Red Bank is considered a city, as is Asbury Park and Long Branch. Yet, when those of us who live in this area hear a friend say, “I’m going to the city tomorrow”, there is only one place that comes to mind and that is The City — New York City.
I have a friend who lives in Little Silver who gets really cranky with me when I remind her how fortunate we are to live where we do with the horse farms to the west, the beach just a snap away AND New York City just a 50-minute ride on the bus. And, I think most of us take advantage of our proximity to what has been referred to as "The greatest city in the world."
The better half and I love the city and we go in as often as time and circumstance allow. So it is with relish that we make our Christmas pilgrimage into the city every year on the first Saturday of December.
Fortunately, we have a dear friend who lives on 43rd and 10,th so, after a ride of under an hour on the bus and a brief walk up from Port Authority, we are looking out from a high rise at the magnificent view that is New York City at Christmas.
Over the years we have done a variety of things on this holiday visit — sometimes not in the best of weather conditions. It matters not to us. We have a grand time no matter what.
There are four of us on these excursions. Joining the better half and I are two classmates of mine from high school. The classmate who lives in the city is a writer and editor who left the shore many, many, many years ago (she’ll love that I made a point of that fact) and has called New York City home ever since. So, although all of us are familiar with the city, we count on Rosamarie to be our expert in all things New York City.
Last year Rosamarie sent us an email with suggestions as to what we might do — a few things that we maybe haven’t done before. The better half and I have done about everything there is to do and visited every museum, church and attraction there is available.
I responded to Rosamarie that "whatever she decided to do would be fine with us" comment. Our objective was, as always, to just be with friends and share that wonderful feeling that can only happen on the streets of New York City at Christmas.
When we arrived at Rosamarie’s condo on last year's trek, she had the itinerary set. Walking from 43rd and 10th to 42nd and 5th the better half and I were desperate to find a Dunkin’ Donuts for a second cup of coffee. We asked the expert where we might find a Dunkin’ Donuts.
She said, “Well, there’s Starbucks right over there on that corner.” When we explained that we don’t drink Starbucks (the line was out the door anyway) she said she didn’t know where there was a DD except maybe back on 43rd Street.
We reach Bryant Park (my very favorite place in the entire city — I’ve instructed my grandchildren to spread my ashes there) and we check out the shops, watch the ice skaters, marvel at the tree in the center of the park, spend some time sitting at the wee tables set up on the perimeter of the park while eating dirty water hotdogs and just watch the people go by. So far, so good — a delightful day and it still isn’t even noon.
Next, our expert informs us that we are off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has secured free passes, corporate discounts, etc. As we head for 82nd Street the better half asks if there is anywhere to get a cup of coffee. We’re told, “Maybe up the street a bit.”
After about 10 blocks we decide to catch a bus. It is then that the expert tells us we will need four quarters and a dime to get on the bus and "be sure to ask for a transfer." Okay, we can handle that — if only we had something other than bills in our pockets.
On the bus we get a good view of all things NYC. It is more crowded than I have ever seen the city — wall-to-wall people.
We exit the bus and the expert leads us up some very hilly streets at a good New York City pace. We go down "severa" blocks and, looking up, the expert says, “No wait, this is the wrong museum. We have to go back." Okay.
Back we go. By this time I’m just following along. As familiar as I believe I am with the city, I am truly lost at this point. It seems we walk for miles when the expert says, “Let’s take a bus.” Several buses and many quarters and dimes later (Thank God for the transfers) we find ourselves at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Rosamarie gathers the three of us around and informs us that she doesn’t want to hear about this "lapse of expertise." We all say, “Okay, fine.” We then proceed to crucify the ‘expert’ for the remainder of the day.
The museum is magnificent as always. The better half and I spend some time in the gift shop — wanted to be sure to use the corporate discount. At the museum we look for a place to buy a cup of coffee – no luck.
After the museum we start to walk down the Avenue to the Plaza Hotel and the entrance to Central Park where the carriages line up. We hop on a bus around 72nd and just make it standing on the bus stairs right next to the driver. The 20 minutes we now spend on this bus become one of the day’s highlights.
Our driver, Louis, is a natural entertainer. The traffic is barely moving and Louis takes our minds off the back log telling us of his off hours dancing with a troupe called The Twilight Torches, dancers for the WNBA Liberty. Not only does Louis perform with this group — they compete.
Another passenger standing in the stair well with us finds a sample of Louis doing his dancing thing on her Smartphone and much of the front of the bus gets to see Louis "doin’ his thing." There are cheers and whoops and Louis lights up the day with his infectious laugh. Only in New York!
Then it happens – we are at the Plaza. So are about a million and ten other people. The plan was to get a drink and/or a snack at the Plaza to tide us over until dinner. As we look at the hoards going into the Plaza Hotel I realize this is not going to happen but I say nothing and wait while the expert talks to numerous gentlemen that seem to be in positions of authority.
She returns to the three of us and says we can get in at such and such a door and if we have any trouble we are to mention so and sos’ name and we’ll get in. Didn’t happen.
Back on the street the fourth member of our party, Ms. M, says she wants to go on a carriage ride. The line at the entrance to the park is endless. We still haven’t had that second cup of coffee and both the better half and I have been on numerous carriage rides around the park on warmer days and without the maddening crowd roaming all over the park. I suggest that Rosamarie and Ms. M go on a carriage ride and we will go look for a place to get a cup of coffee.
With sad puppy dog eyes Ms. M says, “Oh, I thought it would be nice if we all went together.” After the carriage ride (it was very nice by the way and the carriage driver had us covered in a delicious red fleece blanket) we start the trek back to 43rd and 10th. During this entire return trip we rarely let up with comments to Rosamarie (our expert) as to whether or not we were headed in the right direction. We relentlessly asked her if she remembered where we were going.
As we continued this torment walking down the street I thought to myself how special it is to have friends in your life who take this treatment and/or dish it out and still love you just the same at the end of the assault. I considered that all four of us were fortunate to have walked all these miles this day in each other’s company.
We wrapped the night up with dinner at a steak house on 10th Avenue. The meal was excellent; the atmosphere delightful with the restaurant decorated for Christmas; we reminisced and we talked about the future. And, at the end of our meal, just before we headed back to the Port Authority, we had the best cup of hot coffee New York City has to offer.
C.M. McLoughlin, a writer and editor from New Jersey and New York, can be reached at email@example.com.
About this column: Thoughts and musings from resident Carolann McLoughlin.