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Trip to NYC may be our last, but it was great fun

Three nights in New York City, it turns out, can be enough.

I worried before we left, late last month, that we might be short-changing ourselves with a four-day trip to the center of the civilized world — even IF we couldn’t afford to go at all, which we really couldn’t.

But nope, I was wrong. In this case, three nights was plenty. We returned exhausted and broke — just the way any New York trip should end.

But let’s back up.

This was our first venture to the Big Apple, but it was one we really had to make, because it involved a very special performance at Carnegie Hall.Kelly

The big attraction, for many of us, was an 18-minute cycle of six songs by composer Jonathan Leshnoff, sung by soprano Jessica Rivera. The piece was commissioned by my cousin Sandra, in celebration of the life of her daughter Monica, who died at age 38, in August of 2003. “Monica Songs” was co-commissioned by a group of family and friends called The Friends of Monica as well as the Carnegie Hall Corporation, and a good many of us were on hand for the piece that included material from the Book of Ruth, Emily Dickinson, E.E. Cummings and letters from Monica and her mother.

The performance was soul-stirringly excellent — as was the rest of the hour and a half program — and did not disappoint any of us there to honor our friend’s memory. But other experiences teamed up to make it even more special.

For starters, on our first full day, we took a six-hour bus tour at the urging of my cousin Dennis’ wife Michele. We covered pretty much all of Manhattan, from Battery Park to Harlem, with stops at The Riverside Church and Grant’s Tomb, lunch in Little Italy as well as a harbor tour from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Thanks to our exuberant tour guide, Serge (who sounded exactly like Christopher Walken with a Russian accent), we saw (and heard about) the World Trade Center, Rockefeller Center, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (the largest church in the United States), the birthplace of Teddy Roosevelt, the Apollo Theater, Greenwich Village, the American Museum of Natural History, Fifth Avenue, Times Square, the United Nations

and all four sides of the 2.5-mile-long Central Park.

That night at Carnegie Hall, we told friends how we’d seen the doorway where John Lennon was shot (and which Yoko continues to walk through every day), the house Jackie Onassis lived in, the fire stations that lost most of their firefighters on 9/11, the “Charging Bull” of Wall Street and more than one reminder of Hurricane Sandy, which occurred exactly one year before our Oct. 29 tour.

Other spare moments in the big city found us spending a whole day in the Museum of Modern Art (where we even returned in the evening to watch the most boring movie either of us has ever seen: “Hotel Monterey” by Chantal Akerman, a film easily outdone by watching paint dry). We also took a long walk in Central Park, taking time to sit on a bench and soak up the sights, of strolling people under the changing leaves, and even paused long enough to have cocktails in one of those subterranean Midtown bars, where the other person who lives at our house had her favorite: a Maker’s Mark Manhattan — which, of course, I photographed.

I’m not afraid to brag about the fact we took no taxis or limos. From the moment we landed at La Guardia Airport, we rode only buses and subways — or walked. Hey, we figured, we’ve done this in Italy and France, so why not in our own country, where we know the language and even have some of the right money?

True, we got lost a couple of times — usually because of not-quite-right guidance from New Yorkers — occasionally disembarking in places we really didn’t want to be. But I must say, we encountered nothing by friendly, helpful people, whether on the street, on the subway or in places of businesses.

And for two rubes from the coast range, that was a pleasant surprise.

“Do you mind me asking where you folks are from?” one burly guy in Harlem asked, after pointing us in the direction of the closest subway station.

“Oregon,” we both said in unison.

He shook his head and laughed. “I don’t mean any disrespect,” he said, “but I took you for being Australian.”

That made us both smile. I figured I reminded him of Crocodile Dundee, another famous visitor to Manhattan.

Something that no one who visits New York City can quite shake is the price of everything there. We booked a place through airbnb, an apartment we would share with a young Chinese guy named Patrick, allegedly for less than $100, though we haven’t seen the actual charges on our credit card statement yet. In Patrick’s tiny apartment on West 56th Street (near MoMA, Central Park, etc.), we occupied a corner containing a bunk bed, a card table and a chair. Surrounding the whole thing was one of those privacy curtains like they have in hospitals. But hey, Patrick was very nice, we didn’t see any bugs or rodents, and we weren’t there to sit around, so we didn’t.

We never saw a sandwich or a burger on a restaurant menu that cost less than $13. That didn’t surprise us after Serge explained that Manhattan has 220,000 millionaires.

It’s fairly clear to us now that we may never get back to New York City, but we’re glad we did once. It was great fun, and we lived to tell about it.

Former managing editor of several community newspapers, including the Woodburn Independent, Lake Oswego Review and the Times papers, Kelly is chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.




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