New York & Jersey City 2010 - Part 1

Part 1 - Days 1-2: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Part 2 - Day 3: Broadway Shows and The Invasion

Part 3 - Day 4-5: Statue of Delivery, Ellis Island, Going Home

Days 1-2: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

To start this story, in case you didn’t hear, instead of spending Thanksgiving at home this year, I cooked turkey dinner on the previous Sunday and had all the traditions on that day instead of Thursday.

Months ago, back in March, I had booked us to stay at the closest campground nearest New York City so we could go to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we loaded up the RV with all our stuff. We picked up Rachel from school and Dianne, Rachel and I set course in the RV for Jersey City. We were on the road at 1:00pm. The goal was to be there before it got dark. When it’s dark out, it’s always more of a challenge to 1) find the campground, 2) back into the lot that they put you in, and 3) just acclimating to the surroundings is harder in the dark. Plus, Dianne is the one that hooks all the life lines up – water, electricity, sewer, cable, if they have it, which this one didn’t – and it’s always easier on her if it’s light out when doing so.

Surprisingly, we didn’t hit much traffic, or at least not as much as we had anticipated. Everyone must have flown to their families for the holiday instead of driving this year. Maybe the promise of a good pat down in the airports enticed some people. On the highways, it was only slow moving in one or two areas. Other than that, the roads were fine. At 5:00, just as we were getting off the New Jersey turnpike at our exit, it was starting to get dark. We handed over our ticket and paid the toll on the exit, figuring we still had a little daylight left to get to the campground and do what we needed to do. That was, had we been able to follow the directions on the campground’s website. The directions read: Get off the exit and take 3 lefts. We followed that but ended up back on the New Jersey turnpike. Great. Nowhere to turn around; no easy easy-on-easy-off exits; and now we had to pay the toll again. We ended up taking another ticket, got off the next exit, paid the toll again but this time we asked the toll guy for directions. He gave us a bunch of directions of which both of us only retained half. Being at a toll booth, there was no time for writing anything down. Plus, there was always a fear that one of the cats would try to make a break for it. Every time Dianne rolled down her window, one of the cats would jump on the back of her chair. As stupid as they are, it wouldn't have surprised me if they tried to jump out. Anyway, as it was, the car behind us started beeping at us to move on.

So, we drove off, carrying out those directions that we did understand, and then came to a point where we didn’t know what to do. I’m not sure if you can relate, but in a big rig like the RV, you don’t want to be making mistakes, like getting on a road that you can’t turn around on. It can be quite scary at times, and although we have never yet gotten into a situation that we couldn’t back out of (with me getting out and directing), when driving around a city, it increases the risk of potential mishaps.

Both of us were tired at this point. I told Dianne to pull over while I ran over to a marina gatehouse about 1 block away. Luckily the guy manning the booth knew where I wanted to go and wrote down directions for me. When I started heading back, I noticed four young men, maybe ages 17-19 years old, walking towards the RV. It was dark out now and all I could make out was their wardrobe – baggy pants down below their butts, baseball caps on sideways. No doubt part of some Jersey City gang. I remembered that when I jumped out of the RV I hadn’t locked the door behind me. And I was positive that during the break in driving, Dianne would be behind the wheel, checking facebook on her phone and not paying attention to her surroundings. Not knowing the area, and not knowing what I would do if they went for the door, I just started to run towards the RV. Yes, folks, I can run when I need to. You don’t want to see it because it’s not pretty. But I can run. (I kind of look like someone in playback slow motion, but in my head I’m sprinting.) Once there, I opened the door quickly, jumped in and locked the door behind me. Phew, I thought. That was scary. But as it turned out, that would not be the only brush of being raped, robbed and/or murdered that we would encounter on this trip. Oh yes. That was nothing compared to what was to come. Keep reading.

