Thursday, February 17, 2011

Visiting The Big Apple and the Little Apple

MANHATTAN, N.Y. — I didn’t expect to visit for the first time both the Big Apple and the Little Apple within the past year, but there are lots of unexpected events in my life these days. The Little Apple is what Manhattan, Kansas calls itself. It is home to Kansas State University and the closest city with shopping and decent restaurants to the town where I ran a small daily newspaper for several months. Y’all know about the Big Apple, of course.

My Beautiful Mystery Companion and I are here for a book-signing for a famed educator. My BMC contributed a piece to the book, a tribute to Maxine Greene — who at 93 is still philosopher-in-residence at the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education. I wouldn’t mind being philosopher-in-residence somewhere, preferably warmer than Manhattan in February.

We decided to make a three-day trip out of it, stay in Times Square and take in some sights. Some random observations:

• There appear to be more Yellow Cabs on the streets of Manhattan than private vehicles. That is likely not true, but the cabs stand out with their distinctive color. Online research indicates there are more than 13,000 Yellow Cabs in New York City. Getting a medallion to legally operate the cab isn’t cheap, averaging $644,000 last year. That’s what the owner of the cab paid; the vehicle is then essentially leased to the drivers, who make an average of $130 a shift.

Many of the cabs we hailed were Ford Escapes with the exact interior of the hybrid Escape I’ve driven for four years. All are equipped with video screens and credit-card swipers; mine isn’t. The prices aren’t exorbitant, but I’ll be eating sandwiches at home for a while to recover from paying for cab rides.

• Speaking of prices, that was a pleasant surprise. Visiting this city is nowhere near as expensive as I’ve been led to believe. Food prices were reasonable, and the hotel was excellent for the money and less than I’ve paid to stay in Austin, for example. Of course, actually living in Manhattan requires a bundle for rent, for example. A New York Times article I read while there described a couple searching desperately for a one-bedroom apartment under $2,500 a month. Whew. I also noticed parking rates of $56 a day in some garages. I would sell my Escape or have it painted bright yellow and turned into a cab before paying those rates.

• At least in our experience — which admittedly was dealing primarily with people who are paid to be nice to tourists — folks are as friendly here as anywhere else I’ve visited. We did the usual touristy things — visiting museums, taking in a Broadway show, gawking at the huge signs on Times Square — and solemnly, visiting the site of the World Trade Center. It is now a vast hive of construction. From the atrium of the nearby World Financial Center one can see the size and scope of the project, which will include a memorial to those killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That memorial will consist of two large pools with water cascading down the sides, created within the footprint of the Twin Towers and ultimately surrounded by seven new office towers.

• On the day we walked through Central Park after visiting the Metropolitan Museum, snow was piled high but the walkways were cleared. It was actually colder in Texas that day, a heavy snowfall shutting down schools and highways at the same time we walked through the vast park. It has been a topsy-turvy winter.

I learned that Yankee squirrels survive winter by burrowing tunnels into the snow, like miniature four-legged Eskimos staying warm in ad-hoc igloos. I watched as a couple scampered about the bare trees, across the snowdrifts and then disappeared. Took a moment to figure out where those tricky little buggers had gone.

Finally, on our final morning there we got to witness the famed New York Fire Department in action when the fire alarm in the hotel went off at 6:15 a.m. We were told it was not a drill. Guests stumbled groggily outside. I brought my wallet, camera and cell phone and shot a few photos as four trucks arrived within minutes. Soon the lobby filled with firefighters in full regalia.

Happily, it was a false alarm.

Originally published in the Hill Country News (Cedar Park, Texas), February 17, 2011.


  1. I didn't know it was your first visit to NYC, Dad! So glad you guys enjoyed yourselves.

  2. We hope to go back sometime this year with Abbie. Love you, Dad