East Coast Road Trip: The Big Apple and Coney Island

After we stashed my Macbook under the bed and threw our luggage on the bed we were off in the go-cart to head into the city. Michele and I cautioned each other to stay close and to watch out for everything around us. I was not too worried we would get mugged but I thought a pick-pocket might be a possibility. I had Michele leave her credit cards in the room and I left our cash there too.

The Subway

We spoke to the guy at the front desk at the Howard and he suggested we take the train in from a different station than the one we found on Google Maps. So we drove over on a whole bunch of one way streets. It was just a few miles but with the traffic and all of the crazy turns it took us forever. We found a parking garage and parked the go cart and walked across a busy street to the station. We had to buy a couple one way tickets, they only cost $2.50 but they would only give change for a 10 dollar bill. I had only a 20 so we had to buy them separately. With our tickets in hand and people walking every-which-way and trying to get there in a “New York minute” we had to get through the turn-style quickly. You put your ticket in and you have just a second to get through. I didnt have a problem, but Michele did. She put her ticket in and it “ate” it. She started freaking out. She doesn’t do well in situations like this so I tried to calm her down and told her she needed to go buy another ticket. She finally got through and we headed down to the platform.

This was both our first time on the New York subway/train system. I think I expected to see it like it is in the movies and on TV. It wasn’t. It was clean, quiet and fast. I think it spooked Michele a little bit but on the ride into the city we had plenty of room to move around as it was almost 6pm and most people were going the other way.

We exited the train at 36th street which is pretty close to Macy’s and just about 10 blocks or so from Times Square. There were people everywhere, just as you would expect. We bobbed and weaved our way through the busy street to make it close to one of the busiest squares in the world.

Times Square, Oakley and Real New York Pizza

If you have not been to Time’s Square it is exactly like you see it on TV. It is packed with people and everyone is milling around taking pictures with those dang selfie sticks. We passed 42nd Street where all of the Broadway shows are. I expected that to be much bigger.

Once you enter Times Square it is set up in sort of a V pattern. It is American commercialism at its finest. There are huge video screens advertising everything imaginable. There are 5-story tall super model ads and tickers telling you every piece of news that is happening right this minute.

We headed over to the famous red steps which is at the point of the V and sat for a while and people watched. From here you can see where they drop the ball on New Years Eve. I guess that is to the south. It is hard to get your bearings with all the tall buildings around and the massive amounts of flashing led lights and signs. Of course there are people everywhere coming up to you asking for money and if you will take their music CD that they just published. There is a catch to this. They say the CD is free and for you to try out their music but as soon as you have it in your hand they tell you it will cost 20 dollars right now! There are people that approach you saying they have cheap Broadway show tickets and if you sign up right now you can jump on a bus tour of the city.

One guy got a little too pushy and we just kept walking. I made the mistake of answering him and he got close enough for me to smell his alcohol laden breath. There are NYPD police officers everywhere and dressed in full tactical gear with impressive automatic rifles. There was even a group of them along with firefighters breaking into what looked like a FedEx drop box with their heavy tools. There was a group of people standing around taking pictures of course. The NYPD  has an office in the middle of the square that has become famous with the American flag neon lights.

We went in the Disney Store and a huge Willy Wonka candy store with a ferris wheel inside. We shopped for a while in the Oakley store and we bought a couple New York Oakley shirts for Michele and Nicole.

If I could say one thing about Times Square is: sensory overload! We loved it. I probably could have spent all day there watching all the people, some in crazy outfits and many just your normal every day tourist whose face is in their phones and cameras and not aware of what’s going on around them. There was even a couple getting married!

Our plan was to have a piece of real New York pizza for dinner. We found a place a few blocks from Times Square and we each ordered a slice. It was wonderful! Michele wanted to have a piece of New York cheesecake and it just so happened that the pizza joint sold that too.

Macy’s and Madison Square Garden

One of our first stops off the train was Macy’s. Michele and Nicole watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every year as they are preparing the Forto’s feast. We saw the area in front of the large store where they do all of the dancing in the parade on TV. We headed inside the super store and made our way across the street to Madison Square Garden.

On the day we were there the New York Rangers were in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightening in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were playing in Florida the night we were in town so we couldn’t go to the game. We did get a couple photos in front of this world famous landmark of sports and entertainment and had to send one along to Mark who is a diehard Rangers fan.

