July 4th, 2021 – New York City

I don’t even know how to tackle this one. Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve had years. And not just in the dreadfully empty year and a half either, but in real years.
So as you may have read yesterday, I was out by 5:30am walking north to Central Park to write a little. I stopped a few different places in the park and Columbus Circle and as always really enjoyed the solo New York morning. Around 7:30 or so Steph was down for breakfast which was an actual real Hampton Inn breakfast! No, those still aren’t that good, but, the last several visits to Hilton brand hotels have brought boxed breakfasts consisting of maybe a bagel and an apple or something. And some of those were at Embassy Suites! So a Hampton breakfast, a normal one was great. Even these little things we’re seeing return have been special. You don’t know what you got til its gone, for sure.
Colton was up and ready by 9, and that too is rare. I think even he knew it was going to be a good day and didn’t want to miss a minute of it! The plan was to cover Soho and Greenwich Village since those areas are home to several places we wanted to visit. Nothing much was to open before noon, so in the meantime we walked back to Central Park and rented some bikes. Usually we think of bikes as a relatively leisurely activity in the type places we might do it. In Central Park though, you basically have a 50ft wide multi lane road looping through the whole park. Keep in mind the park runs from 59th up to like 110th and from 8th Ave to 5th. No vehicles on the road other than bikes, horse drawn carriages and scooters. Mix in with those many, many runners. It was a beautiful trip through the park and I was able to see several places farther up than I had been before on foot. We even looped the reservoir. I love the views in the park with skyscrapers looming overhead all around. Except on the very north end though. We just noticed that yesterday since we were up there. I guess the soil conditions once up as far as 110th up to Harlem don’t allow for the massive buildings. New York City from a civil engineering perspective is an ultra fascinating puzzle. I know I bore them when I discover the hows and whys of things but its really cool to me.
The terrain in the park included quite a few unexpected grades which made our trip a little more challenging than expected. But we toughed it out and enjoyed it very much. I advised Steph this was becoming a thing now on all New York visits. And she agreed. After a little rest time on a Central Park West bench we made our way down to 57th to the subway that would take us down to Little Italy and Prince Street Pizza.
Typically Steph is up on all the food trends in the City from watching some of the shows she watches, but since nothing has been going on for a while, this time she had only one. Prince St. Pizza is a walk up place near Mulberry and Mott that usually has lines down the street apparently. Being a holiday though, the crowd was light and we only waited behind a few people. The pizza was outstanding and we were all quite hungry after the morning’s unexpected exercise.
From there we walked up Bowery to the store that occupies the space that was once CBGB. Its sad that its now a high end store, but they’ve done a good job of maintaining a very cool atmosphere that respects its past. It was essentially a museum visit for me. The walls are covered with graffiti, stickers, posters, etc. Much of it, likely the oldest of it, is behind protective glass. For me, having only heard about the legendary club, it was still pretty awesome just being there and seeing some remnants of its storied past. Colton wanted something from there because there was some nice stuff, but the price range wouldn’t play along. Someone who experienced the place in the 70’s, would very likely be disgusted by its current state, but for us it was still enjoyable.
Further north we found ourselves at Cooper Square, where we had visited a Muji a couple trips ago. By this time Colton had found that he really liked the underwear he bought the day before and wanted to stock up. And thankfully I found a couple of the pencils he and I both have been using for the last couple years. So it was a productive stop. Next was Metropolis for Colton and the best bookstore in the world, the Strand for me. By this point it was mid afternoon and we were all pretty beat. Thankfully, Brenners, a favorite of Steph’s is just up the block from those places. A chocolate lover’s paradise is Brenners. The food, our need for a break, the ac, and the fact that Brenners is one of those rare places in the city that serve Pepsi all combined to make it a perfect place to rest a while. A quick walk back through Union Square to the subway to 49th and our Hampton Inn home and then a real rest break.
