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Trip Report Everything I Need to Know (re Taking Mama to Manhattan) I Learned on Fodors

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Tip #1: Buy your Metro Card in the terminal or at the Hudson News Stand before you leave the airport.

I meant to follow this one, I did, but the ease of getting out of LGA threw me off. Seriously, we stepped off the plane, crossed a corridor, took a down escalator, marched a few more steps to the already waiting luggage, then it was out the door.

Stunned and with no Metro Card in hand, I followed Tip #2: Don’t bother hiring a car service; take a taxi. It’s easier and possibly cheaper.

I’m not sure it could have been any simpler to get to our hotel. The taxi stand was within shouting distance of our exit door. We snagged an SUV style cab with plenty of room for our luggage and we were off. The trip cost $41 (including tip) which I thought was a bargain since it also served the purpose of a thrill ride for Mom and Gladys. They’d been in cabs before but, in most other cities, taxi riding is a kinder, gentler sport than it is in New York. Their eyes were as big as saucers as our driver wove through the afternoon traffic and they were grateful for the handholds. The driver was friendly, courteous and smart too. He even knew how many flags fly outside the United Nations building.

On to Tip #3: Public transportation in New York is so plentiful and so efficient that it doesn’t really matter what area of town you stay in.

And Tip #4: Times Square is a zoo. Don’t stay there.

I was disappointed when I won Priceline rooms at the Hilton Manhattan East near the corner of 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue. I worried that we were too far away from the action to really enjoy our stay. I was wrong. The M42 Crosstown bus stopped right outside our door. The M15 select was less than a block away and the M103 was only a little farther than that. We never waited longer than a minute or two for a cab to pull up right outside either.

You were right about Times Square as well. As promised, we were glad to get away from the noise and crush of people at the end of the day and the Hilton was the perfect spot for that. Our rooms were small but not impossibly so. They were impeccably clean (as was the rest of the hotel). The beds were comfy. The staff, from the door man to the desk clerk to the bartender were nice to the point of doting. All this for $171/night per room.

We’d barely checked in when Mom and Gladys announced they were raring to go, so …

Time for Tip #5: If you’ll be in the city for more than three days, get a 7 day unlimited transit card. The money you save will more than pay for the $29 ticket.

Tip # 6: The city’s seniors rely on the bus service. It stops every block or two, is air conditioned and, most of the time, younger people will give up their seats for the elderly or disabled.

And Tip #7: As long as you avoid rush hour, you’ll be fine.

If only I’d remembered Tip #1 about purchasing the transit cards at the airport, we would have been great. Alas, I did not, and I couldn’t remember the address of the spot within a block of our hotel where we could buy them either. We hiked a couple of long blocks down 42nd Street to Grand Central Station to pick up our tickets.

That wasn’t really a problem. Actually, it was a nice intro to the city. We entered through the Market doors on Lexington and Mom and Gladys were wowed by the variety of foods available there. “This is a train station?” they asked as they vowed to return for fresh fruit and bakery items. They were impressed by the structure too. Who wouldn’t be? That building is gorgeous! It’s also a little confusing. We wandered for a bit before we spotted a Hudson News Stand where we bought our tickets, then headed out to catch a bus on 42nd Street …

… at 5:15 PM. Oops. We boarded the bus and it was packed. A young woman quickly stood up to offer Gladys her seat, but the girl sitting next to her was too engrossed in her iPad to notice us right away. That left Mom hanging from the rail. The girl did look up at the next stop and offer her seat to Mom – but Mom was feeling spunky and refused the seat. By the time the girl got off at the next stop she would have been glad to take it, but an older and weaker looking woman got on there so Mom hung on all the way to 8th Avenue. Lesson learned: Take a seat if it’s offered.

This was our worst bus experience. From here on in, we avoided busier times and Mom and Gladys only had to stand for less than one stop during the entire rest of the week. I didn’t even have to give anyone the evil eye. New Yorkers are not the cold, heartless, self centered beings that their image sometimes portrays. They were kind and respectful to the elderly, the disabled and to families with young children too.

Tip #8: Try John’s Pizza on 44th.
Tip #9: In certain situations, the HOHO buses can be a good idea.

We only had to walk a couple of short blocks to get to John’s from the bus stop. I dropped Mom, Gladys and my friend off there to get a table while I walked up the street to buy our bus tour tickets. Here’s something that wasn’t a tip but should have been: “New Yorkers don’t look up.” I think I read this either in Aduchamp’s Rules of the Sidewalk or on a discussion of HOHO buses but I didn’t understand its importance at the time. I learned it pretty quick though. I was walking back to John’s when something caught my eye. I looked up. And missed the spot where a grate had pushed the concrete of the sidewalk up at an awkward angle. I fell. Splat. Everyone around me stopped. A couple people shouted, “Is she okay?!” A very nice gentleman reached down to help me up and told me, “You’re the second person I’ve seen almost do that.” My response? “I wish I really was the second person to _almost_ do it, instead of the first to really do it.”
Nothing was hurt too much (besides my pride –which took a huge blow). I dusted myself off and continued on my way.

By the time I got back to John’s, Mom and crew were already seated and enjoying cold sodas. Our pizza came soon after. It was good! Really good. Not the best I’ve ever eaten (I’m looking at you Monical’s in Danville, IL, Pizza King throughout Indiana and Pitch in Omaha.) but really very good. It’s cavernous in John’s and they do a terrific job of feeding the masses, of which there are, well, masses. It was cheap too. Our group’s only minor complaint was the volume. Wow, is it loud in there!

Fueled by sausage pizza and Diet Coke, we headed off again. Here, I’ll add a tip of my own: If you plan on walking around, use the ladies room before leaving the restaurant. We found this out when Gladys’ water pill kicked in less than a block later and we had to find a restroom, pronto. Luckily, the giant Toys R Us store with its indoor ferris wheel loomed ahead. That place may be nirvana for tiny tots but the sensory overload kind of made my eyelid twitch. I am grateful for its public bathroom though.

From there it was just a couple more blocks to the HOHO. A lot of folks on here seem to hate those things but, for two ladies in their 70s who had already spent a long day traveling, it was an excellent activity. Our tour guide was pleasant and knowledgeable. The weather was lovely, with a nice breeze blowing on top. We got a good overview of the city with landmarks that helped orient us throughout the week. And the ladies were able to both sit and be entertained for an hour and a half. At $44 each, I wouldn’t say it was a bargain but you can save five bucks if you order your tickets in advance.

After the tour bus, we started walking again. That may have been a mistake as it was longer than we’d thought and the ladies were tired, especially after we made a stop for hair spray at the frenetic Walgreens in Times Square. They were flat out exhausted by the time we waited 40 minutes for a bus that was supposed to arrive every 15. We did have a nice conversation with a lady from Missouri that helped to pass the time before we gave up and hailed a taxi.

Back at the hotel, Mom went in search of a soda machine. There was none so we asked the door man where we might find a can of Diet Pepsi. He advised us that there was an all night deli “just around the corner”. I’m adding another of my own tips here: If you ask a New Yorker how far something is, double the distance. They do not judge space in the same way Midwesterners do. “Just around the corner” turned out to be around the corner, down two blocks and across the street. If I’d known that I would have shlepped off for the soda on my own instead of walking the ladies over there. Once at the deli though, Mom picked up enough Diet Pepsi to see her through a few days. She and Gladys got bananas and a cookie too, making the trek worthwhile.

Finally, we tucked the golden girls into their hotel room after everyone agreed – It had been a near perfect first night in the city.

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