After ThrillerFest was over, I took the chance to stay in New York and do some tourist stuff. Last year, my husband and I only had part of Sunday to do things before we left. This time, I booked a flight for Monday night so that we had all of Sunday and most of Monday to see some sites. My niece hadn’t been to New York since she was fourteen. She said most of what she remembered was bus tours. Pssh! Nah, girl…I got this. We’re gonna see some shit on the inside.
After a late night of drinking and chatting with my fellow authors, we wound up sleeping in Sunday morning. We ate a nice breakfast at Pershing Square before we made our way down into the maze beneath the streets. Train, train, walking, walking, walking, and we wound up at the 9/11 memorial. Oh, we also happened to walk past a movie set. Or maybe TV. They weren't filming, but check out these awesome old taxis! We watched someone get in one, get out of it, then take pictures of it and walk away.
We tried to use our flex-passes to get into the museum, but we got told that they don’t work there. Awesome. How fucking fantastic that Gray Line listed both of these places as somewhere to use a pass, but one is free and the other doesn’t accept any kind of passes. Just super.
We wandered around the outdoor memorial grounds. We stared into the footprints. We ran our hands over names of people who died. We spent long minutes staring into the abyss. I contemplated the massive, senseless loss of life, as well as all of the lives lost as a result of the events that transpired on that day.
I considered the fear of those trapped and the bravery of those who ventured into the inferno. I couldn’t get the sights and sounds of footage I’ve seen out of my head. For a moment, I tried to imagine what it had felt like to have to make the choice to jump before I burned to death. I had to back away from that thought before I had a panic attack amid all of the other tourists. My thoughts turned back to the firefighters.
I typed his name into the app and it told me where he was listed. My father’s sister’s daughter’s husband. In short, my cousin. He was a firefighter. Like my brother—the one who actually grew up in New York. The one who knew all of his—our—cousins. The one whose daughter stood beside me while I struggled to keep my tears unshed. He and I have spent all of five minutes together in The City. He’s never had a chance to introduce me to my east coast cousins. I only ever knew my gulf coast cousins—my father’s brother’s kids.
We made our way around the south pool and found him. We ran our fingers over his name. Our lost family member that neither of us ever even got to meet. Gone forever on that horrible day.
We needed something lighter after that, so we made our way to The Met. We got back on the subway, then we walked a half mile or so to the museum. It wasn’t too hot outside yet, but the sun was bright. I was damn grateful for my floppy hat that day. On the way, we walked past Trinity Church, some lovely townhouses, and Central Park. Like googly-eyed tourists, we snapped random pictures at buildings and glimpses of the park as we passed. When we got closer, the peddlers that lined the sidewalk grew in numbers. Street performers joined the ranks—singing, dancing, or dressed up like statues and characters. We made our way past it all to climb the iconic steps of The Met.
We ventured into the enormous front hall, through the bag-check, and to a large, round information desk that stood in the center. We found a map that was in English, and made our way toward the long lines of people entering the museum proper. There were lines stretching out from ticket booths with credit card insignias pasted on the windows. One had a sign that said cash only. I didn’t know what we were supposed to do with our flex-passes. There was no line that said vouchers.
I knew some places just scanned the QR code on the pass instead of printing a ticket. So we got our passes ready and walked toward the stoic, uniformed men guarding the space between the ticket booths. I held up my pass and asked if he knew what I did with this, but my voice was lost in the cacophony of the crowds talking in the vast, marble hall. He could not have possibly heard me. I couldn’t even hear myself. The man barely glanced at me when I paused in my step, jerked his thumb over his shoulder, and said nothing. He didn’t have to. I’m adept enough at reading body language to know what he was thinking. His gaze scanned the crowd, watching for problems. He wanted me to go inside. “Don’t hold up the line. Keep it moving. Don’t distract me from my job. I’ve got to watch for trouble. You’re not trouble. You’re an artsy weirdo.”
I listen to The Memory Palace podcast. It’s really great. Listen to one and I bet you’ll be hooked. But Nate DiMeo is the current artist-in-residence at The Met, so he’s been doing a podcast series about a handful of exhibits. I’d listened to most of the one’s he had out so far and I really wanted to see the pieces in person. It was pretty fucking cool.
