The Columbus Dispatch
NEW YORK – If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
In my case, I made it here for $50, on an overnight bus ride, hopped up on NyQuil.
And in 12 short hours, I was back on the bus on my way home.
The experience (which usually costs $99) was fabulous, if a bit surreal. Yes, you can see a big slice of the Big Apple in 12hours – if you’re willing to do a little planning, push yourself hard and survive for short bursts on adrenaline, and perhaps cold medicine, alone.
First, the bus. Fun Bus Adventures owner Rebecca Vaughn really does the thing right, and lucky passengers might even end up (as I did) with Vaughn aboard to share her funny stories and extensive expertise.
The Fun Bus, however, is still a bus. Getting comfortable is a bit easier than in a coach-class airplane seat. But actual sleep (short of passing out from exhaustion)? Yeah, I know some people can do it. I am apparently not one of them – at least not when struggling with a lingering cold.
Instead, I watched the in-flight – er, on-road – movie, perused some guidebooks, drained my bottle of night-time cold medicine and squirmed uncomfortably for the duration of the 12-hour trip. At least I got more rest than if I had driven the 550 miles myself.
We made appropriate pit stops, including one at a major travel center about an hour outside of New York where passengers could freshen up, change clothes or even take a shower in preparation for the big day.
And then came our orientation by Vaughn, who estimates that she has visited New York about 300 times.
“Even though I’m here about 20 times a year, I still don’t know everything,” she admitted.
But she knows a lot. Several of her tips proved invaluable. She urged us to buy an all-day subway pass for $8.75, available on the bus – the biggest travel bargain a one-day New York visitor can hope to find. I ended up riding the subway about 15times.
I avoided activities that would eat up hours at a time. Although I had wanted to visit the Statue of Liberty, Vaughn wisely noted that a trip to the statue itself and back takes at least several hours nowadays. Her solution? A free ride on the Staten Island Ferry, which takes about 30 minutes each way and which passes near the statue, close enough for a great look and good photos.
But her most interesting advice was for riders who were mainly interested in the knockoff designer purses available throughout Chinatown. And there were such passengers – there always are, Vaughn said.
I’ll simply note that, while Vaughn didn’t endorse breaking copyright laws, she did discuss the best way to avoid arrest and what to do if in jail.
She also offered a handy list of dining options, in all price ranges, along with the warning that anyone eating at a chain restaurant would not be allowed to re-board the bus. (She was kidding, I think. But I didn’t plan to test her.)
7 a.m. to noon
We were dropped off at Rockefeller Center and scattered like rats let loose in a cheese factory. A few stuck around to watch and wave during the daily live Today show broadcast from 30Rock’s beautiful plaza.
But I, like any self-respecting rat, headed underground after nosing around Times Square for a moment.
I hopped the subway destined for the southernmost tip of the island, my rendezvous with the Staten Island Ferry and, as the sun rose, Lady Liberty. And, yes, she was as lovely as I expected.
After spending exactly seven minutes on Staten Island, I took the ferry back to Manhattan. I did some sightseeing in Chinatown, where there really are guys carrying around huge bags full of knockoff purses, like something you’d see if the Grinch had visited Hong Kong instead of Whoville.
Next, it was up to Central Park and a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Entering the largest art museum in the nation is the cultural equivalent of opening the door of a kiln – the power hits you in the face like a blast of superheated air. It’s as if several great museums of the world had been picked up and moved under one roof.
Oh, look. Here are enough pieces from ancient Greece to do the Acropolis Museum in Athens proud.
And over here? A collection of Pacific Island art that dwarfs the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.
Around this corner? A collection of European impressionist and post-impressionist paintings that rivals the Art Institute of Chicago.
I saw a young woman actually skip when she discovered a gallery full of van Goghs.
And then there’s the stuff that can’t be found anywhere else, like the Jan Mitchell Treasury, a collection of of pre-Columbian gold and silver.
And it keeps going. And going. I gave up trying to form a plan of attack and took a random walk.
Noon to 4 p.m.
I could have spent days in the museum, but I couldn’t linger. After a quick walk-through (that took about two hours), I was off to lunch at New York’s oldest continuously operating saloon, McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village neighborhood.
