5,4,3,2,1… Blast Off!

New York City is made up of five boroughs, four of which – Brooklyn, Queens, Richmond, the Bronx – compose crinkled lily pads about the basking trout of Manhattan. – New York Panorama (Federal Writers’ Project of the WPA)

Who knew that simply going to a movie could make a huge impact on your life? That’s exactly what’s happened to my daughter Sarah. No, I’m not talking about the earth-shattering concept of unlimited popcorn or gallon-sized sodas. While she was home this last summer, we went to the local theater to see a flick. I have to confess, I don’t remember the name of the movie, but in it the characters were in New York’s Times Square for New Year’s Eve. As the scene unfolded on the big screen, Sarah leaned over to me and said, ‘That’s on my bucket list’. Really?! Two weeks later, our room was reserved and our tickets purchased. Look out, Big Apple, the girls from Chi-Town were comin’ for New Year’s!

s_n32_RTR2VSB0.jpgWe stepped onto the streets of New York on a busy friday evening in the middle of Korea Town. With New Year’s eve the next night, people were getting a jump on the festivities which made an already hectic friday night that much more busy and fun. Having many (and I mean, many) Korean barbecue restaurants at our disposal, we opted for a more vegetarian friendly menu and headed to a Thai restaurant. Taan Thai fit the bill perfectly. With a cold Singha beer, spicy basil fried rice and steamed veggies we planned our attack on the city.

Our first morning began with a 1.5 mile walk up 5th avenue to Central Park for a run. We passed Rockefeller Center and the Empire State building on our way and when we saw the horse-drawn carriages decked out for the holidays, we knew we were close. Central Park is a wonder. Set amidst the crowded city is a magnificent 843 acre playground complete with zoo, museum, castles and lakes. A leisurely run had us circling the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir on the last day of 2011. It’s no big surprise to anyone who knows me that I’m an outdoorsy kind of gal, but to put something like this in the middle of Manhattan? Brilliant. Our 3.5 mile run through this iconic park was exhilarating!

After our walk back to the hotel, we showered and got geared up for our next experience…the New York subway. To sum up, the subway is dirty, loud and old but efficient and cheap. Watching the classic New York subway tile whizz by us, we felt like typical New Yorkers but here’s an atypical fact: I’ve ridden on the subway in Tokyo, Washington D.C., London and now New York, but never in Chicago. *shrugs* Go figure.

The subway was kind enough to drop us at Cortlant street as we headed for the most difficult part of our trip. Ground Zero. Everyone knows exactly where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001. I was starting my very first day of teaching that day and as I stared in disbelief at the news broadcasts coming from the twin towers I remember being confused, scared and incredulous. Now, I stood between the footprints of these mighty towers where so many died. The memorial itself is simple, really and the calm serenity of the falling water into to squares below reminds us that water is life although the sharp sting of death still hangs in the air. There’s an odd sense of calm even though the memorial sits nestled amongst the tall buildings and rush of a busy city. My take-away: life goes on. remember and persevere.

Have I ever mentioned how awesome technology can be? Well, here’s an example: I posted on Facebook that Sarah and I were headed for Chinatown for dim sum. A few moments later, my cousin from New Jersey whom I haven’t seen in about 10 years was shopping in the Soho district only a few blocks from where we were. After a delicious meal at Vegetarian Dim Sum House, we found ourselves chatting with my cousin on a street corner in Chinatown. Um, amazing.

A quick subway ride back to our hotel had us napping in the afternoon for our long and hectic evening ahead. We had a couple of tacos at Maui Tacos and headed up 6th avenue toward the big event. Turns out, nothing we could have done would have prepared us for what happened in the next 5 hours. Walking up 6th avenue to central park south, we turned west to 7th street and began to ‘inch’ our way toward 1 Times Square. After several police security checks we ended up at 54th st and 7th avenue to watch the ball drop with 1.5-2 million of our closest friends. Police feed spectators into pens that are 1 block long and then when people file as close as they can to the front, they allow those in the pen behind them to file in back, thus cramming 2 million people into 10 or so blocks. The same happens on Broadway, but we opted for 7th since it’s a straight shot to view the ball. Broadway veers off, so screens are necessary for folks to see the action. No way. If I came all this way, I’m not going to watch it on a big screen. I could do that at home.

