Longest Story EVER

10 Oct

Last November my husband took me to New York for a week for our first wedding anniversary. Obviously it was an amazing time, filled with trips to the Statue of Liberty, dancing on a romantic three-hour cruise around the Hudson River the night of our actual anniversary, daily trips to NYC, and of course some quality time with my relatives who live on Long Island.

On our last trip into The City (this is what you call New York City if you live on Long Island) one of my cousins who was home for Thanksgiving came with us. Now this was like our fifth day in a row going to The City, which was actually quite an adventure all on its own. First you drive like a bat out of hell to the train station cause for some reason you’re always running late when catching a train is involved. Then you sit or stand (depending on the time of day) for an hour on the train, all the while being able to tell where you’re at just by looking out the window (the graffiti and all around rundown-ness gets progressively worse all the way to Queens, then it’s underground until Penn Station). When finally you emerge from the chaos that is always Penn Station, ALWAYS. Depending on where you’re headed you’re next step is to either hail a taxi (good luck in the rain), walk a million miles (sometimes in the wrong direction), take the bus (where a Russian lady will tell your husband he looks like Elvis, which by the way he will believe), or find the closest subway and try figuring out just exactly how you’re supposed to know which route to take and where you’ll end up.

On this particular venture we did all of the above, why the hell not. We had a few specific goals that day…ground zero, coney island, china town. None of which went as planned, which in my book only makes for a better story in the end, right?

As we rode the escalator up and out of Penn Station (this by the way is my favorite part of NYC, when you take the train into The City you arrive underground and as you reach the top of this escalator all of a sudden you’re in the middle of it, tall buildings, busy streets, people too busy with their own lives to even look at you twice, Empire State to the right and Times Square to the left. It’s almost like you teleported there, because one second you’re just sitting on a train and then suddenly this city is all around you.) we decided to take the subway to ground zero first.

Now normally I’m equipped with various maps and every single train and subway schedule but this was our fifth day in a row in this city so naturally we were pros. We took a right to get to the subway station going in the direction we intended to travel. Ground zero is far from any tourist attraction but for us it wasn’t far from china town so our daily travel seemed rather ideal. We took the subway and made it to ground zero without a hitch.

I’ve been to ground zero several times over the years since 9/11/01 (I go every time I’m in NY). And every time you go it’s a little different. The very first time I went was in 2003. And it looked just like the aftermath they showed on the news from a year and a half earlier when it happened. It was all still so raw. Even though it was almost two years ago when it happened it was all still so new. All the rubble from the fall was still in the heaps firefighters dug through looking for bodies. All the fences were still covered in hand written prayers, flowers, pictures of loved ones and teddy bears. It was almost like it happened just mere weeks before. You could feel the somber in the air at least a full city block radius around the boarded up area where the twin towers once stood. But this time when we went in 2010 the whole area was boarded up, you couldn’t see inside the fences at all (not that there’s much to see anyway, just a place where something used to be). The only thing you could see were a few model displays of the memorial they’re building to replace the towers. I’m sure they boarded it up so people can’t see the production.

So after taking a subway all the way there and seeing a bunch of boarded up fences we decided to hit china town. Oh and we were starving. Since china town wasn’t too far away, yet too far to walk, we took a cab.

Upon getting in this lady’s cab and telling her we’d like to go to the touristy part of china town (oh yes there’s a big difference), we noticed her cab was fully decorated in Cubs gear. And oh boy was she a talker! So of course my cousin and my husband just fed into this crazy lady’s questions and got her talking about her sons and the Cubs and I don’t even know what else cause I was too busy laughing. I do however remember them telling her we were looking for a good place to eat and immediately she has the best idea.

“I know of this great buffet! It’s called the Great Unicorn (or something like that) and every time I’m in china town I eat there, they have everything.”

Being that none of us knew where we were or where to go in china town anyway we immediately agreed, that place sounded perfect. To the Great Unicorn!

