The day after Davy’s birthday (Tuesday, November 25), the kids asked to go to the American Museum of Natural History, a few blocks from the hotel and just across the street from my first independent NYC apartment. I figured a weekday would be better than a mobbed weekend, so off we went, with a packed lunch in a Zabar’s shopping bag. We set off in sogginess.
Having been to the museum on our last trip four years and having seen “Night at the Museum” (I overcame my Stiller/Meara/Stiller antipathy this one time, for the sake of the kids) just before our departure, the kids had an even grander time. And a surprise bonus, when we were done with the last floor and what what we thought was the very last fossil hall on the fourth floor, we discovered tucked away in a quiet gallery a majestic display of John James Audubon’s mammal illustrations. Highly recommended by Laura — her favorite exhibit — and me. Davy, on the other hand, was thrilled to see the big blue whale, since last time four years ago he had been asleep in the stroller.
By the way, if you go to the American Museum of Natural History, remember that it has only suggested admission fees; you are free to pay whatever you like. The coat check has a small fee, but definitely worth it so you don’t have to schlep your coats and bags around. Around 1 pm, when we figured the school groups had thinned out in the basement’s school lunchrooms, we retrieved our bag and sat at a nice big table with our sandwiches and apples. I don’t think enough families know about this option, since we saw only one other non-school group there; and it’s so much cheaper, and faster (so you can back to the exhibits), to avoid the museum’s café fare.
While the museum wasn’t as crowded as it could have been, one thing that prevented us from seeing exhibits properly was the abundance of adults wielding digital cameras and cell phone cameras taking pictures of each other in front of displays. Curiously, they never seemed to actually look at the exhibits; they’d just shoot and go, rapidly replaced by another set of shooters-and-goers. Perhaps they go home and look at the pictures in uncrowded privacy? But it certainly makes life difficult for those of us, especially shorter younger children, who want to get past the taller posing and camera-wielding adults to see the exhibitions in situ.
At the end of the day, we walked over to my parents’ apartment for more of Grandmama’s famous lasagna, which the boys had specifically requested.
Next day we headed to midtown south on the subway to my parents office, a historical picture library, to have a look around and to have lunch before heading to the matinee peformance of “The 39 Steps”. For lunch, my father treated to us to a table full of very, very good hamburgers at Primehouse New York (you can read a much more thorough, serious review here); while waiting, Tom and the kids enjoyed a tour of the “Himalayan Salt Room”, where some of the beef is aged.
The play, with only four actors, one of whom is Sam Robards, was terrific and all the better for the kids having seen the movie version of Alfred Hitchock’s “The 39 Steps”; there are two, the more easily obtained one with Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll (1935) and the very enjoyable but rather harder to find 1959 remake with Kenneth More. And for any junior actors and behind-the-scenes types, the Broadway production is a revelation of just how much can be accomplished with a limited cast and set and unlimited imagination and creativity. Another highlight for me, while waiting for the curtain to go up, was sitting one row behind an entire wired family of three generations: everyone from Grandma to Mom to granddaughters was engaged not in reading the Playbill but in pushing buttons, on a Blackberry (the first time I’d seen one in real life), cell phones, digital cameras, and a Kindle (my first sighting of one of those, too, and even after the curtain went up, one of the girls spent her time reading her Kindle by the light of her cell phone). It’s definitely quieter and less wired on the farm.
After a stop but no purchases at the overly crowded M&M store, which Grandpapa had told the kids about, we headed back to the hotel to change and head out to see if we could watch the Macy’s balloons being blown up. When I used to live on West 77th Street for a few years in the early nineties, the street the night before the parade was busy but not a madhouse. Now that Macy’s has, in recent years, decided to turn the event into an EVENT, funnelling crowds from 81st Street to 77th along Columbsu Avenue, the area is indeed a madhhouse. Here was our view from the corner of 77th and Columbus,
The next morning we were up and on our way early to the parade, after breakfast and the kids’ discovery of their chocolate turkeys (a tradition when I was growing up, but try finding chocolate turkeys in Alberta in October). Until the night before, I’d still been thinking we might be able to find space on Central Park West, despite the fact that in recent years Macy’s has filled the east side of the street with bleachers for employees with tickets. But then just before lights out I read in Time Out magazine that viewing is pretty good inside the new Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle; with the benefit that kids who are too big to ride on shoulders any more but still too short to see over taller people blocking the way could see well from on high. We did try to make our way toward Central Park West around 64th Street (well away from subway stops at 72nd Street and 66th Street, where the mass of the disgorged just start heading east), but couldn’t get anywhere near the curb. So on we continued to TWC. Inside, we rode the up escalator to the second floor, where lots of viewers had already staked out space. We found an area with a good fairly unobstructed view, not too far from the bathrooms (an unexpected bonus), and settled in. In the end, we could see well, though I missed the parade sounds. But I’d asked my father to tape the parade on TV, so the kids were able to hear everything they missed, and see the Rockettes etc. in front of Macy’s, later on.
The view from inside the Time Warner Center; it took me a while to realize that the stars were changing colors and my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me,
After the parade, we headed the two miles up Broadway to my parents’ apartment, stopping off along the way to pick up green beans, a (Canadian!) rutabaga, sweet potatoes, and brussels sprouts. The turkey arrived, after some adventures, from Zabars; the holiday staff first mistakenly sent the bird to my father’s billing address (the office, closed for the day). A replacement bird was then sped rapidly to the apartment, where we decorated it with frills.
We planned to spend Black Friday avoiding the shops, and Davy was eager for his promised skating in Central Park, so off we went to Wollman Rink, on what turned out to be the warmest and sunniest day of our stay,
Tom and the kids near center ice,
Davy, at center, streaking around the rink,