Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rob, Heather, and Jess take Manhattan

This is a sad, sad, day in my life. My East Coast vacation has come to a close. Too soon. Far too soon! It was a glorious 4 day adventure that I got to spend with two of my all-time favorite travel companions – Jess Miller and Heather Swanson. We’ve shared many a West Coast excursion together, including our Idaho Chrismtas Holiday of 2005, the Disneyland  Roadtrip in 2006 and the great Sisters, Oregon adventure of 2008. After a four-year hiatus, we figured it was time to spread our wings and take a jab at the east side of the country. Jess has been living in Hartford, Connecticut for the past 3 years and now that she is one month away from returning to her Pacific Northwest roots, Heather and I figured it was time to make the journey.

I touched down in Hartford early Thursday afternoon and we filled the day with the best that Hartford had to offer. Jess and Heather had been busy filling their time as they waited for my arrival by frequenting nearby museums where they would enter and chat it up with old men who claimed to be besties with Igor know? The guy who invented the helicopter?? Don't worry, I'd never heard of him either. Jess and Heather never made it very far into the museums however, because they weren't willing to pay money for a chance to view an assortment of old radios at the "Vintage Radio and Communications Museum" that Jess claimed looked like they had been dumped off by an old man who had cleaned out his attic.  I had never been to Connecticut so I was chomping at the bit to learn more about the local history of the area. The biggest surprise came when one of Jess’s coworkers informed us that Hartford was the home of Mark Twain and that we could take a tour of his old bachelor pad! This was news to Jess but I wasn’t that surprised, seeing as she only frequents places that have the word Cupcake, Whole Foods, and American Girl plastered on the outside of the building.  As fast as you could say Samuel Clemens, we were all piled into her car with Justin Bieber's smash hit "Boyfriend" cranked up full blast and on our way to see to see the crown jewel of Hartford tourism.  We were only a mile down the road when I happened to glance out the window to my right only to see an old tattered, white, picket fence. At that moment the wheels started turnin, the light bulb turned on and over the sound of Bieber's angelic voice I screamed “Do you think this is the fence that Tom Finn painted in the book!??!?!!” Jess and Heather of course shook their heads and rolled their eyes and set the record straight that Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were two separate fictional characters. Turns out in the heat of exciting discoveries I become borderline dyslexic. Same thing happened in LA when I saw Matthew Fox but instead yelled, "Look, it's Matthew Broderick!!"

After setting the record straight on Tom Finn, we made it up to Mark’s home only to find the tours had ended for the day. However, we did get to look around the outside of the house which was pretty amazing and I was quickly regretting my decision not to pack my white pant suit and Great Illustrated Classic copy of Tom Sawyer. Mark spared no expense on his lavish dwelling place but it wasn’t at all what I had imagined the home of Twain to look like. For one thing, I had always imaged there would be huge white pillars and assumed it was somewhere in the deep south. It was pretty cool just hanging out on his front porch where he most likely spent many a night puffing on cigars and thinking up memorable quotes that people like me would eat up and somehow work into every school research paper imaginable. Harford was just full of historical surprises and one being that Harriet Beecher Stowe was Mark’s next door neighbor. Pretty sure their neighborhood book club would have blown Oprah's out of the water!  I can’t say I’ve read a single word of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, however I am a big fan of the creative interpretation of the story in Roger’s and Hammerstein’s “The King and I”. Big fan. Huge. Even in spite of the fact that the Simon character gave me nightmares as a small child.

The next day began the part of the trip I was looking the most forward to…..the journey to New York City. I had only been once and it was on a family vacation in 2004 so I was excited to experience the city as a young adult. After a two and a half hour bus ride and a hard lesson learned regarding the importance of sitting down when attempting to pee on a bus, we arrived at what a fellow passenger called "the heart beat of America".  Our first stop was Washington Union Square where were we going to start a guided walking tour. We got there with time to spare so the three of us decided to go hunt down some grub. We had just left the park when Heather mentioned that the area looked a lot like the neighborhood where the TV show "Will and Grace" was set. Literally within 5 seconds of her saying this I am looking ahead and notice two men walking towards us and one of them bears a striking resemblance to Eric McCormack who played Will on the show. Serendipity!!!  Before you know it, we were walking right past Eric McCormick and I am freaking the frick out and kicking myself for not having my my iphone out so that i could Instagram the crap out of this moment in time. So while I'm  envisioning what sort of filter I would have used for my first celebrity sighting (Nashville and Toaster are my go-to's) I am assuming Jess and Heather are making the same discovery. Turns out they were not. Turns out Katniss could have been riding by on a chariot with her dress on fire without them noticing. All I can say is that it’s a good thing I was there. Once Eric and his friend had passed by I grabbed Heather and Jess and asked them if they saw Will (who by the way is incredibly handsome in real life and had quite the tan going…..oh, and I really want his jacket). As usual, no one believed me although just to be safe Jess took off sprinting (one would have thought Bon Jovi had been sighted) back towards the park where she did indeed verify my claim. We were pretty tempted to follow him and ask him if he knew where Debra Messing was filming SMASH but turns out Eric McCormack  is quite the speed walker and we decided it was better to save our strength for the walking tour.

