Roman goes to Manhattan, Part Three.
April 20, 2007
Saturday was our first day that promised relatively good weather; the only question was, whether to wear coats. We took them, and then ended up carrying them for a good part of the afternoon, after the sun came out and warmed everything up. It was literally the lull before the storm on Sunday– 24 hours later the nor’easter would be flooding New York.
Again we took the train into Penn Station and walked directly to the Empire State Building to check the line– already around the block. So, plan B: the Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan. We stopped at a Starbucks for coffee (there is a Starbucks on every block- sometimes more than one) and Roman ducked into a Walgreens to buy one of the good international phone cards we can no longer find at home. We walked down 5th Avenue to Madison Square, going through Korea Town on the way (we never did get to Chinatown or Greenwich Village, alas, but I took a good look at the new Robert A.M. Stern apartment building near the ESB ) and caught the Lexington Ave. subway down to the City Hall station. The approaches to the Brooklyn Bridge begin right at City Hall park , where we walked out on the pedestrian boardwalk. For some reason, Roman’s fear of heights was worse on the bridge than it would be later at the ESB, but once we got to the first stone pier, he was more interested in the view than the distance down to the water. The towers of lower Manhattan are pretty impressive from the bridge , as is the view out towards the Verrazano Narrows bridge and up the East River. We walked all the way to Brooklyn and back, then swung around Nassau and Fulton toward South Street Seaport. The Strand Bookstore Annex was on the way, so we checked it out. “18 Miles of Bookshelves” is their motto, and even the Annex (the HQ store is in Greenwich Village) is an impressive book store. By the time Roman pulled me out the door, it was lunch time. We found a local eatery off the beaten path to the seaport and I had a turkey pannini (really good bread) and Roman had his first Reuben (corned beef and Russian dressing. We’re not sure what made it Russian…)
The guidebooks I’d been reading don’t think much of the South Street Seaport- – too commercial, too fake… but the tourists evidently don’t read those guidebooks, because the place was absolutely packed. There were stores and restaurants, ferries and ‘water taxis’, bands playing, jugglers, mimes– something going on everywhere, and busloads of people. It’s a surprisingly short walk from the docks to the tip of Manhattan: past the end of Wall Street, past the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, to Battery Park. Where we found more people, hanging out, playing frisbie, and lots of artists selling crafts and art. In the center of the park is the golden globe that used to stand in the plaza of the World Trade Center. The pieces were pulled out of the rubble after the buildings fell on it; they put it back together and made it the centerpiece of the temporary 9/11 memorial at the Battery.
Walking from there up Broadway to Hanover Square is the bronze Bull sculpture in the center of the financial district. Roman and I watched amazed for several minutes as several groups of high school or college students used the Bull for photo ops; the surprise was how many of the girls wanted pictures of themselves rubbing, kissing, or somehow fondling the bull’s balls. That’s a scrapbook picture for the 21st century girl, I guess. The centerpiece of their Facebook or MySpace page, maybe? Wow.
We turned down Wall Street (blocked not by concrete Jersey barriers but by big bronze blocks– the sculptural equivalent of Jersey barriers, maybe). Federal Hall is on one side, where George Washington took his first presidential oath of office; on the other side is the New York Stock Exchange. Only tourists there on a Saturday, of course. We looped around on Pearl Street and Stone Street, one of the oldest parts of Manhattan, part of what was originally settled by the Dutch, in fact. That’s where Fraunces Tavern is , a revolutionary war site, and other early buildings (part of the few that haven’t been torn down for skyscraper offices). The loop took us back to Broadway, past the bull and his admirers again, and on up past Trinity Church (where Alexander Hamilton is buried) to the edge of Ground Zero.
When we were there in December 2001, it was all still a huge mess. David Griffin from Greensboro was running the clean-up, and took Lori and I to the edge of the Red Zone to look into the pit, still smoking and stinking. Now it’s just another construction site. On the fringes there is the old Police Memorial, now with 9/11 names, and a new Firemen Memorial. The temporary PATH station (another set of New Jersey trains) is in operation at the very bottom; the new Freedom Tower is erecting steel in the northwest corner, and an elevated steel walkway rings the 4-acre block, connecting into the World Financial Center so that tours can walk completely around the site and end in the Winter Garden, where there’s a food court and high end shops. An exhibit there shows the model and plan for the future 9/11 memorial and skyscraper city… but the sense of tragedy only lingers on the south side, where the old Deutsche Bank building is finally being demolished, now that they’ve given up on fixing the 9/11 damage,
We caught the subway at the old WTC stop to get back to the Empire State Building– neither of us was capable of walking that far at that point. Good news– when we arrived, there was no outside line at all, for the first time. Unfortunately, we discovered that there was an hour’s worth of line inside on the second floor. A line to go through security, a line to buy tickets (at least I had the internet tickets), then a line to wait for the elevator to the 80th floor; then a line to wait for the elevator to the observation deck on the 86th floor. All in all, we waited about an hour and a half to get there; was it worth the wait? Roman said yes; especially since we waited in line so long that the sun was going down as we stepped out on the deck . We stayed out there for about 45 minutes, watching the city lights come on, and night settle. I liked the insight into the building itself- the zeppelin mooring mast, especially. When the colored lights came on, it was time to go. We grabbed some pizza in Penn Station (Roman had to have some New York pizza by the slice- and it was good. Maybe anything would have been good at the end of that day). The trip back to Linden didn’t seem to take long, and the bus back to the hotel was waiting for us. Elizabeth and Max picked us up Sunday morning, and we slogged back home through the monsoon.
I’m pretty sure a good time was had by all.