Date of Trip: May 2010
Last Saturday, May 15, 2010, my wife and I went to New York from south Florida for the day. I’ve made this trip 13 times in the last 3 years, about half the time with her. The r/t fare, including taxes/fees, has always been between $35 and $62 (you gotta join Spirit’s club – it’s free if you get their MasterCard). A same-day trip means no expensive NYC hotel room and a full day in Manhattan for parks and museums.
Our basic routine never varies. We retire early, wake up between 1:30 and 2 AM, leave our Miami Beach house at 2:30, drive to the Park’n’Fly lot near Ft. Lauderdale airport (FLL), park there by 3:15, wake up the shuttle bus driver, check in for the 5:10 AM flight by 4:15, choose seats at the kiosk for free, always on the left side, go quickly through security, fill our empty water bottles and have breakfast (usually hard boiled eggs, maybe a bagel and/or fruit) by the gate, almost always leave on time and sometimes a bit early, read and/or sleep, enjoy the stunning views of Manhattan and the bridges, rivers and watercraft as we descend, are in the terminal before 8, grab take-out coffees from Dunkin Donuts or Au Bon Pain (never a line at the latter), go downstairs, buy unlimited-ride one-day MetroCards for $8.25 each from Hudson News, catch the Q-60 bus for a quick ride to 125th Street, drink our ciffee on board (that’s allowed on NYC buses) and then catch a bus or subway of our choice – usually but not always the M-1 bus down Fifth Avenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 83d Street. In this case, we opted for the Met (www.metmuseum.org) Suggested admission varies from $12 to $20, but pay what you wish, and you won’t get a “look” or remark from the ticket seller for paying less.
First stop was the “Big Bambu,” a huge, tall, complicated bamboo structure on the roof, which you can walk up into with a free timed ticket – if you’re wearing closed, rubber-soled shoes – we skipped that adventure. Afterwards, we walked through the Greek/Roman and African galleries, checked out “The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy” and impressive “Contemporary Aboriginal Art from Australia” as well as the rather disappointing “Mastering the Art of Chinese Painting.” As always, we had to skip most of what was offered.
Afterwards, we walked out into a beautiful, sunny breezy day, briefly detoured into Central Park, checked out two galleries on 72nd and then into the Frick Collection museum at Fifth and 70th (www.frick.org, $18, $12 for seniors, free on Sundays if you arrive between 11 and 1) As always, I spent extra time with the Vermeers, Rembrandts and Turners; my wife made a point of again visiting Hans Holbein’s stunning portraits of Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More, having just read the novel “Wolf Hall” about them and their murderous boss, Henry VIII (Holbein’s portrait of him is in the UK) There was a special exhibit from the Dulwich (England) Picture Gallery; its unquestioned star was Rembrandt’s “Girl at a Window.” here’s what one viwerr had to say about it.
“Pour yourself into Rembrandt’s ‘Girl at a Window (1645), which will use you up. The unremarkably pretty subject, in an open blouse, leans forward on a stone sill and gazes slightly past us. Rosy-cheeked, against a black ground, she steams with vitality. Is she child or woman, serene or anxious, innocent or cunning? She is all those things. but not at once. Her aspects flicker in the mind. One hand oddly raisedto her throat becomes as tormentingly enigmatic as Mona Lisa’s smile. Your response to ehr induces a responsibility. She has become a person in your life. Your life is different.” Wow! (That exhibit will be there through May 30)
We had lunch from our carry-on and one potato knish each from a vendor (we don’t use precious museum-and-park time visiting restaurants), back on the M-1 to 23d Street and a crosstown bus to 10th Avenue (West Chelsea), checked out an unremarkable gallery exhibiton 22nd and then joined a fast-moving line at the Gagosian Gallery – admission free (www.Gagosian.com) at 522 West 21st Street for an incredible exhibit of Monet’s beautiful late paintings, ranging in size from large to huge, all of the lilies, ponds, flowers, trees and bridges at Giverny, France. Most were on loan from Paris’ Marmatton Museum. Then we walked down 10th Avenue to 14th Street, where we were within half a block of the Hudson. There, we had a grounds-eye view of one of the latest NYC marvels – the High Line, an elevated railway transformed into an elevated park. That is a must for our next trip, a full weekend this time in September.
We took a crosstown bus to Sixth Avenue, officially the Avenue of the Americas, although no New Yorker has ever called it that (just like no South Floridian has ever referred to South Beach as “SoBe”). I had a special mission to complete before heading home. I’m finishing up a novel about a young family living on West Ninth Street in Greenwich Vilage, set a few years in the future (2018-2020, and no, it’s not sci-fi) and needed to walk through the neighborhood, take notes and photos, and visit Washington Square Park, the epicenter both of Greenwich Village and of my novel. I hadn’t spent any time there since our youngest daughter lived in the neighborhood in 1996-1998.
