Friday, October 31, 2008

The city that never sleeps kept me awake, too (Volume III)

It was a very, very cold morning that we rose early to make our way to Boston's South Station for our NYC departure. We rode the T there, which, as I mentioned before, is dirty and antiquated through much of downtown. But to be fair, they were undergoing extensive renovation, and much of the dirt and grime was due to construction. I think they're going in much the same direction that NYC's Metro is headed: artful mosaics with modern features, though harkening to a more elegant time.

Some of the lines are a little more modern, but for the most part they look like something unexpectedly hung over from an earlier, simpler era. The cars have that rounded sort of art-deco look, with chrome accents and bright colors. We used the Green line mostly, which is America's oldest subway line.

Much of what I enjoyed about our Boston experience was that the city was easily navigable. I never once was lost when we were in Boston. I always knew with just a hint of a map which way we should head. It's too bad we were only there for two days and that much of those two days was held captive to baseball (though it was really great baseball, and those two games that would go on to forecast much of the the ALCS championship). I was thinking about our trip thus far, and this is what I wrote in my travel journal, my Moleskine:

It's been an OK trip so far, but I'm excited about finally going somewhere and doing a few things that Dave hasn't yet done or seen. I feel kind of lashed, haphazardly, to Dave's plans, and what he wants to show me. Along with the lack of sleep, I'm a little bitter.

But one amazing thing is how Boston has this palpable grit. I kept thinking about how you might truly experience the city, and it really is best through your feet, in subway cars, your butt in Fenway's Grandstands and your back stretched out in a sunny spot on a grassy patch near the Frog Pond in Boston Common after a lunchtime brew.

So, we got to Boston's South Station pretty early, which was OK. Gave Dave and I plenty of time to eat our Dunkin' bran muffins and drink our coffee (I asked for Splenda with skim, and they were happy to oblige this time). The South Station pretty much set the bar for the other Amtrak stations: It was clean and easy to navigate, lots of friendly people around to ask questions, and lots of seating available, with easily accessible and well-lit newsstands. It even had wifi.

We hung out and waited for our train to be called, and Dave was much less nervous than we were before departing DFW for Logan, mostly because riding on a train was much less dangerous (statistically) than flying (or driving for that matter). I was just stoked to ride on Amtrak. I never had before, but my grandmother took my brother and my oldest sister to Dallas to see the Ramses exhibit many years ago via Amtrak.

Our train is called, we stow our small, small bags, dig out our iPods and off we go.

I wish I had taken pictures of our ride from Boston to NYC, other than the obligatory ones of viewing Manhattan for the first time. But if it's any consolation, this is what I wrote in my Molskine:

Sure, I like warm weather, endless azure water, white sands and an island's warm breezes that lazily your bare legs, and yet, cool mornings on the eastern coast, taking a ride on a train down New England to New York, stokes a hunger for thick cable sweaters, sailboats and long piers into a quiet bay, clapboard houses cheery in their idyll lawns, shining like a mirage, quaint and beautiful.

In the plans I always make for the lottery money I'll never win, there is a seaside home in Mystic, Conn.

And finally, we were in NYC.


We arrived at Penn Station just before lunchtime. Penn is a huge, dirty, disgusting port of arrival. I was immediately disenchanted when we got there. I began to think that if this part of NYC is this gross, then the rest is likely the same. I wasn't that far off.

We were staying in a small hostel on the Upper West Side, which is a neat, sleepy little area. We rode the Red Line up to 86th I think, and then stared about at the city, looking lost and Texan. A nice Jewish man took pity on us. He gave us directions and then suggested a decent place for us to eat. We thanked him for his hospitality and then made way to the hostel.

I was rather disillusioned by our accomodations. We are budget travelers, but even as budget travelers in NYC, I atleast expected a mattress that wasn't sunken in the middle. The room was equipped only a shitty bed and a table. It was definitely a situation that you don't really hang out in, accommodations for those who intend to see the city, and not the inside of their hotel room.

We were both dreadfully hungry, so we headed over to the Fairway cafe and market that the nice Jewish man suggested, and lo and behold, him and his lunch mate were both there, seated at a corner table near a window. We went over and said hello, asked what they might suggest (turkey burger or the salmon) and then bid them both adieu.

We sat, got situated, ordered coffee and our dinners (Dave had the turkey burger with swiss, I had the mediterranean vegetable plate, both were very good). We then started hatching our plans, when Jewish man and his friend decided to stop by and see what we were planning on doing (I guess having our guidebooks and maps sprawled all over the table, dodging the coffee with them, invites locals to sit down for a chat).

They said that we should avoid ground zero or any area south of TriBeCa, but we were determined to see Ground Zero. They relented, although saying that we'd most likely regret it (they were right).

So, we arrived in NYC on 9/11. This was just a casualty of arranging a vacation around baseball games. We were catching Tampa Bay on a road trip between the Red Sox and the Yankees, so it wasn't like we planned on getting into NYC to see Ground Zero, but we did anyway.

It was a really weird experience, and not one that I'd recommend. I figured we'd see a little bit of progress on the construction of what is supposed to be America's living monument to 9/11, the Freedom Tower. It was little more than a concrete hole in the ground, swarming with people who were there to see something, though were unsure of what. Just our luck that Barack Obama and John McCain were both visiting on that day, so there were dozens of news crews there as well, only compounding the melee.

There were also protesters. (More irony on that front, later).


And we saw a few things beyond the hordes, too. Like this sculpture.


It looks familiar for a reason: we have one in Dallas, too, outside the Dallas Museum of Art.

There were several interesting things to see and to shoot in the area around Ground Zero, even if Ground Zero itself was a big let down.

There was a gorgeous Episcopal church on Wall St. called St. Paul's Chapel, the home of Trinity Episcopal.



It had this fascinating sculpture in the courtyard, which was a bronze cast of a tree uprooted by the 9/11 attacks.


There was also a flag memorial in Battery Park. It was touching, but was also swarming with tourists. Not my bag, but a decent photo op.


But this is my favorite shot of the day.


We were both spent, and we decided to get a beer and some dinner at Famous Original Rays.


Olivia said...

Hello from Canada!

I know just how you felt in NYC, it was the same for me visiting from Houston in the 90s. The city has improved a lot since then, though, and is easy for a Londoner to like, but it will always be a shock to the system for those from newer, more spacious parts of the country. In fact, it might be difficult for me to return to NYC from the vast expanses of southern Ontario.

I loved your Moleskine passage about taking the train down New England. F. Scott Fitzgerald must have smiled.

Jo said...

I highly suggest that train ride. The one to Albany, as I'll blog later, was less picturesque.