind the plays on Broadway; the writers and actors. It was very interesting, and we all wished we could have heard more from him. He said his favorite Broadway play this week was Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike, and we all had to agree with him, it was a riot.

The next tour was to the Lincoln Center, but six of us passed on that and headed for a home tour that Nancy Stone had suggested at her luncheon. The proceeds would benefit the Boys and Girls Club, so we decided that was a good cause…that and the fact that all six of us were decorating junkies. The home was five stories high, and by the time we hiked up all five, we were exhausted. I don’t know the square footage, but it seemed immense just due to the amazing décor that enhanced every room. The stairs were very narrow, the rooms were tiny but the five stories made up for it. Each room was done by a different decorator, and each one was unique and lovely. Cost? A mere $13 million. The story goes that when the owner/seller saw the place after the decorators had put their special exclusive touches to it, he had decided that he might not sell. I just hope he is very tall, very thin and very rich! We grabbed a quick lunch at a French restaurant nearby, and then scurried back in time for our next Broadway Show at 3 p.m.

This was the best one for my money. It was Lucky Guy starring Tom Hanks at the Broadhurst Theatre. The entire production was aimed at the audience. It made you feel like you were part of their play. I’d never seen a play like that, and was mesmerized. reviewed it thusly: [Nora Ephron’s “Lucky Guy” is a eulogy. A really fun, entertaining eulogy. You may have heard that Tom Hanks, making his Broadway debut, is the star of the show – and he is, his Everyman-relatable charm coming through as strongly onstage as it does on- screen. But Ephron’s real focus isn’t a man but the end of hardboiled New York journalism.]

Sandi and the Rock

After the show, Sandi and I decided to walk Times Square and just watch the craziness. We came upon Madame Tussauds’ Wax Museum, and said “Why not?” It was mind-blowing. There were figures from every walk of life: presidents, senators, actors, sports celebrities, rock stars, and foreign figures. I crept up as close as possible to the wax statues, where I could easily have blown in an ear, but could not see how in the world they could possibly manage to get them so lifelike. They showed a short clip of how they measured each person: the closeness of the eyes, the length of the nose, the torso, the legs, the arms, the hair, and even the hands. I would not have wanted to spend the night in that place. CREEPY!

Still wide-awake, we ventured down a few more blocks to Macy’s. Now, that was an experience. By the time we arrived it was 10:30 p.m., and we thought maybe it was too late. Oh contraire! It was packed, people trying to get by each other had to turn side-ways. I’d never seen a store like that. Five stories, and of course we shopped every one. I’d venture to say that they sold everything in the world there, save for cars, trains and bridges. I did find only one “rude” New Yorker while there. I asked a young lady behind the counter if she could tell me where I could find scarves. She was looking down at something on her counter. Without looking up, she brought her arm up, stuck her finger out and pointed! What? In this huge store did she really expect me to follow that finger? Sandi pulled me away from her before I could tell her she needed some people skills, and off we went to another counter. Everyone else was helpful, smiling and happy to make a commission. We got back to the hotel about midnight, and wondered how long all those people milling around would mill around.

Sensory Overload – Day Four

Breakfast At Carnegie Deli

At 9 a.m. we were whisked to the Carnegie Deli, famous for their family-dining experience. They opened their doors in 1937, in mid-town Manhattan, across from Carnegie Hall, and are now in their third generation of owners. They are touted for making the best sandwiches in the world; I can’t attest to that but I would have to say they make the best breakfasts in town. More food was served to us than is available in Bangladesh, I’m sure. The plates were the size of hubcaps, and loaded so full that food was falling off all sides. If you ordered a side of bacon, it was a “pound” of bacon you received and were told to share with your tablemates.

It was a wise decision to go on a walking tour after we each downed our weight in food. We were headed for Grand Central Station, (or Terminal as they say), a place I was eager to see. As a young child, my mother and I rode the San Joaquin Daylight from the Union Station in Los Angeles to Sacramento every summer to stay with relatives. Union Station was opened in 1939, and is known as the last of the Great Railway Stations built in the United States, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Wikipedia says 60,000 people travel through the station each day. I loved the grandeur and bustle of the station, even as a small child, and hoped to see it on a larger scale here in New York.

Grand Central Station (or Terminal)

Whoa! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as we stepped into the enormous structure. Everywhere I looked were travelers masses of humanity scurrying here and there, mothers with infants in strollers, young guys with bicycles, high arching ceilings with amazing scenes of the zodiac pained in gold from one end to the other. We were told that the edifice was earmarked for destruction, but in 1975, Jacqueline Kennedy and a few of her wealthy friends raised the money to restore the old girl to her original glory. Currently, 750,000 people travel through this place every day. It is the largest train station in the world by number of platforms: 44, with 67 tracks along them. They are on two levels, both below ground, with 41 tracks on the upper level and 26 on the lower, though the total number of tracks along platforms and in rail yards exceed 100. The terminal covers an area of 48 acres. Didn’t I say it was enormous?

The beautiful waterfalls at Ground Zero

From the Terminal we bused it to the 9/11 Memorial. What a sad sight to see the enormous gouge in the earth where once stood the Twin Towers, where 2,983 souls, from more than 90 nations, met their horrifying deaths. The oldest was 85, the youngest was two years old. It commemorates the lives lost, recognizes the thousands who survived, and allows visitors to come together again in the spirit of unity that emerged in its wake.

More than 400 were first responders who died. My son is a firefighter, and the video we saw there made we cry for the lives lost, but especially the first responders, who without a thought to their safety, ran scrambling up into those dreaded buildings to help those in danger. I can’t even imagine the horror that they all went through, and I pray nothing ever happens like that again on our country’s soil.

