NYC: Day 7
Weesa Goin' Home!
Rosie, MaceVindaloo, ThePlazaQueen, SteakGrrl, Diana, Wraith6, Runt, Farklempt, Susu, PandaCat, Csillag
We'd booked flights home late in the afternoon rather than at night, because in the evenings as the temperatures cool, sometimes thunderstorms and wind storms can form, delaying or even canceling flights. As much as we enjoyed our stay in New York, we needed to get home, if only to do laundry and prepare for real life and real jobs.
We'd seen so much, playing the tourists to the hilt, but we had organized our time so we could do all our packing of clothes and souvenirs. We did have to decide to ship some things like the framable art it was simply too large to fit into a bag and we really didn't want them to be damaged. Remember that you can always ship stuff home, but airlines will also take unusually shaped packages as part of your luggage allowance. Just make sure you check with them to check maximum parameters and weight limitations most will charge extra for bags or boxes weighing over 50 lbs, so be sure to distribute your luggage accordingly.
Once packed up, we decided to tour around Queens, the borough which was home for these past seven days. We'd heard that there are many ethnic enclaves in this particular borough, and the ones closest by are German, Russian, Hungarian, and Polish. Our feet were sore from all the running around, and even though our shoes were comfortable, wearing the same ones all the time can cause repetitive rubbing ... so we opted to take a car around. Since we were told by the airlines to arrive at least 75 minutes before the flight, and though we were not far from the airport, it's safer to try to get there 2 hours before departure. You never know when traffic, a road accident, or a plane cancellation might wreak havoc to your plans! So we struck strategically and decided to take some food home, as a way to extend our New York experience a bit longer.
Having spent yesterday at Ellis Island and the United Nations, we had international-themed thoughts in our heads. We had discussions about our families and friends, and where we might have ended up if our ancestors had not hauled themselves away from what they knew, trading that for opportunity and the unknown.
We have noticed that many ethnic groups coming here from Europe in the last century tend to try to blend in as soon as they can into American society, the better to be accepted and thus the sooner to succeed. But many deny their heritage sometimes to be more acceptable to the general population but also out of shame of their ancesty, as if they must be part of the big theoretical melting pot, so to speak. It's understandable, but also a shame. Fortunately, New York seems to have preserved a lot of the "old world" sensibilities through the formation of ghettos, in the technical and cognitive sense of that word though perhaps "ethnic enclaves" would be a better term. (Of course, in New York, there are "cultural enclaves" as well, where poets, actors, etc. can congregate regardless of ethnicity or background. It's more like a "lifestyle" or "attitude" ghetto! It seems to be what makes it "New Yorky".)
As mentioned before, the borough of Queens is been noted for it's ethnic neighborhoods and diversity to the point that you could convince yourself you are somewhere else while you wander the streets and shops. Star Chef Bobby Flay makes a big point of this in his cooking shows, where he can be seen shopping with and talking to people on the street. So it'd seem it would be a good idea to search out some of these shops on our final day in the big city.
Though food stores selling things in the "old style" are rapidly diminishing as local populations change, health and hygiene laws are implemented, and escalating rents make lease-renewal an iffy proposition, there are still bastions. Queens has been home to many communities, including Greek, German, Irish, Polish, Ukranian, Russian, Hungarian, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Bulgarian, Peruvian, Puerto Rican, Arab ... and many of these are still in evidence, with new ones moving in when older ones move on. We'd heard of knishes, a huge dumpling which would have evolved as a way to use up leftovers, and that a place on Queens Boulevard makes the best (even having shipped cases to then-President Nixon, a Quaker!). Viennese pastries are made by a second-generation Jewish-Hungarian baker in the same store his parents bought over 50 years ago. And what about the long lines of Jews waiting at a deli to collect their Sabbath meal before sundown on Fridays? Since many of us have western and central European heritage, it was exciting to see and taste many of the things we'd heard about or haven't had in many, many years.
Ben's Best Deli was our first stop after we finished our packing. The New York Times voted it as the city's best pastrami sandwich, over the Carnegie Deli or Junior's. As we'd been to both of those places, it seems appropos to end the trip eating at a deli, as we'd started it eating at a deli. But quite honestly, some of us decided to order a chicken salad sandwich or a green salad ... we seemed suddenly to suffer pastrami overload! But, also in all honesty, that seems to add credence to the admonition to not go counter to the house specialities these items were "okay" and "big" but nothing compared to the pastrami. We did have at least one order of the soup, pastrami sandwich, coleslaw and pickles that was de riguer and non-negotiable!
We actually got to Ben's too early, and the place was not technically open. Ben's doesn't serve breakfast, despite the listing of omelettes on their menu. In fact, they were still setting up, but they didn't ignore us and actually took our order, since the kitchen staff was already in. It's nice not to encounter "attitude" in what is essentially a hometown eatery, albeit a famous one. The front of the store is the take-out counter, so when the demand for food is at it's peak, you may have to push past the clustered crowd to get to the dining room's "Please Wait to Be Seated" sign. Don't worry, they aren't waiting for a table, and you'll find the dining room is usually much less occupied than the narrow area by the deli counter. In fact, you will likely get faster service on some nights if you eat-in rather than take-out.