Upon following the directions, we finally arrived at our destination. Back in March when I made reservations for this campground, the woman I spoke to told me that basically the sites were in a parking lot for the marina; that there was electricity supplied at each site but that she couldn’t guarantee that there would be water because if it got down to freezing temperatures, they shut the water off so the pipes won’t freeze. In anticipation of having no water, we filled the RV with a tank full of water. Keep in mind that if we could not connect to a water supply, the amount of water we had would be good for flushing the toilet for 5 days and that’s about it. She also told me that I didn’t really need to make a reservation or pay beforehand because there would be plenty of room at this time of year. I made her write down my name as a reservation anyway because I wanted to be sure. So Carmen, that was her name, booked me for 5 days and told me to check into the office when I got there. I felt uncomfortable not giving my credit card to her to hold the spot because unless there’s money on the line, nothing says that I would indeed have a reservation. But I followed what she said at the time.

It was 6:00p.m. when we finally pulled up to the campground. Somehow in the dark, we managed to find the office. The office had no lights on. Hmmm, that’s odd. It was dark because…it was closed! And to boot, there was nobody in sight. This place was at the end of a dead end road. There was a marina on one side of the street and what looked to be a parking lot for RVs on the other side. There was nobody on the street or anywhere to be seen.

Great! Now what? As we were sitting there trying to figure out what we were going to do, a fairly large African American man riding a bicycle pulled right up to Dianne’s window and tapped on the glass. It scared the crap out of both of us. She cracked her window slightly and asked him what he wanted. He claimed to be security for the campground. The only thing that distinguished him as a security guard was the glow in the dark orange vest he had on. Other than that, he could have been anyone. He asked if we had a reservation and we said yes and gave him our name. He left and came back with paperwork indicating he must be for real. Phew! Thank God someone is here to let us in.

From the RV, we did all the necessary paperwork with him, like gave him our phone numbers. He didn’t have the technology on his bike to ring a credit card through so Dianne wrote her credit card number down on the form he gave us to be charged. Then he gave us his number in case we needed anything which we jotted down on an envelope that I tucked in the dash. In the dark, he escorted us on his bike to our spot. When I had booked the place months ago, I was told that I would have a view of the Hudson and the Statue of Liberty. But the spot that he gave us had no view – unless you count the side of the restrooms as a view. We were so tired at that point that I decided to just take what Joe Security Guard gave us. After all, who was I going to complain to? Maybe I would go to the office the next day and complain and they will move us. Nope. The security guard told us the office was closed until Saturday. Carmen never mentioned that little fact when we spoke on the phone!

For you campers out there, you will be able to relate to this. The offices at these places are sometimes your lifeline to civilization. In our case, there we were, with nobody to ask questions to; nobody to assist us if the electricity or water didn’t work, which by the way, they hadn’t shut the water off yet – Thank God! And as an extra perk, Joe Security Guard told us that the showers in the restrooms were open. Woohoo! We WILL be able to take a shower at some point this week. Although things were not turning out all that great thus far, THIS was good news.

We were also glad that the weather had cooperated. Back in March when I booked the trip, I wasn’t sure if we would be able to actually go. Sometimes it starts to snow in November and I knew there would be no way that Dianne would drive the RV in the snow. So the fact that it hadn’t snowed, and had no snow in the forecast, was a blessing.

OK, so Joe Security Guard rides away on his little bike and we start to settle in. Dianne does her hook up stuff while I do what I’m responsible for - resting on the couch.

As soon as Dianne was done, we all changed into our warm thermals and layers of clothing and set out to find some mode of transportation to get from the campground to New York City to see the balloons being blown up the night before the parade. Not blown up as in terrorists setting explosives underneath them; but rather blown up with air. An important distinction.

Now, anyone that knows me knows that I am so lazy that I will circle parking lots for 10, sometimes 15 minutes, to find a close parking spot near the entrance of a store. So when I found out that I had to walk 5 city blocks to catch the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) train, I was not a happy camper - literally. Not to mention all the stairs I would have to climb to get down (and back up) to the train. I had read about the 5 blocks on the internet, and before actually doing it, I, like you right now, was thinking, no big deal. What’s 5 blocks? Let me tell you what 5 blocks is. Oh, it’s about a 20 minute walk, in the cold, with nowhere to stop in between.