We stopped in a cheesy gift shop and bought some post cards for family and friends and a little King Kong on top of the Empire State Building for Nicole.

Through the busy streets of the concrete jungle the sun was setting between the buildings. It was a breathtaking sight. I read later that week it was the only time of the year when you could see the sun set like that. Down to our south we saw the newly built Freedom Tower that they built on the site of the World Trade Center that fell on 9/11. We were planning on taking the train down to Lower Manhattan but decided against it as we wanted to be back before midnight to our hotel in Jersey. We were in the city exactly four hours. Some people spend an entire vacation here and we saw just about everything we wanted to see in just a few hours. Next time we plan on visiting Central Park, Wall Street, head to the top of the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center site. Yes, I said next time. We are already planning our second annual roller coater tour for this same time next year!

The Ride Back

The ride back on the train was packed and I could see Michele was uncomfortable. She had a really bad experience on the light rail in Denver on her commute to work so I knew she didn’t like subways, especially after her debacle on our ride over. We did our best to stand still as the train swayed back and forth as he hurled down the track. Does anyone even drive these things?

We arrived back in Jersey and it was packed with people. Heading back to the parking garage was the only time in the city I did not feel safe. To get back to the car you have to wind you way through alleyways and pedestrian tunnels that smelled like urine and people were sleeping in large groups in makeshift homeless camps. I held Michele’s hand as we walked as quickly as we could weaving through the mass of people. We made it back to the car, breathed a sigh of relief and headed back to Howard’s.

Our Lady Liberty and the Freedom Tower

We woke up early the next morning, Wednesday. We have been on our trip for eight days. We have travelled “locally” through seven states and I did not lie to the cute Enterprise clerk, I DID visit family. Our plan today was to head over to Liberty Park (it’s in New Jersey) and see Ellis Island and the Statute of Liberty. We drove through the busy city streets and made our way to the park. When we arrived it was an oasis in the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. It was the first green grass we saw since we arrived but we both remarked as to why all of the gardens and flower beds were full of dead weeds. We parked the car and walked over to the boardwalk and took lots of pictures of Lady Liberty. In this location her back is to us and she is facing toward the harbor. It was an overcast day, along with all the smog it made it difficult to see Lower Manhattan across the harbor. We did get to see the Freedom Tower and watch all of the ferries taking people back and forth. Ellis Island was impressive. Its hard to imagine that most of our ancestors walked in this very building a century or two before us.

Coney Island and Hot Dogs

One of the highlights of the entire trip was a last minute jaunt over to Coney Island. When we were sitting in Liberty Park and gawking at our Lady we pulled out Google Maps and looked up Coney Island. It was just about 40 minutes away and if we hurried up we could be on the boardwalk eating a world famous Coney Island hotdog at Nathan’s.

Coney Island is in the Bronx. We were currently sitting in New Jersey. It was pretty early in the morning but we decided to brave the traffic and head over.

We pulled up to Coney Island and paid for parking for two hours just seconds from the boardwalk. The amusement park didn’t open till noon so we headed over to the beach. We walked down to the shore and were amazed at how dirty it was. There was trash everywhere and people were laying out on the sand in all of their clothes. The water was a deep gray-blue.

On the boardwalk is the world famous Nathan’s. This place has been here since 1916. Nathan’s is the hot dog institution and the home of the July 4th Hot Dog Eating contest. Yes, you guessed well: it was out first destination. You cannot go to Coney Island and not go to Nathan’s to eat a hot dog or two…It is truly American. The place was crowded, even this early. We bought three hotdogs with chili and cheese, fries and a couple large cokes. They were amazing! Michele loved them and said they were the best hot dogs she has ever had. Even the french fries rocked.

After lunch we looked in a couple shops along the board walk and I bought a Cyclone t-shirt.

The Cyclone opened at noon and we were first in line. We paid over nine bucks each to ride, I know, expensive, but this would become the highlight of our roller coaster tour. How could we do a legitimate roller coaster tour without riding the world famous Cyclone? It was only a couple hours out of our way, right?