Sixth Avenue in that area is small retail, with a striking church spire a few blocks south. Here’s what Ninth Street between Sixth and Fifth looks like, as written in my novel:
“As with other nearby streets between Fifth and Sixth Avenues to its north and south, it was a pleasant thoroughfare. It was a “green” street, lined with shady trees, many set into soil-filled depressions set into the sidewalk, surrounded by tiny decorative iron fences, and lovingly tended by residents as well as — occasionally — by city employees. Even on the sunniest days, the street was mostly in shade. Being exclusively residential, its traffic was moderate, and kept in check by being one-way to the west. There were narrow parking lanes defined by lines on either side; while usually full, only a small fraction of the residents owned cars. The buildings, mostly of brick in red, brown or gray shades, varied from four to eight stories. Though not fancy, and lacking doormen, they were clean, attractive and well-kept. Stairs led up to front entrances, most with stoops on either side, and some had basement units, with other stairs leading below street level to a lower doorway. Most of the structures featured small flower gardens, some in large pots, others in flower boxes.”
We turned right onto the elegant southernmost part of that portion of Fifth Avenue, which some may recall as where “Dr. Huxtable” lived in the “Cosby Show,” and entered Washington Square Park. Again, I’ll quote from my own novel:
“Washington Square Park was, as it had been for more than a century, the epicenter of life in New York’s Greenwich Village. Fifth Avenue, southbound, dead ends at its northern edge. Its great arch had originally been built of plaster and wood in 1889 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first inauguration of George Washington, an event which had taken place at Federal Hall, not that far to the south. The arch had been reconstructed of a more permanent material – marble – three years later. Its center was marked, not by a gazebo but by a great wide fountain, its water cascading upwards from several spigots in the midst of a large circular pool. The pool was surrounded by a thick rounded concrete wall; it was lined inside with a continuous concrete bench. People could sit atop the wall facing in either direction, or on the continuous seating inside. In warm weather, they could wade, or just cool their feet in the water. The park fulfilled a role for Greenwich Village similar, but not limited, to those filled by other parks and squares in other American towns and villages. Once a cemetery, the remains of an estimated 20,000 people rested under its greenery, concrete and fountain. Plans to extend Fifth Avenue through the park and renovate – or desecrate — it, in other ways, had been fought repeatedly, and successfully, by neighbors. It served as a gathering place, a campus for New York University, a venue for music and dance, a limited marketplace for food and various wares, and as a sanctuary for dogs. People gathered there to eat, chat, debate, read, wade in the fountain, skateboard, play chess on permanent chessboard-topped tables, and sometimes because they had no place else to go. While its immediate vicinity is surprisingly stately and calm, the hurly-burly of the Village is only minutes away in any direction. On pleasant days, and particularly on weekends, the park would be crowded and busy. But, even during the decade of great change that had been the 1960s, when the park had been a focal point of demonstrations, protest and occasional police roundups, and during the 1990s, when it had become a marketplace for illegal drugs, it was never thought of as a “bad” place. It had a history and an ambiance all its own.
Only Fifth Avenue rises northbound from the park’s midsection, bounded on the north by a section of Waverly Place, its park-bounding section renamed Washington Square North. University Place, which morphs into Broadway northbound, bounds the west end; MacDougal Street, northbound only as far as 8th street, the east end. From the middle of each end runs Washington Place. But from the park’s south side descend Sullivan and Thompson Streets and LaGuardia Place, into the heart of the Village.”
Walking into the park was like a time machine – it was unchanged from what I remembered from having spent the summer of 1962 in NYC. It was packed with people of every description, sitting on benches and around the fountain, wading in the water, playing guitars, buying and eating snacks. My wife rested on a bench while I went to visit the Washington Square Park Dog Run (google it!), one of dozens in the city. It looms large in my story, and I had spent many hours there with the young female Rottweiler, Nika (now you know where half my name on this site came from!) who had once been our daughter’s dog and then became our dog before she went to the Big Dog Run In The Sky a year and a half ago. It’s a wonderful little place, where dogs run free, with a separate section set aside for the little doggies. Among the benches are some that are curved, to fit around three large trees inside.
It was time to go. We took the ‘D’ train from the Fourth Street station at Sixth Avenue to get back to 125th. Once again, I was struck by how dirty and noisy NY’s subway stations are, and wondering how, after 22 years, NYC still gets away with an almost total disregard of the Americans With Disabilities Act in them. NYC’s subways often offer unwelcome surprises. In this case, the supposed express train stalled in a tunnel for almost 10 minutes, then an announcer said it would make all local stops, then a few stops later said it would make no more stops at all until 125th.
We caught the M-60 back to LGA – easy to spot, with its airplane logo on the front and on the bus and all the bus stop signs “LaGuardia Airport.” The airport end of the route had been changed – you now disembark at the first airport stop and walk across into the terminal, in the same area where you catch it going the other way. We stopped at a counter and made cocktails with Diet Pepsis and a bit of cheer I’d picked up on Sixth Avenue – I wanted to be sure and sleep on the return flight, and I did – then checked in – I’ve never had to wait in line at security there – honest! – refilled my water bottle again, and then stopped at Au Bon Pain by the gate for their wonderful crusty hard rolls and thick breadsticks, which are $1 each and come with butter and jam – yes, a food bargain at an airport! Our flight left on time, arrived half an hour early, and we were home by 12:30.