New York City. Each year when I was growing up, my parents and I, and sometimes an aunt, would take a bus trip to see the Christmas lights along Fifth Avenue. This bus trip was organized in my home town so when we arrived in New York City, three buses strong, there was always a strong likelihood you would see people you knew, as we all had the same itinerary more or less. After settling in at the Southgate Hotel, we would start at Madison Square Garden for a quick look around before heading to Applebaum’s deli for thick French toast covered with powdered sugar. Then we would walk through Macy’s Department Store over to Fifth Avenue. At the end of the day, we would end up at the entrance of Central Park but it was the journey more than the destination that counted.
Along Fifth Avenue, we would stop and window shop. I especially liked looking in the deli windows filled with interesting food and delicious looking cheesecake. (I was quite the cheesecake connoisseur when I was young.) The walk was ostensibly to see the Christmas window decorations at Lord and Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue, and we would get in line and carefully study each holiday scene. But the decorations in the stores and the free surprise samples were lots of fun too. One year, there were free Bloody Mary’s. My father helped my mother and I with ours. We were taking in the merchandise and he was just taking in the store scene. I would go home with make-up from those stores. I never did use it, but I loved getting made up. At Rockefeller Center, we would get some roasted chestnuts from a push cart and admire the decorations and the skaters.
We would enter the huge St. Peter’s Cathedral and walk about the statuary and decide where to light a candle for my grandmother. (She was always pleased to hear we had lit a candle for her.) One of my favorite stops was to sit on the steps of the Public Library near the Cathedral. From those steps, flanked by big stone lions, you could watch the fast-paced crowds stream toward you as they spilled onto Fifth Avenue to go in either direction. My father would comment that it was amazing how the crowds never slacked in their number or pace. (It reminded me of a large swarm of determined ants on the move.) Around that time, we would wander away from Fifth Avenue and go to the Star Delicatessen on 52nd Street and Lexington Avenue for our main meal. I liked the chicken soup and the cheesecake, but I always ordered a sandwich too because I could count on my father to finish it. My mother liked the pickles.
My mother also liked the theater so from there, we would amble over to Times Square for some sort of show. Neon signs converged in Times Square; the variety and size were unsurpassed anywhere then. After the throngs of people streamed out of theaters and dispersed, I recall the walk back toward Madison Square Garden late at night felt daring. The crowds had thinned and the sidewalk food carts had gone home. The lively air of the day had become somber. After midnight, young children, half my size, would walk up to me to ask me to buy a single flower stem. This made a strong impression. (Homelessness wasn’t the norm in the USA’s cities then; when I was on a NYC trip with my high school, the bus drove along the bowery and we were all on the lookout to see if we could spot a “bowery bum.”) These weekends were all before Ronald Reagan’s presidency so my father could afford to give a dollar to any beggar we encountered in NYC.
Just looking down an NYC street packed with skyscrapers on either side was a treat. The further I looked down the street, the more it looked like the distant buildings were leaning forward to peek at me. Our second day in NYC would center around an art museum, and sometimes the Empire State Building and always Radio City Music Hall. Then we would board the bus at 6pm for the four-hour ride home. We would crane our necks to catch a final glimpse of the lights and the tall buildings and the bustling crowds. Times change and there was the sobering 9/11 event that still reverberates there. But I recommend an NYC weekend to admire the Christmas decorations. Just walk down Fifth Avenue and you will find them.
TATTOO—Journeys on My Mind by Tina Marie L. Lamb