Back at the hotel Sandi and I crashed on our beds . We had had a very busy day and a “free” evening ahead of us. Instead of rushing into the shower, getting beautiful and heading out to take on the city as we would have a few years earlier, we got in our jammies, ordered room service, turned on the telly and were happy as oysters at high tide. Well, not exactly happy after we saw the bill for the room service. We split a club sandwich, I had an iced tea, and the bill was $29.00. Again, money is overrated!

I know, that was mean of me to take this.

Sensory Overload – Day Three

Getting ready to hide my purse as I step into the NY Subway

Again with the pitiful look to the waiter at 6 a.m. The good news is I did complete about three books in my iPad, but the bad news was the check price went up exponentially each day. But, the coffee was excellent!

Next we bundled into the tour bus and headed for the “Players Club” which was founded by the Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth who purchased an 1847 mansion located at 16 Gramercy Park. During his lifetime, he reserved an upper floor for his home, turning the rest of the building over to the Clubhouse. Its interior and part of its exterior was designed by architect Stanford White. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1962. The Players Club still maintains its entryway gaslights, among the few remaining examples in New York City. (Wikipedia)

The curator explained that in the early 19th century, stage actors were considered substandard, i.e., no upstanding person would have anything to do with them; they were not invited to nice homes or parties held by the gentry. Somewhere during this time, the famous actor, Edwin Booth (the brother of Lincoln’s assassin) felt it was time to give the actors a place to gather. Using his influence he attracted many of the aristocracy to the club. A yearly fee was collected which entitled members to dine there, entertain their friends or clients, and thereby giving the place some panache. In 1989, women were invited to become fully participating members, and there are many beautiful portraits of the famous women stage actors of the time throughout the house. However, he said, times have changed, as well as the economy, and the membership was low. He didn’t feel they could keep it open much longer.

From the Players Club, we headed in taxis to Pete’s Tavern for lunch. According to the tour guide, Pete’s was opened in 1864 and has remained open ever since; even during prohibition, and is touted as being the longest and continually operating bar and restaurant in New York City.

Mayor Giulliani escorts us through town (our tour guide was a definite look-alike!)

After lunch a “walking tour” was on the schedule, and it had just begun to drizzle. I picked up a little umbrella at a souvenir shop for ten dollars, thinking it could withstand the elements. Actually it was quite cute, a see-through number in bright yellow. However, the wind and rain howled right through that thin little cutie and turned it inside out. There went my hairdo and face.

We headed for the subway, which was something I was a little concerned about. I’d always heard sordid tales about the NY subway, and seen ghastly, bloody murders on TV programs, so I tucked my little purse inside my jacket and was ready to fight the bad guys. It was pandemonium, even more so than I’d expected after watching all those TV programs. The cacophony of trains, people talking and music playing on hand-held boom boxes was ear splitting. Waiting for the car to stop in front of you was another terrifying feat. The New Yorkers have it down pat, but us west-coasters were a bit worried. People on top of people! Bumping and grinding comes to mind now when I think of it. They warned us that the bumping could easily be someone doing a pickpocket job, so I held fast to my jacket and purse. I’d also heard over the years about the “rude” New Yorkers, so expected I’d encounter that. However, once we boarded the car (which in itself is a life-threatening experience) it was jam-packed. Immediately, a young boy stood up and offered one of our older ladies his seat. My mouth dropped. We thanked him profusely, and I commented how nice that was, that all I’d ever heard of was how rude these people were. Standing next to me, or I should say rubbing against me, a man mumbled, “You heard right, kid.”
But that kindness happened several times, and I’m happy to say I liked the New Yorkers.

We changed cars a couple times, and then headed on foot towards the “ethnic” part of town. We were strolling along as we looked up at the buildings that the tour guide was describing, when I took an embarrassing little fall. Well, actually, it wasn’t little: I stepped into a tree well, rammed my toe into the concrete edge and went air-borne. Purse flying, umbrella flying, body out of control and skidded face-first into the sidewalk, slamming my knee into the concrete before I came to rest on my face. Thankfully, my Versace glasses didn’t break, but before they left my face, they cut my cheek and then landed a few feet ahead of me. A passing patrolman, New York’s finest, asked if he could call me an ambulance. “Oh, thank you,” I said as I tried to stand but couldn’t as my knee was throbbing. “But would you please call me a cab?” “Can’t do that, lady, I can only call you an ambulance.” Well, fine. My walking buddies helped me flag down a cab, and one of them, Sylvia, was kind enough to go back to the hotel with me, and off we went; the ride almost as terrifying as the fall. She found some ice for me and left to take a nap. I iced myself down, whined about my condition, and fell asleep. An hour later Sandi returned with some “candy” Band-Aids that she found at a candy store on the way back to the hotel. I was much happier after that.

A covert photo of the Broadhurst Theatre

The Broadway theatres were close enough to the hotel so we walked (I limped) We were headed for the John Golden theatre to see “Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike.” starring Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce. It was hilarious and received great reviews. The inside of the theatres were spectacular and I spent most of intermission gawking at the décor and trying to feel some of its history.

The Famous Sardi's Restaurant

After the show we headed for Sardi’s, which was across the street from the theatre—a New York treasure. The walls were filled with photos of celebrities, but I couldn’t pick one out of the crowd eating, even through I gawked like a redneck from the piney-woods. I ordered their incredible cheesecake, while some of the group ordered a meal. We all seemed to be in tourist heaven.