Full disclosure: unlike the marketing slogan, I don’t (heart) New York. I don’t even like it much, but this trip was a little different. I’m standing on a street corner in Times Square and staring like a gaping fool at the subway sign, when a young attractive black woman speaks to me, and I can hardly believe it because young women of any race usually reserve contact with old guys like me for strictly business purposes where they have no choice, so normally this would be where I’m solicited by a prostitute, but the main reason I’m amazed is that this is NYC, the original home of rude and arrogant behavior, and she isn’t a hooker at all. In fact, she’s trying to help and asking if I’m lost.
And this isn’t the only friendly New Yorker I met today. There was the cabbie, who you could argue just wanted a good tip, but there was also a cop who answered my questions friendly enough as well. Maybe I need to reassess my opinion of Yankee hospitality after all!
We started out our day in the filth and squalor that defines Newark and headed to Penn Central, where we take the PATH train to the WTC stop. It’s funny how no matter what Metro or underground I’ve ever used anywhere in the world, the one common denominator is that there are two rules: you must not make eye contact with anyone unless they are in your nuclear family, and even then be a little suspicious, and you must maintain noise discipline like a soldier on patrol in enemy territory. But the peace and quiet is a blessing at 9AM, and far preferable to the bothersome trinket vendors in Ukraine, who walk up and down the aisle selling everything from discount coupons to kites (why I don’t know, since I’ve never seen anyone ever actually buy anything). At any rate the ride is a little rough, but the train itself is relatively clean, though it has a faint unpleasant odor. Let’s just say I’d take it in lieu of buying a car if I lived there, but then if I lived in Newark I would be an unemployed street urchin sporting dreadlocks and more tattoos than a merchant mariner, but I digress.
We arrive at the WTC but don’t get a good look at it because we’re going to meet our tour guide at George Washington’s statue on Wall Street. Amazing how old Geroge got around! Of course, he took up residence in NYC before DC was chosen for political reasons as the nation’s capital. From his statue, we have a nice view of the New York Stock Exchange, but the funny thing is, the street isn’t really that impressive. I expected something bigger, I guess. I feel like a guy who had to pick up the tab for a huge party only to find out that, not only am I not even on the guest list, the party goers didn’t even spend my money on something useful like maybe American booze or food. No, instead, these guys had their party and it’s still going on, and we, the flyover rubes, are getting the hangover.
That’s my problem with New York in a nutshell, and why I’d just as soon cut off the parasites that live there forever, and part of why I can’t enjoy the place. It’s just too full of weasels bent on nothing more than their own personal gain, even if it means destroying America. I didn’t used to feel that way. There was a time when we were all on the same team, and there was some pride that NYC led the world in finance and that it was a world class city. But that was when there was some pride that Chicago was the meat packer and the Midwest was the world’s breadbasket and Detroit made the cars and the South made clothes and paper products and…you get the idea. The wealth and production was spread around, and the country grew prosperous together. Now, to paraphrase Churchill, “never have so many done so much for so few” as when we, the American people made good on the bad bets that the millionaires and billionaires in NYC screwed up. Well, here’s a news flash: they’re still doing it, and we’ll get billed again. They have the party, we get the hangover. Not such a good deal., unless your from NYC. Thanks for nuttin’.
But you’d think that, based on all of the NYC propaganda on the T shirts and baseball caps that none of the above ever happened and everything was just peachy keen in the Big Apple. And if you live there, it is. What I don’t understand is the adoration from those who don’t. Cognitive dissonance is my best guess.
In any event, after a short while on Wall Street, our tour company guide shows up. There are 20 of us, which would be very hard for anyone to lead in a city as noisy as this, but what we have here is a squeaky little mouse of a woman who couldn’t project her voice across a closet. Then she explains it’s too bad that the President’s home wasn’t still in NYC because then she “could get a chance to see Obama every day”. Gag me.
The first thing she shows us are some pock marks on one of the buildings and explains they’re from a bomb that was set off “I think in 1920”. Two thoughts: one, domestic terrorism has been going on in America for way longer than I thought, yet no one in the Roaring 20’s had to disrobe for the “Homeland Security” Gestapo (why the hell do we have anything other than homeland security…isn’t that what the Defense Department is for, or are they now the Imperial Guard for the Empire?), and two, this idiot, who presumably has done this before, not only can’t nail down the date, she can’t even tell us who did it, or at least who was suspected.
We stick with her anyway and proceed across the street to gothic-styled Trinity Church, which has the sculpture of a tree root in the front courtyard. It’s there because the real tree protected a chapel of the church from certain destruction during 9/11, taking the brunt of the flying debris and falling material, and the sculpture is thus a kind of memorial to a 9/11 tree. Cool.
