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Midtown

Started: 2022-07-23 16:25:04

Submitted: 2022-07-23 18:34:04

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Walking all over Midtown Manhattan

On Friday morning, 15th July, I woke up late in my sister's apartment in Midtown Manhattan, slightly jet-lagged from traveling across the country with a three-hour time change. (Julian was up at the crack of dawn listening to an audiobook on his iPad; Calvin also slept in, at least by local standards.) I was amused to see an ad hanging from a lamp post promoting NYC as the "financial capital of the world" posted by Cantor Fitzgerald.

Midtown Manhattan
Midtown Manhattan

Bethany took the day off to play our tour guide in New York City, but she had a couple of meetings to call into so we didn't actually make it out of the apartment until it was almost noon Eastern time. We walked a couple of blocks to the Roosevelt Island Tram where I bought a Metro Card to pay for the tram and the subway. (Most, but not all, subway turnstiles were equipped with proximity readers where I should have been able to use my credit card or phone to enter, but it was generally easier to get my own Metro Card and swipe once for each of the kids before following them myself.)

Aunt Bethany and Julian ride the Roosevelt Island Tram
Aunt Bethany and Julian ride the Roosevelt Island Tram

Only one of the two tram cars were running across the East River while maintenance was being done on the cables on the north side on Roosevelt Island. The tram was crowded with families with young children who also seemed to be enjoying the tram as a tourist attraction, but we were able to get a spot by the window to look down First Ave and watch Midtown slide by, replaced by the East River and finally Roosevelt Island.

Aunt Bethany and Calvin ride the Roosevelt Island Tram
Aunt Bethany and Calvin ride the Roosevelt Island Tram

Since my last visit to New York with Calvin, the derelict hospital on the south half of Roosevelt Island has been replaced by a shiny new Cornell Tech campus, with some empty space still left for future expansion.

Cornel Tech campus on Roosevelt Island
Cornel Tech campus on Roosevelt Island

We walked to the southern end of the island, now occupied by a park celebrating FDR's "four freedoms" speech. (As fundamental declarations of human rights go, it's a good first step.) Across the river we could see the UN, looking just like it did on my last visit nine years ago, plus new buildings that had sprung up since then.

The UN and Midtown
The UN and Midtown

The newest trend in New York City building is to build narrow residential buildings as tall as possible, and the best example in Midtown East is Sutton Tower, a 67-story residential tower that has topped out but is still being built out. Here the designers chose to emphasize the verticality of the narrow tower by outlining four floors of windows in a single white outline, which makes the tower look even taller compared to its nearest neighbors in Midtown East.

Queensboro Bridge, Midtown, and Sutton Tower
Queensboro Bridge, Midtown, and Sutton Tower

The sudden appearance of Sutton Tower is evident in the comparison of my view under the Queensboro Bridge nine years ago versus the nearly-identical view below.

Under the Queensboro Bridge
Under the Queensboro Bridge

We caught the tram back to Manhattan and started heading towards Central Park before we thought about lunch.

Riding the Roosevelt Island Tram back into Midtown
Riding the Roosevelt Island Tram back into Midtown

Bethany suggested The Meatball Shop on the Upper East Side just a short walk away, so we headed up Third Ave then jogged back to Second Ave. This "short walk" turned out to be a mile and it was more than Julian felt like he could handle, so Bethany gave him a piggy-back ride for two blocks before making him walk the rest of the way.

Aunt Bethany carries Julian up Third Ave
Aunt Bethany carries Julian up Third Ave

I had a veggie meatball sandwich, which was good. Calvin ate his veggie meatballs with mashed potatoes and reported that he liked it. Julian got veggie meatballs with spaghetti and enthusiastically mashed the meatballs into his spaghetti before actually tasting the meatballs and deciding he didn't actually like them. (The veggie meatballs were a bit soft and squishy, which was great for my sandwich, but probably less optimal for Julian's tastes.) He then proceeded to try to pick the meatballs out of the spaghetti with mixed results; but he eventually got enough food to eat so we declared lunch a success.

Properly fortified we walked west across the Upper East Side, past expensive apartment buildings and Upper East Side ladies out for walks with their Upper East Side small dogs, to Central Park. In the park we nipped past the Alice in Wonderland statue and around Conservatory Water, where the mid-rise apartment buildings peeked gracefully over the trees to the east; and where a small number of new narrow high-rise apartment buildings south of Central Park (each taller and narrower than Sutton Tower) loomed over the park like giant middle fingers in my field of view. In ten or twenty years, once the skyline has grown up and there are more towers they won't look quite so out-of-place; but now they're so different from everything around them that they're temporary eyesores.

Conservatory Water and the Upper East Side
Conservatory Water and the Upper East Side

We walked to the small Central Park Zoo, which seemed to be leaning into its small footprint with small habitats for small animals, including the a tiny hand-sized cotton-top tamarin monkey from South America. The tamarin was housed inside the Tropic Zone, an indoor greenhouse packed with free-ranging birds, tropical trees and vines, piranhas swimming ominously in a tank, and a couple of bats.