As this lady, who I’m almost positive didn’t shut up so we didn’t have time to watch the meter, finally pulls off on this busy street about ten minutes later and says, “Here we are!”. We look out the window and it basically looks like what I’d imagine China looks like. A rundown neighborhood in China I mean. But it looks nothing like what the touristy part of china town I’ve seen in movies looks like. You know those colorful hanging things, a few street performers, an outside market with chinese people selling you things you can’t pronounce. Nope, none of that. Just some buildings with signs written in chinese.

“Wait, where?”

“Right there, it’s the best.”, she says pointing to the left at a sign with a giant dragon on it.

“Oh, okay. Thanks!”

We emerge from the cab and run across the busy street. Nothing that we could read said anything about a Great Unicorn. So we went into the place under the giant dragon that our crazy cab driver pointed too, she really seemed like she knew what she was talking about after all. Plus she was a cab driver she must drive here all the time.

As we walk into this building we can see it’s set up to be many different things (none of which looked like a restaurant of any kind though), there were multiple hallways and elevators, but everything was written in chinese. So looking like three lost tourists (which we were) we approach the man and woman in business suits conversing by the elevators.

“Um excuse me? Is there a buffet around here somewhere?”

They look at us like we’re idiots.

“Like a restaurant or something?”, I ask.

They look at us like we’re idiots some more, I’m not even sure if they spoke much english or understood what we said.

“Take elevator, 4 floor.”, the man finally says.

I think he was supposed to be directing people who enter the building anyway, but he wasn’t very good at it.

We get on the elevator marveling at how ridiculous that was. The elevator was covered in blankets by the way. Blankets lined the walls, no idea why.

The elevator opens at the fourth floor and we’re smack dab in the middle of a restaurant. IN. THE. MIDDLE. OF. A. RESTAURANT. It was the absolute weirdest thing I’ve ever seen upon elevator doors opening. It wasn’t close to the cash counter either. We had to maneuver around tables and chairs to get to what appeared to be the only guy working there. And do you know what he said? Do you have any idea what he told us!? He said this wasn’t a restaurant at all.

Excuse me?! You mean the crazy lady who told me this was the best buffet around was actually crazy?! I thought so.

This my friends was no buffet. It wasn’t even a restaurant. This was some kind of chinese snack joint. The little chinese man running around had a name for it but I don’t remember what he called it. I do however remember the look he gave me when I asked him where the buffet was. Was this Great Unicorn some kind of secret invite only buffet? We’ll never know, because laughing our asses off we got back in the blanketed elevator, rushed past the business suited couple and out the doors.

This was not tourist china town. Not even close. No one spoke english, so going up to people asking where china town was didn’t get us very far. Blank stares, vague pointing, shrugged shoulders. We ended up walking to little Italy and eating Popeye’s. Yup went all the way to china town to get some Popeye’s. You know me, anything for those buttery biscuits (who can blame me).

After this fiasco we decided to give up on our search for china town, maybe it doesn’t exist, I’ll just have to visit a Rush Hour movie set to get the china town experience I desire. We got back on the subway to get to coney island.

The only reason we went to coney island was because they have this section there that’s Russian (my husband’s Russian) and my husband loved this restaurant called Nargis and he wanted to take my cousin there. So there were no coney dogs or rides on ferris wheels (it was winter anyway so that part of coney island was pretty barren, we did walk on the boardwalk though) just a bus ride (the Elvis thing really happened) to the Russian side and a short walk to Nargis. After eating like one of everything on the menu (I can barely make American food so my husband misses his Russian food, and since they only spoke Russian he had to order for us {like we knew what the menu said anyway}) we went to a little gas station down the street to buy some Russian beer to bring to my Aunts the next day on Thanksgiving.

A bus ride back, at least 40 minutes on the subway, a walk to Penn Station and another hour on the train (where both my cousin and my husband slept, I couldn’t sleep for fear we’d miss our stop) and we were finally back to the train station on Long Island.

It was a long day, it was our last day in The City on that trip, it was Popeye’s in china town, it was a day with a cousin I wish I got to spend more time with, it was my husbands eyes lighting up when he got to share a piece of his culture with us, it was the perfect ending to a perfect week, it was memories I’ll keep forever.

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