The Coney Island Cyclone (better known as simply Cyclone) is a historic wooden roller coaster that opened on June 26, 1927, in the Coney Island section of BrooklynNew York City. On June 18, 1975, Dewey and Jerome Albert – owners of Astroland Park – entered into an agreement with New York City to operate the ride. Despite original plans by the city to scrap the ride in the early 1970s, the roller coaster was refurbished in the 1974 off-season and reopened on July 3, 1975. Astroland Park continued to invest millions over the years in the upkeep of Cyclone. After Astroland closed in 2008, Carol Hill Albert, president of Cyclone Coasters, continued to operate it under a lease agreement with the city. In 2011, Luna Park took over operation of the Cyclone. It was declared a New York City landmark on July 12, 1988, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 26, 1991.

The track is 2,640 feet (800 m) long (including six fan turns and twelve drops) and a 85-foot (26 m) drop at its highest point; the first drop is at a 58.1 degree angle. Each of the three trains is made up of three eight-person cars, but only one train can run at a time. The ride’s top speed is 60 miles per hour and it takes about one minute and fifty seconds.

The history of the Cyclone: The success of 1925’s Thunderbolt and 1926’s Tornado led Jack and Irving Rosenthal to buy land at the intersection of Surf Avenue and West 10th Street for a coaster of their own. With a $100,000 investment, they hired leading coaster designer Vernon Keenan to design a new coaster. Harry C. Baker supervised the construction, which was done by area companies including National Bridge Company (which supplied the steel) and Cross, Austin, & Ireland (which supplied the lumber). Its final cost has been reported to be around $146,000 to $175,000. When it opened on June 26, 1927, a ride cost only twenty-five cents, about $3.50 when adjusted for inflation in 2012 compared to the actual $9 per ride for the 2013 Season.

In 1935, the Rosenthals took over management of Palisades Park. The Cyclone was put under the supervision of Christopher Feucht, a Coney Island veteran who had built a ride called Drop the Dips in 1907, and then doing minor retracking work on it. It continued to be extremely popular; one of its many stories is from 1948, when a coal miner with aphonia visited Coney Island. According to legend, he had not spoken in years but screamed while going down the Cyclone’s first drop, saying “I feel sick” as his train returned to the station. He prompty fainted after realizing he had just spoken.

Michele and I jumped in the car. It was so small! We couldn’t fit sitting together so we each grabbed a car, Michele behind me. The ride took off down the track by the attendant pulling a big wooden lever. We started up the hill and within seconds we were on the ride of our life! As we pulled into the station and came to a stop my mind immediatley thought that we were riding on a coaster that people rode on almost 90 years ago. How cool is that? Michele couldn’t help but think about how women may not have been allowed to ride in the first few years and then how it must’ve been to ride with a dress and hat on! We left with smiles on our faces and stories to tell as we jumped back in the go-cart with a couple minutes to spare on our two hour time limit.

Driving in the Big City

A lot of people commented on our Facebook page that we were insane to do all of this driving. Not really. Like I said before we live in Alaska and it is a drive to everywhere. We live about 40 minutes from the grocery store and we routinely drive 300 miles up and back the same day to Fairbanks to visit clients.

What was interesting was driving in and around New York City. While we did not drive in Manhattan we could have. I expected to see a lot more traffic and way more taxi cabs like you see on the movies and on TV. Yes, there was a lot of them but they were not packed in like sardines. What was unnerving was the constant shrill of sirens. They were coming and going constantly. The men and women of the NYPD and the FDNY have their work cut out for them for sure. They are constantly on the move and I have no idea how they get anywhere on the congested streets of New York.

Driving in the Bronx was like driving in any big city. The problem was the people. People were everywhere. They crossed the streets with cars screaming at them and they paid them no mind. You constantly had to be on your toes.

As I said before, one thing we weren’t prepared for were all the tolls. I bet we spent over 100 dollars in tolls in just the last two days of our trip. They all only took cash, unless you had one of those speed passes on your car. As we were heading over the Whitestone Bridge a guy’s pass didn’t work on his car and he quickly was stuck with the barricade not letting him through. People were stacking up behind him quickly and you know what they say about irate New York City drivers.

We made it through the city without an accident or a ticket. Thats a good thing because you remember we told the Enterprise chick we were staying “local.” Well we were only a couple hundred miles from Baltimore, so I guess we were technically still local.

Tomorrow: Back to Charm City


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