Much of our time in the museum, we spent wandering from room to room, trying to figure out where we were and where we needed to be for the next podcast. We wound up bouncing around from one part of the museum to another, often backtracking our previous paths. I did a terrible job of planning our visit to The Met. Mostly because I did nothing at all to plan it other than say we’re going and we’re listening to these podcasts. Had I taken time for my usual level of planning, I would have looked up a map of the museum, figured out what room each podcast was for, plotted the most efficient course, made a playlist of the podcasts in the right order, and familiarized myself with the route. But I just didn’t have time for that.
We had decided to listen to the podcasts in their release order. The first one was in gallery 760 of the American Wing. It was up on the second floor, which I actually didn’t realize initially. My first concern was just getting to the American Wing and then I’d worry about finding Washington Crossing the Delaware.
We meandered through Medieval Art, snapping a few pictures, but otherwise trying to remain on the path. We couldn’t spend all day there, mostly because they closed at 5:30 and it was already creeping up on two o’clock. We also had over an hour of podcasts to listen to once we actually found the items.
The main path took us right to the American Wing. We milled around the large, open sculpture room that looked out on Central Park. More photos were taken, my mind brewing with memes that could be made from them.
Our meandering path took us to the Temple of Dendur, though we’d actually been looking for stairs. I knew one of the podcasts was about this room, so we milled around, took some pictures, listened to podcast number five, and it was fucking cool as shit! Like, not to throw shade on my hometown, but the Egyptian Collection at Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art ain’t got jack shit on the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I seriously could have spent all freaking day in there, but I knew we had to move on.
We found our way upstairs and we were amid the Asian Art galleries. They were awesome, but again we couldn’t dally. Down a long corridor, there lay the American Wing. The room we sought was in its heart, so we worked our way toward it, checking out the contents of each room on our way there. I was constantly consulting the map to make sure we didn’t get lost in the maze of galleries. But at last we arrived. I never did get a photo of Washington Crossing the Delaware, but I did get one of the subject of the podcast—Dance in a Subterranean Longhouse at Clearlake, California, by Jules Tavernier in 1878.
The subject of the second podcast in the list was a glass bottle in gallery 706, which overlooked the statue room we’d been through earlier. It was only a seven-minute podcast, and not at all worth our time. The bottles were cool to look at and everything, but standing in front of that case for seven minutes felt foolish once it was over. There was no need to have stood there and listened to it. It would have been better if we’d just listened to it while we strolled toward the case, which sat at the far end of the room.
We found an elevator and went back down to the first floor in search of gallery 735. It only had one piece in the whole room. Few people ventured in and out of it while we sat on the bench and listened to fifteen minutes of beautiful, tragic history about the piece that surrounded us. It’s a panoramic painting of Versailles. I got yelled at for taking a panoramic photo because the security guy thought I was taking video. I finished the photo, showed it to him, and I was allowed to photograph the second half of the painting.
We needed gallery 747 next, so we went back upstairs in the American Wing. Our goal was a portrait by Prince Demah Barnes. He had been a slave who was eventually freed. But while he’d still been a slave, he was sent to study to be a painter. And he was good. He even had a studio for a while. Most of his work was lost to history, but there—hanging on a wall—is a piece of history. An example of the brilliance and talent that went largely unnoticed, or even repressed, for centuries just because people had to be so fucking ignorant.
The sixth and final podcast we listened to was not about a painting, sculpture, or temple. It was about a room. The Alexandria Ballroom was only a few rooms away in gallery 719. Good thing, too, because at this point, the museum closed in less than an hour. We listened to the beautiful stories about the room around us which had been transported there to preserve it and its historical significance. I wanted to dance in the ballroom—just a few turns—but my niece didn’t, so I remained still, taking it all in and dancing in.
Once we were done there, we just had to find our way out. Yeah, right. Good fucking luck. Looking at the paper map while I write this, I have no idea where we wound up. I don’t know how we got there, or how we got out. But we ended up in a huge room labeled “Storage on Display” or something along those lines. We peeked in and saw aisle after aisle of glass cases filled with tightly packed unlabeled paintings—many without frames. We saw other museum goers walking around, so we ventured further into the room. There were walls of empty frames, some of them nested where they hung behind the glass to save space. Statues of every size, shape, material, and subject crowded together. Nothing had descriptions, but much of it was so fucking cool.
