a fifth avenue crawl
Day 89-90 IHOP, Chelsea, Fifth Avenue, FAO Schwarz, Staten Island Ferry, LA
My uncle's back in town. We have two choices for breakfast, he says. "We go to Chelsea Market. There's lots of nice places. Good sandwiches." Sandwiches. Okay. "Or we go to IHOP."
, you get unlimited quantities of "old fashioned", blueberry, butter pecan, or strawberry syrup. This blows my little New Zealand mind. They just leave it right there on the table. Ready for you to pull your own trigger.
My uncle chats to our waitress, Jackie from Flushing, Queens. They're having a good old banter. My uncle does this. Every time we're sitting down or catching a cab, he asks for people's names. It's like he's running for office. But people mostly love it. There's something about someone knowing your name that makes you feel less like a hospitality robot and more like a human being. Rob considers trying this at home then decides my uncle has the age factor going for him.
We stop by
for a quick look. The old building is packed full of little places selling all types of food. I decide we made the right decision to go to IHOP. We have places like Chelsea Market in New Zealand (like Ponsonby Central, for example) but not an IHOP. There was a glorious few months when a Denny's opened up a few minutes walk near our apartment. A group of us would end up eating cut-rate fries and burgers and pancakes at eleven at night. It's closed down now. Wellington doesn't have much tolerance for big American chain stores. Starbucks is the only thing we've got and even that's with much local resentment.
Because I'm full of IHOP pancakes, I fondle all the notebooks and Rifle Paper stationery inside the bookshop instead.
We're late to hear my aunt sing inside St Patrick's Cathedral. We're in a cab and the cab driver is telling us why people take Uber cars instead. Something about there not being many cabs on the street during a certain hour because the taxis have to go back to the station. It doesn't make much sense.
Inside St Patrick's cathedral, my aunt is singing in robes and pews are full. Tourists are log-jammed in the back of the church, coming in and out at will. My uncle chuckles to himself, "I didn't know she was ordained," he says, gesturing to the robes. To the left of the altar, you can see a life-size nativity scene with a golden retriever sitting patiently, waiting for a big event to happen. He's the pastor's dog. When he died, a sculptor was commissioned in Italy to carve the pastor's golden retriever, ready for his place in the nativity.
I am now insisting on seeing the Tiffany windows. On the way there, a tiny Japanese woman sidles up to me while waiting at the crossing. "U. G. G. store?" she asks me. "Sorry, what?" I ask. "U. G. G. store?" I gesture my helplessness and she goes off. It's only later that I realise she was wanting to go to an UGG BOOT store. Gross. Ugg boots are gross.
The decoration on the Tiffany's building is weird. Is it the plumes of a Vegas showgirl's headdress? Or is it, in fact, a building wearing two brooches?
The windows are WASP dream. They're set in classic Manhattan locations; a taxi speeding through the snow, loaded down with rings set with stones the size of a walnut, a Rockefeller ice rink proposal with a twirling gold pendant, the post-modern one where you're looking at a woman looking into a Tiffany's window pointing at an engagement ring, Time Square lit up with jewellery. I gawp at the windows for longer than polite society would normally allow.
I alarm Rob by sweeping into Tiffany's like I own the place. "You're going in?!" I hear him exclaim behind me. I'm already halfway through the revolving door. Inside, I do more gawping. One friendly guys chats to us about how popular the
are for Christmas. "Sterling silver is selection is upstairs too," he beams at us. I grin weakly. Something sparkly off to the side catches my eye and I'm drawn to it like the mothership. It's the Tiffany diamond; a yellow diamond beast of a thing. The security guard sees me and gives me a tip, "Put your camera right up close to the window. That's the best picture. Right up close. Don't be afraid."
I come out of Tiffany's figuratively but not literally bedazzled. I need a drink. The Starbucks inside
will have to do. We sit in this bronze and marble 90s edifice while my uncle make phone calls. I learn that Ivanka Trump loves her non-fat tall raspberry white mocha.
So far, we've been doing some classic touristy things so, why not stop there? We're gonna head into FAO Schwartz, play with all the toys, and have a look at the Big Piano. Two guys dressed like toy-soldiers do a very bad job of guarding the store because they're busy posing for photos with kids.
The store is a happy Christmas mess. Kids everywhere. Stuffed toys knocked from stands. Free popcorn stand. Radio control drones over your head, tumblings cars at your feet, children sprawled on the floor. My uncle gets so excited with a radio-controlled tumbling car that he buys two, including one for us. Rob gets wide-eyed over the drone but is devastated when he hears it's $80. We take pictures with Lego figurines.
I can't quite believe it but, three hours later, we
head towards the Staten Island Ferry. That was the original plan.
I'm running around trying to figure out where the best view could possibly be. The ferry is more
than outdoor balconies. I give up and am lingering near the back when a Staten Island ferry guy says to me, "Come out here. The best view is from here," and opens the door. I'm super grateful and am out the door like a shot. The ferry pulls away and the NYC skyline gets grander and grander the farther away we get from it. Eventually, the Statue of Liberty makes her appearance too. The seagulls wheel and squawk in our wake. The NYPD police boat is our faithful escort.
We don't even stop foot on Staten Island Terra Firma. I'm so bouyed by my Staten Island Crossing that I find myself shelling out $3 bucks for a styrofoam Statue of Liberty cutout crown. There's logica for my rash choice of souvenir, "My go-to costume for parties is
the Statue of Liberty so this is
." It replaces my current crown, made out of a painted headband, pipe cleaners and turquoise fabric. We eat Subway sandwiches in the ferry terminal, blithely ignoring the fact that we'll be eating dinner in an hour.
Dinner is at
. I'm ready to fight people for the last roasted oyster on the plate but they can sense I'm not willing to go down quietly so I'm graciously allowed to do my worst. The oysters are ridic, set atop rock salt. There's chicken wings, kale salad, chili broccoli, baby back ribs, spare ribs, and chocolate fudge pie. At the end of this food marathon, my uncle has gone quiet. "This is punishment," he exclaims.
It's our last night in New York. We have to be up at 3.30 in the morning to get our taxi to JFK. Neither of us sleep. Late at night, all the lights are turned down, and we're on our stomachs, heads bent over our cellphones, checking how much money we've got left to survive on, plotting how to get more, restless from our big dinner.
Day 90 is our transit day from New York to Los Angeles. It's a six hour flight and we're on a 6 am plane. I'm cramped and uncomfortable and for some reason, I silent-cry through
If I Stay
even though it is the
worst movie ever
. Something about teenage kids dying with cancer or losing their families in car crashes... it's just mean.
LA is all palm trees, blue sky, broad roads, and the freedom of going around without your coat on. We have a minor heart attack when we pick up our rented car at Thrifty and it's a lot more expensive than we budgeted for. We're staying in someone's garage, a five minute walk from the Venice Beach boardwalk. The only thing we're good for today is eating the best omisubi's from
(crispy seaweed, sticky rice, spicy salmon - bliss) and sleeping. Rob says, "Open spaces make me anxious."