Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I'll Take Manhattan!

No telling how many times I have been to Manhattan; I've lost count over the years. My first trip was at age 10 in 1958, and it was memorable. I can still feel the thrill of our family arriving at Penn Station on the train and loading into a taxi for the ride over to the Hotel Roosevelt across from Grand Central Station.

Fast forward 48 years and our family's recent weekend in Manhattan. With two young children in tow, we flew up from RDU to LaGuardia rather than subjecting ourselves to the incessant delays of Amtrak, even though the train would have been a nostalgic and proper way to enter New York City.

American Eagle managed to get us there only 70 minutes behind schedule (well, at least the flight operated, and delays are easier to swallow when not on high pressure business trips).

On my many visits to the Big Apple since 1958 I've had all variety of experiences, too many of them discouraging and challenging. Gridlock and urban chaos; hardened New Yorker attitudes and grim demeanors; ubiquitous crazy street people and sometimes lawless streets; garbage strikes and flooded subways; often incompetent and sometimes mean-spirited taxi drivers; dingy, overpriced hotel rooms and nonexistent hotel service: All and more have chipped away at my generally optimistic excitement at entering the greatest city in the United States.

Thus experienced, I was nervous taking my two young children for their first look, and only realized why when the cab from LGA entered the tunnel from Queens: because I wanted them to like the City and be as excited about it as I had been on my first trip so many years ago.

I need not have worried. It was, hands down, my best visit to New York City since I was a child.

We disembarked from our surprisingly clean taxicab at the Doubletree Suites Times Square and paid our very polite driver. My HHonors points-earned room turned out to have a knock-out view of Times Square from the forty-something floor, and the kids (and my wife and I) were enthralled.

The staff at the hotel was competent, polite, and kind without fail. The property was clean, and when I experienced a problem with their Internet service, the Manager On Duty came personally to our room to fix it and then comped it for the entire weekend for my trouble.

Saturday morning we had a leisurely breakfast on the house at the hotel and then cabbed it over to the Empire State Building, hoping to beat the crowds on a beautiful sunlit day. I worried that our 9:30 AM arrival to the ESB would necessitate a long wait, but we were efficiently whisked right up to the 80-something floor main lookout and then had no wait for the 102nd floor elevator.

Could this be the New York of my past? Things seemed to be working, and the people were so nice. This couldn't be Manhattan.

On entering the ancient and tiny elevator, I was amused to see that it had an old hand-crank manual control complete with an attendant to work the lever. The kindly old gentlemen, born and raised in Brooklyn and a lifelong New Yorker, asked my 8 year old if he wanted to operate the elevator on the way up.

And did my son ever jump at that chance, and operate it, he did!

Try to imagine the thrill for a young boy who can say for the rest of his life (and certainly the next week brag to his fellow second graders) that he operated the elevator in the Empire State Building all the way up to the 102nd floor. That moment alone was worth the entire cost of the weekend.

Once at the top we were astonished to find that we shared the view with perhaps ten other people. In all my trips to that venerable top floor, the crowds have been jostling for position around the fantastic 360 degree views in the narrow confines of the 102nd floor, making it difficult to get to a piece of glass anywhere for a good look.

We, however, had the luxury of pausing and pondering every grand view from the Hudson River all the way around to the Hudson again. It was a rare private tour of one of the world's best lookouts.

How, I wondered, as we plunged downward in the ESB's high speed elevators, could it get any better than that?

We made our way next to the Circle Line boat dock and with no wait were the last passengers to board for the 3 hour round-Manhattan cruise. After an emotional run-by of the Statue of Liberty, we went the distance around the island, something my wife and I had never done. I do not have the time to describe how interesting it was, but I highly recommend it. Best of all, the kids loved it, too.

And everyone on board was pleasant and nice and helpful. Could these be New Yorkers? REAL New Yorkers? Indeed they were.

From there we walked to a nearby delicatessen and enjoyed a typical New York deli lunch, including a real NY bagel and cream cheese--my son's favorite treat. The people behind the counter were funny and fast and extremely nice to us.

Could this really be New York? I thought.

Later in the afternoon we rode a subway or two (easy to use, clean, nice people who offered direction to the correct platforms) and stood in the center of the Grand Concourse of Grand Central Station, watching the passing crowds and enjoying the great pulse of the city.

By then I was having trouble grasping that everything seemed to work, and that people were so nice. What happened to the growling, shoving New Yorkers of old?

But why was I complaining? My kids were LOVING it, and so were we.

That night we bought last-minute Orchestra section tickets (a mere six rows back and purchased through Ticketmaster, not a scalper) for the evening performance of Disney's BEAUTY & THE BEAST. An old and fat--and very funny--Donny Osmond guest-starred as the swaggering Gaston at the incomparable and intimate Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, one of the architectural gems of Broadway. It was a riveting performance for all four of us, and the pre-performance and intermission Champagne in the gorgeous lobby made my wife and me feel like adults for a few moments.

Ironically, the marvelous Orchestra seats in the heart of Broadway were a mere $110 each compared to $125 each for comparable seats at the much less intimate Raleigh, North Carolina venue two weeks later for another Disney show, THE LION KING.

On Sunday, after another leisurely breakfast at the wonderful Doubletree Suites Times Square, we went uptown for a long walk through Central Park before heading back to the airport for our return flight to Raleigh (forgettable, as flights should be).

My kids loved New York; my wife and I loved it; and for the life of me I can't get over the feeling that the Manhattan we experienced in 2006 was darn close to the glorious 1958 Manhattan that lives in my memory.

Certainly closer, anyway, than any trip I have made since.


Blogger kawachi said...

As a former New Yorker, there is nothing more pleasurable to me than taking someone to New York for the first time. To see them "bug-eyed" at all of the wonder brings me great joy.
I love your blog and have turned on many people in my office (I am a travel agent) to it.

11/03/2006 9:24 AM  
Blogger William A. Allen III said...

There's nothing more exciting than Manhattan. I have loved the City since I was a kid.

Thank you for your comments.

11/09/2006 9:23 PM  
Blogger Rockety said...

Manhattan turned around during the Clinton boom and hasn't really changed much since except that, unlike in the 90s, you seldom see people smiling: the economy is so important in the final analysis. Smiling is infinitely tougher in the Bush era, of course. I'm not sure which NY I prefer since I kind of miss the old craziness, but it's great either way. I think NY's the world's most interesting city and there's certainly an energy here (I live in NY) that I've never encountered anywhere else. I first came here at ten from your neck of the woods and I knew then that I would never be happy living anywhere else, and I wasn't (and now I am). For the person with a range of interests, there's no place remotely as rich with convenient experiences. And the pace here is faster than anywhere I've ever known, which is exhilarating beyond imagining.

12/30/2006 9:43 PM  

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