New York City in a day…

16 01 2006

I sit here still in amazement that I actually made the trip to New York City and came back all in the same day.  How remarkable it is to me that I stood atop the Empire State Building and saw for miles the landscape that is New York City.  Unbelievable.  My journey to the top of the Empire State Building is quite a story but it all begins at the Cold Harbor Battlefield Park…….

As cold and windy as it was on Saturday I took the time to go walking the trails at the Cold Harbor Battlefield Park.  Discovering a new walking trail I’ve never been on before I zig-zagged all through Confederate and Union lines deep within the woods at the national park.  I must have spent two and a half hours there walking the trail.  It was pretty cool.  You see, it was there that I received a picture message from Matt Creasy that begins this whole “Smokey and Bandit-esq” day.

Matt sent me a picture of three flags.  One was the American flag; one was the POW-MIA flag and the other…..that was the Maryland state flag.  His caption read: “Hi Larry.  I got bored.”  I responded asking “did you go to Maryland?”

Indeed he had.  Matt had travelled to Waldorf, Maryland.  That is on the southeastern side of the Washington area.  He returned that evening and I was inspired to go on an insane road trip.  I told Matt we should go somewhere on Sunday.  When asked where I thought we should head south to South Carolina.  I had just been reading about it in a Civil War book and wanted to go.  Matt asked how many hours away our destination in South Carolina was.  “About 5 or 6 hours.” I responded.  He sat there a moment and pondered.  Then he had a revelation, an apostrophe…or rather an epiphany.  “How far is New York City?” he asked.  “About 5 or 6 hours.” I said.  Then the wheels in my mind starting turning.  We decided to make a run north with the ultimate goal of New York City.  How crazy it would be is what I thought to myself. But we decided, we’re going.  Later Saturday night we were at Sarah and Charlie’s house watching the Patriots game and I asked Charlie, who is very familiar with the whole northern area of the US, about the area.  He told me that the best way to reach Manhattan Island was to take 95 over the George Washington Bridge and exit into Manhattan.   Good to know.  I went to bed that night not actually thinking I was going to New York, but I wasn’t sure.

Sunday morning dawned bright and beautiful.  I awoke, dressed and went to church.  Following church I contact Matt via text messaging.  I told him it was a beautiful day for a trip.  He agreed.  After I gassed the Mustang I went over to his house.  “Are we really going to New York?” I asked him.   “I guess so.” he said.  Why not? Well, we ended up deciding that we would simply head north on Interstate 95 until we decided it was time to come home.  We figured we’d make it as far as Philadelphia.

After scrounging up a cup full of change we found at his and my house we went to Food Lion and took advantage of the coin star.  Collecting roughly $40 in change plus the $60 or so in cash…..we were on our way.  The time was 11:11 am.  It was time to go.

With me driving and Matt riding shotgun my 2005 Ford Mustang merged onto Interstate 95 North for parts unknown.  Knowing we had to be back in Richmond by at latest 1:00am (Matt has to work Monday) we weren’t sure how far we’d make it.  Reaching the Springfield Interchange of Interstates 95, 495 and 395, I decided to take I-395 into Washington, DC.  We had a good glimpse of the Pentagon on our way then we crossed the Potomac River into Yankeedom.

I must say, Washington, D.C. is probably one of the coolest cities to explore. Seeing the Internal Revenue Service Building (boo!…I mean I love you, don’t audit me please.) plus the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, we took in the sights common to Washington: The Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, US Capitol (did you know that the House and Senate have their own exits on Interstate 395? It’s amazing.).  Trying not to get too far behind schedule we took the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and reconnected with Interstate 95 on the way to Baltimore.

I have been to Baltimore several times, every time to go see the Orioles play.  This city was the furthest north I’ve ever traveled on Interstate 95, until Sunday, January 15, 2006.  Reaching Baltimore at about 1:30 pm, we paid our respects to the home of the Orioles, Ravens and Babe Ruth and continued on our way.  Going through the Fort Meade Tunnel and paying $3.00 to do so (thanks SmartTag/EZ Pass!) we made our way deeper into Maryland.  Maryland’s not a bad state even if they didn’t secede in 1861.  They wanted to, but President Lincoln had the state legislature arrested and held illegally, and the Supreme Court sat silent as he unlawfully and blatantly ignore the writ of habeas corpus……I’m sorry I’m digressing…..

