Visiting friends in the Big Apple

Knowing that spending time with friends and driving long distances will soon become scarce commodities, we made a mini trek to New York this weekend. My old college roommate, Simon, moved to the city this past spring to pursue an acting career. Until we went camping back in July, I had not seen him for a couple of years. He recently moved to a new apartment in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn with his girlfriend, Jennie, whom we looked forward to finally meeting. While I am certain four hours in a car and trudging through the city was not the most comfortable way for my pregnant wife to spend the day, I am so glad she made the effort.

After a late start and an hour spent getting through the Holland Tunnel and across Manhattan, Aleisha had a full bladder and we were both starved by the time we reached Brooklyn. Simon treated us to a soul food “blunch” at the Buttacup Lounge, after which we made our way via subway to Central Park. We met up with our friend Karen, and the four of us caught up while strolling through the park’s western edge. Skyscrapers and trees alike caught the light of the setting sun, casting long shadows everywhere.

After nervously paying much less than the suggested donation, the four of us met up with Jennie to spend a couple of hours in the American Museum of Natural History. We snaked our way through multiple gifts shops and the elaborate set-up for some fancy ball before finding the tiny fall foliage photography exhibit we were seeking. I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to see a planetarium show, but the three-dimensional, introductory film to the Big Bang timeline was pretty awesome…and free.

Karen guided us a few blocks to Café Lalo, which made a cameo in the film You’ve Got Mail. I don’t recall Meg Ryan being as cramped as we were while enjoying our hot chocolate and mocha macciatto. The four-tiered cooler of baked goods was tempting, but we decided to save our wallets and appetites for dinner.

Next, we made a brief stop at Rockefeller Plaza to heckle the ice skaters, admire the Christmas tree scaffolding, and meet another F&M classmate, Andrea, who works for Random House and ran the NYC marathon just one week earlier. After briefly consulting a Zagats guide and each other, our urban comrades settled on a restaurant in surprisingly quick fashion. I tried to imagine my family, who can never seem to decide among Lancaster’s dozens of eateries, doing the same in a city of thousands.

Tavern on Jane, in the Village, has great food and even better atmosphere. Best of all…no smoking. I always thought New York’s smoking ban in bars was a tad excessive, but the clean air didn’t seem to have any detrimental effect on the character of this joint or its clientele. They did not have Yuengling on tap, but the busboy did bring Karen a free Labatt’s after misunderstanding her request for a box. Simon and I got to split it.

Our one “only in New York” moment came after dinner while waiting in line outside the Magnolia Bakery. Besides the late hour and the queue to get in, the sure sign that this was no ordinary bakery was the fact that there was a bouncer at the door. That and the diverse crew of young hipsters manning the counters and icing cupcakes that fetch $1.75 a pop. I would dare say that the cupcakes were not worth the price, but the opportunity to see this scene more than made up the difference.

Heading back to Simon and Jennie’s apartment, we took one last subway trip across the Manhattan Bridge. They hailed a cab to take us the several blocks from the station. I’m not sure if this was because the neighborhood becomes dangerous at night (it didn’t seem so), or because they recognized that Aleisha might not have made it after spending all day keeping up with everyone else. Either way, they were also gracious enough to give up their bed for Aleisha and me. Jennie, by the way, is as wonderful a person as Simon’s been telling me since meeting her back in Cleveland. I’m glad to see that she was not, as I had imagined, a figment of Simon’s active imagination.

Sunday morning rolled around too soon, but we all had one more meal to share before shoving off. We met up with Simon’s brother, Matt, and his girlfriend, Shena (who, incidentally, also ran the NYC marathon last week), at a café straight out of my imagination of what cafés in France must be like. Full of croissant and French toast, we were on the road by 12:30 en route to see my family in Pine Grove. I am struck by the contrasts in the landscape as we made our way from Chinatown to Friedensburg in three hours’ time. Aleisha summed it up as we turn onto the back road from 183: “Wish we lived in the country.” As much as I am attracted to and awed by places like New York, I can’t say I disagree.

Check out some more photos from New York.