Nothing like trying to remember exactly what life was like 48 hours and 1,241 miles ago, especially when traveling has created a haze around everything. Where was I at again? Oh yeah, New York City. It was a Monday in the year 2019 and I was just a girl traveling with her family and trying to do every last damn thing… which pushed me to my limit.
Our first stop that Monday was to the new One World Trade Center. The time was 9:30AM. We had tickets to go up to the observation deck on the 102nd floor and experience NYC from the highest point in the city. From there, you can walk 365 degrees around and see for miles in all directions. Their slogan, “See Forever” feels spot on. You can see to the edges of earth where it starts to curve under. The advertised “experience” included a bunch of electronic nonsense — iPads, video clips, and interactive displays. As if being shot up 100 floors in less than 45 seconds and pondering life from such a height wasn’t good enough. Guess I’m just a simple girl.
The second stop of the day was a short walk from the new trade center. It was the memorial site and museum for the original buildings that were destroyed on 9/11. All of the 16 acres of land where the original seven buildings stood has been reconfigured into new buildings, a green space, and a memorial and museum. We did a 1 hour guided tour and also walked around the area above ground where the twin towers stood.
Those two locations have now been transformed into a pair of water features where the water descends into the middle past where the eye can see and the stone on the perimeter of the pools has the names of all persons who lost their lives etched in it. That was quite touching and the tour even more so. Our guide did a great job walking us through the museum and relaying information about the day, the towers, the structural collapse of the buildings, stories of people involved in escaping, rescue, recovery, and clean up in the months to follow.
I learned a great deal of new information and was moved to tears watching video of the bringing down and “laying to rest” one of the great concrete columns. The city has done a fantastic job with the space and it was time well spent.
Our third stop of the day, and last ticketed attraction, was the cruise out to the Statue of Liberty and trek up inside the statue. This was also memorable, but for very different reasons. This, “pilgrimage”, if you will, is a thing that most tourists who visit NYC do. An icon of the city and of our nations history, it is one of the most toured sites in the country. There were hundreds upon hundreds of people piling onto the cruise ships which departed about every 20 minutes. It was a massive moving crowd of human bodies on and off and through three different airport like security checkpoints. If they were going for the “huddled masses” effect, they were successful.
We had also not eaten since breakfast (and some of us don’t eat breakfast) so we also had the pleasure of being packed into the food court for what was arguably the worst cheeseburger I have ever had. Let’s make that official – Crown Cafe Cheeseburger, a solid 1 (terrible) on a 5 point scale. TO be fair, Jim had the “New York burger” and said it was delicious. There were lots of cooks on the grill and perhaps our line cook was having an off day. To make matters worse, our tickets to go up in the statue were for 3PM and we were pressed for time and had to eat in about 5 minutes.
We gobbled the food, headed for the statue at a good clip, and then proceeded to climb the 215 steps that are inside the pedestal of the statue. Bear in mind, by this time of the day the heat was at its peak and there was a heat advisory on the island. I got to the top of the pedestal, quite winded, where you can walk outside and look. I took my time walking around and would have taken longer, but the rest of the crew were impatient to go up to the crown. They only allow a few folks a day up there and we bought our tickets months ago.
They let us through the roped-off section to the stairs that led up into the top of the pedestal where the statue is secured to the base. That is as far as I got. The next stairs to climb were a tight spiral that wound around the center of the statue. When I say tight, I mean narrow and steep, and confining. Once you commit to going up, there is no going back down. You have to get all the way to the top before you can descend down the other side of the spiral. I got about 20 steps up and a panic came over me. I felt trapped and hot and dizzy and nauseous. I went back down those 20 steps and waited at that level, alone, while the rest of our crew went up and came back down.
That is the first time in my life I was not able to do something because of a panic. I’ve been afraid of things before – rollercoasters, public speaking, driving up and around cliffs on mountainsides, scuba diving, snorkeling – and at no time have I ever let that fear get the best of me. It’s just all in the head, you know. You have to push past it and things always turn out just fine. This was different though. This felt less like a mental block and more like an actual physical limitation. As I stood there alone I briefly tried to talk myself into heading up and then, upon realizing it was not going to happen, I instead tried to reason out why my body was reacting the way it was.
All I could think is that it must have been the perfect storm to create such a commotion inside. The heat, the emotional draining from seeing the 911 memorial, the being packed on a rocky boat, the pounding food into an empty stomach, the physical exhaustion from climbing the first set of stairs, the lack of a break in-between hikes around the island and up. All of these things culminated in my having a meltdown at the base of the steps that led up to the crown. All these things were responsible, I told myself, and not just a simple fear of being trapped. It couldn’t be just that. I sat down and wept. It was the second time I cried that day and would not be the last.
When Jim and the kids came back down, we all descended the rest of the stairs together and once back inside the air-conditioned lower level, both Jim and Z took me aside separately to ask me what happened. I still couldn’t say anything more than “I just couldn’t do it”. Z put her arm around me and gave me a light squeeze. Then Jim did the same. That’s when the tears came again. I just wanted to be done, and magically transported back to the apartment, back to a cool place to rest. There was no magic, of course and It would take about 2 more hot, sweaty, physically and emotionally draining hours to get back home.
That evening would be our last in the City. I didn’t want to waste it and was quite sick of “vendor and cafe” food. The area we were located is called “Hells Kitchen” which is named partially because the area is so densely packed with exceptional restaurants. We had only been at a sit down place twice the entire trip and that was a damn shame. It was mostly easier to satisfy the kids needs by eating a quick slice a pizza or hot dog or hamburger on the go.
So after our recovery Jim and I went out to a real restaurant, just him and I. I wanted to go to the “Hell’s Kitchen” restaurant which was literally less than a block from our apartment. It was Mexican food and a margarita sounded like the perfect refreshing start of the evening. It was.
We had a great meal and got a buzz on over our tacos and nachos. It felt like a normal night out at home. It also gave me the pep I needed to venture out, one last time, to Times Square with Z. Everyone else was over it, but realizing that it was our last opportunity, we went for it.
Jim stayed back with the boys so it was a girls only night out. We hit the Disney store and one of a dozen “I ❤️ NYC” souvenir stores. We stopped in at the McDonald’s to get her fries and a soda, “dinner of champions” in the heart of Manhattan. We sat at a table between the streets and giant electronic billboards. We caught some more Pokémon and laughed a lot and then wandered back, carefully avoiding the group of mini-mouses and other cartoon characters. It was a great night and a good end to our Big adventure in the Big Apple.
There’s more to write (and remember) as always. Words that go forever and curve under the edges of the earth. But even the longest day has to end sometime and this one is quickly fading into the haze.
Next Stop.. Nebraska!