Day 156-161 • Aug 4-9, 2012 • New York, NY to Boise, ID
After completing the chronicle of the cycling portion of the journey in the last blog entry, I slumped over the keyboard, unconscious, my forehead hitting the Enter key. The blogging was harder work than the cycling. As I wipe more than three months’ worth of drool from the keyboard, I’m ready to finish this thing off.
Hotel Pennsylvania was only a couple blocks from Times Square so we spent a lot of time there. Bright lights and a mass of humanity, like Vegas without the gambling. Zoe commissioned a street artist to do a caricature. I was glad we decided against doing the caricature at the National Zoo in DC—the NYC version was better and cheaper.
Of course we had to check out the Empire State building, again just a few blocks from our hotel. It’s a cool building that afforded a panoramic, if hazy, view of the city. But the real experience with this iconic tourist destination was that of cattle. Don’t do it if you’re claustrophobic or dislike people. And don’t fall prey to the hawkers out front offering special prices. Our tickets did get us in, but they were especially expensive. Just for us.
We thought we were being clever hopping on one of those double-decker tour buses that circle the island and let you hop on and off wherever you want. A great way to relax and learn about some of the sites, we thought. And Zoe had been wanting to ride on one the whole trip. Unfortunately we picked the one tour company that appeared to have a single bus in their pool. You could hop off whenever you wanted but you might never see another bus to hop back on. After an extended stay in Chinatown we just stayed on the bus until we got back to the hotel.
I loved the subway. When it was time to head to the Theatre District to see a Broadway show, I convinced the girls to take it. It got us there reasonably quickly but for the roughly twenty blocks we traveled, a cab would have been a wash in both time and cost. The subway made more sense when we traveled all the way to Battery Park to pick up the boat to visit the Statue of Liberty. The rest of the time we either walked or took a cab. Tonight, Wicked was on the agenda. I’m not a big fan of musicals but this show was truly outstanding. We caught only one show because of the cost and our limited time in the city but I wish we’d done another.
For our boat ride to see the statue and Ellis Island, we had better weather than Zoe and I had on our ferry ride in. Lady Liberty was looking stately and no worse for a little bit of drizzle and fog, but I thought the museum at Ellis Island was a lot more interesting. Both provided Zoe some more NP passport and Junior Ranger opportunities.
While we were in NYC, our friends and former New Yorkers Ellen, Cameron, and Lucy were vacationing on Cape Cod and thought they might pop down to meet us. Though nearby, the logistics of just “popping down” to NYC were unfortunately a little too much so we didn’t get to see them. But they did treat us to dinner at one of their (and now our) favorite restaurants— The View. It revolves high atop the Hilton in the Theatre District, offering a 360 degree view of Manhattan while we sipped some of the best, and most expensive, G&Ts we’d ever tasted. Zoe’s Sprite was equally good and slightly more reasonably priced. While we dined, we got a great view of one of the biggest thunderstorms of the entire trip. Watching harrowing weather while eating was nothing new to Zoe and I, but this time was a little more relaxed and a lot less immersive. It felt more like old times when Zoe witnessed lightning striking the top of a nearby building. We were glad we didn’t try to cram any other activity into this evening—the View is a place you won’t visit very often, but when you do you’ll want to linger as long as possible.
Of course no trip to NYC is complete without a stop at the American Girl factory. At least that was the verdict of Zoe and my mom, who inspected every inch of that place. I was just happy these are not porcelain dolls with the creepy, imploring gaze or I probably would have gone out one of the windows. It was an amazing, miniature experience with doll makeup artists, hair stylists, cafes, even a doll MD on premise. And lots of inventory to make your own.
For our last day in NYC, we had some time to kill before our train departed in the afternoon. We decided to knock Central Park off our list. Having honed our tourist skills in the last several days, we nailed this one by renting a pedi-cab and driver to bike us around the (very big) park. Earlier in the week we would have been some of the poor saps who fall prey to the strangely unregulated pedi-cab industry and wind up owing $400 at the end of the ride. It seems pedi-cabbies can charge by any metric they want—time, per ride, or per block, and often aren’t real specific before the ride begins. If you wind up in one of the per-block cabs you might be in for some sticker shock. With some NYC experience under our belts and, most importantly, some good fortune, we wound up in a flat-rate cab and had a great time with a funny and very knowledgeable cabbie. It’s the best way to see the park if your time is limited. The cab only held three people so I got to ride alongside on a rented mountain bike.
