New York City.  Finally.  It is, indeed, a hell of a town.

Yesterday started early.  We woke before dawn and bundled up.  Sam's Grams gave us a lift to the train station and we caught the 7:27 train to Grand Central.  Being on a train again brought back a lot of memories of London, Kuala Lumpur, and Osaka.  I watched out the windows with great anticipation as we passed through several small towns like Bedford Hills and Chappaqua.  As we got closer to the city, the buildings got denser and taller.  We passed through a tunnel and suddenly we're riding through Harlem.  Brick apartment buildings were scattered to the horizon; the city seemed to stretch on forever.  It wasn't long before we entered another tunnel and arrived at Grand Central Station.

Surreal was the word of the day, for sure.  Here I was, standing in arguably the most famous train station in the world, looking up at the windows and tile work with my own eyes.  It wasn't as busy as I expected, thanks to us arriving at a non-peak time, and I was able to wander the levels a bit with my camera.  Sam showed me the aural phenomenon that is Whispering Corners (a landing in the station where two people can face away from each other and talk into the tile and hear each other from quite a few feet away.  It reminded me a little of Center of the Universe in Tulsa.  I wonder if this was intentional or just a coincidence, much like the Center?  

Leaving the station, I was greeted with my first real look at the city...and it was busy.  People rushing everywhere on their important errands, trash piled up at the curbside, and Starbucks shops as far as the eye could see.  We took my friend Richard's recommendation to see the Chrysler Building lobby first (an art deco treasure) before walking down to the New York Public Library.  It wasn't open yet, but I got to see the iconic lions out front with their decorative Christmas wreaths.  Around the other side sat Bryant Park, with a few pop-up shops and an ice rink.  Sam tells me the fountain there was featured in the opening for Friends...but seeing as how I never watched that show I just nodded and smiled.  We walked a bit further and I suddenly found myself surrounded by the bright lights of Times Square.

Surreal, once more.  It was the day before New Year's Eve; police barricades were already set up in many areas and preparations were well underway for the celebration.  I stood in the center of the square, nearly by myself, looking up at advertisements and displays that cost more than I'll probably make in my lifetime.  Taxi cabs crawled around me and people continued their rushing about.  I took my small TARDIS out to get a shot of the square when I noticed a guy taking a picture with a worn little sock monkey.  He saw my TARDIS and we talked for a few moments; he was in the city on business and was taking a picture of the monkey for family back home in Oregon.  He was a Doctor Who fan and insisted on getting a few shots my traveling companion as well.  We parted ways as quickly as we met; Sam and I wandered from the square and headed to Rockefeller Plaza.

The walk from Times Square to Rockefeller was filled with more sights that littered my memory, including Radio City Music Hall & NBC Studios.  We rounded the corner to the plaza and my vision was filled with one of the largest trees I'd ever seen.  People were everywhere, taking photos and reveling in the giant Christmas tree.  Ice skaters glided around below us as we circled the plaza, looking into the Lego Store and the nearby Nintendo World store.  My heart was full of excitement as we went into 30 Rockefeller Plaza and rode the elevator up to the observation deck.  It was there that I saw the most amazing sight of the day:  Manhattan from 70 floors up.  We walked around the rooftop and could see to the horizon in all directions.  The Empire State Building and World Trade Center to the south, Central Park to the north, and all points in between.  It was stunning!

Once we descended back to the surface, we took the subway south to the Flatiron district.  The Flatiron building was my absolute must-see in the city; since I loved the Triangle Building in Pawhuska so much and had seen it my entire life, I was very interested in seeing the most famous triangular building in the world.  It didn't disappoint.  It looks impossibly thin from many angles & the architecture had many stylistic nuances that speak to the time it was built.  Like the rest of New York, it was surrounded by dozens of other buildings that, had they been built elsewhere, would get a lot more attention.  In New York, though, architecture suffers from an embarrassment of riches.  We had lunch (at a great little burger place called Schnipper's!) and walked over to The Highline, an old elevated train track that was converted to a park a few years ago.  This was probably the least-touristy place of the day, and even though it was winter time there were sections of green grass among the dormant bushes and trees.  It was here that I realized the shoes I had brought didn't have enough arch support for the day's walking and I developed a slight limp.

