Monday, July 24, 2017

Days 3 & 4: Coney Island, Magic and Ghosts


Day 3
So, our second full day in NY was Otto's 6th Birthday. So, thought we'd had a little birthday party before departing, we decided that it would be his day to choose what to do. His immediate answer was "the beach!" (AKA: Coney Island)

Now, honestly, making the hour-long subway ride out to Coney Island wouldn't have been Sarah or mine's first choice for how to spend the day but, again, it was Otto's day. So, onward to Coney Island! And, while the hour long trip on the subway seemed daunting, it actually went smoother than I would have imagined. The kids only squabbled a little bit, and it was actually neat to see how the underground tunnels of Manhattan gave way to above ground suburbs of Brooklyn and eventually the beach town vibe of Coney Island.

Departing for Coney Island, via Grand Central Station. 
Approaching the final stop: Coney Island!

This was my first experience with a East Coast, boardwalk-style beach and -honestly- it wasn't exactly what I was expecting. It feels like, in the movies, you only see beaches like this during the blustery and abandoned winter months, but in comparison, the spectacle that confronted us, as we exited the train station, was much more crowded, chaotic and fun. Kitschy, yes, with it's hotdog stands souvenir shops and midway games, but it quickly became apparent that it would be the perfect place for a 6-year-old to ring in his Birthday.

But, first, the beach!

Making out way through the crowd, down to the waters edge, Sarah stacked out a space on the beach with our stuff, while the kids and I wade out way into the crowded water. If New York is the worlds melting pot, Coney Island might be the stew, and I'm fairly positive I've never heard as many languages at the same time while standing hip deep in the ocean.

A Birthday Boy getting buried in the beach!

The kids still, unfortunately, don't really know how to swim (both a byproduct of their blustery Northwest upbringing, and Sarah and I failing to get them into regular lessons), so they limited themselves to jumping waves and building sandcastles. But, that was more than enough to keep them happy for several hours.

Board Walk fun for everyone!

After that, it was time for a quick lunch at Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs on the boardwalk, and then on to some rides! The amusement park we chose features mainly mild ride for younger kids, but still enough to keep the kids happy, and a couple -like the Tilt-A-Whirl and a small rollercoaster- challenged their bravery. In fact, while Otto deemed the rollercoaster "epic," Stella bowed out.

 Tilt-A-Whirl action! The kids laughed for the first three of four go arounds... then fell silent.
Otto on a rocketship... a little more representative of the rides. 

After each "winning" a small stuffed animal at a fishing game, and then enjoying a snow cone, it was back on the subway to Manhattan. Our initial plan was to head back to our room, clean-up, and head out to dinner; but it quickly became apparently that we were all tired enough that any trip to the room would stall us out completely, so we decided to head straight to dinner, covered in sand and smelling of the ocean. And where did Otto want to go to dinner?

"Otto Pizza!"

The previous night, while considering dinner options, I'd noticed that Mario Betali had a pizza place in the Greenwich Village area, and had jokingly mentioned it to Otto. So, to Otto, of course that was the place to go for his Birthday dinner. Honestly, after the chaos of Coney Island, and Midtown before that, Greenwich Village seemed downright sleepy. And, the pizza place was good. Obvious not "New York-style" but a tasty, more traditional fare.

"Otto Pizza!"

After dinner, as we left the restaurant, we were approached by a pan-handler, who approached us with hand extended and asked "can you help me?" Sarah and I, jaded to urban living, brushed past him, but Otto turned to us and asked "can we help that man?" So, since it was his Birthday, Sarah handed him a dollar and he ran back to gave it to the panhandler. Otto's compassion is always one of his sweetest qualities.

Day 4
The next morning, Sarah would have to work for the afternoon, but the plan was to head to Central Park for a bit, before she had to get to work and send us out on our own. After circling a block in the sweltering heat, looking for a crepes restaurant that never materialized, we settled on some croissants and similar pastries and enter the southern end of the park to have our breakfast.

Sitting on a boulder, overlooking a playground, it quickly became apparent that we'd be spending most of our time there. There was an elaborate spray-park, as part of the playground, and while the kids were initially hesitant, they were soon running around soggy and happy. I was eager to explore more, but Sarah remaindered me that it was the kids vacation too, and I resigned myself to watching them continue to find new ways to get wet, then dry off, then get wet again.

Soggy kids at Central Park. Inside those structures, there's running water. There's also a more traditional spray structure to the left. 

