In urban mythology akin to “if you swallow chewing gum, it stays in your stomach for seven years,” I have heard that you have to live in New York City for thirteen years before you can consider yourself a true New Yorker. I’ve only lived here for eight-and-a-half years, so maybe that’s why I got such a kick out of my recent Gray Line New York Double Decker Bus Tour with the kids. Some new New York City factoids I can add to body of knowledge now are:
- Thomas Keller’s Per Se Restaurant (10 Columbus Circle) hired ballet dancers to teach its waiters how to serve gracefully.
- The difference between Off-Broadway and Broadway? Off-Broadway means the theater has between 100 and 499 seats and Broadway means it has 500 or more.
- The Ansonia, originally built as a residential hotel in 1904, used to have five live seals in is lobby fountain.
- The Dakota, like many other prewar building full of charm, is also—according to our tour guide Marion-- apparently full of water bugs. Marion, who looked like she may have been born the same year in which the Dakota was built, went on to say that water bugs are the “bottom line on her yikes-meter.”
- The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world with a nave that stretches two football fields and a seating capacity of 5,000.
- I did know that John D. Rockefeller had provided the endowment grant for the Cloisters. What I didn’t know was that he also purchased and donated to the State of New Jersey several hundred acres of land on the other side of the Hudson River from The Cloisters to preserve its view. How rich of him.
- In response to rumors of Ulysses S. Grant’s drinking, Abraham Lincoln was supposed to have said “Tell me what he drinks. I will send a case of it to my other generals.”
- In 1967, the Jackson 5 won first prize at Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater (imagine now, if you will, tour guide Marion reverently intoning the lyrics to “Billie Jean” at this point. As hilarious as Betty White hosting “Saturday Night Live”…)
- In 1960, Fidel Castro stayed at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where he was accused of keeping live chickens in the rooms.
- Daddy Warbucks of “Little Orphan Annie” fame was modeled after Felix Warburg, whose family mansion is now The Jewish Museum.
Although we opted not to hop on and off the bus, stops on the uptown loop included Central Park West, Lincoln Center, The Dakota, the American Museum of Natural History, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Grant’s Tomb, the Apollo Theater, Harlem Market, The Museum Mile, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, and Fifth Avenue.
Since even at its most enjoyable, parenthood is still a hell of a lot of work, I found this quote of Marion’s quite apt: “Just because I was having fun doesn’t mean I wasn’t working hard.”
Reading List for Some of the Sites on the Uptown Loop:
- Pet of the Met by Don Freeman
- The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin
- Jake the Philharmonic Dog by Karen LeFrak
- Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin by Lloyd Moss
Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance
- Langston’s Train Ride by Robert Burleigh
- Uptown by Bryan Collier
- Coming Home by Floyd Cooper
- Story Painter: The Life of Jacob Lawrence by John Duggleby
- Me and Uncle Romie by Claire Hartfield
- My People by Langston Hughes
- Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes
- The Block Collage by Romare Bearden, Poems by Langston Hughes
- The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes
- Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo
- Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney
- Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
- Duke Ellington by Mike Venezia
- Jacob Lawrence by Mike Venezia
- The Gingerbread Boy by Richard Egielski
- Old Pirate of Central Park by Robert Priest
Gray Line New York Sightseeing, Departure point: Eighth Avenue between 46th and 47th Streets, (212) 445-0848 or (800) 669-0051 (toll free) Tour length: 2+ hours; Operates daily 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM; $44 per adult/$34 per child ages 3-11, http://www.newyorksightseeing.com/tourpage.php?item=UL