Take the “Big Apple” Out of The Bucket: How Soon They Grow Up . . . by Perry and Brandi Montoya

She’s dug for crabs on the beaches of the west coast (north and south), she stood wide-eyed as the locals strode and drove up and down Daytona Beach, she’s now positive the Alamo does NOT have a basement, and she was the only one on the high-school Philadelphia trip to actually eat a Philly Cheese Steak from a vendor. A dad couldn’t be more certain she’s had at least some of the travel bug rub off nor could he be more proud! So what do you get, in those fleeting last few years while still under your roof, the girl who seems to have had at least a snippet of everything from north to south and east to west? Ask Aleah and, in the United States at least, New York City is THE answer.

The JetBlue red-eye from SLC to its hub of JFK might be the best kept secret in Salt Lake. After a late-night sampling of the spicy chicken thigh from Popeye’s (Utah’s one and only Popeye’s before another finally made its way to Lehi in the spring of 2013), we boarded the plane with full intentions of catching a little shut eye before our whirlwind tour the next day; yet, sleep would elude us for the most part (largely from excitement). Our original plans would have had us going from Salt Lake to Vegas and then on to NYC, but the direct flight was the fastest and clearest route.

We’d planned ahead with some of the great tips from another RTA writer Karl Childs as found here: http://www.realtraveladventures.com/mar2013/visiting_times_square_for_under__50.htm including hints on transportation, on storing a bag at the JFK airport and on making the most with limited funds.

Upon arrival at JFK, even the heavy nor’easter (macro-scale snow storm) couldn’t dampen our spirits. We stored our excess bags in the luggage storage in Terminal 4 for a few dollars and we were on the subway in minutes. The J train from JFK runs both above and below ground en route to White Hall Station (the stop for the Staten Island Ferry) Aleah’s first chance at seeing the State of Liberty. Should you attempt, in any way, to duplicate this one-day adventure, we’d recommend you take the Express J Train (if running) to minimize stops. We’d also highly recommend you know where you’d like to see well in advance. While no single trip to NYC could ever expose you to it all, one sure way to get to many of the best spots (and do so with a 40% discount and even side-step some of the potentially long lines) is to use the official New York City tourism site of NYCgo.com and their CityPASS Ticket Booklet. We’d also planned to stay in NY, should the storm hold us back, and have found that the Hampton Inn hamptoninn.hilton.com/NYC at JFK Airport is both conveniently located near JFK, clean, and perfect for the cost conscious, yet comfort-concerned traveler.

Our plans (and even back up plans) in order, we hoped the J Train and our quest was on. I couldn’t have planned a better trip on the train for introducing my little Utah girl to all things NYC. The views of Queens were interspersed with interesting and beautiful people getting on and of the train. One such character treated us to his soliloquy for most of the ride to White Hall Station. He was only one of many subway treats we would have that day. We heard and saw A Cappella acts and dance routines, guitar minstrels and pan-flautists and most seen well before noon.

I will never forget the indelible mental imprint I now carry of Aleah’s face as the subway finally went “sub” for the last few blocks of the ride and we surfaced onto in the sky-scraper filled, winter sky filled streets of Lower-Manhattan.
Again, we were now only a stone’s throw from the Staten Island Ferry (with a clear peek at the Statue of Liberty), from Wall Street, from Battery Park, and the World Trade Center. While the storm held us to only seeing the silhouette of Lady Liberty, the free ride on the ferry was worth every minute spent (about an hour round-trip).

From the ferry we made our way over to the 9/11 Memorial (www.911memorial.org) site for a few minutes of patriotic solemnity and reflection. Aleah was the tender age of 7 in 2001. I still have a picture she drew for me September 11, 2001 that carries an American flag and the phrase, “God Bless America”. We stood silent for most of our time at what has been called WTC, “Ground Zero” but now carries the apropos title of “Memorial”. We both left certain to “never forget” the sacrifices and senselessness that have occurred on that now revered ground.

WTC Memorial Fountain

From Lower-Manhattan, various trains will take you north. Most run on either side of our next destination – Times Square. While certainly wanting to take in some of the Americana of this location, we were hungry! It was a toss-up on whether we would lunch on NYC Pizza or try our luck at a legendary New York deli. On a tip from a local, John’s Pizzeria http://www.johnspizzerianyc.com/ was the winner. Strike that . . . we were the winners that day. My, oh my . . . the NYC pie!
The whole pie (John’s proudly touts “No Slices”) was huge, hand-made, delectable, made even more irresistible by the aged parmesan cheese we added, and proved to be no match for the appetites of these two foodies-gone-east. Not one bite remained at the end of our short stay. The sneak-up-on-you big ambiance of John’s equals the big taste. From outside it merely looks like much of New York City – a door nestled next to another door. However, once inside, the vaulted ceilings, artwork, and stained-glass windows of this former church holds wonder to be had from both the casual traveler and the architecture aficionado alike.

John’s is amid the bustle of Times Square. In Times Square we took in the views of many a movie and TV program. We shopped (to my delight) in what mostly amounted to a big sister/daughter concerned with bringing something back for her brothers and mother, we gawked, and we wandered about in what could even have been accused of reaching tourist instead of traveler status in this hustle and bustle. The difefreence, for me at least, is that of a taker rather than a giver and taker.

We ended our short jaunt to New York with an accidental stroll through Harlem. We thought we were en route to 125 Street to view the Mormon Temple in Manhattan which is actually on 125 Columbia (nearer to 66th Street). The mix up gave us a chance to debunk the myth that Harlem is a no man’s land for any outsider. We later found that we were only seconds from former US President Bill Clinton’s Harlem office. While we weren’t glad to have made the mistake in trains, our concern was more of time lost instead of where we found ourselves as we walked the 8 blocks to the train that would return us to where we wanted to go.

The half hour subway ride back to JFK from Times Square was nearly effortless and efficient. Again we were treated to the reserved beauty of native New Yorkers. We were so impressed at the willingness of perfect strangers to offer assistance when we looked lost or confused. Well, I was impressed – Aleah chose to “fit in” by exhaustedly collapsing on to nearby passengers.
With neither of us were longing for the trip to be over, we chose to return to Salt Lake through a night’s stay in Long Beach, California. A screaming lodging deal lured us through that layover as we stayed at Hotel Current http://www.hotelcurrent.com/ in Long Beach. This has become a family favorite for us on the front or back end of trips. The staff is both affable and capable. The rooms are clean and modern. The breakfast (comes with your stay) continues to impress time after time. The outdoor pool is tropical and relaxing. They even shuttle to and from the airport and other local landmarks. We decided that our evening, snow-covered shoes should be traded for next morning’s bare feet on the sands of Seal Beach before we flew home to SLC. Hotel Current obliged and even left us for an hour with a kept promise to return and take us to the airport when we were finished.
New York – Long Beach – Salt Lake City in under 36 hours! A vendor’s bagel, NYC pizza, some trinkets, a subway ride or two with a few stops along the way, and an emblazoned slate of memories to show for those 36 hours will long make this daddy/daughter excursion a trip for the ages!