We walked back to the subway and went south to Hook and Ladder 8, the fire house in TriBeCa that was used in 'Ghostbusters'.  It was pretty quiet; aside from a painted logo on the sidewalk with a ghost you might not even know its' significance.  It is still in service, but I got a few shots of the building.  My geek heart was happy!  We continued walking south, seeing the new Trade Center up close, Trinity Church (with grave markers form the 1700s!) and eventually making it to Battery Park, which is as close as I got to the Statue of Liberty.  By now, the sun was setting and we needed to head back uptown to have dinner and see the play we had tickets for:  Waiting for Godot with Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart.  Suffice to say, it exceeded my expectations.  It definitely shows that those two are close friends in real life.  Sam, who isn't a fan of Beckett's work normally, was pleasantly surprised at how the play came to life.

We boarded the train back to Brewster at 10:22.  We spent thirteen hours touring the city.  I saw many of the sights I wanted to see, and a few that surprised me.  As I mentioned earlier, the entire day was filled with the surreality that I was in this famous city after dreaming about it for so long.  I felt blessed to experience it with Sam, and we both saw some parts of New York for the first time.  It's that kind of place.  I could spend the rest of my life in NYC and never have the same day twice.


Welcome to New York

Saturday morning started very early for me.  I've turned into more of a morning person over the last few years, but getting up at 4:15 is something I can never adjust to.  It does help to look forward to the reason you're getting up so much earlier than the sun, and I had a great reason.  I was about to board a plane for New York to meet up with my girlfriend Samantha, meet her family, and spend the next eight days experiencing the country in and around The Big Apple.  Even on just four hours of sleep, I was tremendously excited!

My flights were uneventful (just the way I like it) and I arrived at the regional airport in White Plains just before noon.  Seeing Sam's smiling face was like getting a shot of adrenaline; we embraced each other for what felt like forever.  Once we got my bag sorted, we walked outside and I met Sam's mother.  She is a charming woman and it was immediately obvious where Sam's generous spirit came from.  I was welcomed with open arms as we loaded into the family van and drove out to Brewster, the small town where I would be staying.  Although the drive was only about twenty minutes long, I already had a feeling for the countryside.  Trees and water reservoirs were plentiful and the houses all had that northeast charm I'd seen in books and on television.  When we turned into the drive to Sam's grandmother's house, I was immediately in love with the place.

The house is across the road from a canal that connects several water reservoirs, nestled in a forested area.  The three-story structure sits on three acres that are also populated with several small buildings, farming implements (both for decoration and practical use), and an assortment of old trucks in various states of restoration.  Walking into the home filled me with an immediate sense of belonging.  I met Grams and Sam's four year old niece, Avery, and toured the lovingly cluttered rooms that all spoke of several generations' worth of accumulation.  Weathered furniture sat in the spaces unoccupied by family crafts, World War II memorabilia, and the living needs for a space that regularly housed six people:  Grams, Avery, Sam's brother Caleb and his wife, Uncle John, and cousin Jason.  This didn't count others, like Jason's fiance or Sam's mom, who regularly spent a significant amount of time here.  It was a house of controlled chaos.  Sam's room was at the top of the staircase, and that's where I put my bags...right next to the husk of an old .50 caliber gun.

I mentioned earlier that I felt an immediate sense of belonging.  Not only did I get hugs when I walked in, but in a grandmotherly tradition I was offered food instantly (and constantly thereafter.)  Cookies were baked, snacks were purchased...they even got pizza for lunch so that my first meal was authentic New York Style pizza.  I took a short nap and was greeted afterwards with presents and a stocking from the family.  As the evening wore on, dinner was prepared (breakfast for dinner...a choice specific to me) and I met everyone, including Sam's father.  I had been pretty nervous about this meeting, considering our backgrounds were vastly different, but it actually went rather well and we found a few things to talk about.  We ended the evening by drinking and playing dominoes, another family tradition.  I lost miserably, but that hardly mattered.

Sunday was much less busy, but I got the chance to walk around the property and see some of the artifacts up close.  It was raining, so I didn't get a lot of good pictures, but I look forward to taking my camera out later in the week.  Tomorrow will be my first day in the city proper, and I am prepared to be overwhelmed.