Still wondering where to go for the Christmas holidays? Go East, young man. Go to New York.
It will seem like old-home times, or like that bar scene in a galaxy far, far away from the first “Star Wars” movie. It will be, on the one hand, same old, same old — and, on the other, dazzlingly brand new.
My wife Carole and I did just that recently, taking an overnight tour, traveling by bus with a group of retired schoolteachers. It was a little like riding on a merry-go-round with about 30 or 40 people who were as interesting as the trip itself. The schedule, as recapped below, was hectic.
Embark from Maryland early Tuesday morning. Arrive in New York. Be dropped off by Radio City Music Hall to take in the start of the annual “Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes.” Then it’s a drop-off at the hotel: the Paramount on West 46th Street, a street that smacked of old Broadway through and through, a loud noise or two from the heart of Times Square. Check in, have dinner and head off to see the Carole King musical “Beautiful,” three blocks away at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. Then back to the Paramount, through the blazing big-screen-and-glitter, “La Dolce Vita” set of Times Square at night.
Breakfast the next day, then it’s off to a destination of your choice. Carole wanted to check out Macy’s during the holidays, a grand place with grand window displays 12 blocks away on West 34th Street (as everybody knows from “The Miracle”).
We noticed that, in addition to Macy’s, there was this quite tall building making its presence felt. So, like the good tourists we were and should be, we headed for the top of the Empire State Building. If you haven’t done this since, say, your high school prom, you might get some sticker shock. It’s 64 bucks for two, with a discount.
Then it was back to the hotel, back on the bus and off to the newly emerged Tavern on the Green for lunch in Central Park. From there, home again, home again.
In a nutshell, that’s one way to get an essential, but hardly complete, Big Apple experience. Some of our newfound friends went to the Metropolitan Opera, others to one of the major museums. Still others managed to get on the “Today” show and tried, unsuccessfully, to get into Trump Tower.
That portion of New York that we landed on and explored was of course a Manhattan four-or-five-course meal, made from enduring and often endearing ingredients that have become clichés. The Paramount’s stretch of West 46th Street is embedded in the Broadway fabric, home to several theaters, including the Richard Rodgers, housing the greatest show on earth, “Hamilton,” and the Lunt-Fontanne.
A block over, on 7th Avenue, Times Square and its electric billboards promoted movies and television shows. In Manhattan, all destinations seem to run through Times Square, which at night is not for the faint of heart. It’s the kind of place that gets you drunk without drinking, all that neon energy and those live performers — from Mickey Mouse to the Naked Cowboy.
Anchoring Fifth Avenue at West 34th Street, the Empire State Building offered views of every other building of note in the city. At nearby Herald Square (as in “Remember me to”), Macy’s is a symbol of the season, an honor it shares with the equally legendary Radio City Music Hall.
If you believe in Christmas, your faith will be recharged by taking in the “Christmas Spectacular,” which features the most precise group of high-kicking and beautiful dancers you ever saw. The Rockettes, legends and icons in and of themselves, are accompanied by your host, Santa Claus, newfangled digital and projection wonders and, yes, a Nativity story that includes real camels and sheep. The show is indeed spectacular, awe-inspiring, transforming and transporting.
The trip was exhausting, to be sure, but it was also rewarding in the sense that it satisfied. New York, Manhattan, is in some basic way an imaginary, invented city that we already have in our memories, both from being there in person and from countless books, films, shows and newspaper headlines (and, for that matter, from the newspapers themselves).
Every time we visit, we add to our whole store of memories, real and imagined. In the days following this trip, as the holidays drew closer, the two of us continued to hear the Rockettes, kicking and tapping away.