Saturday, June 29, 2013

Road Trip

"Kids, let's drive to New York City!"

It was a Sunday afternoon, and Dan had to work. Outside the sun was blazing and I felt under the weather. I knew staying at home all afternoon with the kiddos would mean no actual rest and just me getting grumpier at not feeling well.

Yes, these are the kinds of crazy things we do in our family. Some people shop when they're in a cranky mood. I like to travel. And since funds are limited right now, our travel options are for the most part limited to day trips. I could have chosen Boston, which is (in my humble opinion) prettier, more manageable, and a bit closer. But there's something about driving to the city that truly feels like the center of the world. Yes, I'm a staunch Red Sox fan, and I just wrote that.

Thankfully, 1) Ethan likes car rides and 2) Anna likes going to interesting places like really big cities. We hopped in the car and pealed out of the driveway. I had a personal mission, another quest that would seem insane to most likely the majority of the population: I wanted to prove to myself I could drive straight.into.Manhattan. I've conquered the insanity of Boston traffic...zipped through D.C. and Chicago; navigated the steep streets of San Francisco and even managed to take pictures of Houston while steering a rental car on completely unfamiliar freeways. But New York...New York has always loomed as unconquerable.

"Okay Ethan, we're going to count the cities as we drive!" I announced, trying to drum up excitement. "There's Hartford...New Haven...Bridgeport...Stamford...then New York City!"

As we zoomed by New Haven 40 minutes later, Ethan piped up, "Can we go home now?"

Danger, Will Robinson!

"Ethan, we can't go home NOW!" I said in my cheery mom voice. "You won't see the big city. Do you know it has big buildings like the Chicago Elevator?"

Most of you would know the Chicago Elevator as the Willis (or previously Sears) Tower in Chicago. I told Ethan about going there with Dan years ago, and not surprisingly he was quite titillated by the idea of an elevator that went up over 100 floors. We watched video on You Tube and he was sold. Now he asks every once in awhile about going to see the Chicago Elevator. Someday, Ethan. Someday.

With visions of tall buildings dancing in his head, Ethan was again enthusiastic about our trip. Traffic was not so bad. We watched five skywriting jets craft an advertisement for the Mohegan Sun Casino in the air above us. Eventually the outskirts of the city appeared.

I steeled my resolve not to consult any kind of map or GPS. I could do this! I knew I had to take a bridge other than the George Washington, which would bring us to New Jersey, but I had no idea which one. Finally, I saw a sign that said "Manhattan" with a left-pointing arrow. A-ha! We approached a less than grandiose steel through-truss bridge. I have no idea what it was named. All of Manhattan lay stretched out before us in the distance.

"There it is!" I called to the kiddos.

Ethan sat in the back, his mouth gaping open. Anna and I have made several Christmas trips to the city, but he's never been there.

There was a toll booth. "Okay Anna, hand me the money," I asked, referring to the cash I'd asked her to grab off the counter.

"Uh, I don't know where it is..."

...which is why we ended up tying up traffic as I explained to the toll booth operator that we had no cash, and had to have a mail-in ticket written out for me.

That little blip aside, we were in! There we were, zooming down FDR Drive with the East River and Brooklyn to our left. This was too easy, I thought. We weren't right in Manhattan. We needed to get off and drive right down the middle.

I rolled down the windows, warning the kids it would be loud and they'd probably hear ton of horns honking. Both sat on the edge of their seats, eyes big. "Can we get out?" they started pleading. "Pleeeasse!"

We were in some unrecognizable part of the city with of course nowhere to park and I had no idea what to see. "No guys, that's where I draw the line. We can't get out. Today."

We started way uptown, crossing something like 116th street, and headed south, the numbers getting lower and lower. I have no idea what street I was on. I figured I just needed to grip the wheel, make no sudden moves, and go with the flow.

"There's the library!" The kids gaped at the big stone lions. People were everywhere. Oh, the people. I thought Christmas was busy.

"I've never seen this in the summer," Anna noted, in awe. A neverending stream of yellow taxis streamed by on either side. We flowed past parks with exploding fountains, the Flatiron building, the World's Biggest CVS (Anna was particularly impressed at this one). Ethan would be quiet and then suddenly erupt with a comment: "Wow! That building has sooo many windows!" Of course, we'd passed 300 buildings with many windows, but for whatever reason he was fascinated by THAT one. He also, as I knew he would, particularly loved all the Walk/Don't Walk signs that counted down before they changed. He happily counted with them, every time we were stopped at a light.

Then we were downtown. I glimpsed the Freedom Tower to our right, the World Financial Center Buildings, St. Paul's Cathedral and Trinity Church, which had been so close to the 9/11 disaster area. We passed Wall Street and the bull statue (tourists were climbing all over it, posing for pictures) and then we saw the waters of New York harbor. We'd gotten to the end of the island, and no had had honked at me.

"We have to start heading back," I announced, not quite sure of how to do that, but figuring we'd find that darned FDR Drive somewhere. We stumbled upon Chinatown and Anna took great pleasure in seeing nothing but signs in Chinese, wherever she looked. Then we were back on the road I'd been looking for, speeding past boats on the river and parks on the shore with Little League games and joggers and birthday celebrations and nothing but people, people, people.

"Awwwwww." Ethan was sorely disappointed. "I like this place." I knew he would. For whatever reason, loud, blinking, flashing places don't cause him sensory overload. Or Anna. I, meanwhile, thought I was going to pass out the first time I came here, when I was 16.

"We'll come back," I promised, as we headed back over the river. I had learned a few things. I knew now that I could drive anywhere. I knew that Ethan was old enough to handle the city, were we to travel in on the train and find something kid-friendly.

And as I sheepishly told them at the toll booth once again that I had no cash, I knew never to trust a just-turned nine-year-old to take care of the cash situation. Next time I'd be ready, bills in hand.

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