The second time I visited New York City was 1984. It was my first vacation in two years. I'd gotten married to Glenn April 24th, 1982, and we'd driven to Chicago for our honeymoon. We had graduated from college during the Reagan recession years, and it took us 2 years to save up the cash for our first proper vacation.
So. . . fall of 1984 we booked our flight, took Thursday, Friday and one Monday off of work, and reserved a hotel room at a fancy schmancy New York Hotel. The Omni Park Central, located right near Central Park.
Wow, I just figured out online that it was actually 1985 that we visited. So, I'd been married THREE YEARS without a vacation. Sheesh! No wonder I was so determined to go.
What happened was. . . right before we were supposed to leave on our trip. I got sick. Not the sniffles and an occasional cough sick. The feeling like you want to die sick. All I wanted to do was sleep, I couldn't breathe through my nose, I had a bad headache and was running a fever. But we had reservations, and I didn't want to spend my days off laying in bed at home! So, I dragged myself out of bed and we showed up to the ticket counter Thursday morning, only to have the People's Express ticket agent inform us that our direct flight to New York City had been canceled. However, if we were willing to run the length of the terminal to the Northwest Airlines counter, we might be able to get a seat on their next flight out east. We ran. We got tickets. But there was a slight hiccup. We would no longer be flying direct. We would be stopping in Chicago, and again in Detroit.
If you've ever flown with congested sinuses, you might understand the pain you experience in your ears, when the pressure changes and your head feels like it might explode. It's especially painful on a takeoff, or a landing. Instead of one takeoff and one landing, I suffered through three takeoffs, and three excruciating landings. My ears became plugged beyond belief. It was hard to hear much of anything for the next several days.
We checked into our fancy hotel, with the half price coupon from our Happenings coupon book. But, we had failed to research just how expensive the hotel was. Even at half price it was beyond our means to stay there for our entire 4 day vacation. We checked in, and I immediately turned on the shower. Hot steam fill our room, but it offered my sinuses no relief. The television was on, and oh man! It was Halloween in Greenwich Village, how cool would that be? Not cool enough to pry me from my sick bed. We mostly spent our time looking through the phone directory for a cheaper hotel. We both remember seeing elegantly dressed guests from our hotel, step over homeless people to get into their limousines.
The next day we carted our luggage to a YMCA by Central Park. It was pretty grim. Opening the door to our shabby room with a set a bunkbeds and a worn nightstand, it was the embodiment of a flop house in a 1970's detective show. Mannix, or Columbo, or Cannon, might have roused a suspect from this room for questioning. I aimed my body toward the lower bunk and fell asleep on top of the covers with my coat on. When I woke up, and headed toward the bathroom, (which was down the hall), I immediately returned to our room to ask Glenn to escort me, since I didn't feel safe walking in the hallway by myself. There were so many shady looking people skulking around, and lingering outside the bathrooms. When I looked in the cracked and dirty bathroom mirror, I audibly gasped, realizing I had just caught pinkeye from the pillowcase. Ick.
We wanted to see a Broadway show or two, and the first one we chose was the female version of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, starring Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno. I heard maybe 20 percent of the dialogue because my ears were still plugged from the flight. The next night we chose a play based on how loud it might be. We went with the musical revival of 42nd Street, and although I couldn't hear the dialogue, the music and dancing were great.
I had brought along some money for souvenirs, and by the second day had spent it all on cold remedies, Kleenex and decongestants.
One day we took the Staten Island Ferry to see a view of the city and the Statue of Liberty. I mostly laid down and slept on it. Glenn took a photograph of me on that boat. My feverish cheeks matched my bright pink eye.
After our second sketchy night at the Y, neither one of us could face staying another night on the bunk beds of shame. So, we found a hotel that wasn't as expensive as the Omni Park Central, and wasn't as dicey as the YMCA. The Holiday Inn, near Times Square. So, navigating to 3 hotels in 4 days, really took the wind out of my already sick sails.
We visited the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, right across from Central Park. Well, Glenn visited it. I went along, and ended up napping on a large bench in front of some kind of art. Was it a painting? Or a sculpture? I'm not quite sure. The only thing I am sure of, is that I was napping on a hard wooden bench. Glenn strolled around for awhile, and came back to find me still asleep. No guard had tried to wake me or move me along, and I suspect it was because I looked too contagious.
Our final night, we went all out and had our one sit down dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant, in Little Italy. It was posh. White tablecloths and a maître d' posh. They had a violin player that would stroll around and play songs for people. We didn't want to make eye contact with him, because we knew he'd expect some kind of a tip for a song, and our budget was stretched pretty thin already. Like avoiding the math teachers eye when you don't know the answer to the question, these strolling musicians can sense there's someone in the room they can strong arm into requesting a song.
Vito, or Guido. . .with a violin, lurked at our table insisting we request a song. After him asking and us declining numerous times, (like a volley at a tennis match), we finally relented. We're Midwesterners and programmed to be polite. Which in this case, meant getting bullied into choosing a song. The only song that Glenn could think of (that wasn't Grand Funk Railroad), was Some Enchanted Evening. Vito's reaction was swift and scornful. "Some Enchanted Evening! That's the longest song I know!"
He played that long song, with a scowl on his face the whole time. We were torn between eating our not-that-good overpriced Italian food, or trying to gaze lovingly into each others eyes. Since my face was scarlet from my fever, and the conjunctivitis had really blossomed, Glenn had the tougher of the gazing gigs. The violinist looked at the 5 dollar tip that Glenn had given him with disgust, mingled with scorn. He didn't realize he was holding the last of our vacation cash.
We made our way back to our hotel on foot. I don't know if anyone out there remembers Times Square in 1985, but there were huge swaths of territory that were unsafe. I had a mix of feelings walking back to the Holiday Inn, self pity, exhaustion, regret and most importantly fear. I was afraid someone might mug us or do us harm. When I suggested to Glenn that we take a taxi back to our hotel, it wasn't so much a suggestion as a plea. When he refused, it was like hearing the ding of the bell in a title bout. I was out of my corner in a flash and verbally swinging.
Maybe it was the cold medicine mixing with the cheapest red wine on the menu, but we got into a fight that we both remember as being one of the more heated arguments of our marriage. I remember yelling at Glenn that he was "too cheap to take a taxi, and would rather see me dead than crack open his wallet." The louder we got, the more I could sense the drug dealers, addicts and pimps backing away and averting their gaze from us.
And here dear reader, is the travel tip that I value above all others. If you are traveling with someone, and find yourself in an unsafe neighborhood. Start a good loud fight. No one wants to get involved in a domestic dispute.