We hit our final mark about 8 o’clock and then it was just a waiting game. We chatted with people around us and it was clear that the night was extremely festive… and warm. It was almost 46 degrees that evening and the unusually warm weather had many more revelers than in years past. We could clearly see the ball and the big screen that had the entertainment, but all we heard was the people around us. Occasionally there would be hoots and hollers but the real fun was on the hour, the big screen had a mini countdown. ’4 hours ’til midnight! 3 hours ’til midnight! 2 hours ’til midnight’ and so on.

And then, it happened. 5,4,3,2,1… HAPPY NEW YEAR! It was like the streets exploded. people were hanging out of windows, jumping up and down, kissing, yelling, throwing confetti, the list goes on and on. Sarah and I were filming on our phones and staring in awe at the insanity that surrounded us. Fireworks burst from 1 Times square as the 2012 sign lit up and New York went absolutely bat sh*t insane! Sarah and I literally had no words for each other (hard to believe, I know) as we stood with gaping mouths as people hugged and celebrated. We turned around behind us to watch fireworks explode over Central Park and continued to watch the spectacle before us for the next 20 minutes.

With nothing but pure adrenaline fueling us, we walked down 7th towards Times Square to get a little closer to the main stage. It was absolutely electric. Winding our way through the crowds back to our hotel had us feeling happy and sated. We watched the new year ring in in Chicago, but honestly, every New Year’s eve from now on will pale in comparison to our first time in NYC for NYE.

As if the night’s activities weren’t enough, we still had another day. Rich’s cousin, Hollis is attending school in New York and we had made plans to meet with her while we were there. We met at the famous Carnegie Deli for sandwiches and conversation. Turns out, Carnegie Deli makes more than sandwiches, they make mountains of meat! It’s not unusual for you to receive a pound or more of meat on any given sandwich. They pile it high and even stab it with a skewer so it doesn’t fall apart. Wowwee! Being vegetarians, Sarah opted for the greek salad and I had two, giant scoops of egg salad on wheat, but really, why even bother with the bread? It was measly and almost comical, but fun and delicious.

Our next adventure had Sarah even more slack-jawed than the stroke of midnight revelry. Times Square itself. We hadn’t actually been in the thick of things the night before, but even as close as we were, nothing compares to the square itself. Lights, people, action! I’m sure that on any given day of the year the square is magical and electric. Stories-high billboards flank each side and the onslaught of activity to the eye is startling. Sarah stood amazed and silent at the experience. Yes, the viewing of one little movie all those months ago had culminated into a life-changing experience for Sarah. All she could say was ‘This is so cool!’ over and over again. This is one reason why I travel and why we’ve made a point of traveling with our kids. To have your child in awe of their surroundings and take it all in with child-like wonderment? Not much better life experience than that. All I will say about Times Square is that it’s exactly like the Grand Canyon. Yes, *exactly* like it. You can not know how amazing it is unless you see it in person. Words and pictures will never do it justice. Trust me on this one.

We rounded out our trip with a Broadway show. Oddly enough, we went all the way to New York to see ‘Chicago’. We’re big fans of the movie and thought the show would be great too. We were right. The music, dancing and singing were all classically Broadway’s best and we left the Ambassador Theater with toes tapping and jazz licks running through out heads. On to a little post show nosh at Sangria 46. We’re big fans of tapas and this place didn’t disappoint. Traditional spanish flair and tastes were the fare for the evening and we completely enjoyed reliving our trip over marinated olives and patatas aioli.

An early morning shuttle had us back at LaGuardia in no time at all. The city was clearly still in a haze from the weekend’s festivities and we were still in a senses drunken stooper ourselves. New York is the world’s fourth largest city and the sights, sounds, smells and excitement are bigger than life as well. The hustle and bustle are invigorating and if you like fast-pace experiences, this is the place to be. It’s hard, fantastic, gritty, honest and rude. We’ve been to Tokyo and while Chicago is a ‘big city’ we were still amazed that NY seems to be a big city on crack! Be that as it may, our trip was all too short and believe me when I say we’ll be back to see the sights we didn’t get to in our 60 some hours. Thanks, New York. It’s been a hoot!

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