Originally published on December 26, 2012

It has been quite sometime since my last post, as it seems school has gotten the best of me. After finishing up finals, Michelle, and I traveled to ‘The Big Apple,’ so I decided to get back to the blog.

New York, New York, “a city so big they named it twice” is absolutely massive. I had been there twice previously, yet each time I am awestruck by its sheer size, blinding lights and lack of sleep. When we landed on a cold, uncharacteristically foggy day, we were greeted by the bright smile of Claudette (a dear family friend, and my wonderful Godmother).

Promptly we were on the highway, en route to the city. However, we did not go through the “candy cane forest, the swirly-twirly gumdrops, or the Lincoln Tunnel” (for all of you ‘Elf’ fans—arguably the greatest Christmas movie of the 21st Century—Will Ferrell is a comical genius). A thick, light-grey fog suffocated the city; nevertheless, we drove across the Brooklyn Bridge in order to take a look back at Manhattan. We strolled out onto the soft, soggy wooden pier, only to see the end of the bridge swallowed up by the eerie fog, which only seemed to thicken, as it got darker. We returned to Claudette’s condo, in Greenwich Village, on the Lower West Side.

We listened attentively, as Claudette listed off how to go “Uptown” versus “Downtown,” which subways went where, etc. After a long day of travel, we opted for ‘A Christmas Story’ (which I had actually never seen before) instead of exploring the urban metropolis.

The three-hour time difference foiled any plans of an early start the following morning, however, it did save us from a torrential downpour. By the time we woke up, the intense fog had lifted, the dark sidewalks began to dry up and the sun shone brightly over the city.

Celebrating the sunshine, we headed out the door and up 7th Ave. Within minutes we were no longer in cozy Greenwich Village, but staring up a large circular building, covered in signs. One particular stone placard read: ‘Madison Square Garden.’  In the distance we could see the flashing, loud, building-sized advertisements of perhaps the most famous intersection in the entire world. A short while later, we wandered into Macy’s and past the famous cursive “Believe” sign, as seen in the holiday classic “Miracle on 34th Street.” Times Square was bustling with tourists and shoppers, yet it would only get busier and busier as the week progressed. Though I had been there multiple times before, I had never appreciated it as much as in that moment. I felt so small, pinned between the towering, gray/beige skyscrapers.

Our adventure continued to Central Park, as a light drizzle began to fall. We passed the overpriced horse carriages, toward the curvy, puddle-ridden paths, underneath the bare, overhanging tree branches. Just as we got to the south pond, the sun began to set behind the skyline, creating a beautiful mirrored image on the flat, glassy water.

Central Park | Photo by Wilson Carletti
Central Park | New York City

Our journey continued across the park, passing by the smaller pond where the boat race in Stuart Little took place, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Having now visited The Met, it is conceivable that someone could easily spend hours, if not days, walking through its many halls and wings. It reminded me a lot of the museums that we walked through in Europe, except with less people. Perhaps the coolest things we saw were the full medieval suits of armor, samurai armor and Egyptian mummies.  Realizing that we were a bit behind schedule we hustled back across the park to grab a quick bite to eat and then over to Lincoln Center, to see Warhorse, on Broadway.

The play was incredible, and the horses were unbelievably life-like. Three actors controlled each horse, imitating nearly every mannerism of a real horse (I say “nearly,” quite thankfully). The fact that they were able to make half of the theater cry over an inanimate object is frankly incredible. I do not recommend it for the skittish and/or faint of heart, however, as there are (too) many loud, pyrotechnical gunshots.

The next day we decided to utilize public transportation, rather than walk nearly eight miles again. We ducked out of the cool, crisp morning air into the warm, musty subway tunnel and took it down to Battery Park City. When we emerged, we found ourselves staring at Ground Zero, site of the World Trade Center Memorial.

We kind of stood there, amongst the hurried crowd and loud construction, for a moment, looking at the seemingly gaping hole in the cityscape; the empty space where once two mighty towers stood.

It was a tremendously humbling moment.

We walked along the sidewalk over to the ‘9/11 Memorial Preview Site’ to get our tickets, our necks cocked back staring up at the construction of the new World Trade Center, the tallest building of which is to be a very fitting, 1776 ft. tall. We happened upon Trinity Chapel, which though built several centuries ago, stands across the street from the WTC. It remains a rather peculiar, almost creepy, mix of new and old, being that if you stand on its cold, cobblestone front steps, you stare out at rows of tombstones from the 18th century, just across the street from where many lost their lives just a little more than 11 years ago.

Inside the chapel, lie both artifacts from the creation of America, and the rebuilding of it. Next to a collage of fire department badges from all over the world, sent in support of the brave men who risked their lives, and those that made the ultimate sacrifice on that horrible day, sits ‘George Washington’s pew.’ Once used to address the newly founded country, in 2001, the area was used to allow first responders to rest and get off their feet for a moment.

We looped back around the block to the entrance to the memorial.  After passing through security, we emerged into a large open plaza, where tourists milled around two huge black, square fountains.  Water flowed from the top edge of each monument, crashing into an identical square pool several stories below, which then disappeared into a smaller black square, dropping further into the Earth.  The names of the victims are etched in the smooth black railing, which is heated as the names of these people are never to be felt cold.

World Trade Center Memorial | Photo by Wilson Carletti
World Trade Center Memorial | New York City

The entire experience was a very emotional one. I was sad. Angry. Mournful. But most of all, I was quiet. A respectful silence seemed to hang low over the sparse crowd as we exited, heading toward the Hudson River.

