Mom and I went to visit the kids at their latest posting in Hackensack, New Jersey. I drove right straight to their apartment complex without a hitch, through the busy traffic in that part of New Jersey right across the Hudson from Manhattan.
We went the first weekend we were there to Atlantic City. I walked into Caesar's and within 15 minutes, I hit a $1,000 on a 50 cent slot machine. That was great because I made this trip without a lot of extra funds and suddenly, the concern about finances was gone. It was a wonderful day to walk along the Boardwalk (we hired a rickshaw for Mom), shopping, people-watching and leaning over the railing to watch the waves slide into shore. We had drinks at a bar on the beach. It was a great day.
Atlantic City has been called the "Las Vegas of the East" but it's not. It's not even close. A few steps away from the Boardwalk and the bigger casinos, A.C. (as the natives call it) turns shabby and sad, filled with rundown motels and beaten-down houses and businesses that cater to desperate people - pawn shops and buy here-pay here car lots and check cashing places and cheap diners. Looks like where old gambling addicts go to hang out when they've given up up hope to the slots and tables. Too bad. Atlantic City has potential of a Las Vegas, with the additional bonus of the ocean, to be a great resort area but no one seems interested in turning it into a first-class attraction.
Incidentally, we stayed at a Residence Inn, my first time, and it was great. I have a hard time traveling with others because my schedule is always off kilter. When I get up at 4:00 a.m., I have to try to be quiet and make my coffee in the dark to keep from disturbing the normal ones in my group. Residence Inns have separate bedrooms that can be closed off so I can get up and turn on lights and computers. We had 3 televisions, one in the living room and one in each bedroom which meant I got to watch the NASCAR race without depriving anyone else of what they wanted to see.
We spent the next couple of days in John and Lisa's apartment which is a different way of life from here. It required 9 turns to navigate the parking garage to their slot (as well as going from one building to another). From there, you had to find the right bank of elevators to get to your section (all sections look alike so you can be easily confused, condemned to wander the halls for hours, desperately seeking Section B) and then a walk down a long hall to the right door. There is no such thing as running out for a quick trip to Village Pantry from where they live.
You can tell I'm a hick from the sticks because one of the things I enjoyed most was watching the planes from their balcony. They are on a flight path for, we decided, LaGuardia Airport (though not close enough to be bothered by the noise). The night sky looked like a summer evening filled with lightning bugs blinking on and off. Planes arrived and left from all directions. They were stacked up in the clouds in layers. In the course of smoking one cigarette, 27 planes filled the air above me. I can't even imagine the stress of being an air traffic controller trying to keep track of them all.
The second weekend we were there, we went into Manhattan which is about a 25-minute drive from John and Lisa's apartment under ideal traffic conditions (!). John has developed the east coast driving attitude, sliding into speeding traffic, muscling his way past buses, changing lanes like a maniac. The drivers there are cool though. They don't get upset at any of these tactics but just take them for granted. They also turn two-lane streets into three when it suits them. Cops are laid back, seeming to believe than anything short of causing a wreck is acceptable.
We drove into New York City but were stymied getting to our hotel because the streets around Times Square were closed off due to the big Labor Day parade. After driving round and round, up and down one-way streets, we ended up in a parking garage about 7 blocks from where we were staying ($100 for 24 hours). Manhattan hotels do not provide parking. You're on your own for that.
We stayed at the Broadway Millenium on the 43rd floor overlooking the traffic and changing signs and masses of people that make up the go-go-go environment of Times Square. We booked a two-day bus tour which is the best way to see the city with an elderly person (or even if you don't have a senior citizen with you for that matter). The bus makes a loop around Manhattan and you can get off wherever you please, be it Greenwich Village or Soho or Chinatown or Wall Street, and then catch the next one when you're ready to move on, with the driver explaining the history and pointing out landmarks.
My favorite part was the boat ride around the harbor that took us past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and under the Brooklyn Bridge and offered the most incredible views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines. We had lucked into another gorgeous day - neither hot nor cold, but sunny and clear.
It's a good thing I won that $1,000 in Atlantic City or I'd have been hurting. NYC is very, very expensive. Every meal we ate, even breakfast, was well over $100 for 4 people. But, oh, my God, was the food wonderful. We had corned beef sandwiches 8 inches high and melt in your mouth beef brisket with barbeque sauce and steaks you could cut with a fork. I bought 6 pieces of pastry at a bakery and it came to $30. On the other hand, from the street vendors, you can buy knock-off Coach purses and Rolex watches and Christian Dior sunglasses for $10-$30 that you can't tell from the real thing.
My biggest disappointment: if I had been there two days later, I'd have been in Manhattan at the same time as the NASCAR guys. I might have gotten a glimpse of Jimmie Johnson!
I had driven to John and Lisa's without a hitch, right into their apartment complex, hundreds of miles and through busy New Jersey traffic. And then, at the last, I got lost in the parking garage trying to leave. Mom and I drove aimlessly through a concrete hell for about 15-minutes until finally I saw John's car. His arm was out the window waving to indicate that if I followed, he would lead me out.
"How did you know I was lost?" I asked him.
He grinned. "I just figured."
Then it was back to Indiana and the real world. My $1,000 was spent but I have pictures, memories and a $30 Coco Chanel knock-off to show for it.