This year I decided to eschew the typical gathering together of friends at a bar for birthday drinks and jetted off to New York to celebrate my 32nd year with my good friend Mimi. The mini-vacation was a present to myself. I haven’t gone anywhere this year and I was itching to get out of town, if only for a little bit. I don’t travel much: flying is not my favorite thing to do and, with a grad student loan looming over me, I never really feel like I have that sort of money to spend. However, I decided I can treat myself once a year on my birthday and want to continue doing so. Even if it’s a short trip, I want to make the effort to just go somewhere.
I’m so glad I did that this year. Much fun was had, many cupcakes and slices of pizza were eaten, and tons of photos were taken. Here’s an account of what my long weekend entailed.
Now, I know for the regular person, a trip to the library on your birthday sounds kind of lame, but I’m not a regular person. I’m a book nerd. A trip to the New York Public Library sounded like a fantastic idea to me, especially since it’s such a well-known landmark. After I met Mimi in midtown for lunch on Thursday (I navigated the subway by myself! Woo hoo!), I headed a few blocks over to chill at the library while she went back to work for a couple of hours. I was pleased to find that they had an amazing exhibit on the importance of children’s books on display and spent about an hour in there. They had all of my favorites: The Phantom Tollbooth, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Peter Rabbit, The Secret Garden…so many books that house so many memories for me.
Manhattans in Manhattan, Cupcake Crawl, Beauty & Essex
Every time I visit Mimi, we find somewhere to have Manhattans in Manhattan because we’re CRAZY like that. The birthday festivities truly started at Grand Central Terminal where we had our Manhattans at Oyster Bar. I tried oysters for the first time (fried, which means they tasted mostly like breading) and we got nice and toasty off our Bulleit Manhattans.
Next up we went to the Lower East Side for a cupcake crawl. We went to Prohibition Bakery (where you can get drunk off your dessert), Sugar Sweet Sunshine, Sweet Buttons, and Babycakes. We had a dinner planned for later, so we made our selections, then took them along with us and ate them throughout the rest of my stay. My favorites were the Old Fashioned cupcake from Prohibition and the salted chocolate tart from Sweet Buttons. My least favorite? Both of our choices from Babycakes. I know that place is trying to do vegan, allergy-friendly baked goods, but that stuff was dry and oddly crunchy and not fantastic at all. Sorry guys.
Our plans to walk across the Williamsburg Bridge (another one of my requests) got sacked when a monsoon started up in the early evening. We took refuge in a nearby bar, then headed to Beauty & Essex for dinner. That place was happenin’, I tell you. In fact, it was so happenin’ that we had to wait 40 minutes for a table, even with a reservation! I hate that stuff, when restaurants think they’re too cool for school (or reservations). Nevertheless, we had a slammin’ chicken dish with spicy polenta and a not so great pasta dish with Merguez sausage. Now, I’ve never met a sausage I didn’t like, but apparently Merguez is it. Blech. Luckily my palate was cleansed with a dessert of Buttermilk Thyme Ice Cream and a chocolate cupcake.
That concluded the birthday bash. I’m not one for going out and getting crazy, so the fact that we were home by midnight was perfect for me. I had a fabulous food, fabulous drinks, fabulous sweets, and fabulous company. I couldn’t have asked for more.
Empire State Building
This was perhaps my favorite part of my visit and I’ll tell you why. My expectation level of what the observation deck of the Empire State Building would be was at about a 2. I live in Chicago. I’ve been in tall buildings. Ain’t no thang. The reality of the observation deck of the Empire State Building? Breathtaking.
I figured while Mimi was at work on Friday afternoon, I’d head over there and, if the line wasn’t too long, go to the top just to say I’ve done it. I was a legitimate tourist and felt that I had an excuse to do such touristy things. However, I was not prepared for how amazing the view from 86 stories would be. I was most impressed by the fact that you could see the curvature of the earth. I don’t remember seeing that from either the Hancock or the Sears Tower, both of which are taller than Empire State. Neither of them have open-air observation decks, though, and I think that makes all the difference. Viewing the city from behind glass is a vastly different experience from viewing it unbridled from anything at all.
It was just a way to pass the afternoon, but I’m so glad I took the opportunity to do this and see the world in a way I never have before.