We collected our thoughts while strolling the waterfront. We happened upon a modeling photo shoot, and while we tried to be respectful, could not help chuckling at the woman’s rather poor impression of Zoolander’s “Blue Steel” pose.

Liberty and Ellis Island were closed due to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, but we decided to take a harbor cruise to get a little closer to the Statue herself. After an overpriced hotdog and a “hot soft pretzel” that was cold and stale, we found ourselves no more than 100 yards from the Statue of Liberty. It was surreal. The sun was setting behind the statue and we had a front row seat. Michelle was like a little kid in a candy store; though her hair would not cooperate, her smile would not fade (perhaps because her face was near frozen). We reached shore not too long after, however, our day was far from over.

Less than an hour later we were walking into Madison Square Garden (MSG) to watch the ‘New York Knicks’ take on their crosstown rival ‘Brooklyn Nets’ in what would be a great game.

I had not even made it inside yet and I was beaming.  This was my candy store. I had not seen an NBA game since the Sonics left (were stolen from) Seattle in 2008. And it was free hat night!

I didn’t realize that MSG was nine stories tall, as I was used to Key Arena, which was practically underground.  We found our seats among some die-hard Knicks fans and snacked on some delicious stadium chicken fingers. I peered down onto the court as the players trotted out and sure enough, there stood Spike Lee, famed film-director and Knicks fanatic. [note: if you have not seen it, I highly recommend ESPN Films’ “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks”—Spike and former Indiana Pacers star, Reggie Miller, have a sound relationship]

Our section ended up being pretty entertaining, as cheers of “BROOOK-LYNNNN….SUCKS!” echoed all night long, with a few “Kardashian” jabs thrown at Nets player Kris Humphries mixed in. They even tried to start “the wave,” which in fact originated at Husky Stadium. Go Dawgs. I was unaware that the Knicks had acquired both J.R. Smith and Rasheed Wallace, arguably two of the biggest goons in the NBA, and even more arguably too of the most entertaining players to watch (Rasheed was ejected less than one minute into a game earlier this season). The Knicks ended up winning, making for a very elated, happy environment, and I was also able to see my buddy Mark, who was abroad in Asia for the last five or so months.

After the game we decided to wander around the area and eventually found ourselves in a much calmer Times Square, and then, Rockefeller Center. There stood the gigantic Christmas tree, perched above the stark white ice rink. It was incredible to actually see it in person. After an amazing day, it was time to head home.

Seeing as how awesome Wednesday was, Thursday was going to have to pull out all the stops to top its neighbor. Fortunately for us, it did not disappoint.

At about 3 PM, we walked into the set of The Late Show: hosted by David Letterman, and sat down about six rows back, center stage. Apparently, you could vaguely see our blurred outlines on TV whenever the camera panned across the crowd. Witnessing the taping of the show live, it became apparent that the show is much more than a show; it is a full-fledged production. Paul Schaffer and the CBS Orchestra performed what essentially was a rock concert before the show and during commercials, playing anything from The Rolling Stones to The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Katie Holmes was shy and frankly kind of boring. She did seem a lot less crazy than the media makes her out to be though. Jon Bon Jovi was more entertaining, as he was cracking jokes left and right, flirting with the line between semi-normal person and high-profile celebrity. If you ever get the chance to go to New York, or if you live in NY, I suggest you check out The Late Show or one of the many other shows taped in the city (I really want to see Saturday Night Live someday).

After Letterman, we made our way over to St. Thomas cathedral (where Claudette and Jacki work) to see a boy’s choir concert. I did not know what to expect, as the high sandstone arches were definitely a change of pace from the bright lights, theatrical backdrop and dark cameras. To our delight, the choir was amazing! It was like nothing I had ever heard before. I was extremely impressed, not only by the boys’ vocal abilities, but by their overall professionalism and maturity.

We walked back over to Times Square to take in the craziness of it all one last time (there is a full-size Ferris wheel in Toys ‘R Us) [note: Matt G. if you’re reading this—you should’ve worked there] and then called it an evening.

On our last day, we were greeted by a chilly wind on our way to Rockefeller Center, but we didn’t care because we were going to “The Top of The Rock.” But first, we had been suckered into purchasing the combo ticket, which comes with a tour of Rockefeller Center. We ultimately agreed, thinking it would be interesting to explore the building and perhaps see where things are filmed.

I think it was about at the point when we put goofy, Walkman-style headphones on and walked outside when we realized that we had been deceived by corporate America. We thought we were going to get to see the set of 30 Rock, but instead went on a glorified lunch-break walk around the Center (which actually consists of multiple buildings—they told us exactly how many, but I seem to have forgotten).  Surely, we did learn a few interesting details about the Center that we otherwise would have never noticed, but left the tour feeling slightly cheated. Nevertheless, once we reached the top of 30 Rockefeller Center, and found ourselves above Uptown Manhattan with a spectacular view of the entire city.

Suddenly, the lackluster tour did not matter. It was an extremely cliché way to end our stay in New York City, but yet it truly was so fitting. We walked around the edge of the building, pointing out all of the places we had been over the last couple days. It felt like we were above everything; the noise, the lights, the traffic, the crowds, the under-explained-over-priced tours, everything. Except the clouds. Which appeared to be sending us on our way, just as they had welcomed us only five short days ago.

Until next time, New York. As always, it was a pleasure.