What Brian did on his Summer Vacation

My nephew was laid off from Ford Motor Company a couple of weeks ago. He decided to take a road trip by visiting his New England-based aunties. He stopped here first, and we took him into New York City to see some of the sites. Then he headed to Natick, which is near Boston, just in time to encounter the Democratic Convention.

It was fun while he was here. We couldn't take much time off to do stuff with him (a day's notice is not enough to reschedule everything), which I was sorry for. We sent him off to Sherwood Island in Westport, where he got a dandy sunburn (at 19, he doesn't care about sunburn. Until afterward). He tried to go to Mystic Seaport, but got caught into one of those mysterious mid-day traffic jams the are seemingly caused by nothing and was forced to turn back (the Seaport battens down the hatches at 5:00, even during the height of the summer tourist season). They joys of I-95. So he turned back, and got a cracked windshield for his trouble (he got it replaced on Thursday). We took him to see I Robot (an awful movie -- a dishonor to Isaac Asimov) and Kill Bill Vol 2 (Tarrantino had two movies in him. This was not one of them.)

But we did manage to get into Manhattan last Saturday. Caught the train to Grand Central, where he got a small taste of what people mean by "As busy as Grand Central Station." We were impressed by the lower level -- lots of shops and a nice waiting area, sort of. We grabbed the shuttle to Times Square, then caught the #1 to South Ferry. Destination: Ellis Island.

To get to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, one takes the Circle Line Ferry. It's not a bad trip. However, we're there on a Saturday in July, and for some witless reason, visitors have to go through metal detectors to board the boats. The security is run by Wackenhut inSecurity (conspiracy theorists: have a field day ...) and a bigger joke we've never seen. It's one of those deals where very low-powered magnetrons are set up in a tent on the dock and they herd people through. The xray screens reveal nothing. They didn't even pick up the keys in Stanley's wallet or render anything visible in my backpack (keys, scissors, pocketknife, camera, etc.) All the screening did was waste time.

The trip out was uneventful, though pleasant. We circled Liberty Island but didn't get off there since it's not yet open again (not until August 3.) It was Brian's first close-up view of Lady Liberty though.


Ellis Island was the next stop on our 15-minute cruise. Stanley took this shot. Too bad it was such a gloomy day, though I was happy the sun wasn't out so I didn't turn into a neon glow.


This was our first trip to Ellis Island, ever. I'd been meaning to go there for years. I know my paternal grandfather came through Ellis Island because I found him in the archived manifests (and got a reproduction of it to give to my Dad for father's day a couple of years ago). I think my paternal grandmother came through as well, but I've not yet been able to find her.

I don't know what I expected. Some of the sense of history I got from visiting other places with lots of history, such as the battlefields of Gettysburg and Manassas, the Capitol, Fort Wayne in Detroit, the old cemeteries around here ... But I was hugely disappointed with Ellis Island. It is soulless. There is no sense of history here. Brian thinks, and I agree with him, that part of the problem is all the modern additions they added when "restoring" the place -- the light fixtures, the stairwells, the arcades.

Another problem is the exhibits themselves. Some were interesting -- the ones showing photos of what the place looked like before the "restoration," particularly since the objects in the photos were displayed in the same room. Stanley like the photos of the restoration itself. There were cases and cases of objects, such as clothing, household goods, toys -- but they weren't organized in any way and were badly lit so that you couldn't really see them properly. There were walls of documents, but they were impossible to read.

Then there were pictures of the immigrants themselves, and the places they came from. These are so large that any sense of intimacy is destroyed. They looked more like photos of Big Brother in the 1984 sense than anything meant to draw you into feeling any kind of a connection with a long-ago immigrant.

Everybody who's never been to Ellis Island thinks there's a wall there with each immigrant's name listed. If there is, I sure didn't see it.

I think the main problem with the exhibits is they weren't categorized in any way that would let you grab hold of a narrative thread. I wanted to see my grandparents' trail from Scotland to New York City, the ship my grandfather sailed on. I'm sure other visitors would want to see the paths originating in other parts of Europe. There was no path to trace, nor a timeline. It is a jumbled mess.

They should have left the place the way it was when it was abandoned in 1924, and maybe set up a visitors' center in another building. Such a shame -- a tremendous piece of our history "restored" to death.

Brian_ESB_shrine072404.jpgAfter we managed to get back to shore, we took the subway up to 33rd Street to go to the Empire State Building. I've been up to the top a couple of times, but neither Brian nor Stanley had even done that particular tourist thing. I love the building, the lettering, the marble so polished it's almost alight.

It was very busy. We got to the escalator that you take down to get tickets to go up, and the line mover guy said there was a 90-minute wait just to get a ticket. By this time, it was after 7:00 and we were all very, very hungry. We let Brian decide, and he said it probably isn't worth waiting 90 minutes to pay $12 each to spend ten minutes looking at the view. I think he was pretty tired at that point, and I know he had a headache.

So we decided to head over to Grand Central.

Walking up Fifth Avenue was fun, and we showed him the New York Public Library, watched the people, looked for a likely place to eat dinner. Which of course we didn't find.

brian_empirestatebuilding07.jpgIt's weird seeing all those Jersey barriers surrounding Grand Central. I guess it's plausible that a vehicle laden with whatever could plow into it -- I assume they're placed there to prevent this. It's also very yuck to see soldiers patrolling a train station, besides the 50 or so visible cops. It didn't leave me feeling any more secure than I did after going through the toy security setup to get to the Statue of Liberty.

We looked around a bit, but there wasn't much to see at 8ish on a Saturday at Grand Central. I really wanted to go to the Oyster Bar for dinner -- I love the food there and I just think it's a cool place. Fortunately, Stanley loves seafood (and I think he was pretty hungry). We had a good gasp at the prices, but decided we would count this as one of our long-delayed celebrations and, hey, what the hell. Neither of us drinks, and Brian isn't old enough to, so we knew the bill wouldn't break us. The food was great. It felt good to sit there and enjoy the place and I'd forgotten how much I like New York City water. We had a nice waiter, who filled us in on the labor situation there (they got a decent contract).

Then, time to go home. While we were disappointed with Ellis Island, and didn't make it to the top of the Empire State Building, it was an interesting day and I enjoyed it a lot. We had to wait more than an hour for our train, but I read the Sunday Newsday. The air conditioning was broken on our car, so it was a hotter than hell trip home, but I was just so exhausted I couldn't bring myself to move until we got to the train station.

Ginger, of course, thought we'd totally dropped off the face of the earth and that she'd never ever see us again, so she was deliriously happy for longer than she usually is when we come home. The demented cat yowled for a while -- I guess that's his way of yelling at us for leaving him with only the dog to keep him company.

Brian headed off to Massachusetts the next day, and the dog moped for days afterward. We'll see Brian once more before he heads back to Michigan -- he's going to be in Bridgeport to see the WWF, spend the night here, and then head home.
Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07/31/04 at 06:12 PM
Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.

<< Back to main