While I was snapping pictures of the awesome statues, they announced that the museum was closing soon and people needed to leave. We were then—more or less—able to follow others as they exited the museum.
We walked back down Fifth Avenue and made our way to the 77th street station to grab a train back to Midtown. All the while, our plans for the evening firmed up some more. We surfaced in Times Square and looked around for the Wax Museum. We waited in line, finally used our flex-passes for the first time that day, and spent the next hour and a half snapping photos of each other with wax figures. Of course, selfies abounded, too.
When I’d been there the year before, the Obamas had stood in the Oval Office set and a long line of people waited to have their picture taken with them. It is one of a handful of sets around the museum where the staff takes your picture and you can buy them at the very end. They keep these areas dimly lit so that if you want a picture there, you’ve got to pay for it.
This time, a Trump figure stood behind the desk. No one waited in line. The entire time we were in this huge hall full of political and religious figures, I don’t recall those bright flashes going off in the corner a single time. While we were exiting the room, a staff member tried to coerce us into not leaving yet, and to have our picture taken with the president instead.
“Can I take the picture with my middle finger in his face?”
No? Okay. On to the next room.
After the wax museum, we used our flex passes to get discounted food at Planet Hollywood. Since we had three passes each that had gone unused that morning, we needed to do something to use them up. Also, we hadn’t really eaten anything since breakfast. Since I have issues with eating when I’m traveling, I didn’t want a whole meal. I had a couple of appetizers and left most of one of them. I picked a large pile of mushrooms out of the other one.
On to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! It was mostly the same as last year, but there was a Cheetos exhibit that was new. I didn’t take any pictures of it, though, because I thought it was pretty ridiculous. Actually, I didn’t take very many pictures there at all this year since it was mostly the same. Here are some of the pics I took last year, and the pics I took this year.
I did take a bunch of pictures of the Times Square New Year’s Eve ball. That was new. And really damn cool. They had a display of many of the different glass triangles that had made up the balls during different years. They were incredibly detailed, thoughtful, and meaningful. I’d never known they had themes each year, or that it was a different ball each year.
While we’re in a room with mirrors at a slanted angle so that you can look like you’re climbing a building, we found some abandoned bags. We hadn’t seen anyone else for a while, but figured we’d run into staff soon. I was afraid someone else might come along and take this person’s lost bags, so I picked them up. If no one came looking for them, I’d leave them at the front desk on our way out. A couple of rooms later, I saw a staff member with two young teens looking frantic as they dashed through the room.
They turned toward me.
I held up their bags. “Did you forget something?”
They took their bags, obviously relieved, but apparently not enough to say thank you. Whatever. Kids these days. Amirite?
After we got hassled by some crazy lady at the laser game, and went through the spinning black light tunnel that fucks with your sense of balance and perception, we wound up in the shrunken head room. After that was the gift shop, then back on the streets.
Ripley’s is right next to Madam Tussaud’s, so all we had to do was look for the beacon of the Chrysler Building and head that way. We got back to the hotel around midnight. We knew we’d have to check out before we went to the Statue of Liberty, so we took the chance to pack.
After my niece went to bed, I snuck down to the mezzanine one last time to listen to the city in the night and say my goodbyes. The bright lights, the cars, the angry horns, the sirens, the beeping trucks, the heat that still bounced back from the pavement, the cloying smell of rotting garbage, and even the feel of the air. I knew I’d miss it all when I left. It also felt strange to make my way through the halls of the Grand Hyatt without my conference name badge bouncing against me as I walked. Strange enough that I noticed it.
We got up early the next morning. Well, early for not having gone to bed until after two in the morning. While my niece got ready and finished packing, I dashed down to the post office that was around the corner from the hotel and grabbed some priority shipping boxes to stuff our books into. I wound up with four boxes and she had three. Plus, I had the huge box my books had been in when they got shipped to the hotel. It was also full of books, but I had no tape to secure it. I also knew that shipping it by weight would cost a fortune. I figured it’d definitely be cheaper to ship them all in flat-rate boxes.
We somehow made it down to the front desk with our suitcases and 50+ pounds of books.
