It’s easy to remember when I took my first get-on-a-plane-and-fly-somewhere vacation with a parent. It was the summer of 1968, and my mom took my sister and me to Nassau. (My mom was frugal but not cheap, so we went to the Bahamas in summer.) I was dragged through a number of British forts and other historical sites, but basically it was a beach vacation. I met a girl at the pool about my age, and we played together. She was from Chicago. Later my mother told me her parents were fleeing the expected anarchy of the Democratic Convention, and I guess they had the right idea.
Anyway, I guess we’ve been dragging Kate here and there with us on our travels, but I figure now is when things start to sink in. Taking a toddler to Paris only makes sense if the price of a sitter exceeds the plane fare. Or maybe not. But that’s been my experience.
Since this trip was en famille, we knew certain activities would be inevitable. It’s cruel to take a kid to New York and not let them see Times Square. Which is to say, you are going to the Statue of Liberty. The good news is: It’s not so bad. There’s some actual history there — on Ellis Island, anyway — and even though the security is even stricter than the airports’, it’s worth a visit. Of course, it’s a National Historic Landmark, and hence run by the government, so the emphasis is on learning and explanation. I had a lively chat with a ranger who told me about the new security perimeter, and how the statue’s arm got speared by her crown in the Black Tom explosion, and how even though you can’t climb up to the crown anymore, you probably don’t want to anyway, because it’s hot and smelly inside. Wandering through the accompanying exhibits, Kate found a sister who shares her affliction, the heartbreak of Morton’s Toe. I’d hoped for some dawning realization of the breadth and depth of the immigrant story, but you know kids — it’s all about them.
The same cannot be said of the city’s other big tourist magnet, the Empire State Building. It’s a joke, isn’t it, about how many people live in New York and have never been to the top? Let me tell you something: That’s because New Yorkers are smart. It was undoubtedly the low point of the trip, a money-extraction racket start to finish and anticlimactic to boot. If you ever visit the city and feel the urge to see where King Kong frolicked, look at it from the sidewalk. Or else, this: Catch a cab to the airport and board the next flight to Chicago. From O’Hare, make your way downtown and choose any of the tall buildings with public observatories at the top; I recommend the Hancock tower, although the Sears is nice, too. Go up, look around, take your time, snap some pictures. Then come down, return to the airport, fly back to Manhattan. The elapsed time will be approximately what it would have taken to get through the Empire State line, and you’ll have seen Lake Michigan in the bargain. Trust me on this.
The rest of the trip was pretty free-form. We wandered uptown and down, stumbled onto a movie set, ate ridiculously rich rice pudding, went to the Guggenheim, the Museum of Natural History (very fine, but second banana to the Field, IMO) and a nearby shop called Maxilla & Mandible, where we considered buying a witty bit of taxidermy — a single squirrel severed at the waist, each half adorning one of a pair of bookends. (That is, until we heard the price, which seemed a bit steep for a squirrel.) Hoped for “Hairspray” at the TKTS booth, but settled for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
And we met our old pal and colleague Scott at some Belgian beer garden near Washington Square, which was sort of amusing, considering the closest thing we have to a local here in Detroit is the Cadieux Cafe, another Belgian bar. That there were two outside Belgium seemed stunning. Later we wandered to the square and Kate got dragooned into some street theater; a freelance acrobat did a somersault over her head, and I dropped a fiver in his bucket, in thanks for not killing her.
By far, one of the worst things about this new chapter in our lives — with its higher cost of living and unpredictable finances — has been the curtailing of our travel. No matter where you live, you need to get away sometimes and clear all the crap out of your head. Change the scenery. Gaze upon a new landscape. Be here now. And so on. It was a welcome trip, and I needed it.
Bloggage returns tomorrow. We have a new Tim Goeglein column to deconstruct, and fun to be had everywhere.