Flying Trapeze Class #3
The trapeze school I attend here is based in New York, so taking a class there amongst the gorgeous skyline was one of my requests for the visit. I fairly easily coerced Mimi into getting on the trapeze with me on Friday night. While she started with the basic Knee Hang, this time I got to work on the Straddle Whip. I was able to get the trick down pretty well, but once it came time for catches, I kind of fell apart. On the first round I sort of just fell off the bar without fully extending into the catch position. On the second round, I didn’t even hear the “Hup!” and by the time I realized it had come, it was too late. It was partly my fault and partly not. Partly mine because I had totally psyched myself out about catching. It’s my first blind trick, meaning that I can’t see the catcher when I’m swinging, and when I was going up the ladder I thought, I’ll never be able to make this catch, followed immediately by, Don’t think like that! If you think you can’t, then you won’t. Alas, it was already too late. The negative seeds were sown and it was like I hadn’t been working on anything for the previous hour. But it was also partly not my fault. It was super windy that day and that, combined with the fact that the catcher just wasn’t loud enough, didn’t help me at all.
Oh well. Here’s what the trick should look like and below is a video of what I did on my second try:
Even though I didn’t make the catch, I’m including the video because I think it’s important to show (and remind myself) that things like this take practice. Tricks don’t always happen successfully the first or second time you try them. Sometimes you have to get back on that bar and throw them again and again and that’s okay. I look forward to signing up again next month and perfecting my Straddle Whip back here in the Chi.
I had requested that we go for a run in Central Park, but on Saturday we woke up feeling lazy and acquiesced to a walk instead. Central Park amazes me: I can’t believe that in the middle of a huge city there’s all this land dedicated to nature. I suppose we have the same with the lakefront here, but for some reason I find Central Park more impressive.
Mimi took this picture of a couple rowing in the lagoon. It’s a beautifully framed photo and she wanted to send it to them. She got their attention and they rowed over, only to reveal that they only spoke Spanish. No hay problema! I jumped into the conversation shouting from the bridge, “Sacó una foto de ustedes y quiere enviarla.” (Meaning, “She took a photo of you and wants to send it.”) We got the girl’s email address, sent the photo, chatted a little (they were from Spain), and we carried on our way. I felt awesome about not hesitating to use my Spanish in a practical way and, even though I didn’t say everything exactly right, I was understood perfectly. Maybe we have friends in Spain now!
I became a huge fan of the Beatles when I was in high school, so knowing I was going to be in Central Park I couldn’t pass up the chance to see the John Lennon memorial. I don’t think High School Me would have ever thought I would be standing there, touching that word.
“I go over that bridge sometimes when I go to work,” Johnny said.
Francie looked at him in wonder. He went over that magic bridge and still talked and looked like always? She couldn’t get over it. She put out her hand and touched his arm. Surely the wonderful experience of going over that bridge would make him feel different. She was disappointed because his arm felt as it had always felt.
The above is from my favorite book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It’s a coming of age story in which Francie Nolan grows up in the poor tenements of Williamsburg and, in her innocence, believes that something magical lies on the other side of the Williamsburg Bridge. I’ve been wanting to cross it since the first time I visited New York and just haven’t had a chance to. After a lovely lunch of a lobster roll, quiche, and salad on the top of the Kimberly Hotel and a quick costume change due to the drop in weather, I finally did.
When we got to Williamsburg, I gasped in awe as I saw my name carved into the sidewalk. Mimi thinks it’s a sign I need to move there.
The weekend finished out with a trip to Georgetown Cupcakes (I’ve had a lot of cupcakes, so I feel I speak with some amount of authority when I say theirs are on point), a visit to several restaurants in Harlem for drinks and appetizers, and a trip to Gotham Pizza for a final slice on Sunday for lunch. Shortly thereafter I flew back to my home, which I always miss when I’m away because I love my city so.
I couldn’t have planned a better birthday myself. I’m so glad I snubbed my nose at my fear of flying and jumped on the chance to see one of my best friends. I’m just realizing now that it was ten years ago that we met – TEN YEARS! Friendships of that longevity don’t come around every day and I’m so lucky to have several such people in my life. Thank you, Mimi, for everything you’ve done for me in that time! My life would truly not be the same without you.