One of my closest friends adores New York more than anywhere else in the world. And he ALWAYS would tell me with such confidence how I would love it too. How I “belong in New York” and how I would “fit there so well”.
At thirty years old I had never been there! I wasn’t sure about “belonging” in New York, but knew it fit a lot of my special interests. The big publishing houses, Broadway, Ghostbusters. Plus New York was also once the home of two of my favorite hairy island transplants… King Kong AND John Lennon.
So when I mentioned to my parents a desire to go there, my dad started joking that he would use his sky miles to whisk me away there some weekend. Which I never ever thought would ACTUALLY happen.
Daniel had this miraculous day off work in the summer. And we were racking our brains trying to think of what family vacation we wanted to do. San Diego is only a five hour drive, but we knew the beach would be PACKED on the weekend and a lot of things were limited due to COVID.
Traveling with two little kids can be pretty rough. And it was tricky trying to come up with somewhere cool to go that the boys would also enjoy. So one night when we were discussing possible plans, Dan asked me where I would choose to go, if the kids weren’t a factor at all.
I told him about the weird NYC joke with my dad and he was like, “well… do you think your dad is busy the last weekend of July??”
I didn’t think he would be available with his hyper busy schedule, but it turned out HE WAS! Our joke suddenly turned into a real actual plan! We would instead take the boys to The Great Wolf Lodge in the fall (which is Jack’s dream anyway) and I would go with just my dad to New York for an early birthday present!
The first day was a travel day and almost nothing else. A four-hour flight plus time change equals all day haha. My dad had gotten us upgraded to first class and it was incredible! Each seat was like its own little cubicle where you can lay down the seat like a bed and have all this space around you. (I sincerely hope someone reads this in the future and laughs because all the airplane seats have become like this)
Anyway, it was a very swanky trip in. Swanky first-class seats, swanky hotel, swanky upgrade in the hotel and we even ended up walking to a swanky restaurant.
The restaurant was funny because my Dad and I were totally out of our element in our disheveled travel clothes. I was wearing leggings and a Back to the Future tee shirt… at a super expensive restaurant off Madison Avenue. It’s not that we knew we were going to end up there. We just walked the street and popped into a random place and then once they pulled the chairs out for us and handed us the menu with the prices it was too late lol. But I had a really, really good shrimp risotto and a crème brûlée at the end. My dad had a less fortunate clam and mussel pasta and we both agreed that we should have gone to the Mediterranean place around the corner.
That night my dad and I stayed up and talked into the night. Late night conversations are my ultimate love language, because that’s when you really get a chance to share your deepest thoughts or dumbest jokes.
The next morning we decided to walk somewhere for breakfast. We were going to hail a cab, but on Sunday morning the streets were very quiet (which I loved!) so we walked the twenty minutes. Not even halfway through we got caught in a sudden rain (which I also loved to be honest). It was all magical to me.
I was surprised how quickly I had fallen in love with New York City. I don’t know what kind of an expectation I had, but this place definitely exceeded them. I really thought it was a bunch of gray rectangular buildings with ordinary rectangular windows. Sort of like how they always cartoonize New York. But that is NOT true. Every single separate building is an architectural wonder. The stonework, the small details. You really have to be THERE out on the street to see how cool New York is. So many movies have used New York City as a backdrop that I had become desensitized to its coolness. Thinking “oh, this is like a set”. But then when you’re out there on the streets walking around with your jaw hanging open, you’re going “wow!! This is like a set.”
I remembered what my friend had said about me “fitting into New York” which made me snort and roll my eyes. I was wearing a jumper dress I bought from Walmart with my black opaque tights and light gray tennies. I did not FEEL like I “fit in” walking past the Armani, Louis Vuitton and Versace stores.
After breakfast we walked around anywhere we felt like! Times Square, FAO Schwartz, Rockefeller…
This is my all-time FAVORITE style of vacationing. No itinerary. No big all-day tourist activities. Just exploration in it’s purest sense. Walking the streets! Seeing the steam rise from the sewer grates (whaaaaat? I thought that was a dramatic movie effect, I didn’t know that was a real thing!) I know that style of traveling is not for everyone… but it’s definitely for me! To be carried and moved by the environment. Being present in the entirety of your destination. I was thrilled that my dad was on the same page as me! To be explorers together and do whatever we wanted in the moment it called for.
We were pretty exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel. My body was immediately messed up trying to switch to East Coast time. So I took a nap even though it was like ten AM.
When I woke up, I felt a lot more energized and happy again. We decided to go to Central Park. I had no idea how Central Park would be. And it turns out it’s the best place in the whole frickin’ world hahaha!
Dad and I got a hot dog and sat on a bench to people watch. (And it was a good hot dog too!) Then we got up and walked around and it was an *amazing* place. There was live music all around, people performing, dancers practicing in the fields. I overheard a lot of writers talking to their editors/publishers on the phone.
