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Saturday, September 14, 2013

New York, Part Two - Learning To Love It

When I left you hanging at the end of Part One of this traveling saga, my friend Kris and I had finally arrived in Manhattan. When we checked in to our hotel, my frustration reached a peak. Even though our hotel room had already been paid for, we were required to put a deposit of five hundred dollars on a credit card. We're talking 1980's dollars, remember. Believe it or not, the entire amount of spending money I had for the trip was three hundred dollars. For eight days in NYC! Anyway, by the time we checked in and got to our room, I was pretty unhappy from my first impressions of New York. I told Kris that I would just as soon go home. But she asked me (reminded me?) to give it a chance, and I did. I knew I would. And guess what happened? Before bedtime, I had fallen in love with The Big Apple.

We did a few things on that evening that were just perfect for an introduction to the city. One of the first things we did was visiting a clothing store. On my first evening in New York, I bought a fun outfit. For any of you who might be curious, it was a sweater skirt and button-front top. The skirt was black with various sizes of purplish circles (I just can't make myself call them polka dots) and the top was purplish with black dots. It felt so fresh and fashion-forward, which it really was. I hung onto the sweater top until just a few years ago, so it ended up being a smart purchase. Then, since it was just a few blocks away, we headed off toward Central Park.

Having grown up in the Denver area, in view of the Rocky Mountains, I am no stranger to the beauty of nature. Having said that, I must say that Central Park is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. That evening we barely saw the southern edge of the park, but that was enough for us to be completely smitten. This 778 acre park is an amazing oasis in the midst of the more than eight million people who call New York City their home. To a city with such a mind-boggling population, lovely, quiet places are incredibly important. I have heard it said that anywhere there are a few feet of unused land, New Yorkers will put in a park. I found it to be true. I would love to tell you about the architect of Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead, but that's too much for right now. Let me simply say this: it is an incredibly beautiful and peaceful place. When we got to the park, it seemed as if all the noise and bustle of the city had disappeared. All that existed was nature's beauty.

After our fun with shopping, and the calming effects of Central Park, we knew we had to get something to eat. We headed back in the direction of our hotel and discovered one of our favorite places in New York, The Carnegie Deli. We had many memorable meals there, and not just because of the food! The deli has rows of tables for two all pushed together. I think there were about six or seven together on on side of the restaurant, and just three or four on the other. You may go in with just one other person, but there will probably be someone else sitting right next to you. This is kind of strange for those of us not from the city, but it works there. New Yorkers are good at creating their own privacy, even when surrounded by millions of strangers. At dinner time, there were bowls of pickled cucumbers and green tomatoes sitting out on the tables, and a menu full of amazing choices. While we thought at first that the prices were high, we soon found out that it was worth it. The portions were huge.

One of the things we loved most about the Carnegie Deli was the staff. Most of the waiters had been working there for many years. When they weren't at a table, they were back by the kitchen entrance, keeping an eye on their tables, and giving each other grief. They were the first example we had of a special kind of banter that is so...New York! They'd trade insults and laughs, call each other idiots, and be back to square one within minutes. These older men, who had been waiters for longer than Kris and I had been alive, had probably seen just about everything you could in a restaurant. But I am not sure they were prepared for my friend Kris. I hope I never forget our first breakfast at the Carnegie. As I ordered, I know I probably made it clear that I was from out of town right away. There's just a New York way of combining foods, and I wasn't on top of it. And how was I to know that the bagel would be about as big as my head, with a schmear of cream cheese about an inch deep on each half?

When Kris began to order, things got hysterical. Kris is one of those blondes with a wide-eyed, innocent look, and a very soft voice. She started by saying, "Can I have...?" Our waiter looked at me and shook his head, and then looked at her with an expression that said "you're killing me." He said loudly, "Do ya want it?" Kris looked startled and a bit scared, but I was grinning because I had a feeling I knew what was coming. She said that yes, she did want it. "Well, then, tell me whatcha want! You're payin' for this, so you don't ask me if you can have have it, just tell me what you wanna have!" Kris told him what she wanted, I can't remember what, but it must have been a bizarre combination. The waiter looked under the table and said, "Whatsa madda with you, your feet hurt or something? Don't you have any shoes on? Is it gettin' to ya head?" I felt like we had truly arrived in New York when that happened. He was treating us the exact same way that he was treating his friends, his fellow waiters.

Toward the end of our meal, he checked on us again, and asked us where we were visiting from. When we told him Denver, his face lit up. His daughter was a student at Denver University. He started to chat with us about the city, and whether we liked it. When we told him what we planned to do that day, he took it on himself to "tell you girls what to do." He gave us directions for the best way to get where we were going, and told us about things we should just skip. I am happy to say his kind treatment was not a one-of-a-kind experience. We found many New Yorkers that were kind beyond belief. In a city that is always in a hurry, we even had people leave the subway platform that they needed to be on to personally guide us to the right place. The Big Apple wasn't wormy after all, it was golden and delicious!

There are many more things to tell you about New York, but this is a blog, not a book. Now that I have started, I am enjoying these memories even more than I expected. I hope you are enjoying them too. More tales of the city to come!