Dave and Lisa Take Manhattan
Dave: I am almost 30 years old, and until 2 weeks ago, I had never been to New York City. You may think that’s because I’m not a traveler, but I’ve been to over 30 states and five different countries. There’s no real reason why I haven’t been there to this point and I’ve always said it’s one of the places I really want to visit. Before I went, I asked people to tell me what they liked and disliked about New York and where I should and should not go during my limited time. I realized, however, that I didn’t learn much that was new from anyone because I was already so familiar with New York through countless movies, television shows, and even video games. It was nearly impossible for me to experience the city from a fresh perspective. I couldn’t help but compare nearly everything I saw to how I had already experienced it through the lenses of others.
Dave: The first few days of my trip were for business, and I stayed in a hotel that literally overlooked Times Square. Of course, I’ve seen Times Square nearly every New Year’s Eve for the past 29 years as Dick Clark counts down the seconds to the New Year. The crowds weren’t as overwhelming as the New Year’s Eve crowds I’d seen on television, but they were still impressive. The quantity of people was staggering, but their variety was even more striking. As I walked around the area, I heard more people speaking foreign languages than English. Obviously, I was in a very tourist-centric area; however, the feeling that New York was an international city was present at every turn. Also noteworthy was how late everything was open. At 11:00 pm on a Tuesday, every shop and restaurant was open, many jammed with people.
Lisa loves musicals, I hate them. We’ve seen Rent and Wicked, and, combined, those were four of the worst hours of my life. You can imagine my apprehension when Lisa told me we were going to see a musical on Broadway. Since this was her first trip to New York and I knew this was the one thing she wanted to do more than anything else, I couldn’t say no. Thankfully, The Lion King was sold out and we had to settle for Jersey Boys. I still wasn’t excited, but I do like The Four Seasons’ music. Little could I guess, however, that after seeing the show I could with a straight face tell you that I enjoyed it. The reason is that Jersey Boys is not like any other musical I’ve seen. There aren’t phony dance scenes for no reason. There’s minimal dancing, and not once did anyone use jazz hands. In fact, the performance felt more like a concert than a musical. Without a doubt, the biggest surprise of the trip for me was that I enjoyed Jersey Boys.
Lisa: Yay! I found a musical my husband actually liked! I kept telling him that it wasn’t a Rent or Wicked-type musical. I had seen Jersey Boys twice before, and I was so excited to see it in New York!
Unfortunately, the biggest disappointment also occurred in Times Square. Almost everything we ate sucked. Taking advice from Jersey Boys, we searched for a pizza place that refused to sell pizza by the slice. With the help of Yelp, we decided to try John’s Pizzeria. Many positive Yelp reviews told us that often lines would form out the door, so we felt lucky to have to wait only15 minutes. The venue, the inside of an old church, was incredibly cool. Our appetizer–garlic rolls–was delicious. However, the pizza was downright terrible. I don’t know if we just got a bad pie, but we made a decision right then and there that we were going to grab a deep dish Giordano’s pizza the second we got home.
Lisa: I’m sorry, New York. Chicago’s pizza is just better.
Dave: Earlier in the week, a co-worker and I stopped in a European-style deli for lunch and encountered not one, not two, but three cockroaches. Nothing clears out a restaurant faster than cockroaches. “Welcome to New York!” one of the regulars shouted at one girl who hastily got up and threw away her lunch. Thankfully we were done with our meal already, so we could leave without ridicule. I understand that eating food in Times Square is the equivalent of going to Navy Pier to experience Chicago-style food, but I was not left with a great impression. The cockroach incident brings me to the one overwhelmingly negative thing I heard about the city before I went. It’s dirty.
There’s no doubt that New York is much dirtier than Chicago. From what I can tell, the reason for this is twofold. First, there are a lot more people stacked on top of each other in New York. Second, they don’t have any alleys. While Chicago lost a lot of history the day the Great Chicago Fire ripped through the city, it did allow us to rework an urban planning nightmare New Yorkers deal with to this day. Their lack of alleys forces all the businesses to simply stack their garbage outside on the sidewalk. Besides being unsightly, this makes parts of the city stink terribly. Overall, however, I’d say the whole smelling dirty thing was pretty overblown. While it was certainly noticeable (more so at night), it didn’t really ruin my enjoyment of the city.
Dave: The main thing we wanted to do in New York was see some of the famous sites. We made reservations early on our first full day to go see the Statue of Liberty. We felt like this was our patriotic duty to do so. We were lucky enough to have a sunny 40 degree day, and the boat ride over was very pleasant. As we approached the statue, two thoughts continually cycled through my head. The first was that I wondered if I could find enough positively-charged mood slime and an NES advantage controller if I could bring her to life. And second, I kept thinking that this was the very place where I (spoiler!) murdered Pegorino at the end of Grand Theft Auto 4.
Lisa: Typical. The thoughts running through my head were of people immigrating to America and seeing the statue for the first time. I wondered what it meant to them. Freedom? Opportunity? Equality? I wondered if my great-grandpa came through New York in 1910 when he immigrated from Ireland. I was not thinking of when I had murdered a fictional video game character. But to each his (or her) own.