Wandering back through the park , we passed another amusement park, that Otto was bummed not to get to participating in, and then grabbed popsicles for the ride back to the hotel.

After regrouping, and dropping Sarah off, it was time for the kids and I to venture out alone. Stella and I formulated a plan to visit an ornate network of sites and shops scattered across Downtown. That plan quickly fell apart when -walking to the first location- we fully realized how oppressively hot it was.

The first location, Tannen's Magic Store, was roughly ten blocks south of our hotel, but finding it proved to be tricky. We had an address, but when we reached that location, there was no store front. Did you need to be a magician to gain entrance? As we stared blinking at where it should be, Stella announced "I think someone with a 'Tannen's' short just walked out of that door."

So, we peaked inside the anonymous door. At the end of the long hallway that greeted us stood three men, chatting. After we all stood staring at each other for an awkward minute, one of the men asked: "Magic shop?" We nodded. He gestured over his shoulder at an elevator. "Third floor."

Climbing into the cramped elevator, and riding it to the third floor, we emerged into a network of equally anonymous hallways, and made out way to the magic store, directed only by a single hand-painted sign. Entering into the magic shop, I worried that I'd made a mistake bringing the kids there. It was a single, cramped room, filled with a half dozen teenagers, making loud in-jokes with each other, and -instead of wondrous, magic paraphernalia, the room was largely filled with guide books and instructional DVDs. But, just when I was worried the magic store would be a bust, one of the shop employees emerged and engaged the kids with a string of simple, yet effective magic tricks. The kids were in awe, and he seemed to enjoy the audience, but also punctuated each trick with a glance to me and a "that one is $12" or "you can learn that for $15."

With each of the kids clutching a newly purchased magic trick, we made out way back out to the oven-hot street. My second destination was a board game shop several stops south on the subway, but that seemed daunting. Fortunately, while we made our way to the station, we passed another game shop, and popped inside there instead. Claustrophobic and obviously geared toward a regular clientele of hardcore gamers, we still were able to purchase a couple of decks of Magic: the Gathering cards ("first we buy some magic, then some Magic" we joked) to play for the rest of our trip, and the store provided another quick A/C break.

The third destination (of, like, 6 planned) was the Ghostbusters' firehouse. The kids are big fans of the original Ghostbusters (we still haven't had a chance to see the new one), so it was something they had initially seemed interested in seeing (and frankly I wanted to check out too), but in the heat, they soon equated finding it with a forced death march; and my encouragement quickly changed from "c'mon, it'll be fun" to "if you just make it to this one, last place, we'll be done sight-seeing and get some food and drink."

Unfortunately, we initially walked past it, because it was hidden in scaffolding and being restored. Still, I managed to get some photos of some very beleaguered kids posing in front of a Ghostbuster's mural on the sidewalk. Then, it was backtracking to a nearby brewpub, where the kids got some cold drinks (and I a cold beer) and we all got a little food.

 Some exhausted kids, posing in front of the Ghostbuster's mural on the sidewalk. Because...
...this is what the Firehouse currently looks like. You can see it buried in there, somewhere.

At this point it was apparent we were done for the day, so we made our way back to the subway entrance, and then (after a quick stop for a hand fan and fidget spinner, and then by Midtown Comics) the hotel. A challenging, but still satisfying day.

A final side note...
After a few days in the city, it was fun to see the kids start to become comfortable with both New York and with travelling. Initially, with Otto, Sarah and I were worried that his lack of understanding about what was going on, and his stubbornness when he didn't want to do something was going to lead to some problems and difficult traveling. But, once we realized that he was going to spend his time sitting on dirty sidewalks and subway station floors, and that he would be touching every dirty surface he came close to, things became more manageable. Keep him fed with petzels, hot dogs and ice cream cones, and he was good to go.

Otto Style: Leaning against a dirty pipe, gnawing on a pretzel. 

Meanwhile, Stella seemed a natural in the city. As Sarah noted, she quickly developed an easy-going, almost languid stride that would be the envy of any of the characters of Sex in the City; and her DIY, devil-may-care fashion sense would be at home on any episode of Girls. In short, we seemed to be a natural for the city.

Stella, a natural, easy-going city girl at heart. 

Anyhow, this was still "early days" on this trip, but we were all slowly shifting speeds. Switching from being a "school and work"family to a "travelling" family. More to come!

1 comment:

Susan Hill said...


What fun reading your post!!! I am so happy all went well. You saw all the kind of stuff i would have liked. So happy.