October 2009


Day 3 began dark and early with my alarm going off at 4:45am. Yes, 4:45am. The sun wasn’t even up yet. But I had a good reason. Ever since I started watching the NBC’s Today Show regularly, I’ve wanted to go to the show and be a part of the crowd in Rockerfeller Plaza. So with sign in hand, I headed out to the plaza.

Getting there took a bit longer then I expected. I knew the subway system would be running on a different schedule at that early hour, but construction caused additional changes like having a downtown train run on the uptown tracks. It was a bit confusing at first, but I eventually got to where I needed to go.

As I walked around the corner to the plaza, I didn’t see anyone at first. Just the portable railings and camera equipment that was being set up for the show. But then I spotted a small group of people standing around with signs. Ah-ha, the start of the line. So I walked over and joined them as the fifth person in line just after 5:30am. A gentleman let everyone know that there was free coffee and bagels available from his co-workers in a food truck parked next to the line. Apparently all the local morning shows pay for catering for all the fans that showed up.

As we waited, the gentleman talked to the crowd, asking questions like where everyone was from (most folks that show up are tourists) and offering up all kinds of information about New York. One thing he shared about was how 9/11 changed street security. For example, trash cans are now banned from public streets. Street vendors are not allowed to sell two hot drinks to the same customer because they could be used as a weapon. Plus, the police enforce all these regulations via street cams that the man himself saw. Truly absurd.

The line really began to build up around 6am. Lenny, a regular who always appears on the Today Show, showed up at 6:20am, skipped the line and walked to his spot by the rails. The rest of the crowd was allowed to join him at 6:45am, 15 minutes before the show started.

Meredith greets the crowd.

 

Unfortunately that morning most of the anchors were out of town. Matt and Al were in Dallas to cover the opening of the new stadium while Ann was in Iraq. So that left Meredith to hold down the fort at Studio 1A. Since she was in the studio most of the time and the show was using a lot of wide shots from Dallas, the crowd wasn’t shown much that morning. But even without a camera to wave at, it was a lot of fun to hang out and talk with people and just take in the happy energy of the crowd.

My getting up early finally paid off after 8am when Meredith came out to do some standups. At first, she stood exactly in front of me so I couldn’t be seen. But then on a different shot she moved over slightly and I appeared briefly for a few seconds. During the commercial breaks, Meredith took the time to shake hands, sign autographs and pose for pictures with people in the crowd.

Around 9am, the show pretty much stayed inside of the studio for the rest of the morning so the crowd slowly dwindle. I wandered around Rockerfeller and explored the various shops in the area while waiting for my mom to meet me there since she valued sleep more then I did.

The Empire State Building.

Once we met up, we went to the Top of the Rock, which is an observation deck located at the top of the Rockerfeller Center. It’s the second-highest deck in the city behind the Empire State Building. But unlike the Empire State Building, there’s no long lines at the Rock to wait in and you can see the Empire State Building from the top. The views up there are of course spectacular. I didn’t appreciate just how big New York City is until I saw it from up there.

Besides the view, the Top of the Rock had a few exhibits like a theater showing short videos about the history of NBC, the Rockettes and how the building came to be. There was also a rather fun “light room” featuring colored lights that would follow people around the room.

After the Rock, we headed over to the pier since we had a ticket for a 75-min Circle Line Cruises boat tour that went around the Statue of Liberty. It was a freebie included when I had booked my flights through Expedia. Unfortunately, I didn’t look at the tickets closely enough. Turns out they were a voucher that had to be redeemed at an office that was nowhere near the pier. Oops. Since there were only two tours available that day, we decided that we would take the Staten Island ferry later in the day instead. So we headed over to the Carnegie Deli for lunch.

The deli is famous for its monsterous-sized sandwiches and cheesecakes and for visits by various celebrities. I had a pastrami sandwich for lunch- and had enough left over for dinner that night. After eating all that we could, we headed back to the hotel to store the leftovers and then went to the Staten Island Ferry.

The ferry runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The frequency that it runs at varies from 20 minutes to one hour depending on the time of day, and the trip takes about a half-hour from one port to the other. The ferry has seating for several hundred people- most of it in the inside. But it also has some nice observation decks running along the outside that worked well for statue-spotting. I was able to get some nice pictures of the statue and the city skyline. Considering the price (free!) and not having to deal with the hassles of security screening, this was definitely the way to go to get a view of the statue. The one downside of the ferry is that it’s quite windy up on the top deck, but that’s probably why the deck is labeled as the “hurricane deck”.