Exhausted as we all were, we had agreed that we would try to catch a second wind because THIS was one of the things we wanted to do by coming in the night before the parade. But it wasn’t as simple as just walking those 5 blocks and then getting on the PATH. That only took us as far as 33rd Street. We needed to get to 77th Street. Dianne, bless her soul, asked if we could walk from there. 44 New York City blocks? Not even in my 20’s could I have done that.

So we got off the PATH and entered the NYC subway system. Instead of trying to guess, we asked one of those people who are heavily guarded behind three inches of plexiglass with only a two inch window for one to communicate through, who sells tokens for the subway. The President of the United States doesn’t have such security. But anyway, we ask where we needed to go and the woman selling me the tokens says we want the “B” train. Ok, so we walk up/down stairs until we reach the “B” train. The “B” train stops at 72nd and 81st Streets. We want to go to 77th. So do we get off at 72nd and walk 5 blocks to 77th? Or do we go past 77th to 81st and walk back 4 blocks? Let’s do the math people. Every block counts when you’re walking in NYC. We got out at 81st Street, taking the 4 block option.

Police were everywhere directing the herds of people walking the streets. We fell into the cattle line up, and made our way to the balloons. I had never been to this event before so I didn’t know what to expect. But I guess I thought that the balloons and floats would be scattered somewhat around Central Park for viewing like at a hot air balloon festival. We got there kind of late so maybe at some point during the day it was like that. But not when we got there around 8:00. There were no floats, that we could see anyway, and the balloons were laying on the street in nets, weighed down by sandbags, lined up on two blocks. Somehow finding the energy, we walked one of those two blocks and this is some of what we saw:

Exhausted and being unimpressed, we snapped a few pictures and decided to head back to the RV. After all, we needed to get up early to get to the parade. So we needed to turn in at a decent hour. It took us an hour and fifteen minutes to get there. It would take us that, if not more, to get back to the RV. At one point during the week I posted on facebook that where we were staying in Jersey City was 1.25 hours away from NYC and that Ledyard was probably closer. We could have driven into the city every day easier.

We walked back to the subway at 81st, got on, took it back to 33rd Street, found the PATH going to New Jersey, got on, took it to Grove St Station in Jersey City, got off, climbed a bazillion stairs to the street level and then…got lost. Yup. We had no idea how we had walked to get there. Nothing looked familiar. And there wasn’t a soul in sight to ask. Not even a token seller behind glass (all tickets are bought at machines at Grove Street Station). No taxis circling around like in New York. Nobody. There were sporadic people walking by every so often but nobody had heard of the Liberty Harbor RV Campground. Then I remembered the address, don’t ask me how. We started asking if anyone knew where that was. The first couple people that passed didn’t know. The third wasn’t sure but pointed us in the direction that he thought would take us to the water. It was late, it was dark, and we were too tired to walk aimlessly. However, we were cold and couldn’t stand there outside the train station all night. So we took the last stranger’s directions and went with it. It turned out to be right. But as we walked along the dark, people-less streets of Jersey City, I became very aware of how exposed we were to any bad situation that may arise. Two women and a little girl – we might as well have been carrying a sign, “Feel free to attack. We’re too weak and tired to fend you off.”

We made it back to the RV. When we got inside, there was little conversation. We all just got ready for bed. We all slept in our thermals. Why? Because we had to be up in 6 hours again. Why bother to change when we would just be putting them back on again. It was more like a nap anyway. As exhausting as it was to go into the city that night, it did serve a good purpose. It gave us a trial run for what we would have to do the next day for the parade. Or at least that’s what we thought.

The next day, we woke up at 5:00a.m. Washed up and put on our layers of clothes. The temperature at that time of the morning was 28 degrees. It was cold but I was just thankful it wasn’t raining since we hadn’t packed any umbrellas. It’s one thing to be cold; it’s a completely different thing to be cold and wet. We each had one Toaster Strudel for breakfast and that’s it. We didn't drink anything in fear of having to go to the bathroom during the parade. The medical term for this irrational fear is abathroomaphobia. Nah, not really. I just made that up. But we did have concerns that if we ate or drank, one of us would have to go, and in NY, places are not very bathroom-friendly, especially during the parade. Nobody liked my idea of wearing Depends diapers during the parade, just in case. So to eliminate the need to go to the bathroom, we all had one ounce rations of juice and that’s all. Dianne particularly found this hard because she’s a coffee drinker and she couldn’t have her morning cup of caffeine. For me, it was just another day.

