My partner Rick and I recently took trip to New York with a large part of the Steves Family: his son Andy, daughter Jackie, sister Linda, youngest niece Caleigh, and eldest niece (and amazing artist) Nicolina. Part family vacation, part art tour of Nicolina’s works, we got to know the city better than we ever had. While we’re still no experts on this most famous metropolis, we’re hungry for even more of the Big Apple. In this multi-article series, we’ll explore NYC through past experiences (with my parents), new discoveries, standards of tradition, and current innovations. I hope you’ll join me and the Steves and Tejada families on this trip to New York, NY.
Prior to my most recent trip to New York, I had been there only three times. The first time I was three. I remember virtually nothing of that cross-country road trip, but my parents still laugh out loud when they recount the time they were stopped at a red light near Times Square when a scantily clad hooker came up to my mom’s window and offered her talents to my dad. Freaked out, my Filipino Catholic parents ran the red light and sped away as I continued sleeping in the back seat of our beige beater of a Maverick, blissfully ignorant of New York’s vices and sins.
It wasn’t until I was a senior in college that I returned to the Big Apple with my parents. It was during what was dubbed “The Blizzard of the Century”, and we were there to do exactly two things: watch Les Misérables and watch Miss Saigon. Lea Salonga was performing as “Eponine” in Les Miz, and despite the weather, we refused to miss seeing the Tony Award-winning Filipina songstress in one of our favorite musicals. Blizzard or no, we would watch her, gosh dangit!
The weather was ridiculously relentless. Barely a soul was out on the white, wintery streets. We were lucky to find a cab that would pick us up and even luckier that our cab–which was sliding around like a novice ice dancer on both sides of the icy roads–actually reached our destination. We were handsomely rewarded for our tenacity. Lea was as glorious as I had imagined she would be. And when I got to meet my musical idol after the show, tiny tears of elation never made it down my cheek, freezing into crystalline droplets on the tips of my corner lashes.
The next night at Miss Saigon, the house was only half-full. Those who didn’t attend would call themselves smart for sheltering themselves from the blizzard. Those who did attend would call themselves geniuses because we all ended up with better seats than we had paid for. Better still, my parents and I managed to get on a backstage tour after the show. We met two principles and got to stand on the very stage where so many singers and dancers got their start in show business, made a name for themselves, and became stars. I managed to sneak in an 8-count of tap dance and a bar and a half of some ballad or another, and for years after that trip, I coyly told people, yes, indeed, I did perform on a Broadway stage.
Just a few years ago, Rick and I came out to the city for the New York Times Travel Show. Working trips almost never afford us tourist time, but this time we made an exception. Jackie came out from DC with her then-boyfriend to watch her dad talk at the show and to hang out with us. While we had only one brief night to spend with them, we made the most of every minute.
Jackie is our resident foodie and a fantastically organized planner, so we trust her to be our guide. At the time, she was taking a food-writing class at Georgetown, so we turned our sushi dinner into an assignment for all of us. And while everything we ordered rivaled some of the best sushi joints on the West Coast, it’s remarkable how much better food becomes when you focus all your senses on it–when you have to describe it to your tablemates so they can understand just how scrumptious it is to you.
Imagine an oblong morsel, the rice–like tiny glutinous pebbles–rolling on your tongue, the crackle of nori as your teeth puncture the briny membrane, the crunch that resonates into the back of your head as the fried Japanese bread crumbs crumble then vanish on your palette, the shock of the sea bursting like fireworks with each bubble of roe, and the tangy sweetness of ponzu sauce coating your taste buds like thin sheets of rain on a window on a lazy Sunday.
After our food critic extravaganza, our full and sated bellies were aching from laughing so hard at a comedy club. The stage was no more than 6’x12′, and the long, dark and velvety room could hold no more than 60 people, two tables deep. We were up close and personal with each of our three comics, and they all got up close and personal with the audience. Everyone got worked into the show somehow, and no one was spared ridicule. Being able to laugh at yourself is just as important as recognizing comedic talent when you come to a show like this.
Still relatively early, we popped into a leathery bar where, it seemed, all the cool kids with ripped jeans, shiny shoes, sunglasses at night, and enough money to buy $20 drinks go. One was plenty for each of us. We fled for less cool sights.
Times Square let us be touristy and completely uncool in the best possible way. Maybe it’s all the wattage pulsating at your eyeballs, making your brain go into sensory overload. Maybe it’s the energy of the mélange of Midwest tourists in t-shirts and shorts in 50-degree weather, the Japanese Harajuku girls flashing peace signs in their endless slew of pictures, New York’s Finest keeping a watchful, if bemused, eye on all the passers-by, and the symphony of honking horns that ricochet in the canyon of Technicolor monoliths that make you gawk slack-jawed in awe.
Whatever it is, here we let our hair down and allowed ourselves to just be in this time and space. We took our silly pictures with iconic views in the background. We ogled the best deals on t-shirts and mini plastic Statues of Liberty simply for the sake of ogling. We craned our necks up, around, left and right to visually drink in all the sights around us. And we even waited twenty minutes in line that went out the door to indulge in ice cream on that brisk and breezy night, just because everyone else was doing it.
To a New Yorker, this may not be the “real” New York, but it is as much a part of New York as the Empire State Building, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, Broadway, and Wall Street. Everything in this town is a creation, a dream made real, and a symbol of Man’s vision, ingenuity, and determination. And all this I kept in mind as we planned our big family trip to New York. With five full days in the Big Apple, there’s a whole world experiences we can have, and I’m ready to savor every bite.
Stay tuned for this series on New York City and come explore the town with me and the Steves family.