Dave: In fact, as I continued to explore the city, I kept referencing back to Grand Theft Auto 4. Times Square reminded me of it, the Statue of Liberty reminded me of it, even the map I kept looking at reminded me of it. Take a look at the center part of the GTA map above and compare that to the actual New York City map below. I spent over 50 virtual hours exploring a photo realistic version of New York years before I ever visited it. No wonder I never felt lost.
After seeing Ellis Island and getting off the boat in Battery Park, we made our way to the 9/11 memorial, which was within walking distance in the Financial District. Normally you need advance passes, but because February is understandably the slow season, we were able to see it without getting advance passes. The entire sight is very much still a construction zone, and seeing it first-hand was quite emotional. 11 years after the attacks it’s quite obvious that 9/11 still deeply affects the city. As we walked around, we saw grieving families, and we were reminded that it is not just a memorial site but a final burying place for many of those who died during the attacks.
Lisa: We also saw members of the United States military, who are still out there fighting and protecting our country because of what happened that day. Thank you to all of our service men and women.
Dave: I was incredibly impressed by the memorial itself. The two pools that were created in the place where the towers stood were very inspiring. The picture does not do the size of them justice, unfortunately. The design of the water falling into what appears to be a bottomless pit is very powerful.
Following our trip to the memorial, we took the subway back up toward the theater district. I was prepared for the worst. The New York subway is the subject of punchlines in many jokes about how much it smells and how confusing it is. While we did see the occasional homeless person, I didn’t find it any worse than public transportation in Chicago. In fact, I liked the digital displays in the cars, which made figuring out where you were that much easier. However, I couldn’t help but think of the episode of Louie when he rides the subway and encounters the classically trained musician and the homeless man. We pretty much had a polar opposite experience.
When we got off the subway, we headed for Grand Central Station and Pershing Square. Grand Central Station again felt incredibly familiar. Many movies scenes have been shot here, including Armageddon, North By Northwest, Eternal Sunshine, and Catch Me If You Can. I felt like I’d been here dozens of times, although I knew that this was the first time.
By this time we were quite hungry, and I had wanted to check out Kutz’s deli. Unfortunately, the schedule would not allow it as it was much too far out of the way. However, as luck would have it, we were quite close to Pershing Square. I had been told that the pancakes were the best in New York, and while I was sure we had missed breakfast, I was hoping their other food options would be good. To my surprise, they served pancakes all day. I’m happy to report that they lived up to their billing. While they weren’t the best I’ve ever had (that honor still belongs to the Hawaiian Style Cafe in Hawaii), they were the best food we had on the trip.
Lisa: I agree that Hawaii still holds the award for best breakfast ever, but the waffle at Pershing Square was excellent.
Dave: We had one more stop on our trip before we headed up to Central Park, and that was the Nintendo World Store. I have a lot to say about this place; therefore, I’m going to save it for another post. (It’s just TOO good to try to sum up here.) On the walk there and then on to Central Park, we saw two more famous movie locales. One was Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, which of course reminded me of The Godfather (and also the end of Grand Theft Auto 4 again). The second was Rockefeller Center. I know this has appeared in many much more famous movies, but when I saw it all I could think about was the end of Home Alone 2.
Dave: We budgeted extra time for Central Park once we realized what a nice day we would have, and that turned out to be a very good decision. The park was one of my favorite parts of the city. While the rest of the city is very busy and noisy, the park was the complete opposite. Some of the only wildlife we saw in the entire city was here. For example, when I got this shot of all the birds I thought back to Home Alone 2. Imagine the power of those birds if they were unleashed onto a Wet Bandit.
Lisa: Kudos to New York for setting aside the land for Central Park back in 1857. Good idea!
Dave: We spent over two hours just walking around the park, and even in the winter it was very pretty. At this point in the trip, I had begun to realize how much everything reminded me of movie scenes. I tried to find the bridge where Ed Norton got his ass kicked in 25th Hour. I was looking for the Ghostbusters building, and I thought I’d found it.
Lisa: Correction. He pointed to a building and said, “Isn’t that the Ghostbusters building?” I replied that it was not because it had two towers and the Ghostbusters building only had one. After that was proved with a quick search on my phone, we went on a search for the correct building.
Dave: As Ghostbusters is one of my favorite movies of all time, we made a point to walk by the building. Unfortunately, as you can tell by the picture, the building was under construction. I can neither confirm nor deny that Zool had made a reappearance. In fact, I was so busy staring up at the building that I missed the church that the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man destroys. You can barely make it out in the bottom part of the photo.
The next day we took a taxi back to the airport and drove over the Manhattan Bridge, the same one I remember flying a helicopter under while playing GTA. The cab driver was as crazy as everyone warned me New York cab drivers would be (swearing at other drivers in a foreign language), and we got caught in traffic due to a crash. In other words, my trip home ended much the same as it began. I’d never been to New York, but it felt very familiar when I was there.
I’d love to go back to New York, as I feel like we just scratched the surface. Let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions for our next trip (especially for food!).