Spread the News: New York Good, Clean Fun
by Doug McQuiston
After a recent family trip to Manhattan, we need a vacation. My wife and I had last visited about 16 years ago. The kids had never seen it. If you haven’t been, or haven’t been in awhile, things have changed. For the better. All we can say after a week in the city is "God Bless Rudy Giuliani!"
The first thing we noticed was how nice the cabbies were. No, really! Of course, it was a bit hard to communicate with a lot of them, since they weren’t from New York. Or America. A working knowledge of Russian, Mandarin, Hindu and Farsi would have come in handy. But that just made it more fun. A trip to New York is like a trip around the world, without the passport and shots.
The other thing we noticed was how clean the place was. We’re not talking spotless, but compared to what it was like when we last visited, the improvement was a shock. None of the subways we rode on the Lexington Avenue line had even a speck of graffiti on them, and we were safer riding them than I have felt walking to my car in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center parking garage. Ah, subways. Without them, we can imagine all we want, but Denver will never be a great city. For a buck and a quarter, we could ride from midtown to Wall Street, or Grand Central to Central Park East, in fifteen minutes.
Even the bums were better—instead of just rattling cups, most played music for their money. The alto sax seemed to be the instrument of choice, but one Chinese guy in Greenwich Village, playing an erhu (kind of a one-string cello), got the award for originality.
We did Manhattan the same way we take all of our vacations. We hit it like the Marines hit Iwo. While we didn’t plant the Colorado flag on the top of the Chrysler building (they wouldn’t let us up there), we left no corner of the island unturned. By the last night there, the cabbie giving us a ride back to our hotel was stumped trying to figure out a turista spot we hadn’t hit. "Didja see Ellis Island?" Done it. "How ’bout Rockefeller Center?" Twice. "Times Square?" Four times. "The Village?" Yep. He couldn’t even think of a museum we hadn’t seen. We were starting to give some of the European tourists directions to Tribeca and restaurant recommendations.
From Central Park and the Metro-politan Museum of Art to the north to South Street Seaport and the Statue of Liberty to the south, we covered the town like a blanket. Despite its 8 million people, the island of Manhattan is really just a big small town. We even started seeing people we had seen before, like the two young Asian women we sat next to at Joe’s Shanghai on Pell Street in Chinatown— we saw them again two days later outside the MTV studio in Times Square. Only in New York could you see Heidi Klum doing a fashion shoot outside the Stock Exchange one morning, and Ryan O’Neal noshing a pastrami on rye on a stool at the Stage Deli counter later that night. At "Annie Get Your Gun" at the Marquis Theater, Naomi Judd and her entourage were sitting a few rows behind us, taking in her pal Reba McIntyre’s show. Her seats weren’t as good as ours.
The city’s compressed scale would amaze anyone who has never visited it. Walking, especially cross-town, was faster than hopping a cab. On our way to "Annie Get Your Gun," we thought we’d take a cab to "save time." A half hour later we reached the theater. Our walk back to the hotel after the show took less than 15 minutes.
Eating in New York is an adventure, too. We only think we have ethnic food in Denver. In the city, you can get anything from to-die-for pizza to Hunan, Pakistani, Thai or Turkish dishes yokels like us couldn’t even pronounce, much less digest. And you can get them 24 hours a day.
The city is like Epcot Center’s World Showcase without the rides (unless you count the subway). Our U.N. tour guide was a nice young woman from Beijing; we were the only American tourists in the group. We saw Irish sections, with four pubs per block, shoulder-to-shoulder with a Middle Eastern section, full of open markets selling Falafel and couscous, tucked under second floor Pakistani storefronts hawking cheap suits and "authentic" Gucci loafers for 24 bucks a pair. As we continued south, the Brooklyn Bridge loomed over our left shoulders. Turning right on Canal Street, we entered Chinatown. It was as if we had just landed in Taipei, with Peking ducks hanging in the windows and business owners haggling with each other in Mandarin.
But in just a few more blocks, we hit Little Italy. My wife and I had never been this far downtown before, so we were once again amazed at how small the town could be. We imagined Chinatown and Little Italy as being distinct areas far from each other, but they literally share the same intersection. One minute all you hear is Mandarin. Then, cross the street and all you hear are Italian storekeepers haggling in broken English over the price of a gold neck chain with German or Israeli tourists, and the sounds of a Sinatra record wafting from an open apartment window over the Buona Notte Restaurant. That, my friends, is a great city.
Until you can walk out of your fashionable LoDo loft and in the space of a few blocks: buy groceries, get a new toilet seat at a hardware store, pick up your dry cleaning, buy a $20 Rolex from a guy on the corner holding a beat-up suitcase, grab a Cannoli that’ll curl your hair, then, pick up dim sum and soup dumplings for dinner later, you’re still living in a cowtown, pardner. It’s no wonder New Yorkers cop an attitude when they visit the Mile High City.
One thing we won’t miss, though—traffic. Next time you find yourself kvetching about your 45-minute commute home one night, count your blessings. If you lived in New York, chances are you’d be facing an hour and a half each way on the Long Island Railroad Line. On a good day. Throw in a transit workers’ slowdown and you might as well fuhgeddaboutit. As our cabbie pal said as we were riding to the airport in bumper-to-bumper traffic uptown through Harlem, "If you don’t love people, this town’ll drive you nuts."
There’s no place like home.