Zoe and I had never been to NYC. We had a blast and no doubt impressed with our tourist savvy. I’d say NYC met or exceeded my expectations except for one thing: laundry. All across the nation we’d never been denied a coin-op laundry wherever and whenever we needed it. For a city that never sleeps, I was surprised to find that laundries don’t open until 8 or 9 AM—I saw no sign of the venerable 24-hour Coin-Op. And we were staying in the Garment District. I come by this conclusion with some amount of authority, having left the hotel at 6 AM and wandered the entire width of the island looking for one.
Up to our arrival in NYC we and our support crew availed ourselves of nearly every mode of transportation available: Airplane, subway, light rail, ferry, trike, bus, foot, auto. In New York we added a bunch of taxi rides including the pedi-cab. Now for the trip home we add perhaps the coolest mode of all: a full size passenger train. I was a kid about Zoe’s age the last time I rode a train for anything more than a scenic joyride.
I think we were all a little underwhelmed by the first leg of our trip, from NYC to Chicago. This was a commuter train and there was a businesslike dreariness to the experience. The train was small and lacked certain amenities, the staff was indifferent, and the scenery was a tad monotonous. We’d ridden through plenty of similar terrain on the trikes, but somehow this seemed less interesting.
In Chicago we changed trains to a spacious double-decker model, the California Zephyr, which improved the ride dramatically. We enjoyed good dinners—much better than what you may or may not remember in the dim and distant past of airline travel—while the landscape rolled past in the setting sun. And while not The View, we even enjoyed a few good G&Ts. My mom hopped the train in Denver and was home before it began rolling again. It was great to hang with Mom in NYC and the ride home.
Leaving Denver we got a surprise that can only be truly appreciated by the Junior Ranger in all of us. We had stumbled upon one of only a couple days in the summer when the National Park Service rides along to provide geological and biological commentary while crossing the Rockies. A couple of volunteer biologists hung out in the observation car, pointing out all kinds of interesting tidbits while we enjoyed a view of the Rockies only available by train. Even better, they had an entire Junior Ranger program with workbook, stamps, and badges designed around the California Zephyr and the trip through the Rockies. Who knew? One of the highlights of the train ride was Moffat Tunnel. At over 9200 feet it is (currently) the highest point on an active rail line in the US, representing 6.2 miles of darkness. It was financed in 1928 as part of a deal to pipe water from the west slope to the front range. Does that make Denver the LA of the Rockies?
The end of the line for us was Salt Lake City. Though in what seemed a sketchy neighborhood, the Prius was waiting, intact, where Lisa had left it. When we were ready to grab our baggage, there it was, completely intact. This train thing was working out well. I crammed all of the gear in the Prius with millimeters to spare. Even though I carefully calculated the volume of gear and capacity of the Prius, (barely) convincing Lisa of my accuracy and attention to detail, I think I dodged a bullet on this one.
How many of you Boiseans out there have visited the Golden Spike National Historic Site? None? Well we hadn’t either but we thought about it every time we made the trip between Boise and SLC. This time, however, we had the incentive of one final Junior Ranger experience. The train had dropped us off early in the day, we couldn’t resist. It turns out the route required to pick up the site isn’t dramatically slower than the usual I-84 path and, not being on an interstate, is way more interesting. If you’re a train buff (and who isn’t?), it’s a no-brainer. They have full-size, fully-functional replicas of the train engines that met when the Golden Spike was laid. They have volunteer engineers and firemen that operate them. It’s really very cool. And, of course, one final Junior Ranger program for Zoe et. al. to complete. We scoured every inch of that monument to turn in one final, glorious, Junior Ranger workbook. Zoe had her final swearing-in as awestruck visitors looked on. It was an emotional day in the National Park System.
On the way home from SLC we slipped into the recent reality of the intermountain west: heavy smoke from one of the worst wildfire seasons in history. It made for some amazing sunsets but wasn’t so good on the lungs.
Before we left on the trip, Zoe was anxious to get her ears pierced. The prospect of thrice-daily cleanings and the risk of infection while on the road made it easy to trump that idea. Now that the ride was over I didn’t have any more excuses. Within a couple of weeks after returning to Boise, Zoe was at the mall, grimacing as her ears were being pierced. The ride was over and was already fading into the background. All that’s left are a zillion memories and some holes waiting to hold those bicycle-chain earrings she bought on that hot, dusty trail in Missouri.