Monday, May 2, 2011

CLASSIC TRIP - New York 1999, Part 1

UPDATE: 5-2-11, I had other plans for articles this week, but they'll keep.  It seems like a good week to celebrate the great city of New York instead.

Let's go back to 1999 to our first trip to the Big Apple.  Standard disclaimer, prices, events, and other items are accurate for 1999-things have changed...

In our travels around the country, one place intimidated me...New York. I heard all the horror stories about the crime, the filth, rude people, crowds, traffic, etc. My old boss (from Brooklyn) told me about how he got a flat tire and while he was changing it, someone started to steal the rear tire. You see movies like Taxi Driver and Mean Streets and have to wonder.

My son, on the other hand, had no such emotional baggage. He always wanted to see this city. He wanted to go up to the top of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and perhaps most of all to ride the Cyclone in Coney Island.

A couple of years ago, we decided to take a fall trip to the northeast corner of the country to see the fall colors. Since New York was only a few hours to the south, we decided to spend a couple of days there just to see what it was like, give Tim his time there, and continue on our way.

The short story? My illusions of the city were shattered. None of my preconceptions held any water at all. We loved it and made it a point to come back in the spring for a longer trip. Now the long story...

Our flight into Manchester, New Hampshire arrived two hours late. A rather long drive finally deposits us at the Susse Grand Chalet in Stamford, Connecticut at four o’clock in the morning. Dead tired, we happily climb into bed.

(to see what I think of Susse Chalet, my review is at )
We wake up in time to catch an 11:00 Metro North train into Grand Central Station. 35 minutes later, we exit into Grand Central’s beautiful lobby. Being our first time in New York, we can’t help ourselves and quicky run out the door for our first glimpse of Manhattan’s famous skyline. A sense of vertigo envelops us...we have no idea where we are...and we see the familiar sight of the Chrysler building and the Met Life building.

It’s time to head back in to continue on our way to Brooklyn and Coney Island. We set ourselves up for quite a challenge. The MTA’s web site says that 33 of the city’s subway stations are accessible. Armed with our $4 fun passes (a one day pass that gives you unlimited rides on the city’s buses and subways), we feel that nothing can stand in our way.

Plotting this out on the excellent, free subway map we got at the information booth, we see that the B line (which goes to Coney Island) stops at the Lexington Ave. station near Central Park and also has an access symbol on it. The 4�5�6 lines go from Grand Central to the Lexington Ave. station. It’s decided to take the 4 up to Lexington and then switch over to the B.

Two things come up wrong with this plan. First is almost immediate and has to do with looking at our map a little closer. Although the Lexington Ave. station is accessible for the B line, the 4�5�6 line part of the station isn’t. Whoops. We cheat a little and take the escalator up to the B line station.

Once on the B train, problem number two crops up, although compared to the first problem is relatively minor. The B train turns out to be a local, stopping at every station along the way. It will take forever to reach Coney Island. On the other hand, we occasionally see a D train, the Coney Island express, stopping across the platform from us. Quickly, we decide to transfer at the West 4th Street station and continue on.
Eventually, we get to Coney after a scenic ride through Brooklyn (the D line goes elevated here). Brooklyn looks a lot like East L.A. The Coney Island station was built in 1919 and is certainly showing its age. It’s dark, dank, even a bit scary looking inside. But it has that very welcome elevator.

We emerge onto the corner of Stillwell and Surf, directly across from our lunch destination, Nathan’s. Nathan’s has been here for eons selling their world famous hot dogs. We grab a few and are not disappointed. They are very tasty. This Nathan’s is also very popular for its seafood. Some of the locals there swore by the fried clams. This bit of legendary New York cuisine sets us back only $10 for the three of us.
Unfortunately, Coney Island’s famous amusement parks are closed for the season. Tim & I were hoping for a ride on Cyclone, revered as one of the world’s top coasters. No ride today, only pictures.
Time to take the D back to Manhattan to the Herald Square station, which is accessible (but the elevators are very hard to find and no one there seems to know where they are). A short walk over to Grand Central and we hop back on the 4 train southbound to the Brooklyn Bridge. This time access works as planned and the elevator deposits us directly across from the walkway over the bridge. Here we get an unforgettable walk with great views over this old, historic span.

The bridge is clothed in deepening darkness. It’s to return to Grand Central and catch a Connecticut bound train home.

Scroll down below for Part 2...
Copyright 1999 - Darryl Musick

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