When I lived in Manhattan, I often got so focused on work that I forgot my surroundings. My office on 40 Wall Street was more of an irritant than it was a novelty. I always seemed to be running late for meetings with my clients in office buildings scattered throughout lower Manhattan. I used to mutter under my breath, “I WOULD have to work in a f*@&ing tourist attraction!” as I would run the gauntlet through sight seers stopping to pose at every landmark, clogging up the subway entrances while checking their maps, and walking in the wrong direction down the sidewalk during rush hour. (Yes, there is sidewalk protocol in the Financial District.) It wasn’t until someone from out of town would come to visit that I would stop and settle down long enough to appreciate the remarkable place I called home.
Seeing it through the eyes of a newcomer helped me realize it is a city like no other. Their impressions shined a light on all the aspects to which I had become impervious. The steep towering canyons. The monotone navy and black work attire of Wall Street. National Historic landmarks in every block. The plethora of independent eateries (there simply were no chain restaurants outside of McDonalds and Burger King in the nineties.) And the ability to have anything you want “delivhahhed” to your doorstep. I lived on the thirteenth floor of a pre-war building with a knock-out view straight down Third Avenue from the United Nations to the World Trade Center, and a view of the East River from the rooftop. But I rarely looked. Until that is, I was showing off “my city” when friends and family came to town.
Still to this day, it feels like my city when I am showing someone else around. So when I asked my niece Hannah where she wanted to go on our planned summer vacation, I beamed with pride when she exclaimed “New York!”
Hannah has made a miraculous turnaround since my brother died suddenly in 2015. She has come out of the fog having lost her one “true north.” She weaned herself off anti-depressants, got on a self-imposed fitness plan losing over seventy pounds, and has become an “almost straight A” student (darned that French B!) So if anyone deserves a reward for achievement, it is my dear “Hannahgram.”
When we first began to talk about a trip this summer, I asked her where she wanted to go. She loves history and politics, so when faced with the impossible choice between New York versus Washington, DC, how could I say no when she asked, “Can’t we do both?” Knowing the Amtrak Acela train from NY Penn to Washington Union Station would be a treat for us both, I said “Sure, why not.” Using Frequent Flyer tickets makes it all the same to fly into one city and out of the other.
Trying to stick to the budget of my paltry income tax return, I began the impossible task of finding affordable hotels in both cities. I decided to steer clear of AirBnB in the big cities having heard too many scams and horror stories these days. But living in my own personal hotel room for 5 years now, I have become naïve to the price of hotels . A tiny hotel room in either city with two separate beds “starts” at $250 per night! So I asked Hannah if she would be comfortable staying in “dorm room” type accommodations with a bathroom down the hall. I figured what better prep for college, right? The only challenge for me would be the bunk beds. Imagine my relief when she asked, “Can I take the top bunk?”
Seeing life through the eyes of a 16 year old is a wonder. Everything takes on heightened interest, as if I myself were experiencing it for the first time. Hannah is a student of life, curious about everything past, present, and future. She loves both science and the arts passionately. At one point, I wondered “who is leading whom?” on this tour, as she recited the rise and fall of the Nazi party, and put me to shame on identifying the artist Masters. I often see her with her nose in her phone. I figure like most teenagers, she texting or “snapping” on Snapchat with her friends. But more often than not, she is researching attractions on the fly, coming back with a list of stats and facts to educate us both.
She had lots of “firsts” on this trip. First time in a taxi. First train ride. First subway. We shared a dozen laughs an hour, and made enough inside jokes and memories to last a lifetime.
When asked about her favorite part of New York, she responded, “All of it!” Whereas my older niece loves the glitz, glamour and fashion of Manhattan, Hannah truly loves the “gritty city,” warts and all. When lamenting over leaving, I asked her if she wanted to stay another week, to which she replied, “How about another decade?”
When asked about her favorite part of D.C., she responded “The Capitol!” We were lucky enough to get passes into both Congress and Senate while they were in session. And love ‘em or hate ‘em, it’s still interesting to recognize people on the floor like Nancy Pelosi, Marco Rubio, and Mitch the Turtle. At 16, Hannah is more interested in politics than most of my peers. Like many of her generation, she seems poised to “change the world.” I believe her “Generation W (for “woke”) is our greatest hope.
Initially, I orchestrated this trip for her. But in the end, the pleasure was equally mine!