Merry Christmas From the Big Apple
I recently discovered something that many people know, but I always thought was a bit exaggerated: Christmas in New York City is magical.
I’ve always wondered how New York City and Christmas became so intertwined. Some of it is borne of pop culture. Movies such as “Miracle on 34th Street” or the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the lighting of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center have been burned into our retinas.
I’ve seen all of these things, as have my wife and my mother-in-law. This year, we decided instead of buying a bunch of gifts and hoping we get the size of things right, we would throw that money into a trip to New York City for Christmas.
I say we, but it was really the women who made this decision. I have never had a huge desire to go to the Big Apple for any occasion.
I certainly didn’t mean to be a Grinch. I love traveling and I love big cities. Parachute me into any major city and I can usually navigate pretty well and find all the cool stuff. I’ve been to Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Louisville, Orlando, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and on and on.
Technically, I’ve been to New York City. To be further technical, it was the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, and it was not by choice. I had flown into John F. Kennedy International Airport for a connecting flight after attending for conference in Washington, D.C., back in 2009.
I missed that connecting flight because I chose to argue with a Transportation Security Administration officer who told me I need to remove my belt before passing through the metal detector, something I didn’t have to do at any other airport.
“You mean to tell me that the small airport in Charleston, West Virginia, has a more advanced metal detector that can distinguish between a buckle and a bomb instead of the largest airport in the western hemisphere?” I asked.
I won the argument but missed the flight. I was given a hotel voucher for a nearby Doubletree Hotel in Queens. The only lock that functioned on my hotel room door was the deadbolt. I didn’t have my luggage, and virtually no money as I was a low-paid journalist in those days. People told me to take the subway and see the city. I declined, choosing instead to vent to my father’s answering machine using language a Pentecostal doesn’t normally hear from his son.
Flash forward to earlier this month. My wife and I took turns driving the eight hours to Newark, New Jersey, to our hotel across from the train station. We immediately took the train into Penn Station and the heart of Midtown Manhattan.
My first impression was it was smaller than I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a huge island, I found it to be very walkable. Of course, after 5 p.m. it gets very crowded, but even that wasn’t unpleasant.
We saw everything you’d expect to see: Times Square, the tree at Rockefeller Center, the light display at Saks 5th Avenue, the Rockettes Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall and horse-drawn open sleigh … OK, it was a carriage with the top up because it was slightly drizzling. We paid our respects at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I even got to visit Ladder 8, the home of the Ghostbusters fresh from a three-year renovation.
I walked away with a new-found respect for the city I never wanted to go to. I understand why people go to New York City, especially around Christmas. I discovered the magic of Christmas in a city that truly puts out the red carpet for Santa.
My trip also reminded me of just how small the planet is, even in the largest city in the world. One of the things we wanted to do is try original New York pizza. You can throw a rock in any direction in New York City and hit a pizza place, but I had one in mind: Majestic Pizza.
I had seen an interview with the owner for a show that Penn and Teller used to do on Showtime back in the mid-2000s. Majestic is located fairly close to the Freedom Tower. I had always wanted to eat there, so I pulled out the Google Maps app and found it.
We order our pizza and a couple of women offered us their table as they were leaving. My wife noticed the flying WV on the one woman’s purse and asked if they were from West Virginia. They were and had taken a bus trip for the weekend to see the city. When one said she lived near Parkersburg I told her I was from near Parkersburg too and introduced myself.
“I know who you are Steve, I know your dad and your mom.”
Turns out she was the wife of a long-time Pleasants County deputy sheriff. We were both from the same hometown and knew each other, though I must admit I hadn’t seen her in years and didn’t recognize her. She didn’t recognize me until I said my name. Obviously, hugs were had, as we St. Marys people don’t often venture outside our hobbit hole.
It’s just another example of how small and miraculous this world can be.
I hope you have a very Merry Christmas. I’ll be back to talking politics next week, as 2019 legislative session is just over two weeks away.