By: Tom Driver
The following post is taken from a letter I wrote to Sydney in April. I started writing her letters as a way to keep a journal for our family. I haven’t been as diligent with the project as I’d like but I plan to use We Travelers Three as a way to make it a habit.
NYC, March 2012
As I mentioned in yesterday’s letter, our family went to New York City last week to celebrate your mother’s 40thbirthday. Since this is one of our family’s “big events” in 2012, I thought I’d spend some time recounting the trip for you while it’s fresh in my mind.
Let me start off by answering the question, “Why did we choose to visit New York City?” New York City (NYC) is one of your mother’s favorite places in the whole world. It’s easily her absolute favorite city. A few months ago, she and I talked about how to celebrate her milestone birthday. I was planning on throwing her a big party and inviting everyone she knew. She didn’t like that idea very much, however, and here’s why; 1) she wouldn’t be able to spend any real time with anybody because she would feel obligated to talk with everyone at the party, 2) a party that size would likely cost as much, or more, than a trip, and 3) she couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than spending time with her two favorite people. “Who would that be?” I asked. Since I know you are her favorite person I was more curious about whom the second person would be. For a moment, I thought I’d be paying for you and Aunt Jan to go with Momma on her birthday trip, but luckily she said it was me. There may be another reason your mom wanted to take you to NYC for her birthday, I need to confirm this with her, but this was actually your second trip to New York. I don’t want to you to get all “Eww, gross Daddy!” or anything, but you were conceived in a Times Square hotel room after your mother and I saw a Broadway show entitled “Monty Python’s The Holy Grail” about five years and five months before this trip. For your mother and me, it’s just one more reason the city is so special.
One fortunate coincidence was that Momma’s birthday was the same week your preschool was on Spring Break. The best part of the timing of the trip, at least for me, is that I was able to miss some very boring and usually pointless meetings at work that happen twice a year. I was so happy to see those meetings scheduled for the same week as our trip. Plus, I didn’t miss any games from the college basketball tournament – first time since I decided to marry a woman whose birthday is March 29th.
New York City, Here I Come!
We decided to leave for NYC Tuesday morning, March 27th
. I can’t believe you are not yet five years old but this was your fourth round trip flight; I was in my late twenties before I’d flown four times. Quote of the trip so far came out of your mouth when we started walking towards the jet way to board the plane, “New York City, here I come!”. You made everyone in earshot smile with that one; it was pretty damn cute. After landing at La Guardia airport and taking a marathon shuttle ride into the city, we arrived at our hotel early Tuesday afternoon, The Manhattan at Times Square; located at 52ndStreet and 7th Avenue. The hotel was pretty nice and you were especially excited by two things; 1) there were two double beds and we let you jump/dive from one to the other (you must have done that 1,000 times), 2) our room was on the 17thfloor so you would look at the window onto 7th Avenue and say a quote from the movie A Bug’s Life, “from way up here you all look like little ants”. Momma reminded you of that quote, but you quickly made it your own. It seemed like you would alternate between jumping from bed to bed and “you all look like little ants” again and again and again. Your mother and I didn’t mind because you were having so much fun; well, I should be honest and say we didn’t mind enough to make you stop.
We got settled in the room and then we headed down to the streets of Manhattan for a quick little lunch and then a subway ride to the Central Park Zoo. You ate your first NYC hotdog from a street vendor and had your first subway ride in the span of about twenty minutes. Your mother was excited by both events, and you were too. Not once during the whole trip do you ever seem to be bothered by the noise or commotion of the city. In fact, I think it got your adrenaline flowing. But that’s not too surprising since it does the same thing to your mom and me. Most importantly, you were a great listener the whole trip. I don’t remember having to ask you twice to either hold my hand, or hold onto the rail in the subway – you insisted on standing up during nearly every ride – or to stay close by.
First Visit to the Central Park Zoo
Visiting the Central Park Zoo was one of the things you definitely wanted to do on this trip. You learned about this zoo from the Madagascar animated movies that star a lion, hippopotamus, giraffe, and zebra. These animals were the stars of the Central Park Zoo until, through a series of zany movie mishaps; they found themselves in the actual African island country of Madagascar. We started to remind you the real Central Park Zoo doesn’t actually have a lion, hippopotamus, giraffe, or zebra. You responded with something like, “of course they don’t, they’re in Madagascar”. I should have seen that one coming.
A pool with five sea lions is in the middle of a seating area at the opening of the zoo. We spent some time there getting our bearings and enjoying the graceful movement of the sea lions. I haven’t seen many things in nature that seem more effortless and, well, natural than a sea lion swimming through the water. From there we moved on to the penguin and sea bird building. The penguins were being fed while we were there and they were so much fun to watch. We laughed as they swiftly dove under the water to catch their fish, and we were amazed when one seemed to jump right out of the water onto the shore. Penguins always seem to be having a great time. Have you ever seen an angry penguin?
After saying goodbye to the playful penguins we began our search for the polar bear and the snow leopard. The big cats are some of your favorite animals so we were really hoping to catch a glimpse of this notoriously elusive animal. Unfortunately, both the polar bear and snow leopard were not prepared for visitors at the moment. The polar bear was sleeping behind rock and the leopard was completely out of sight. Both animals had spacious, multi-level living areas and they were making use of the spaces away from the public’s prying eyes.
We moved onto the crane and antelope exhibits, but neither animal held your attention long so we walked over to the red panda enclosure. You were very excited to see these animals since the red pandas at the Columbus Zoo are always hiding. The red pandas at the Central Park Zoo are very easy to see and Momma was able to get some great pictures. Next up was the turtle pond and then we observed snow monkeys grooming one another.
Is this an escaped peacock?
Upon entering the Tropic Zone, a building that houses reptiles, exotic birds and monkeys, we were greeted by a wandering green and blue peacock. The beautiful bird allowed you to get very close before another group of visitors walked in and the peacock decided it was time to move on. The Tropic Zone had many wonderfully odd animals. I remember a very large toad, a great display of bats where visitors could see them in motion instead of just hanging from the ceiling, and some cotton-headed tamarins. Apparently, these monkeys were on an episode of Wild Kratts
and I was so impressed you remembered their actual name without any help.
After exploring all the displays in the Tropic Zone we headed back to try our luck with the snow leopard and the polar bear. As we approached the viewing area for the leopard I caught a glimpse of the pacing animal at the very top of its enclosure. The area was sloped and the leopard was at the very top and back of the enclosure along the fence line. We were patient, hoping for a better view, and our patience paid off because after several minutes the leopard finally decided to show itself. The animal made its way down the small hill, moving very slowly and deliberately. You were so excited to see a real, live snow leopard! I hoisted you up on my shoulders so that you could see above the other guests that were steadily walking into the viewing area. I guess word spreads fast when the leopard comes out of hiding. I’m so happy we were lucky enough to observe the beautiful snow leopard, the animal at the top of your day’s wish list.
We said goodbye to the snow leopard and decided to see if our luck would carry over to the polar bear. As we walked around the corner to the first viewing area the giant was sitting right in front of the window. My goodness, the adult polar bear is a huge animal. Since the bear was lying down and somewhat curled up, we couldn’t determine just how big it was, but its head and paws were enormous. Next time we visit our zoo, we’ll have to look at the exhibit with the cardboard cutouts of the different bears standing on their hind legs. I know the polar bear is the biggest of all the bears, but I can’t remember how tall it actually measures standing on its hind legs.
We had a great time at the Central Park Zoo and I’m so glad we were lucky enough to see the snow leopard and polar bear. It would have been fun regardless, but seeing those two animals was awesome.