That’s when I got it. What my friend was saying about me fitting in there. It was something that I never really agreed with him about before, because I thought of New York as this stiff business empire for the super wealthy. But it’s a hot spot for fellow artsy farts! And just apart from the people. The environment in Central Park specifically was SO meaningful to me. The metaphor of it. That this giant and crazy busy city, wanted to carve a chunk out for nature and respite.
It’s really so great. I guess I thought it was going to be a normal park. Not like… an entire town-size of beautification! The birds come right up to your feet when you sit down. There are SO many fat squirrels running around. And I bent down and called out to one and it ran to me like it was a dog! I started crying. Literally. I was so happy to be there that I started crying.
We walked to Strawberry Fields and there were TONS of people there. Sitting and listening to a nearby street musician singing John Lennon’s songs. And some of them were crying.
We walked across the street to The Dakota and saw the entrance where John was shot. (kind of eerie knowing you’re standing where someone was murdered. Even if it was 40 years ago.)
Suddenly Dad and I were thrown into a deep and beautiful conversation about death and the gospel. (Right there in front of The Dakota). It was an impactful moment for me. That (and the whole trip) really made me realize how similar my dad and I are. And our views and feelings on things.
We walked a little ways to an ice cream shop that supposedly sold “Kraft macaroni and cheese ice cream”. They were sold out if you can believe it. So I had chocolate fudge brownie instead. Oh, darn. Haha! Then we saw a spot from You’ve Got Mail and circled back around The Dakota to Central Park again.
Dad and I continued walking around the park and I fell more hopelessly in love with it. Central Park was now one of my new favorite memories.
Later that evening we decided to go to Little Italy and eat at a 100-year-old restaurant called “Puglia’s”. Little Italy was amazingly beautiful! And I’m so glad that we took time to go!
Puglia’s was the exact opposite of the fancy shcmancy place we had dinner at the night before. It was very LOUD. We sat at a table with another group of people. Everyone was laughing and yelling at each other. The waiters were pretty casual. It felt like I was suddenly adopted into a HUGE Italian family and was at a reunion with all my cousins or something. That’s honestly what that restaurant felt like!
Then just when I thought it was not physically possible to get any louder. An older couple came out and started performing. The entire restaurant started sing-yelling along! And half of the patrons got up on the tables and waved their napkins. It was so chaotic and fun. You couldn’t help but sing along and dance yourself.
After dinner, we walked around Little Italy, got a gelato and then wandered around trying to hail a cab to get us back to our hotel.
Monday morning we had room service and lounged around in our comfy Pierre robes.
We decided that we would do one “touristy” thing on our trip and both agreed on The Empire State Building. We went all the way up to the 102nd floor! The little ball thingy on the tower. It was very impressive and scary looking down at the already super tall buildings of New York. The little dots of the birds flying down there. I cannot believe they were up here in the 30s building this high with no harnesses riveting on a narrow beam. WHY? WHAT?
After the Empire State we had pizza, walked St. Mark’s Place and visited the famous “Strands Bookstore”. And just like any other bookstore I had an armful of books to buy within only thirty seconds of being there. So we had to leave pretty soon after that or else I wouldn’t have been able to lug my suitcase through the airport.
We stopped at a diner and over some famous NY cheesecake, we talked about life. Impostor syndrome and the gospel and confidence in ourselves. And I saw that this trip was meant in part for that conversation and every conversation that I had with my dad. I have never and probably will never have that kind of extensive time with him to hear his feelings and thoughts about such deep and meaningful things. And its a beyond precious memory that I will always have of my father throughout my life.
We finished our cheesecake and before turning back in for the night, I asked if we could just walk into Central Park one last time. My beloved, wonderful Central Park. So we took a taxi to the entrance by the plaza and walked a ways into it before settling on a bench.
As the sun sank behind the skyscrapers, the fat squirrels cleared out of the fields and were replaced by sparkling fireflies. My dad and I had more deep and important talks. And I wondered and ached for when I would ever be able to come back to this city I had fallen head over heels for.
I wish I knew how to sum up this trip in writing. I’m not joking when I said I cried of happiness in Central Park. Or how desperately meaningful it was to me to have a father who would be willing to have such a bonding moment and adventure between the two of us. I really saw this whole trip as such a deep act of love.
If (I mean when) I go back to New York City, here’s what I’m going to do differently. I’m going to dedicate an entire day or maybe even two to Central Park. We walked 20,000 steps that first day and I only ever saw the bottom third of Central Park. I didn’t see Century Gardens, or Shakespeare Gardens. We didn’t go inside the zoo. I know there’s a castle! So probably when I go back it will be a trip to the park for me HAHAHAHA.
Little Italy is a place worth visiting again. I would probably pick another “one touristy thing” again. Either ride the boat around the Statue of Liberty or spend some time at the 9/11 memorial. I should also mention that Broadway was still closed due to the pandemic, so I would see a show the next time around.
I already know that if my dad could have changed anything he would have wanted my mom there. I wouldn’t mind going back with Daniel or my mom. My kids if they were a little older.