New Year’s in New York
Spending the holidays in New York City is a little bit like spending the holidays at Disney World. If you can stand the crowds, it’s a great time to be there.
Me, I don’t like crowds. So I would have never chosen to go to New York between Christmas and New Year’s – the busiest tourist week of the year in the Big Apple. But I was assigned to cover Iowa State’s participation in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl (played Dec. 30 at Yankee Stadium) – so I embraced the adventure.
Much of my time was spent with football team and alumni events – and, of course, the game itself – but I managed to squeeze in a few other activities.
We arrived in New York on Dec. 28, and I was shocked. I’ve been to New York many times and I’ve been there right before Christmas, but I was not prepared for the crush of people in Midtown Manhattan. Traffic and pedestrians were totally gridlocked around Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and other popular tourist areas. I mean, gridlocked to the point that at one intersection (I think it was 6th Ave. and 50th St.) a traffic cop was stationed at each corner and it took us THREE LIGHTS to cross on foot.
Our hotel was located on 44th St. between 6th and 7th. If you walked out the door and headed to 7th, you landed right in the middle of the Times Square craziness. Trying to turn (I’m still on foot here) onto 7th was like walking into a wall.
Rockefeller Center was the worst. And the best, in a way. It was incredibly crowded but very festive. People were taking polite turns at all the best photography overlooks, taking pictures of strangers with their cameras, and enjoying watching the people who stood in the blocks-long line to ice skate.
We went with the football team to the newly opened 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site on Wednesday night. It was very sobering. The National September 11 Memorial is a tribute of remembrance and honor to the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The memorial’s twin reflecting pools are each nearly an acre in size and feature the largest manmade waterfalls in the North America. The pools sit within the footprints where the Twin Towers once stood. The names of every person who died in the attacks are inscribed into bronze panels edging the memorial pools.
Be aware if you go that although the memorial is free to visit, you must reserve a visitor pass in advance.
As many times as I’ve been to New York, I had never been inside the huge main building of the New York Public Library, an architectural masterpiece on 5th Ave. The Beaux-Arts building took 16 years to design and construct, and it’s a wonderful place to wander, far from the madding crowd.
Nearby at 42nd St. and Park Ave. is Grand Central Station (technically called Grand Central Terminal). It’s the largest train station in the world if you’re counting the number of platforms, and the terminal covers an area of 48 acres. The main concourse is cavernous, ornate, beautiful, and very busy.
Bryant Park, located at 42nd and 6th Ave., is a small city park if you compare it to Central Park, but it’s a great little tree-lined park to visit in any season. From Oct. 27 through Jan. 8 the park is turned into a holiday shop filled with small kiosks. And throughout the winter season the park features “Citi Pond,” a wonderful outdoor ice skating rink. The park also features a variety of dining options.
I took the subway to Yankee Stadium (161st and River in the Bronx) twice on this trip – once to do a story on an Iowa State alum and once to attend the football game. I had never seen the old Yankee Stadium (built in 1923), and this was my first visit to the new one, which opened in 2009. I’m not much of a sports fan, but for some reason I’ve always liked the Yankees. Being in the stadium, especially when it was essentially empty, was a thrill. Someday I’d like to go back to watch a baseball game.
One thing I always like to do in New York is go to Zabar’s – a one-of-a-kind grocery/deli/coffee shop at 80th and Broadway on the Upper West Side. It’s a great place to grab food (they have the best cheese counter and bakery I’ve ever seen) for a picnic in nearby Central Park. Of course, December isn’t the best time for a picnic, despite the fact that the highs this week were in the 50s, so I had to settle for coffee and a (best in the world) sesame bagel in the crowded coffee shop, and a loaf of Jewish rye for later.
When I was there Friday morning I sat at the counter next to a nice woman from the West Village who came to Zabar’s to buy cheese for her New Year’s Eve party (she was tasting it before committing to a full-fledged purchase). We bonded because we overheard a pretentious diner saying to his companion, “Nobody needs to go into therapy if they just have common sense…unless they have a psychological problem.” We snorted in unison, then laughed out loud and decided this guy was master of the obvious.
One I didn’t get to do that I ALWAYS do in New York is go to a Broadway show. I normally buy tickets in advance, but I didn’t know what my work schedule would be so I thought I’d just stand in the TKTS line for half-price day-of-show tickets. Well, I thought wrong. The aforementioned crowds had mostly obliterated all the theatre seats this week. What few shows were left were certainly scooped up by the people who got in the TKTS line hours before it opened. I stood in the line on Thursday for about 45 minutes before reality set in and I abandoned the line. I then had a moment of temporary insanity and walked to the Stephen Sondheim Theater on 43rd St. to see what full-price tickets to “Anything Goes” would cost. ($142 for upper balcony.) After that I stood around making a sad face. This billboard is the closest I got to Sutton Foster.
After three days of enormous, impossible crowds, I figured New Year’s Eve day would be the worst yet. We headed to Times Square early in the morning just to satisfy our curiosity and were completely surprised to find that the crowd was smallish and well-behaved.
There were nearly as many (young, good-looking) cops on the street as early party-goers – and most of the revelers-to-be were chilling out and drinking coffee or else screaming at the big screen that was showing some kind of Korean music festival performance. Vendors were out en masse, selling party hats, horns, and 2012 glasses. It was a blast taking pictures and talking to people. Everyone was friendly and in a good mood (including the police). In a few hours, all the streets would be closed off, more than a million people would be in Times Square, Lady Gaga would be performing, and the crowd would ring in the new year.
We flew out of Laguardia to Minneapolis at 2 p.m., took a connecting flight to Omaha, and drove home in a blinding snowstorm.
I walked into my house right at 11 p.m., just in time to see the ball drop. Happy New Year.