An hour or so later, Colton and I went back out to wander around Times Square a while. We browsed some junk stores and I told him for the hundredth time probably about Mujibur and Sirajul, the shop owners near Dave’s theater on Broadway back in the 90s. I honestly think if I could buy a collection of every Dave Letterman Show I would do it. We stopped at a pizza place at 8th and 45th before returning to pick up Steph. Next we walked over to Bryant Park around 7 with some snacks and made a picnic out of it.
It was at this point we realized a mis-step in planning, not planning so much as communicating the plan, I thought we were out for the night. Steph thought we were going back to the room before heading out to find a spot for the Macy’s fireworks. But she didn’t comprehend that we were already two blocks east of the hotel and a third of the way to the East River where the fireworks were. Considering i was probably already approaching 20k steps for the day, 4 wasted long blocks and 16 short ones did not sound appealing. Colton was able to talk her out of the return by convincing her that a new jacket from Muji might be just what she needed. And we still had a couple of waters with us from our makeshift picnic. So guess what, it was back to 5th Ave. for our third Muji visit in around 24hrs. This time with a time limit because they closed at 8. Fireworks weren’t until 9:25 so that still allowed plenty of time to walk to the east side. A little further east we made a brief bathroom stop at Grand Central Terminal. That place is amazing to me, so of course I had to geek out over it a bit before we moved on.
Midtown, east of there is largely unfamiliar territory to us so it was a interesting walk. The day’s mounting steps, Steph’s already hurting feet and uncertainty of what we were getting into gave it a very weird but exciting vibe. As happens in New York, people began to show up. A lot of people. The longer we walked, the later it got and the more people were all the sudden walking with us. Soon the streets were closed and filled with the masses all heading to the river. It truly felt like a setting Stephen King would come up with. Steph had her eye out for benches because she can’t go forever like we tend to do. At one point we stopped at a bus shelter and Colton kept on going a little to scope things out, but within less than a minute I got scared and called him to come back because of the people. He said it was already difficult swimming back upstream even a short distance.
So at First Ave. the police were announcing that the FDR Drive viewing areas were full and another was opening at 48th. So up First Ave. went a lot of people. We sat a while at a statue across the street from the United Nations until about 9 and decided we’d better move north a little. We made it up to around 47th when it became apparent the part on 48th was full too. Keep in mind FDR Dr. is a 6+ lane highway and they had over two miles of it closed and full of people. In the end, we were glad we didn’t make it out there to stand because getting out would’ve been a real pain. People were sitting everywhere all over First Ave. by that point. People lined every step in front of the Trump tower and other buildings there. We sat on barricades in the middle of First Ave a bit and figured from Macy’s website where the barges were located. Based on that info, back south a couple blocks we went as the Fireworks started because the UN buildings would be in the way. Even where we finally landed, the tallest UN building probably blocked the closest of the four barges. The fireworks were still great though. Over a half hour of fireworks more impressive than anything we’d seen at home. The view was somewhat obstructed, but the unknowns involved with standing on the Highway made the alternative undesirable anyway.
Once all was said and done, it was time to head west about 7 long blocks along with several thousand others. The weird but wonderful atmosphere continued. Colton and I are accustomed to running ourselves to the point of exhaustion then going on adrenaline alone, but for Steph to push through this day with us made it even more special than usual. The smoky atmosphere added even more to it. All those fireworks from the river still wound up filling the canyons of Manhattan with smoke. At the corner of 44th and Third we came across an open Duane Reade and finally I was able to get the Pepsi I’d been craving for hours. The blocks passed and eventually we reached 8th Ave. around 10:30. Home in sight, and Colton decided he wanted pizza. So we split up, Steph went to the room and we went back to the place on the corner of 45th St. before returning to the hotel.
And thats it. That was the day. Other than the rest time late afternoon, I was out 5:30am to 10:30pm. My steps totaled just over 30k or around 14.5mi. My largest total since I’ve been keeping track. Unbelievable.
And so special. As much as it hurts to acknowledge or accept it, Colton isn’t likely to do this stuff with us forever. The countless trips the three of us have taken have provided most of the best times of my life. This trip, has been no different. They are all great. And July 4th, 2021 will go down as one of my favorite days ever.