Well today is an auspicious occasion, I am heading into Manhattan to meet two of my relatives from England who are here on holiday, I search for a legal parking space but none are available, so I park with dozens of others in an illegal spot and hope for the best. I walk to the station, get my ticket and a coffee, and let me tell you it’s cold. I mean I remember days in December warmer than this, luckily the train comes in a few minutes. I get on and have to stand in the crowded rush hour train, across from me an Asian guy devours a bagel with cream cheese like it’s his last meal. He takes big bites while texting and drinking his coffee off the floor, a tradition inspired by the lack of cup holders on board. A good thing I guess because trains are sticky enough. I’m late because of my parking ordeal and I’m really annoyed that we have to buy a permit to park, even the outer mall parking lot nearby is being taken over as railroad parking. More money for the county, parking permits or tickets for that matter and more regulation of free space and time. When the revolution begins, I’ll be on the front lines.
There’s a couple of cute moms with kids a few rows away and every few minutes a chorus of loudly repeated words like a yes/no fight erupts between the kids causing the moms to shush them over and over. The mom facing me is wearing jeans and shiny black boots, she’s got a cute smile and I like the way she plays with her hair as she talks to her friends. I catch her blue eyes noticing me noticing her and she reddens a bit, enjoying the attention. More people get on as we stop at stations, they still haven’t checked tickets yet. Maybe a free ride this time for us standing anyway. The kids are fussing now and cute mom hugs her daughter, a cute moment…it would be a great painting if I had a photo to work from. We slowly come in to Jamaica Station, some people will get off here but I don’t think I’ll get a seat anyway. The train leaves the station and we are speeding along now, soon I will feel the descent of the train into the tunnels under the water, into Manhattan’s underground catacomb of rail systems.
I get off the train with a sense of urgency, I know I’ll be late but the traffic makes getting a cab impossible, I mean the line is long for one thing so I walk at a brisk pace to Sofitel on W 44th St, to find Sharon standing outside waiting for me. She quickly takes me inside to find my cousin Mark who was trying to ring our house to see where I was. Then after a trip back upstairs to get a jacket we sit down in the lobby to catch up on things, I haven’t seen them since our first meeting in 2005 when my family and I went to England and France at an all too brief family reunion party. We leave the beautiful hotel, which is nicer than any I’ve ever seen, and begin a trek in the cold windy city greeted with brief snow showers and then raindrops. This is hardly what I wished for them on their first trip to New york, but they might as well discover now that the Big Apple never quite lets you forget who’s boss. It’s like a man once said… you come to New York the first time and she beats you up some and you run away with your tail between your legs, then you lick your wounds and you come back, because you learn to love it.
I’ve never done this before so I’m a little nervous, I’d like to be a wealth of information but mostly I travel by the seat of my pants, it’s better that way…you find things you might have missed otherwise. But these folks have travelled a long way so every minute counts, and I don’t want to let them down. We walk to Grand Central Station to catch the subway to the Village, all the way chattering like magpies about everything, getting to know each other. The funny thing is I feel like I know them already, I might be nervous about doing a good job but I’m totally comfortable with them as people, they are very likable and kind and we get on thick as thieves from the start. They are well travelled but a little unsure about New York, the sheer size of it is daunting to them and I can understand, I’ve been to the city dozens of times but still can get turned around easily, the city is intimidating. I bring them down and show them the subway explaining the green and red lines that can get you uptown and downtown, the cross over lines and so forth. We get out at Union Square so they can see the city, I know the market is not in full swing on weekdays but want them to see it anyway, and then we are off in search of a loo and they want drinks! Now I am taken aback and look at my cell phone and say “It’s only 11:30! smiling at them. Mark smiles and says “Yes but were on vacation! And so are you! I smile and say “Yes I guess your right then, OK lets see what we can find” I think because I’m home I didn’t feel it at first but I am on vacation and it feels good. We find both needs at Patsy’s on University Place, not necessarily the one that Frank Sinatra frequented but so what it’ll do. We sit down for a beer and talk, they want to know everything about New York?, how many people live here?, how many square miles is it?, how far is it to my town from here?, the distance to Kennedy Airport?, how many people live in Hicksville? But I’m afraid I don’t know these things, I feel a little stupid but in my daily life I don’t need this information, but I will find out for the future.
We move on to our breakfast destination, stopping to look at my map a kind woman stops and asks us where we need to go. I tell her it’s OK I live here, just getting my bearings and off we go to find the Washington Arch by way of the Washington Mews, a cobblestone street that used to be horse stables but was turned into affordable housing for the artists, writers and poets who occupied the apartments there, Edward Hopper had a place there before moving to larger quarters a block away. The mews are all painted in beautiful colors in the French tradition and have flower boxes and a tree or two for shade. We exit the mews and turn left to find the Arch itself, I show them the door and tell them the story of Marcel Duchamp and friends on top of the Arch (covered in the story Greenwich Village on an earlier page here) and we look at the new construction as we make our way down to MacDougal Street which is been dug up for resurfacing. We sit down then in Cafe Reggiro, the oldest cafe still in use in NYC. My family likes the quaint old world decor and the 90 works of art that adorn it’s walls. It’s very dark inside adding to the mystery of the place, you feel the ghosts of the Village wandering the room, people like Mabel Dodge, Jig Cook, Susan Glaspell and others…names known only to the few that walk in the old world of Village life. We eat a small simple brunch, tuna sandwich for Mark, Capri tomatoes and cheese for Sharon, and eggs Benedictine for me and coffee all around. It’s tasty and affordable fare, and after getting our picture taken together. We wander back towards the 6Th Ave subway in a roundabout fashion, passing the leather shop where I always buy my wallets, a small community park, a small alley street getting a makeover where they see a subterranean apartment “that is prime real estate here” I tell then as we pass. Then I take them down Bleeker till we get to 6th again and I see that they are getting tired so we go back into the subway and get out at Grand Central and go past a great rock violinist and later a classical guitarist to get topside.
They would like to find a liquor store and to get some crisps as they call them, chips for us-specifically Pringles, Ranch flavor which for some reason is unavailable in England but Mark always brings plenty back. But first we need a loo again and some more drinkies, so we find Mulligan’s Pub and settle down for Stella Artois for the boys and Bacardi and coke for Sharon. We talk for over an hour talking about the family history and Sharon’s medium like psychic experiences. This is the time I enjoy the most, the long comfortable chats about the life here and there, and the future trips and hopes for all of us. I try real hard to be the answer man for everything they want and need, dashing off to get information and be the host I promised to be, enjoying the role thoroughly. The three of us pass a Starbucks and a woman who looks just like the lady that tried to help us passes by and goes in to get coffee. Strange but I see a significance in that for some reason. We buy Bacardi and they pick out crisps in another local store and then make our way back to Sofitel, the last thing they need is a dinner destination, I strain my memory but don’t know the area well enough to tell them right off but as we come to their block I see a place I know well, and since they like curry…it’s a hole in one. There is a Jewel of India on the same block about two minutes away from their hotel! I am quite pleased because I have this a couple of towns away and it’s the best around. I leave them then to have a nap before dinner, but not without agreeing to come back again on Friday to guide them around the 40’s and also agree to make reservations for the whole family to have dinner together on Saturday. I give them a group hug and with a spring in my step bound down the street to do just that while I am here close to it. I walk two blocks up and three over to Le Rivage, possibly the most authentically French restaurant in New York, a place I’ve only been to once but was very very good. Now I can saunter back to Penn Station, I hope I didn’t wear out my new friends on their first day in New York. I am knackered as the Brits say, but it’s a good kind of tired, a kind that I hope to feel alot more in the future.