We made it out of the RV by 6:00a.m. We had taken this trip the night before so we knew what we had to do. It was all mapped out. Our plan was to take the same route and head to 66th St and Central Park West. That was the plan.

We walked 5 blocks to the PATH, got on the train to 33rd. Got off and got tickets to the “B” train and went to the “B” train track. There were a few people there waiting to get on the train. I thought this was odd. But then again, it was only 6:30 in the morning. We waited. The “D” train came and went several times, but never the “B” train. This was unusual because typically the trains run at least every 10 minutes or so. We waited. And we waited. The same few people standing there with us were waiting for the “B” train as well. At 7:00 we decided to ask the other people waiting if they were New Yorkers. They weren’t. They were stupid tourists like us coming in just for the parade. At 7:15, Dianne decided to go up one level to see if she could find someone to ask. As soon as she was out of sight, I was certain that it would be just our luck that the subway train would come and then I would have to make a decision on whether to get on the train and leave her behind? Or wait for her to come back and then wait for another 45 minutes for the next train? I think we all know what I would have done.

As luck would have it, the train didn’t come and Dianne returned with information, information that I didn’t want to hear. The “B” train doesn’t run on holidays. You know, that never occurred to us. So much for our trial run the night before. So now we had to come up with an alternate plan. We ended up on the “D” train (that had passed us several times in that hour) and got off on 53rd St. When we got off the subway and got up to the street, it was 7:45a.m., much later than we had planned. People were already 6 layers deep to the curb. I found a spot that was 3 layers deep and considered myself lucky to be in that spot, considering what time we actually got there. It was right on the corner of 53rd and 7th Ave. Dianne and I would have been able to see, but Rachel would have had trouble, being surrounded by taller adults. Dianne decided to go scope out other potential places while I stood guard over our crappy spot. As she was crossing the street, a cop was putting up a barricade across the street. She asked if she could stand there. He said it was alright. She flagged me over and from that point forward, we had front row spots to the street, or rather, we were the 1st layer for that section.

How it worked was, the barriers were in a “U” shape. Three barriers went down the street, then one across the street, then three on the opposite side of the street. We were located at the bottom of the “U” shape, so we were able to see the balloons coming down the street at us, and we were able to have a clear shot of the parade because nothing was in front of us, except for a few cops. By the way, if you’ve never been to the parade, you would be surprised how many cops there are at the parade. They bus cops in from all over like from Brooklyn and the Bronx for the day. We had three cops and a woman Sergeant monitoring our area. They were the only things in front of us and even at that, they weren’t really in front of us but off to the side. So for the bands and people going by, we had an unobstructed view. Also, the street we were on was designated as an emergency street. Therefore, when emergency vehicles wanted to get through, we all had to move. Not to lose our places, the people that stood to the sides of us and behind us all agreed that we would keep our spots and move with the barrier and resume our positions when the barrier was put back in place. Standing in crowds of complete strangers, all there to see the parade, this was an accomplishment for all of us to agree and abide by the rules set forth. All it would take was one obnoxious person to break the rule and “cut in” to disrupt the whole process. When a vehicle needed to get through, it’s hard to describe what had to happen. Picture the barrier as a giant windshield wiper, and on occasion, the wiper was turned on, taking us all for a ride and then when the vehicle went through, the wiper would put us back where we were. We were like the pine needles that get stuck under the wiper blade that just go back and forth with it. That’s the best way I can describe it.

