by Elizabeth McLaughlin
The Autumn colors arrived and vanished quickly due to unusual warm weather. I was disappointed with this season, felt betrayed and robbed by unnatural forces. However, it was now time for a change and very thankful for my sisters decision to visit this Christmas. It set the stage for me to act as a NYC tourist guide. The day we decided to go into Manhattan the weather changed from cold to frigid cold! Newscasters reported that a mini ice age was ramping up and warned the public to be prepared and dress for severe winter chills. I layered at least four tops, two pairs of socks and pants, woolen hat, knitted earth tone neck wrap and pink fiber gloves. This brought me back to the Bronx childhood memories of being stuffed into bulky down snow suit, toes forced into shoes covered with plastic bags and then squished into red rubber boots. Usually following such time-consuming layering many kids from the neighborhood took to hand carving igloos with interior slides onto the sidewalk, fierce snowball fights, snowman making or sleigh riding, skating at the park.
The train schedule into the city read ninety minutes but it could last longer with all the stops and weather related delays. We arrived early so I inquired at the ticket window to be pointed in a direction of a local coffee shop. The sound of Christmas carols in the Spanish language blasted from metal cone shaped speakers that were mounted on lamp posts. I dashed across the commuter filled parking lot and over to a town bakery. It was a first time experience to enter into a Spanish bakery. The line was orderly but fast. The bakery featured two large long glass counters. One displayed rolls, pastries, fancy cakes with small signs hand written in Spanish that described the confections. The other counter displayed what a customer would normally find in a neighborhood bakery. I decided to be daring and ordered a pastry labeled in Spanish. With a few words and hand signals the clerk and a customer tried the task of translating the ingredients. They both could not tell me in English what embellished this stuffed pastry but it looked sumptuous. Interestingly enough the woman at the cashier could understand how to make change in US dollars. Oh well, back at the train station we ended up sitting inside the unheated antiquated waiting room, coffee in one hand and Mexican pastry in the other, anticipating the train would accept passengers on time. I felt the rich taste of coconut and cinnamon melting inside my mouth with each sip of warm fresh roasted coffee. We could view from the oak framed glass window that the train idled on its tracks with doors still closed. Brave passengers stood outside, appearing totally unprepared for the weather, dressed in thin clothing and summer cotton sneakers. Arctic gusts of wind whipped across the open station platform and the passengers stood firm waiting to hear the vacuum train doors swish open. For many years I traveled on the Metro North from Westchester County into Grand Central Station but this was my first time traveling on the NJ Transit Line into Penn Station. This meant about a walk of approximately twenty blocks to Rockefeller Center. Not a real problem because my hiking boots could undertake subway grates, concrete stairs and any obstacle on this urban trail. I worried about my sister, her ankle swollen from leg surgery that it would be too much of a walk, however, she insisted on making the trek regardless of any discomfort to her leg. Taxis were at grinding halts and lost in traffic. The city blocks were short and the walk refreshing even in this frigid weather. My sister dragged me into a few tourist shops along the way because she wanted to bring back T Shirt gifts for her friends. I did not seem to mind her request because the shop stops offered a heated relief from the cold and she could rest a leg. Shop rents are high for these retail establishments so every inch of space is utilized to display something for sale. I could not help missing a zillion magnets of the Statue of Liberty. It came in a variety of sizes and after much thought decided on one for about four dollars.
It was awesome the prices were not designed to gouge tourists wallets! The army of tourists thickened as we naturally formed into moving groups that lead us to the bright flashing lights of Times Square. I do recall the day when it was often frowned upon to visit such a place because Times Square was noted for seedy pornographic businesses. It only took time for Times Square to gain movie theaters and cleaned out most of the riff raff. Even though the sky was gray, huge assorted sized digital media billboards lit up Times Square transforming the streets into a bright summer day.
Psychologically everyone felt a few degrees warmer with light and people had good spirits and smiled. Red ribbon tape roped off the staging area to handle the large crowds for New Years Eve. People were everywhere and I never experienced so many on the streets, crossing intersections in swarms like buzzing bees, trying to reach places of work/business, theaters and eateries. Emergency sirens, honking horns and the intimidating sound of rumbling metro buses vibrated against the tall skyscrapers windows and the noise echoed down long side streets. It’s a common New York City sound!
MOMA always became a destination for me and like all businesses in New York City, changed. A part of it is under construction and from what I could remember prior to this altered state the book store location was conveniently situated on the ground floor. Now, it is on the second floor. After passing a large MOMA billboard highlighting good things to come, I noticed a MOMA Design Store across the street from the museum. And they were having a spectacular Christmas Sale! Scarves were now on sale for sixty dollars and up, unfortunately, way beyond my budget. However, it was nice to see the trending watches, Japanese lanterns, modernistic wall clocks, unique gadgets. A dream purchase for most that require a specific contemporary piece to accent a Manhattan apartment. It is also utterly important for the urban chic to engage a visit to this store for name dropping about it at roof top parties and exclusive art gallery shows. My sister was in a New York rush to see the Saks Fifth Avenue light show and skaters at Rockefeller Center. therefore, after strolling through the museum lobby I vowed to return in a few months by myself and spend hours at the Design Store and MOMA.
Rockefeller Center had waves of people taking pictures of skaters but something bothered me about the Christmas tree. For some reason it visually felt not as large or wide as most other years. I kept questioning myself about the lights and if that underwent a board’s decision to be changed. The skaters glided across the ring of ice as if they were stiff and obviously very cold. Wherever large pockets of people formed it was a guaranteed children’s window display magnet, such as LEGO. It was packed with parents and kids. The early evening light was dimming, the lights began to sparkle on Christmas tree, a corridor of angels and office building windows glowed against its stone facade. People began to point and shuffle weary feet in the direction of Saks Fifth Avenue because they did not want to miss the fabulously spectacular Saks Fifth Avenue light show!
Saks Fifth Avenue windows were elegantly decorated with a Snow White theme. Children screamed with joy or were crying as parents clutched small hands to walk the length of the building. Across the street the populace thickened to shoulder to shoulder standing room and then all of a sudden over a loud-speaker a circus ring master type voice received everyone to the show. Music chimed in and the entire Saks Fifth Avenue building lit up to form the shape of an enchanted castle. The castles tastefully colored lights flickered to music and songs.
A very impressive display that should not be missed! After the show we walked the exterior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, more lines, lines, lines, the Atlas Statue, back to Rockefeller Plaza to view their shop windows and then off to hunt down a place to eat.
All restaurants were packed with standing lines. Our best option was to try to purchase a sandwich at Chik-fil-A. I never experienced this eatery and was so glad to have found the freshest chicken sandwich ever tasted. The service at the counter was cheerful, helpful and welcoming! Our day was winding down as we approached Madison Square Garden. Penn Station is located below the Garden and at this hour people were heading to a show, concert or home.
The lobby was packed and with each intercom announcement the station became instantly empty and refilled again at breakneck speed. It was almost comical how fast this room filled up, emptied and refilled. Our train track number was announced and confirmed by viewing the computerized displays. People formed into swarms at the gate, passed two doors and quickly ran down the platform to find a seat. I watched as far as my eyes could see and noticed this train was not in short supply of double-decker cars to service any type of traveler.
New Years Day came and now vanished into the past. A new year arrived and of course one has to make plans. This year is going to be a transitional year and I welcome it with open arms.