I took my first trip to New York City for New Year’s Eve 2003 – that is, in late December of 2002. I’d been thinking about and talking about going to New York City for quite some time. I was talking to my friend Vineeta about it one day and she said that she’d lived there and still had friends who lived in the city. Two of them, a couple she knows that live at the corner of Central Park South and 7th Avenue, have a New Year’s Party every year and she has a standing invitation to it anytime she was in town around the holidays.
Since neither of us was dating anyone at the time, it didn’t take long before we’d formulated a plan to head for the Big Apple just after Christmas. I think we actually started planning around Labor Day, or maybe even earlier. We found a great rate on a hotel (The Helmsley Windsor Hotel at 100 58th Street, which, oddly enough, does not seem to be in operation when I’m writing this on June 3, 2004) and bought fairly inexpensive tickets into La Guardia (I think they were less than $200 each for round trip tickets), and we were set.
We arrived at La Guardia in the early afternoon of Saturday, December 27, 2003, and took a cab to our hotel (actually, Vineeta was staying at a friend’s apartment since her friend was out of town). So the cab driver dropped Vineeta off at her friend’s apartment, which was within walking distance of the hotel where I stayed, then dropped me off. I checked into the hotel around 3 p.m. and then we set off to meet Vineeta and decide what to do with the afternoon.
Since we didn’t have a lot of time before we needed to head for dinner – we had tickets to see “The Producers,” which started at 8 p.m. and we wanted to have a nice dinner first – we mostly just walked around a bit so I could get my bearings, dropped in to a Starbucks (they’re literally everywhere in Manhattan) for coffee, then walked through Central Park. I should say we walked through a corner of Central Park, since the park is really huge (it doesn’t look that big on the map). The weather on Saturday was, as I recall, unseasonably warm, so walking was very pleasant.
About 5 p.m. we headed for our respective accomodations to get ready for dinner and the theater. Vineeta came by the hotel around 5:45 or so and we headed down Broadway in search of an interesting looking restaurant. We found a great little Italian place, La Festa at 939 8th Street, and had a superb dinner. After dinner we continued down Broadway, which by then was pretty crowded as showtimes were near, and found 44th Street, the cross street that our theater, The St. James, was on. The show was excellent! I walked Vineeta back to her friend’s apartment then headed for the hotel. I got to bed around midnight and slept quite well.
We slept a bit late on Sunday morning, then found the Cosmic Coffee Shop Restaurant for breakfast. It was pretty crowded, and we had to wait a few minutes for a table, but it was well worth the wait. This is a typical family-owned and operated, one-of-a-kind, New York City original restaurant. The service was friendly but no-nonsense, the prices were very reasonable and the food was great!
After breakfast, Vineeta suggested that we walk by Macy’s on 5th Avenue to look at the famous window display, which we did. We arrived there just as they were opening for the day, and since the unseasonably warm weather from the day before had vanished, we stepped inside to get out of the cold for a few minutes. Since we were in a department store, I deciced that I should buy a scarf, as I’d forgotten to bring one with me. I found a nice Club Room by Charter Club scarf in blue, 100% acrylic. It’s not quite as soft as cashmere, but it’s pretty nice. One of the interesting things about the Macy’s on 5th Avenue (is it the original Macy’s – I think it is) is that it still has an all-wood escalator, which I thought was pretty cool.
We left Macy’s and headed for the Empire State Building. You gotta do the Empire State Building your first time in NYC! I was certainly glad that I’d purchased the scarf; we stood in line outside the building for about a hour. Then we spent another couple of hours or so in line inside the building. The view from the observation level was worth it, though (I’m not sure I’d do it again; Vineeta was a real sport about standing in line, since she’d been there before).
Around the middle of the afternoon we took the subway down to SoHo and located the Dean and Deluca store at 560 Broadway, which is the original Dean and Deluca. We browsed a bit in the store, and I bought a couple of the signature mugs. I then had a cup of their cafe mocha – literally the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had in my life!
We then wandered around SoHo and looked through a couple of the artsy stores there. The stuff they were selling was pretty nice, but it was very pricey. A bit later on we met a couple of Vineeta’s friends for dinner in Chinatown, at a place called Congee Village. The food was excellent, and the service was very good – after we got a table; the wait was around an hour.
On Monday, December 30, 2002, we ate breakfast at a bagel shop on the Upper East Side. After breakfast, we headed for the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Avenue where we spent most of the afternoon. After visiting the museum, we headed over to F.A.O. Schwarz Toy Store on 5th Avenue, where Vineeta purchased a Christmas gift for the child of the couple with whom were would be spending New Year’s Eve. I’m sure we had dinner somewhere that evening, but I don’t recall where (alas, I’m finishing this blog post on December 1, 2017 (yeah, I procrastinate sometimes)). I do recall that I returned to my hotel room rather early in the evening and watched a few episodes of The Sapranos before heading to bed.
I was on my own for the morning and afternoon of Tuesday, December 31, 2002, as Vineeta had plans with other friends, as I recall. I slept a bit late, then got a slice of pizza at a pizzeria near the hotel, then wandered around Central Park for a while. I remember that at some point I got on the subway and went somewhere else in Manhattan, but I don’t recall where; at least I successfully made it back to my hotel.
Vineeta and I had plans to spend New Year’s Eve with a couple she knew from when she was working in New York. Her friend was an Investment Banker, and had a place at the corner of 7th Avenue and Central Park South. I had the address written down and was to meet her at their apartment – I don’t recall exactly what time, but we spent at least a couple of hours with them before midnight. By the time I left my hotel to walk the 2 blocks to our host’s place, the crowd was gathering all up and down 7th Avenue – it is, after all, the street that runs right into Times Square. There were quite a few police on the streets, and they’d shut down 7th Avenue to vehicular traffic. They also had barriers up along the sidewalks and at intervals along the street to direct the flow of foot traffic. I made my way to the front door of the correct building to find a couple of uniformed police, as well as the building’s doorman, controlling access to the building. I gave the doorman the name and apartment number of our host, he called to verify that I was, in fact, expected, and then he unlocked the door, provided me directions to the elevator, and wished me a Happy New Year!
The apartment was huge – and had a balcony that curved around the corner so that it had a view of Central Park at one end, and a view of 7th Avenue at the other. We were on the 2nd or 3rd floor, and it was pretty cool to be able to look out at the crowd below while sipping champagne. Because of the curvature of the side of the building, we could not see Times Square, so we watched the shows on TV while we had hors d’oeuvres and champagne and chatted about life, the universe and everything. After watching the “ball” drop on TV at midnight, we watched the fireworks over Central Park from the balcony. As I recall, Vineeta and I left there about 1 a.m. to head back to our respective lodgings. I was amazed at how much the crowd had already almost completely dissipated, and there were workers cleaning up the streets.
So on January 1, 2003, I got a cab, picked up Vineeta, and we headed to La Guardia and had an uneventful flight back to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. It was a good trip.
Epilogue – there were two things that really stood out to me about New York City. First, the people there weren’t rude at all, in my experience. Everyone I had occasion to interact with was friendly and helpful. Now, some of them were, in a manner of speaking, efficient in their conversation or help, but they were still friendly and helpful. The other thing that made a lasting impression on me were the smells – some fragrant, some odiferous – that were pretty much everywhere; this is one of the elements of New York City that you don’t get when you see photos or TV shows/movies shot there.