Here are some pictures of our view:

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid" Kid coming down the street (Rachel's Favorite Balloon):


Joan Rivers Float:

The people that stood directly behind us were from Avon, CT. In 3 million people, what were the chances we would be standing with people from CT? They had taken a bus from Hartford at 5:00 that morning and got the same spot as we did staying in Jersey City. Definitely worth looking into for the next time we want to go to the parade. They were a mother and daughter and were fun to laugh with. When you’re standing in crowds of people, sometimes the experience can be daunting, and sometimes downright disgusting or unpleasant. But we had fun with the group that surrounded us. Unlike the people on one of the side barriers, two Hispanic women got into a little spat over one of them grabbing the other one’s camera. They started pushing each other and a cop had to break it up. They continued to stand there next to each other during the parade because who wants to give up their spot that they had been holding for hours? About ten minutes later, an actual fist fight broke out. If my daughter hadn’t been there watching these two low lifes going at it, it would have been entertaining to watch. Those chicks really know how to bitch-slap each other, don’t they? Long, colorful nails flying in the air at each other; fake fur coats being pulled on; shellacked hair being dented; Spanish curse words being flung about. Nothing says Thanksgiving like two women flailing their arms at each other. The cops were oblivious that this had broken out into a fisticuffs. Dianne and I started screaming for the cops to look so they could break it up. Not because I cared. But more that they were distracting Rachel from the parade. If they wanted to be an attraction, they should have built themselves a float and called it the “Rocky-ettes”. Get it? Rocky, the boxer - Flying high now - and the Rockettes? Nevermind. Anyhow, both families left. One left on their own accord; the other was escorted by the police across the street, never to be seen again. Adios, Amigos! What’s odd is that, had Dianne not found the spot she did, we would have been standing right next to these two and probably would have at least been shoved. It all works out, doesn’t it?

Ok, so you want to see pictures? Of course you do.

This is us standing front row at the barrier, before crowds of people came and stood behind us:

If we look fat in the pictures, it’s the layers of clothing, people!

Next, no, this is not me…

...That’s Horton, from Horton Hears a Who. I could swear when it went by I heard a Who too.

A picture of Jessica Simpson. Man, were they desperate for stars this year or what? And when was the last time she did anything remarkable? Oh yeah, she has a new perfume line that is sold at Macy’s. That explains it.

Rachel was thrilled that Big Time Rush was in the parade. Yeah, I don’t know who they are either, but she was very excited. I would have to say that when she saw them, she got a big time rush. (Corny, but true.)

Speaking of big time rushes...

Here is a picture of someone’s blue balls:

And last, but not least, probably the most cruelest balloon/float of all, knowing that we hadn’t had anything to drink for hours and were thirsty:

Even as disgusting as Koolaid is, I would have killed for a glass of it.

After the parade, the police moved the barriers to ensure crowd control. I was quite impressed with the redirection and calm nature that the millions of people moved in in order to clear the streets. All throughout the parade, clowns were throwing confetti. While the masses are clearing the streets, big street sweepers are brought in to clean the confetti and all the garbage that people leave behind on the street. It’s amazing how quick this all happens. Within an hour, you would never know that a parade had passed through there.

After the parade, we were ready for lunch (11:00). And to use a restroom. We headed two blocks downtown to Carnegie Deli. Carnegie Deli in NY is not like the one at Foxwoods. It’s ten times better, as indicated by the line up of people to get in there after the parade. We opted for another deli that was comparable, but not as good. Stage Deli. They had a bathroom and really that’s all that mattered. I can’t go to a NY deli and order a salad. I had to get a fatty pastrami sandwich. It was a heart attack on a plate:

It was 41 degrees during the parade, but it felt like 14 degrees. Being chilled to the bone, Rachel and Dianne opted for chicken soup served in dishpans:

The pickles in NY are to die for. And of course, we had to have a slice of NY cheesecake to go. All of lunch came to only $342. Don’t you just love a bargain?

After lunch, which actually felt like dinner to us because we had been up since 5:00, we headed back to the RV with the full intent of sleeping. We hopped on the subway, then climbed up and down stairs to the PATH, rode it standing up because of the crowds, got to Grove Station in New Jersey and proceeded to walk the longest yard: 5 blocks to the RV. It was misting out but not quite raining. We didn’t have an umbrella so as we walked, we were getting wet. The streets were like a dead zone. No people. Everyone else in the world was tucked away in their warm homes with their families, eating turkey dinners.

