New York City is a force to be reckoned with. Other spaces in the country offer reflection on how we fit with our surroundings whether in open wilderness, rural landscape, towns or some cities. But New York’s street-level ecology is of the concrete kind, with hardly a speck of nature. It is all city, all humanity, all the time. New York City, loud and proud.
Hey buddy. Yeah, you. You wanna move along? We’re having a city here. Wassat? You want to think about this a little. Whoa, well excuse me for livin’! … Look. You wanna play, you play. You wanna watch, OK, but don’t get in our way.
No one said this to us in these words, but it is inferred in the city vibe. It is whispered in the breeze you feel when someone blows past you, striding into traffic unafraid while you stand (like an idiot) waiting for the walk signal at the corner. It is subliminal in the collective hum and hiss you can hear from the whole city as you listen from the top of the Empire State. It is detectible in the glazed insolence of the Times Square burger girl telling you there’s only chicken tonight, no beef.
But you got to love it, just for the difference of it all, for the wonderful lab experiment of millions of people living in small spaces, and then to see how we behave. And in many ways we do OK, with great theatre, art, architecture, music and business. People love this place, warts and all.
Whatever is your taste for such a city, no cross-country trip is complete without standing in Times Square.
So how do you visit NYC when pulling a pop-up camper across the US? I wrote about this dilemma several weeks ago; my brother’s cartoon, re-posted here, captures this dilemma well. So we camped away from the city and took the train for a hotel overnight in Times Square. The forests of the Hudson River valley, now just barely tinted for fall, gave no hint of the city to come when we were still only minutes north of NYC. Soon enough we were next to bricks and fewer trees, until at last we plunged under the earth toward Grand Central.
A hotel right on Times Square (thank you, Hilton travel points) provides insulation from the craziness below, though it blinks against your drapes all night. The LED screens have made Time Square a cross-roads of sensory overload, and then you add the costumed characters and most others from everywhere else standing around gawking. The nation is having a party and it’s in Times Square. You can go, but plan on the loneliest experience you can have while surrounded by thousands of people.
Still, it’s a kick to see.
We had applied for tickets to Dave one month before taping, as the website instructed, and did not hear that we got them until we were in Ticonderoga, NY. We walked to the theatre to engage in a maze of waiting and watching, then finally entering to see the show live. Steve Martin was Dave’s guest, great show.
This let out at 7:15, and our tickets to Pippin were for 8:00. We grab a Panini from a deli like a local, eat while dodging others on the sidewalk, and make it in time for curtain. What an amazing show, and it had a meaningful point to make. The title
character was overwrought about doing something meaningful, imagining a series of great things to do that never satisfied. He let go of this circus-in-his-head when he found personal fulfillment in the sweet and available joys of the people who matter to him.
Ground zero was sad, and it should be. A great sadness occurred there. However, the memorial itself did not provide much comfort, even if it affirmed our sadness. Waterfalls that plunge into the earth symbolize emptiness and futility to me, like the earth swallowed the towers, the people, and that’s it. Gulp, gone. For what? Made me mad that it happened.
The Freedom Tower was a better symbol. It seemed to say we do not stop, we carry on.
These images flickered in my head as we went to lights out, once back in camp. The flickers were not from a distant Samsung LED giant screen ad, but from things we had seen, now showing on the stage between my ears: The achievements of a city, the furrow-brow intentions of the suit-with-briefcase guy, the laughter of the comics and the hope of Freedom Tower and of Pippin’s now-happy life.
Lights out. Crickets.
Drive BOS to NYC: Diverted from interstate a bit, the colors were out a bit more in RI and CT, not sure why. Love the small towns not visible from the Interstate.
KOA 70 miles north of NYC: Near Newburgh, NY. One of the best KOA’s I’ve ever seen, nice spacing between sites, good amenities, grassy, friendly staff
Hudson River Line: Pick up at Beacon station in Newburgh; parking is difficult weekdays after 8am, but not impossible. 90 minutes later, in Grand Central
Empire State Building: See it in September. We walked through seeming miles of velvet-rope maze that was intended for the previous larger crowds of summer, now delightfully missing.
DoubleTree Times Square: Showed up with a change of clothes in a backpack.
Dave Letterman taping: Request tickets 30 days in advance and then they call you. Later. Like we did not know we’d have tickets until I was called while camping in Ticonderoga. They are SO organized there. The taping let out in time to make our Broadway show.
Pippin: At the Music Box Theatre, historic; the lobby filled with pics of Gershwin, et. al. that tell of the venue’s heyday. We got tickets in advance, since it was the show we wanted to see, and we had no confidence that tickets would be available at the TKTS booth.
Ground Zero: Get timed tickets for entrance, pick them up at the visitor center, walk in. This was more packed with people; it was disconcerting how some were not respectful there, some just wanting to pose in front of the memorial like they were at Old Faithful.