Soon after grabbing a quick lunch, we met our tour guide under the Washington Arch. From first glance I had concerns. For one thing, we were the only people there for the tour, which is never a good sign. Secondly, our tour guide, Dennis, probably hadn’t showered in a few days.  Thirdly, he had a badge that looked like it had been made in Microsoft Paint. And lastly, it was a three hour tour...a three hour tour...anybody else seen Gilligan's Island? Yeah, didn't work out so well for them, did it!? All my worries were in vain because he turned out to be a hilarious and quite full of fun new york facts. The tour took us through the historical highlights and beautiful old homes of Greenwich Village which included:

  • The oldest tree in New York, which was used as a hangman’s tree back in the day.
  • The Triangle Building...which was a bit of a downer.
  •  The “Friends” home ( Jess was beside herself).
  • The apartment Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR lived in after the presidency because it was wheel chair accessible (fun fact: the ghost of her dog allegedly lives across the street where there used to be a dog run in the park…all dogs don’t go to heaven?
  • The restaurant where a young Norah Jones worked before getting her big break.
  • The hotel where the Mama’s and the Papa’s stayed when they wrote "California Dreamin"
  • The home of Washington Irving, Jr. who is best known for writing “Sleepy Hollow”
  • Bob Dylan’s old apartment the street where he shot the famous cover for "The Freewheelin Bob Dylan…Dennis felt it was necessary for Jess and I to recreate the famous album cover and I must say the resemblance is uncanny.

Our remaining 24 hours in the city went by like a true New York minute and we did our best to make the best of it. My dear friend Lyndsay from AmeriCorps met up with us and took us on a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge as the sun was going down which gave us some gorgeous views of the city. By this point in the day our feet felt like they were about to fall off but when you only make it to NYC once every 8 years you gotta keep on keepin on. After that my other friend from AmeriCorps, Janine, met up with us as we took in some Brooklyn and NYC nightlife. We had a very "Sex and the City" moment where we got into a bar based solely on the fact that Lyndsay knew the bartender. Yeah. We were sooo Carrie Bradshaw. Although, word to the weary and thirsty traveler...the price tag to my Long Island Iced Tea could have paid off this months electricity bill. Ah well. When in Rome!

For the short amount of time we had I feel like we took a fairly decent sized bite out of the Big Apple. Out of it all, what probably was the highlight of the trip for me was getting to see a Broadway show. Must be the choir nerd inside of me. We had decided to do the thing where you buy tickets the day of the show and Heather was pulling hard for Newsies but I had seen Christian Bales weak attempts at singing/dancing/jersey accents a few too many times so I was in no hurry to see the Broadway version. Luckily for me, the tickets for Newsies ended up being way out of my price range so we went with How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, starring the one and only Nick Jonas. We barely made it to the show before the curtian rose because Jess and Heather had somehow found the All American Girls store near Times Square and thus I was stuck on bench watching our luggage and making small talk with dads while they ran around reliving their childhood. Heather and I were out of breath and sweating once we finally entered the theatre and to our surprise the usher guided us to the first row of the theatre. Not too shabby! Pretty soon the lights went down and Nick Jonas sweat was dripping onto Heather and I as he climbed up a rope dressed as a window washer. It was rather ironic moment because Heather and I had paid good money ($15 bones) to see "The Jonas Brothers 3-D Concert" but this was the real deal!  I. WAS. IN. HEAVEN. The show turned out to be amazing and although I had my doubts about Nick’s acting chops  (let’s be real, he wasn’t about to win an Emmy for his work on the Disney Channel series "Jonas") he did a really great job and the cast had a lot of well known actors which was really cool....Jeff Bridges brother, Michael Urie from Ugly Betty, and Tammy Blanchard who played the young Judy Garland in the movie “Me and My Shadows”. I went into the show not really knowing much about it so it was great to have little expectations. The music was great.  The dancing made me want to enroll in Julliard. The costumes looked like something out of Mad Men (so hot these days). Michael Urie was HILARIOUS. And Rose Hemingway, who played Rosemary,was the most adorable things I’ve ever seen. After the show Heather and I waited backstage along with all the the other teenage girls and their mothers for a glimpse of Joe but despite the loud and incessant screams whenever the door opened he never showed. That's show business for ya. 

P.S. I just want to say thanks so much to Lyndsay, Stephon, and Janine for meeting up with me during my trip. It meant so much to see you guys after long two years! And Jess and Heather - thank you for never failing to fill my days with surprise and delight :)