Halfway there, it started to rain. In the daylight, we could now see the 5 blocks to the RV more clearly. We were walking through what looked like a construction zone. Fences lined the land that had been leveled from previous buildings. It wouldn’t have been surprising to see a rabid dog milling about. Getting the picture? I commented that we were in the bowels of New Jersey. Then I had to explain to Rachel what bowels were. “You see, Rachel, your bowels are where all the crap builds up in your body and stays there for a while. This street is like that…” As we approached the RV park, “… And this RV campground, Rachel, is the rectum where obviously the crap is waiting to come out.” As we approached our RV, there was a distinct smell of leaking propane from our RV. Yuck. “...and the RV is the butthole that obviously has gas. Smell it?” Ah, my metaphors for life. What can I say. All of the walking and traveling in one day wore me down. I was exhausted. Stupid things come out of my mouth when I’m tired. But it made her laugh which is all that is important.

Something that was confirmed for me on this trip is that Rachel is just like me in the respect that when she gets tired, she laughs hard at stupid stuff. When we finally reached the door of the RV, Rachel climbed up the two steps that are kind of steep and got into the RV. I was next. She looked back at me and started laughing her butt off because I was frozen in place, with one foot on the ground and one foot on the first step. I had had to go to the bathroom so bad that I feared that if I lifted my other foot to the stair, I would lose it. When she figured out that’s why I was frozen there, she started cracking up, which in turn made me start laughing hysterically. I couldn’t move from the position I was in or I would have peed my pants. I was so close to a bathroom, I just needed to hang on for two steps and then I would be all set. But watching my daughter fall to the floor of the RV laughing made it almost impossible to move. For Dianne, this was the most inopportune time to have this happen. I was stuck on the stairs and Dianne, who was behind me waiting to get in, was yelling at me to get in the RV because it was raining and she was getting all wet. That made it even more funny and made it that much more impossible for me to pull myself up the steps. Ah, but alas, the laughter subsided ( it had to be stopped!) and we all made it into the RV without incident.

Thanksgiving night, we were all too tired to go out. Plus it was pouring rain by that time and we were not about to walk those 5 blocks to the PATH to go into the city again. We started calling take-out places but none were open. Not even Domino’s, which I hate. But I would have settled for that had they been open. Dianne found a Chinese place that delivered. Our expectations by that time were low. But it turned out to be quite yummy. All I could picture was “The Christmas Story” when the dog eats the turkey and they all end up going out to a Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner. “Deck the halls with boughs of Horry. Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra, Ra-ra-ra-rah”.

We had the quintessential thanksgiving meal - Chinese delivered to the RV from a place called “Confucious”. How traditional is that! We were all thankful that I had cooked the week before and had our traditional feast. And what got us through having Chinese on Thanksgiving was knowing that there were frozen leftovers waiting for us at home.

After dinner, we tried to watch a movie that I had downloaded to my hard drive. It was “Marmaduke”. We started it up only to find that it was recorded in black and white. It took some getting used to, but under the circumstances of being too tired to do anything else, we suffered through it. It got to about ¾ of the way through and then inexplicably, the language changed from English to Spanish. I was tempted to call Carmen the RV Campground Manager to come translate. Oh, but that’s right. The office didn’t open again until Saturday. It was still only Thursday. After a few minutes of “El Marmaduke” this and “Los Marmaduke” that, we turned it off and all went to bed.

Tomorrow was another day and another set of unknowns. The only thing for certain was that I would be walking those 5 blocks and lots of stairs again. Better rest up.

This concludes Part 1. To continue on to Part 2, (which is where the story gets really good!), click on the below link.

Part 1 - Days 1-2: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Part 2 - Day 3: Broadway Shows and The Invasion

Part 3 - Day 4-5: Statue of Delivery, Ellis Island, Going Home

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