The Statue of Liberty.

It would have been nice to get closer and have a chat with Lady Liberty. But from what I’ve heard from others, getting up close and personal with the statue also involves getting up close and personal with lots of security screening agents in a process that’s even worse then what the TSA has come up with for airports. If I did go through that hassle, I would want to be able to go all the way up to the crown that reopened earlier this year. Tickets for the crown though were sold out on every date two months ahead of time.

After a leisurely hour-long ride on the ferry, we walked around the Battery Park area where the ferry leaves from. The area has a lot of street performers and artists hawking their wares along with a park area and an old fort.

Ground Zero is just a few blocks north of Battery Park. The area is mostly one large construction site. There really isn’t much to see- and that’s the point. The area for now is much more about what isn’t there then what is. Due to the construction fence surrounding the site, it’s hard to see anything beyond tall construction equipment.

Memorials are scattered around the area. The fire station that was the first to respond has plaques honoring each firefighter lost from the station that day. Around the corner, people placed flowers and other mementos to honor fallen police officers. A temporary museum is set up across the street, but it was closed at the time I was there.

Ground Zero.

I wish I had seen the area before 9/11. Seeing the towers would have been impressive and given me some perspective about how much the city has changed as the result of the attacks. At least the rebuilding process has started, even if it’s going very slowly.

After visiting Ground Zero, my mom and I headed back to the hotel to eat our deli leftovers for dinner. After such an early start to the day, I was ready to call it a night. We had one more full day in New York ahead of us.

 

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For day 2 of the trip, my mom and I wanted to make a visit to a place most tourists don’t go to- the Girl Scouts of the

A display at the entrance to the Girl Scout office.

A display at the entrance to the Girl Scout office.

USA headquarters. We’re both Girl Scouts and have been for several years. My mom knew a couple of people there who could show us around. Besides offices, the headquarters had a museum detailing the history of Girl Scouting from its beginnings in Savannah, Georgia to the present day. Staff members showed us around other parts of the headquarters, including one international area that had memorabilia sent in from Girl Scouts around the world.

After taking some more photos and doing some shopping at the Girl Scout store for folks back home, we went to the Empire State Building. We didn’t go up as we were planning on going up to the Top of the Rock later that week. But checking out the art deco designs in the lobby was worth the stop since we were by the building anyway. After that, we went to Macy’s.

Macys wooden escalators.

Macy's wooden escalators.

I wanted to go there just to see Herald Square and see if there was anything that made this store different from any other Macy’s store. My first impression of the place is that it’s huge! It has 8 floors, complete with the original wooden escalators on the upper levels. Besides the wide assortment of clothes, the store had several restaurants and sections devoted to holiday ornaments and other special items. But other then the wooden escalators and the size, the store is pretty much like any other Macy’s that I’ve seen.

So after Macy’s, it was time to take the subway over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or as it’s more commonly known- the Met. I’m not much of an art aficionado, but with the sheer amount of artwork that they have, it was not hard to find something I would enjoy looking at. The Met has five floors of artwork, artifacts and other bits of history spanning from the earliest records of human civilisation to the current day.

Egyptian Courtyard in the Met

Egyptian Courtyard in the Met

The courtyards were the most impressive part of the museum. One was designed like the entrance to an Egyptian Pyramid. Another looked like a French courtyard during the Renaissance. A third was located on the roof and had a large, banyan-tree-like metal sculpture that felt otherworldly against the NYC skyline.

It surprised me what qualified as “art” in some exhibits. Some of the more bizarre entries included a vacuum cleaner, a canvas painted in one solid color and a flourescent light tube used in most offices.

We were in the Met for about 3 hours, which was barely enough time to take a brief look at most of the exhibits. If you’re planning a visit here, it’s best to focus on just one or two areas that you want to see and save the rest for later.

The Shrek marquee.

Shrek: The Musical marquee.

After the Met, we hopped on the subway and headed back to the hotel for dinner and a change of clothes before heading back out to Broadway. I had gotten a buy-one-get-one-free deal for Shrek: the Musical. Since my mom and I both wanted to see a lighthearted musical, it fit the bill perfectly. The musical itself was quite fun to watch. The plot pretty much follows that of the movie, but with more silly jokes and fun songs. If you enjoyed the movie, then you will enjoy the musical as well.

After the musical, we wandered around the Hershey’s and M&M store at Times Square just for grins and then headed back to the hotel for the night.