Parrot at the Central Park Zoo
Parrot at the Central Park Zoo

It was a warm summer day in New York outside the Tropic Zone; inside they had cranked up the heat and humidity to tropical levels that were somewhat warmer than the level at which I felt totally comfortable. Then we went upstairs into the canopy and the heat got worse. The lemurs were all sleeping through the heat of the day, collapsed into furry black-and-white heaps at various points in their sizable habitat.

Tropic Zone at the Central Park Zoo
Tropic Zone at the Central Park Zoo

The only refreshments available were $5 tall-boy cans of soda and water, so we bought the cans and caught the very end of feeding time at the California sea lion exhibit in the middle of the zoo. I can see sea lions back home (the young males haul out onto any available surface and bark at each other like frat boys) but it was amusing to see them out of context in the middle of Central Park. (Here, for whatever reason, they were not barking at each other, which I found refreshing.)

California sea lions at the Central Park Zoo
California sea lions at the Central Park Zoo

Not all of the animals were as small as the tamarin. The zoo had a habitat with three female grizzly bears from Montana who spent their time walking all over the fake concrete rocks and scrambling up and down the streams and swimming in the pool at the end of their habitat. The habitats seemed to be designed to give the animals a comfortable environment while still providing the zoo guests the opportunity to actually see the animals inside the habitat.

Grizzly bear at the Central Park Zoo
Grizzly bear at the Central Park Zoo

Next was the snow leopard habitat, with a long preface talking about how rare it was to see a snow leopard in the wild. When we reached the viewing area I couldn't see the animals inside, and at first I wondered if they had set up an elaborate hoax in which the snow leopard habitat was in fact empty. It turned out there was a snow leopard in the habitat, sitting on a wall on the far left side of the habitat, with its back to us and its tail black-and-white striped tail dangling down the wall.

The second snow leopard habitat was significantly more rewarding: the big cat was sitting right in the middle of the habitat, in full view of the crowd, yawning like a house cat.

Crowd watches the snow leopard at the Central Park Zoo
Crowd watches the snow leopard at the Central Park Zoo

The leopard looked cuddly, sitting on its rock staring back at the crowd. It sat there for a couple of minutes before sauntering off into the underbrush away from us.

Snow leopard at the Central Park Zoo
Snow leopard at the Central Park Zoo

Next we saw the penguins and puffins, which were fun to watch but impossible to photograph because the inside of the glass was splashed with so much water that it made it hard to see inside. We left the main body of the zoo and went next door to the children's zoo, which was a little underwhelming: Julian liked sitting in the giant egg like he was a turtle hatching, and Calvin was amused by the large spider web, but we arrived too late to feed any of the barnyard animals on display.

Calvin in a spider web
Calvin in a spider web

We caught a taxi back to Bethany's apartment, then spent some downtime to recover from the day before catching another taxi cross-town to Bareburger in Hell's Kitchen. Josh joined shortly, after he finished work, and we all ordered various combinations of veggie burgers for supper. (I was amused to see that Calvin took notes on what to order in his customized burger using Google Keep on his phone.)

Julian and Calvin walk though Hell's Kitchen
Julian and Calvin walk though Hell's Kitchen

After supper we walked a couple of blocks towards Times Square to the Minskoff Theatre, where we had tickets for the evening's performance of The Lion King. This was the first time Calvin, Julian, or I had seen a show on Broadway — and possibly Julian's first exposure to live theater at all, with the possible exception of whatever skits he might have seen at school in the last year. (While we were sitting waiting for the show to begin, Julian asked Bethany where the projector was for the movie.) This was actually Calvin's second experience with musical theater this week; on Tuesday before leaving Santa Cruz he got invited to see Come From Away with a friend from school.

The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre
The Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre

I had some vague idea what to expect in the staging (having seen some pictures depicting the costumes and masks and puppets allowing the actors on stage to perform as African animals) and the plot (having seen the animated movie once in the 1990s). I was impressed by the variety of the puppets and the diversity of scale: buzzards flying overhead were depicted by an actor spinning a pole with birds attached to the top; flocks of cranes and other water birds were depicted by actors vaulting across the stage wearing bird puppets attached to their arms and heads. (In some cases the puppets used forced perspective: the ones at the front of the stage were larger than those at the back of the stage, giving the impression of greater depth than the stage could accommodate.) Young Simba and Nala were played by child actors on stage in the first act; in the second act they were replaced by adult actors playing the adult lions. The whole thing was an amazing spectacle and I was happy we got the opportunity to see it.

After the show we joined the crowd pouring out of the theater into Times Square. We crossed 7th Ave, packed with people, through the massive wrap-around displays and bright lights that make up Times Square, and headed cross town on foot in hopes that we'd have an easier time finding a taxi the further from Times Square we got. It took a couple of blocks before we found a taxi, and we were only able to fit four in the car; Bethany and I rode back with the kids and Josh walked back (we were only a mile from the apartment, but that seemed like more than we could ask Julian to walk that late at night).

I put Julian to bed before sitting down to decompress a bit myself and reviewing our plan for the next day.

I took more pictures on Friday than I included above. For the rest see Photos on 2022-07-15.

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