Christmas in the Big Apple
By Wayne Hinshaw
For the Salisbury Post
– – Click here to view an audio slideshow of Hinshaw’s Christmas trip to New York. – – Beep, beep … beep beep,
The shrill sound of a policeman’s whistle,
People talking in all languages,
Auto tires squalling, noise, noise everywhere,
Beep, beep goes the taxi, the smell of hot dogs and sauerkraut,
Very tall buildings, unbelievably tall buildings … WOW,
Beep, beep, tickets, tickets, discount tickets,
Do you want diamonds, shrill whistles, wrist watches over here,
People people, so many of them,
Let me get a photo, beep, beep … beep beep.
It’s Christmas in New York City.
After standing on the side of railroad tracks in Aberdeen, Md., on a Friday evening with the thermometer at 28 degrees and chilly winds, my family boarded a train bound for New York City. My daughter Heather, son-in-law John, 7-month-old granddaughter Kathryn and wife Sammie, all bundled up in heavy coats and toboggans and gloves, finally got on the warm train. There was a perfectly good train station in Aberdeen, looking all warm with wooden pew-like benches, but of course it was locked up for the night, turning rail travelers away from its pleasantness.
The train was warm. Not warm, really; it was hot. Off come the coats and toboggans and gloves. To be comfortable, we needed shorts and no shirts for the ride. The ride was very nice, with no stress of driving in traffic. With the train bumping and swaying along, the ride would have been hypnotic except for the thoughts of New York City on the other end of the two-hour and 15-minute ride into wonderland.
When we reached Pennsylvania Station in New York, the serene peacefulness of the ride ended. We grabbed our bags and ran from the train. Even if we weren’t really running, we were walking faster than I have ever walked. Everyone was running, it seemed. Where could we be running to? Through the station, past shops and vendors, we hurried to the upper-level sidewalk. When we reached the cold night air of the city, we were surrounded by noise and people. Then I saw where we were running. It was to stand in a line of 100 people trying to hail a taxi. It was all one big whirl of movement, with flashing kaleidoscopic lights all around. One man said he would drive us anywhere we wanted for $25 if we would just get in his black car. It didn’t look like a taxi, but one group piled into his Ford. We waited for a yellow city cab.
We hurried into the taxi. Before I settled into the back seat of the cab, we had traveled a block, swerving to miss at least two crashes. Our driver spoke very broken English, but he knew where the “W” Hotel was located in Times Square and was determined to get us there in world-record speed.
On Saturday morning, it was time to attack the city. From our 29th floor window, I could see a weather gauge that read 22 degrees. The gauge didn’t tell me it was windy, but I was soon to discover that for myself. Out on 47th Street and Broadway at Times Square, we purchased tickets for a Gray Line loop tour of the city on a double-decker open-air bus. There was some protection from the cold under a domed canopy that was way too scratched up to take photos through. Wearing my toboggan and gloves, I chose the open-air ride. Cold. It was cold. As we zipped around the city, we were warned not to stand up on the upper deck because of low-hanging stoplights. My reflexes made me duck at every stoplight. I thought ducking was the best approach when I saw that the lights were only 8-10 inches above my head, with me moving at 35 mph. The tour guide only had to tell me once to keep low. Oh, yes, we also were told not to reach out and touch the other buses as we passed them. I didn’t attempt to touch a passing bus, but I believe that it was so close I not only could have touched the bus, I could have touched the second seat from the side.
The tour was great and informative. The guide told us over and over just how expensive it was to rent an apartment in New York. He warned us about where not to go in the city, and he wouldn’t pressure us, but he did mention how much he appreciated all tips as we got off the bus. He reminded us about the tips at each stop just to keep it fresh in our minds.
When we reached the Empire State Building, we piled off the bus for a ride to the top of the world. Son-in-law John was pretty smart on buying tickets to the Empire building online and getting express-line tickets. There was a line over a block long waiting to enter the building. With the express tickets, we were waved on past all the lines to the security check. It was going pretty well until we had to take off the heavy coats, toboggans and gloves at the metal detector. All cell phones, belts, cameras and pocketbooks had to go through the X-ray machines. I was cruising through until my new knee replacement set off the metal detector. They stopped the line of hundreds, with me in front. I explained that I had a new knee replacement, but I couldn’t show him my card from Dr. Humble because it was in my heavy coat that had gone through the X-ray machine. After a few minutes and a talk on a walkie-talkie, they waved me past. When I got to the end of the X-ray machine to gather all my personal items, I didn’t see my cell phone in the container. I asked the attendant about the phone, but she didn’t have time to respond to me. Then I saw my cell phone on top of a file cabinet behind the counter. I walked around behind the counter, collected my phone and moved on.
The view from the Empire State Building was breathtaking, and the cold wind up there left me breathless.
Our pilgrimage to Rockefeller Center on Saturday night was a real adventure. Because of the cold, we hailed a cab for the short ride. We should have realized how short it would be when the cab driver told us we would be better off to walk than for him drive us. He would take us, he said, but he couldn’t get very close to the center. After a short ride, the cab driver said he was as close as he could get. There were thousands of people on 5th Avenue. Maybe there were tens of thousands, all walking, pushing and complaining about the crowd. We got into the crowd in a single-file line, and the crowd moved us down the sidewalk like a big wave in the ocean. We couldn’t see anything, and we couldn’t stop. One woman behind me in the “mosh pit” of tourists said, “This is terrible; this is how the lady at Walmart was crushed to death last Christmas.” Another man simply said, ” … All these people.”
Well, those was not his exact words. He used adjectives that would make your ears burn in hell. We swept by Rockefeller Center and the Christmas tree.
On the way back to the hotel, we decided to take the cab driver’s advice and walk. As we went down one street, we saw that both sides were lined with jewelry stores.
The decorations on the light poles were diamonds. I said to Sammie we must be in the diamond district. Out from behind a pole popped a man in a long black coat and hat.
“Do you want to buy diamonds?” he asked.
I decided not to buy from him.
Times Square was as crowded as it will be on New Year’s Eve when they drop the famous ball to signal in the new year. People of all sorts were taking pictures. Everyone seemed happy and excited about being in Times Square. Broadway was closed off last summer and turned into an area with chairs and tables, creating more space for people. David Letterman joked that the mayor “took a perfectly good street and turned it into a picnic area.” One of the most interesting groups at the Square was made up of about 50 men and women dressed as Santas. Some carried signs saying they were “Jews for Santa.” They gathered for a group photo and lots of cheers.
On Sunday morning, we were able to return to Rockefeller Center and see the Christmas tree and skating rink. We could see all the decorations that we missed the night before in the crush of people. The windows in Saks Department store and other stores were wonderfully colorful. We walked along 6th Avenue past the Cathedral of St. Patrick and Trump Center to Central Park. We took a peaceful horse-and-wagon tour of Central Park as rain started to fall.
A few hours later, we boarded the train for the ride back to Aberdeen, Md., and the end of a fabulous weekend with the family in New York City at Christmas.