Getting the cumulatively heavy boxes to the post office sucked big fat fucking balls. It had taken us so long to pack the books that we barely made our eleven o’clock checkout time. So by the time we made the trek, carrying about thirty to forty pounds of stacked boxes each, it was getting up into the low 90’s. With me in a dress and hose. I don’t even know what the fuck I was thinking. I’ll never make that mistake again.
We got the labels bought and printed from the self-serve kiosks. It was a bit of a pain in the ass, but waiting in line would have taken even longer. We hoofed it back to the hotel. Along the way, we saw a beautiful trans woman screaming at a man in a suit as they exited Grand Central. She had a nice haircut. I actually never would have even known she’d ever been a man if it hadn’t been for her voice and the things she said. I don’t know what that dude said to her before they came outside, but shit… It must’ve been pretty bad. So, yeah. Fuck that guy. Who she is and how she spends her life has no effect on his life and he has no right to judge her or tell her who she ought to be.
I retrieved my last twenty-five-pound box of books from the front desk, thanked them again, and we headed back to the post office. My third trip
Perhaps I should explain a little bit. Why were we using the priority mail boxes? They were flat-rate boxes with adhesive already attached. It probably would have been cheaper to go buy some tape, but every minute we wasted was time not spent having fun. So with the consideration of numerous factors—the size difference, the price difference, the time spent waiting in line, the cost of tape—we went for the pre-taped boxes. The next size up, given its dimensions, wouldn’t have even held as many of the larger books. So, yeah…
On to the Statue of Liberty!
We took a couple of trains, strolled through Battery Park, and got in line to get our tickets. This part was fun because my dumbass decided it’d be a good idea to open the new and nearly warm bottle of soda that had been rattling around in my bag for the last two hours while we walked over four miles. I lost about a third of it to foam that wound up all over my arms. I managed to shift my weight and scoot my feet back in time to pretty much just get it on my arms. But it made me all sticky up to my elbows.
So, from checkout, to post office, to ferry launch, it took us three hours. Cheesus Crust. But we were on our way and super excited! At two, the ferry launched and we stood on the top deck, eating ice cream cones and snapping pictures of the approaching Lady Liberty.
By the time we got to the island, we both really needed the bathroom. Luckily, I remembered where it was in the gift shop from the year before. We hit the head, which was horribly and wretchedly un-air-conditioned. There was a huge fan blowing down each aisle between rows of stalls, but this did nothing to cool the stalls themselves.
Pantyhose are the devil. Those sweaty motherfuckers and my thick fucking thighs were at a war. I was determined to win. But never, ever again will I wear hose when I’ll be spending hours outside in the summer heat. I must’ve been out of my mind to think that’d be okay.
The only saving grace of the bathroom was the ice-cold water in the sinks. It was wonderfully refreshing to be able to soap up and wash the sweat and soda off of my arms. By the time we were done inside, we went back out to the kiosk that gives out audio tours. Due to our sidetrack, we beat the rush and didn’t have to wait in line for our little devices. The audio tour takes forty-five minutes, but we wound up spending about an hour and a half on the island. Maybe half an hour was in line to get on a boat to Ellis Island.
By 4:30, we’d picked up new audio tours and made our way upstairs to the Registry Room. It was beyond amazing to sit on those old, weathered benches that had held immigrants a century before. My own family had walked through those halls. My blood entered this country through that waypoint. There was a small percentage of a chance that my ancestors had even sat on one of these very benches.
They’re doing an exhibit next year that will be a wall of gold bricks. Each one will be written by a visitor. My brick will be on the wall. So will my niece’s.
We took our time wandering through the museum, but near the end, we knew we had to leave soon. There were more unexplored rooms that weren’t on the audio tour, but we had to pick up our bags and get to the airport. By six o’clock, we were back in line to get on the ferry to head back to New York.
We made our way through the winding paths of Battery Park and found a small child’s shoe a dozen yards from the subway entrance. I pointed it out to my niece and she picked it up. We looked around and she saw a family with a stroller, searching the ground around them. We ran over to them and gave them the toddler’s lost Croc. Another awesome and lucky find.
Back on the subway, switch trains, get off at Grand Central, and go back into the hotel for our bags. But, shit…this is getting long, yeah? I’m up around four thousand words on this shit. The end will come next week. Because holy fuck I had one hell of a trip home. Just wait for this shit… You’ll see.