McSorley’s is an authentic old-time Irish tavern with sawdust on the floor and a potbellied stove that still heats the place. The tavern doesn’t seem to contain anything produced after 1960 except for the good bar food, small glasses of light and dark ale especially brewed for McSorley’s, and a young Irish waiter who had an honest brogue and a quick hand serving the beer.
Customers have included everyone from Abe Lincoln to John Lennon – and now, me.
And then I was off on my own version of Madison Avenue window shopping: a visit to one of the city’s several antique map galleries. (No matter what oddity you’re interested in, New York is sure to offer it.) The gallery I visited takes up an entire floor of a large building near Madison Avenue.
I stopped at the security desk in the lobby, was announced, and proceeded to a magnificent space resplendent in wood paneling and dripping with maps that actually made me drool. (No, wait. That was sweat from climbing the subway steps. Please, God, don’t let me drip on a $50,000 map.)
In any case, I had a lovely chat with one of the associates about the early mapping of the Ohio River Valley, procured the latest gallery catalogs and began spending, in my mind, my future lottery winnings.
Then it was back to Rockefeller Center for another of Vaughn’s suggestions – the Top of the Rock. The observation deck, she suggested, is the finest in the city.
The view was, indeed, staggering, with open vistas to the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building to the south and Central Park to the north, and miles and miles beyond in every direction. The view from the Empire State Building itself doesn’t include Central Park, nor, of course, the Empire State Building itself. Plus, the Top of the Rock offers timed tickets, which means no standing in line for an hour to ride an elevator. And the Rock’s Observation Deck, set back from the edge of the building, allows visitors to look out with no intervening security glass or iron bars.
4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Again, I could have spent hours admiring the view. But I was off again, this time to an early dinner at P.J. Clarke’s, another venerable New York tradition and one-time Sinatra hangout.
My time was growing short. My endurance, too.
I was approaching the rendezvous point back at Rockefeller Center when, at 52nd Street and 3rd Avenue, I realized I might not make it. My calves were starting to seize up. Maybe I could call and the bus could make a slight detour?
And then I noticed the Chrysler Building, not more than five blocks ahead of me. How could I get so close and not stick my head inside? Turns out I couldn’t. I strode, briefly reinvigorated, to my destination – actually about 10 blocks – and was well-rewarded by the beautiful art-deco lobby.
I hopped the subway one last time, able to get a few blocks closer to my final destination. And, with 45 minutes to spare, I hobbled back to Rockefeller Center. I got coffee and watched the ice skaters at the outdoor rink with a real feeling of accomplishment – and some more cold medicine – filling my belly.
Apparently I made it home, although I don’t quite remember how.
But later I did find a receipt in my pocket, from some rest stop in New Jersey, for another bottle of NyQuil.
If you go
NEW YORK CITY
It’s the Big Apple, Metropolis, the City That Never Sleeps. ‘Nuff said.
GETTING THERE BY BUS
New York City is about 550 miles from Columbus. If you don’t want to drive or pay for an airline ticket, consider charter bus travel, which can be an affordable, relatively comfortable way to get to the Big Apple.
Fun Bus Adventures, based in Junction City, Ohio, has been taking passengers all over the United States for 15 years.
The company offers many whirlwind one-day trips to New York, dropping passengers in the morning at Rockefeller Center and picking them up about 12 hours later, all for a bargain price of $99. Longer New York City trips are also available.
Call 1-888-386-2870 or visit www.funbus.com
GETTING AROUND BY SUBWAY
Go on, there’s nothing to be afraid of. The city’s subway system will take you just about anywhere you want to go, quickly and cheaply. Buy an $8.25 all-day “Fun Pass,” get a subway map, and the Apple is your oyster.
The pass, available aboard the bus, is good for all subway and bus rides from first use until 3a.m. the following day.
Visit www.mta.info for details.
SEEING THE CITY STEVE’S WAY
• The Staten Island Ferry used to cost a nickel. Now it’s free. Board it at the terminal near Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. The 30-minute ride takes you close to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and provides a great view of New York Harbor.
You must get off at the end of the trip, but you can immediately reboard for your return. The nine-vessel fleet operates throughout the day. Visit www.siferry.com.
• The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the biggest art museum in the United States and is packed with masterpieces from every place and time. The museum is closed on Mondays. Admission is $20, or $15 for senior citizens 65 and older, $10 for students and free for children younger than 12.