Gotham Blog Day 1: Why Gunpowder Was Invented

Friday was Day One of this trip for Night Visions and I and our youngest daughter, Patience, and it was mostly spent in travel to New York and in waiting in various lines at the Chinese Embassy for visas for a trip NV and Patience are taking later this summer. I believe I read somewhere that the Chinese invented bureaucracy. This would certainly explain their later invention of gunpowder.

It was a pleasant day, so when we got free of the Red tape we headed down to Canal Street and started walking north in order to take in parts of Soho, Chinatown and Little Italy. Actually, Chinatown has been expanding and encroaching on Little Italy for some time now, though it’s still pretty Italian on Gennaro and Mulberry Streets – or not. We browsed one of the sidewalk shops on Mulberry featuring Italian-themed items and tee-shirts and buttons with phrases like “Fuhgedaboutit” and “Bada Bing” prominently emblazoned. The only staff we saw in the store, however, were Chinese.

It was a good warm-up for the weekend’s sightseeing. NV’s pedometer registered 6.6 miles. I don’t know how much of that came from shifting from one foot to another while waiting in lines at the embassy.

I’m out here for business reasons every year about this time, and usually try to tack a few days on either before or after the business is taken care of for some personal time. This is the third time NV has joined me, and the first time for Patience, who has been counting the days since I brought the eldest daughter here with me in 2002 (I was a finalist for Cool Dad of the Year that year). The older daughter was 13 then and hard to impress.

Me: “This is Grand Central Station.” Her: “Hmmm.”

Me: “Here’s the Empire State Building.” Her: “Neat.”

Me: “Let’s go out to the Statue of Liberty.” Her: “Whatever.”

Me: “Well, this is Times Square.” Her: “LOOK, DAD! SHOES!”

NV and I came out here for the first time in April of 2001. We didn’t know what to expect other than the images we had in our minds from movies and TV shows about what a jungle New York is. We were nearly overwhelmed, however, by the friendliness and helpfulness of people we talked to. Invariably whenever we’d step to one side to consult a pocket map to figure out where we were, someone would stop and say, “Where you going? Naw, you don’t want to go that way – here’s how you do it.” And they’d be right!
That year we bought a sightseeing package that would get us in to nine attractions for the price of six. This included the Empire State Building, the Guggenheim, the Museum of Natural History and others. On our last night we were really flagging and had one last attraction left: a trip to the observation deck of the World Trade Center.

We wanted to go at night to see all the lights of the city, but after stopping for dinner in Midtown we felt wiped. We were thinking about skipping it, but the after-dinner coffee revived us. Though it was getting late we decided to make a dash for it and try to arrive before the Observation Deck closed. We made it with 20 minutes to spare, and were the last ones allowed up. The guard warned us that there wasn’t much time left and we should really come back, but this was our only chance and we were going for it. We got to the top and did a circuit of the building, the guard shadowing us all the way lest we linger. It was a spectacular view – we felt as if we could see lights all the way to Philadelphia.

Even though it was rushed, we were glad we made the effort, especially since we discovered a Krispy Kreme store in the plaza on our way out. NV had never had a Krispy Kreme, and though it wasn’t really doughnut time, we decided that whatever happens in Manhattan can stay in Manhattan. We indulged. What a night!

It was a special memory, made even more so in September of that year. We were so glad we made the effort when we did. As we watched the news that horrible day I kept thinking about that night, our mad dash through the streets, and the long, slow walk the survivors were now making. The view we had enjoyed and marveled at was no more – certainly not the only view that changed that day.

The next year when First Daughter and I planned our trip to New York I really wanted to pay a visit to what was being called “The Pile.” Once we were in town, however, I couldn’t bring myself to go. Somehow, for reasons still hard to explain, it just didn’t seem right.

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