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My first visit to New York City

Started: 2013-06-29 21:06:13

Submitted: 2013-06-29 22:33:56

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator digs up his old journal to recap his first trip to New York City, as a nine-year-old in 1990

In light of my recent trip to New York City, I dug up the journal I kept on my first trip to the city in May 1990 in search of corroborating details to match my handful of memories from Manhattan. My parents organized a three-week trip to the east coast in the spring of my fourth grade year, and in exchange for getting out of school I had to, according to the independent study contract that I still have, "Keep a journal with pictures, pamphlets, brochures, etc relating to your trip. Daily entries of thoughts and observations and activities." The spiral-bound notebook is now fraying and some of the pages are falling out but it's stuffed full of pictures, pamphlets and brochures, as well as my observations as a nine-year-old on a family vacation to Washington, DC and New York.

We spent one week staying with friends in Brewster, Putnam County, New York; about 60 miles north of New York City. (I see Brewster is connected to the city via the Metro North Railroad; the peak travel time into Grand Central is about 80 minutes. I'm glad that's not my commute.) According to my journal, our week in New York included two days in Manhattan.

This is my complete journal entry from Friday, 18 May 1990, the day we drove from Silver Spring, Maryland to New York:

Journal entry from 18 May 1990

The handwriting is a little messy but I think it's recognizably mine. I apparently did not see fit to mention that we drove across the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River into Manhattan, or that some of the New Yorkers we talked to thought that the crossing was risky given its proximity to Harlem.

We returned to Manhattan the following day for church. I did not, as a nine-year-old, anticipate that, twenty-three years later, I would want detailed geographical references to pin down my precise location in the city. I remember a large, mostly-empty church and bright sun on the street out front. I kept slightly better notes on our afternoon visit to the beach on Fire Island.

The beach at Fire Island, 19 May 1990

Two days later, on Monday, 21 May 1990, we returned for a proper tour of Lower Manhattan. We took the ferry to Liberty Island and I remember climbing to the crown of the Statue of Liberty on the massive, creaking spiral staircases in the statue's cavernous and dimly-lit torso. (My mother tells me I was scared, but that fact is omitted from my own memory.) I kept the National Park Service brochure from the Statue of Liberty, which shows the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center towering over Lower Manhattan.

National Park Service brochure for the Statue of Liberty, 1990

We visited the New York Stock Exchange; I remember looking down from the observation balcony on the trading floor and being amazed at the traders running around. (My ticket, which I faithfully glued into my journal, indicates that our tour was between 15:15 and 16:00, the last forty-five minutes of the trading day.) At some point my father asked my brother Willy, who was three-and-a-half at the time (younger than Calvin is now) whether he understood the stock exchange and he thought for a moment and said, "Statue of Liberty makes sense to me."

New York Stock Exchange ticket stub

Our last tourist stop in Manhattan that afternoon was the observation deck at the top of 2 World Trade Center. I have vague memories of the plaza between the Twin Towers, the building's lobby, the elevators, and of the indoor observation deck itself and the view it provided. (My memories of the plaza are muddled with "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson" and my recent visit to the memorial garden that has replaced the site of the towers and the plaza between them.) I included my ticket stub in my journal, but other notes indicate that there should be a World Trade Center brochure that is no longer present.

World Trade Center observation deck ticket stub

We ate supper at The Famous Bari pizzeria a few blocks away. I remember a narrow pizza shop along a narrow street. Before we started eating my father was away from the table but our pizza had arrived, so my mother grabbed a garlic shaker and dumped it on my father's pizza. He thought it was great.

Business card from The Famous Bari

Armed with the address on the business card carefully preserved in my journal, I looked up the address when I returned and saw that I'd been within a block at Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan, and that it's only a few blocks from the World Trade Center. Google Maps mentions vaguely that a business with a similar name might be located at that address, but Street View shows no trace of that particular pizzeria.

In addition to the specific sites I mentioned above, I remember narrow streets, traffic and horns, towering buildings, tiny parking lots, and grates over utility vaults. Every time I take Calvin somewhere I wonder how much he's going to remember about it, and sometimes I try to intentionally jog his memory by providing photos, but ultimately he'll get whatever he wants to out of the experience, and all I can do is provide it and hope for the best.