Stopping in Joppa, MD for gas and lunch at Sheetz we returned to the Interstate and continued northward.  Around 2:30pm we crossed into the state of Delaware.  Neither Matt, nor myself had ever been to the first state to ratify the constitution.  But here we were….in Delaware, hi, I’m in Delaware (Wayne’s World reference). 

Delaware is like any other state, just small. Interstate 95 took us through Wilmington, Delaware which is a city that reminded me of Richmond.  Driving through Delaware we finally became aware the Philadelphia was fast approaching.  This was goal one of out trip: to reach Philadelphia.

Crossing into Pennsylvania we began to see signs of life from Philly.  Plus the theme song to “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” began to be stuck in our minds.  Philadelphia looks to be an awesome city.  It was huge! Spread out all around us.  Interstate 95 sorta loops around the downtown area so you get a good look from multiple angles at the tall buildings, the stadiums where the Eagles, and Phillies play and of the historic Delaware River.  We decided there that Philadelphia was yet another city worth exploring very soon.

Another cool thing about Philadelphia was the fact that it had snowed there recently so the city was covered in a blanket of snow.  The bad thing about it was the roads were covered with salt and sand and it was adhering to my car.  Oh well, that’s what car washes are for.

Continuing on through Pennsylvania, Interstate 95 follows the Delaware River for miles, and then crosses it into New Jersey much like George Washington did in the Revolutionary War.  So here we were going into New Jersey.  Another state neither of us had ever visited.  The Garden State….well there were no gardens.  The state is very urbanized.  Plus there Interstate 95 likes to play tricks on you.  For you see, we were travelling on Interstate 95, everything was fine, we were text messaging friends and then we took notice of the Interstate shield sign.  It said “Interstate 295”.  295?!? Where’s 95?!?  Somewhere in the Trenton, NJ area Interstate 95 disappears and this 295 takes over.  There was no warning, nor were there any signs of Interstate 95 anywhere. 

Travelling along now Interstate 295 we wondered where we were going.  Eventually we saw an exit sign for Interstate 195 which made the promise of taking us to Interstate 95/New Jersey Turnpike.  We were so confused, what happened to 95 and how did it get all the way over to the New Jersey turnpike? That exit was miles and miles ago.  So I took that exit and entered the New Jersey Turnpike.  We travelled along the New Jersey Turnpike for sometime before it was yet again time to refuel the Mustang.  We stopped off at the Princeton exit of the turnpike and gassed at an Exxon.  This is when we learned how cold it was up north.  FRIGID! We had been sitting in a warm car for two hours and the last place we were outside was in Maryland.  Quickly gassing the car we resumed our travel.

Learning that New York City was now a mere 50 miles away…….we were excited.  Had we done it? Are we actually gonna go into New York City? Are we gonna die? These were some of the questions we began to ask ourselves as we drew closer to the city.  Suspense and excitement were building plus the fact the New Jersey apparently doesn’t believe in mileage signs so we weren’t sure how much long it actually would be.  Along about 4:30pm we approached Newark, NJ: it was a hole.  The airport was too our left, but something else caught our eye: The New York City skyline.  You could see it 20 miles out, it was amazing.  The sun was beginning to set and the light was reflecting off the tall buildings, namely the Empire State Building. 

OH MY GOSH!!! We were so close!  We saw a sign directing us to the George Washington Bridge and we followed it for what seemed an eternity.  We had no idea what we were going to do if we got there.  Where to park should we want to walk around, how to even get around in Manhattan, or even if we’d find our way out to come home.  Finally approaching the George Washington Bridge we paid our $6.00 then began to cross the Hudson River.

Interestingly enough, one is not allowed to use a camera and take photos while on the George Washington Bridge.  Not sure if this is a post-September 11 law but it was odd.  Manhattan lay before us, a monstrous yet awe inspiring city awaiting our arrival.  We were here.  At 5:00 pm exactly we set down on Manhattan Island at 178th Street and Fort Washington Avenue.  Holy Crap!!! Where do we go? Was the question we asked.  Taking 178th Street deeper into the city we realized a very important piece of information: We were in Harlem!  Whoops! Realizing this I made my way to 177th Street and discovered a street I had heard of: Broadway.  Turning left onto Broadway we travelled this famous avenue and took in the sights of Manhattan.  People everywhere! An insane amount of people going about their business.  Buildings everywhere, there was no open space to speak of.  Starbucks literally on every corner, some actually across the street from each other.  I never thought it true but there it was, two Starbucks across from one another.  But it wasn’t just Starbucks, there were McDonalds on every block, CVS, Rite Aid, Barnes & Noble, Sleepy’s (?), Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Circuit City, Tower Records, Old Navy, and the countless shops and restaurants only native to New York City.