Then our guide once again proves her incompetence. When asked about the age of the church, she doesn’t know. We go inside, and, during the course of her monologue, asks us if there are seven Apostles. She doesn’t know because “I’m just a Jewish girl from the Bronx”.
Now, let’s say I’m in Israel guiding a tour of mostly Jews around Jerusalem and I take them into a Synagogue. Do you think they’d think it was cute if I said, “I’m just a Christian from Orlando so I don’t know what the Torah is, and why are you wearing those funny hats?” Or do you think they’d assume I was full of shit?
Right. We quit the tour then and there. If you’re ever in NYC, don’t use Fee Tours by Foot (don’t let the “free” fool you, she let us know early on she worked for tips-nothin’s free)!
So we do our own tour, and I take Jonathan’s picture rubbing the scrotum of a giant bull. Yes, that’s the thing to do with the Wall Street Bull. I’m not making this up. And of course I do it for good luck, secretly hoping it will improve my…er, performance.
Then a cab ride to Times Square, where I meet the nice helpful girl, but not before a harrowing cab ride through Soho and Greenwich Village, which we saw in fast forward, along with the UN building, home of international deadbeats and child molesters. I think that, after the gas and brakes, the horn must be the most important thing for a NYC cabby, because he had our Escape Hybrid (gone are the Checker cabs!) honking all the way to 50th Street with nary a rest.
We eat at the Pig and Whistle on 47th Street. The food and service are good, and $38 is not outrageous for a decent lunch in an Irish Pub in the Big Apple, so no complaints, but I’m getting a little worried about my son, who hasn’t eaten a vegetable since we left Orlando save for what came on the pizza, and he picked most of them off by hand. Now I’m a big believer in meat eating, and men need their protein, but I’m pretty sure a steady diet of nothing but meat, cheese, and starch isn’t good for you, unless you’d like your cardiologist to become your best friend someday, or are trying out for the Pillsbury Doughboy Lookalike Contest, and muscle definition be damned! But of course if I say something I’m an asshole, so I do anyway, confirming it.
We head for the Statue of Liberty on a boat ride from Battery park via the Subway, and no problems at all on the “R” line. The statue is every bit as impressive as it looks in pictures, prominently greeting all of those entering the Harbor from under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and I can see why she gave so much hope to so many desperate immigrants seeking a new life here. She’s a very tall lady, of course, dressed in green, and the copper leaches all the way to the pedestal base, which has a stairway access, and Jonathan has thankfully arranged for tickets in advance. From both the boat and the pedestal, the view of Manhattan is amazing. From here, you get an idea of the scale of the city, which is impressive to say the least, with its forest of grey buildings standing shoulder to shoulder and stretching to the northern horizon with Ellis Island in the foreground. She’s a beautiful, grand old lady, (actually a little plump) who really still looks young and hopeful, and is still a shining beacon of freedom to one and all, and I think we don’t give the French enough credit for this incredible monument to liberty. Here, I say “merci beaucoup, mes amis”.
But here again I wonder. I wonder if the real reason our immigrants arrive today “ are simply “yearning to be free” as Ezra Pound once penned or merely “yearning for a handout”. Yes, they certainly are teeming masses, but is that what we really need in a high tech welfare society? Yes, at one time, in the Industrial Age, we needed strong backs and lots of willing hands, but shouldn’t we be looking for a little more intellect and talent than that now that we are well into the Information Age? And what of the cultures that we introduce here? Is the Melting Pot even working anymore? I’m troubled by these questions as I stand on the pedestal top looking out at Ellis Island.
On our way back to the PATH station, we go by Ground Zero of the WTC, and I don’t get the same sense of eerie peace I got at Gettysburg, but what I do get is sense that people are moving on with their lives, and it’s good to see that. They are building on the site of the twin towers, and, while I can’t really make out one of them, the other is Tower One and it is an elegant sculpted candle looking building, with a mirrored glass facade that is quite handsome, at least so far. It’s good to see the “Made in USA” flags on the huge construction cranes, and I guess the overall impression is of a city that has been bent but not broken.
But soon we must go, and our one day tour of NYC must come to a close. We hold our noses and proceed back to Newark, where we take the commute from Hell up I-95, which throws every roadblock up that it can, including traffic accidents, roadblocks, toll booths, and lots of pissed off, stressed out drivers like us trying to get home.
I’m writing this in the car, still on our way to our final destination near Boston. It’s 8:45PM. Memo to Jonathan. I’m too old for this shit. Next time, let’s cut these down to 15 hour days, OK?