We watched as the cross street numbers descended.  We came upon the Ed Sullivan Theatre where David Letterman’s show is taped, we went through Columbus Circle, and we drove through Times Square!  We saw Madison Square Garden, the NYPD, FDNY everything!!! As we drove down Broadway at one point a bridge rose out of the ground in the middle of the street carrying a subway car….above the ground….then about 10 blocks later disappeared back into the ground.  Amazing!  We drove all the way down to 24th Street where we decided we should park and walk around a bit.  Eventually I found a spot on the street at 36th Street between 7th Avenue and Broadway.  Seemed okay, but I still was nervous leaving the Mustang on the streets of New York, but oh well.

Our destination: the Empire State Building.  We had seen it as we passed 34th Street and decided to go to the top.  Walking over to the famous building we realized we were in Herald Square, where the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade concludes or begins, I’m not sure.  But there was Macy’s home of the movie “Miracle on 34th Street”.  As we walked down 34th Street and we stood there on the sidewalk and looked up at this monstrous structure.  Up until that point in time the tallest building I had seen in person or been in was 50 stories.  That paled in comparison with the Empire State Building.  It was so huge and so tall, how could man have built such a thing!?!

We entered the building, paid our $16 to go to the 86th floor and were off.  The elevator got us there in a matter of seconds.  Going out onto the observation deck we were in speechless awe.  The city of New York lay before us in a million lights.  Buildings dwarfed by the Empire State stood all around.  It was amazing! A visual overload of sorts.  You could see all the famous New York landmarks: The Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, the Statue of Liberty, everything!  Snow was flying around blown in from distant places.  That was common apparently because of the height of the building it catches some upper level winds that blow in snow off the Great Lakes.  Another amazing sight was all the jet liners surrounding the city waiting to land at the many airports.  Dots of moving light in the air were everywhere. 

Something that caught my eye on the Hudson River was a ship steaming out of New York.  By the way she was lighted I could tell who she was.  It was the Queen Mary 2 the largest ocean liner in the world.  She was very distinguishable even from our height and distance.  I tried to take a picture but the distance cause it to be blurry.  Plus the wind was blowing so hard it jerked you around.  Let me tell you about the cold.  Nothing like it have I felt before.  With in five minutes of entering the observation deck my fingers had become numb, actually numb.  The wind picked up so bad that they had to ask people to come inside.  Oh, folks, I can’t tell you how exciting and awesome it was to be atop that building.  It was insane and incredible.

Well it was fast approaching 7:00 pm and that was the time we knew we had to leave for home.  Making our way down to the ground level we exited the Empire State Building and made our way back to the car.  I took a picture of the 34th Street Macy’s and then we were back at the car which was safe and sound and we left.  Travelling down 34th Street to the West Side Highway I saw all sorts of things I have read about.  I saw the pier for the United States Line where the SS United States docked in the 1950s and 60s.  I saw the USS Intrepid, an old aircraft carrier that is now docked and a museum.  We eventually made it back to the George Washington Bridge crossed and were back on the New Jersey Turnpike headed south to home.

Now here’s a bit of interesting knowledge should any of you decide to drive to New York.  Taking the New Jersey Turnpike all the way to its end bypasses all of Pennsylvania including Philadelphia and most of Delaware.  When you cross the Delaware River from New Jersey into Delaware you’re not that far from Maryland.  Good to know.

Well we continued south and stopped at a Service Center on Interstate 95.  This is a place that has several fast food places, a Sonoco and a Starbucks right there on the Interstate.  After eating at the weirdest Burger King ever we made our way further south.  Stopping one last time at an Exxon Station in Manassas for gas we arrived to Matt’s house at 1:06 am.  Not a bad drive at all 7:45 pm to 1:06 am with two stops, one to eat and one to fuel.

This has been the craziest day of my life so far.  When I woke up Sunday morning I had no idea I’d do what I did.  And now I’m back here in Mechanicsville.  Great.  After visiting New York City, home seems so dull.  It was an amazing trip and so insane!  I’ll have to clean my car off of all the salt/sand residue. 

Well that’s my trip to New York City, I’ve posted some pictures on MySpace and I’ll have some more posted at this link here.  Check them out.

That’s all for now, have a wonderful day.  Be safe.