This place revels in its Jewishness, even serving matzoah ball soup in oversized coffee mugs emblazoned with "Rx Jewish Penicillin" on the side. Several of us couldn't resist this souvenir, even though there was no room left in our suitcases ... we might have to borrow a case or pack extras in a box. Airlines will take boxes as long as they don't exceed the regulation weight or dimensions, and they are marked and taped very well.
After lunch, we drove up Queens Boulevard to Andre's Hungarian Bakery. The current Andre is second-generation, just like one of the Hutters; his mother, Rose, works the counter in full work-dress: office-dress, jewelry, hairdo, painted nails, etc. She wears a little apron to keep most of the flour and stuff away from her finery; she's the first-generation emigrant, and our Hutter enjoyed speaking with her in their native tongue. Apparently, the Hungarian population has all but been absorbed into mainstream American culture, though there are still specialty shops and restaurants in Queens and in Manhattan, and Rose let us know about all of them. Many of these shops, like Andre's itself, had to include other nationalities to explain their fare: "Austrian-Hungarian" or "German-Hungarian" and we even heard of "Czech-Hungarian." The third-generation Hungarians tried to follow along, and at least came away thinking they'd best pay attention to their heritage better (as if Ellis Island wasn't enough yesterday!).
We bought cheese strudels and fruit strudels with a sturdy yet flaky pastry (apparently not as "fine" as homemade, but perfectly servicable and homemade), Viennese pastries (danishes and croissant-type sweet breads), cakes, tartes ... yeah, we definitely would need another case to schlep this all home!
The shop is so tiny that cooling racks full of pastries are often rolled up into the retail area. You could end up peering sideways between some strudel to look at the Dobosh torte, for instance.
Our final stop, foodwise, was Knish Nosh, and it makes much more than savory pastry-wrapped potato dumplings now, though all their things seem to be pastry-wrapped. These are sturdy, rugged, non-sweet, thinly rolled coverings, not anything like what's sold at Andre's a couple of doors down. There are knishes made with kasha, broccoli, spinach, sweet potato; there are other knishes mixed with meat, turkey, and pastry shards and shaped into a log rather than into depth-charges. Our very favorite is the large kosher hotdogs wrapped in that thin, crispy, papery pastry shell. We bought a dozen of these to have for dinner when we got home tonight ... good thing we were full of Ben's Deli food or we might have consumed them far sooner!
Knish Nosh is operated by African-Americans who descend from a couple formerly from Alabama; the original family has worked here for over 40 years there are at least three generations working the prep, ovens, and the counter. The owner of this eatery is a very old man who enjoys sitting at one of the few tables in the shop and greeting people he knows and children of those he knew. He also likes talking about women with his homies all German-Jewish men over 70 with interesting almost-old-world accents. It's as if they speak that way because they're supposed to, whether they were raised in the old country or not a in-your-face evolution of local dialect. They talk like 12-year-old boys on the pull can be disconcerting, startling, and hilarious all at once. And they all enjoy the knishes that are baked every night and shipped out in the morning to shops, supermarkets, lunch places, and airports all over the New York area and beyond. For those in the know, a sign in the window stating, "We have Knish Nosh Knishes" is a guaranteed crowd-draw. And believe us, if we see that sign in any shop window, we are going in!
We dragged our purchases back to the apartment who knew knishes and strudel were so dense?? and scurried about to try and pack it all securely and well, because it was time to head to the airport. Although we were pretty close to the airport, we didn't want to risk bad traffic or losing our seats if the flight was overbooked a more and more common practice these days. It's just as well, because though traffic was good, the airport itself was packed. To save time and schlepping effort, the drivers dropped the travelers off at the departure level, then went off to park. Thus, the travelers could get a head-start on any queuing and didn't have to drag luggage halfway across the rather large airport in hot and steamy weather. Many airports have huge parking lots and it can take a half hour or more to get to your airline check-in. So a drop-off and park option is a good idea, or the commutery term "kiss and drop" kiss them goodbye, drop them off, and leave without having to park. Because of schedules and such, the latter was the option of a few of the drivers.
We used our e-tickets to check-in quickly enough, however always go for e-tickets if you can since you can use electronic kiosks to do many things like changing seat assignments and entering your luggage into the computer system. There is usually a special line for presenting e-ticket luggage for tagging, which can save a lot of time. Another benefit of e-tickets is that there is no ticket to lose, although your government-issued photo identification still needs to be in order for the airline to process your luggage. Another time-saver could be the sidewalk check-in option, where porters can take your luggage and issue boarding passes as long as there is nothing "unusual" about your travel plans: no change of seats, no upgrades, etc. They can take extra baggage, however, and you can pay for it there.
The line to get through security in most airports is retro-fitted post-9/11, meaning that the design of the entrances toward the gates is often inadequate for the number of people pressing to get to the departure gates. New York airports are constantly undergoing renovation, but they are all relics of a by-gone era when air travel was exclusive, so expect congestion at these places. Though we don't think they still deserve the collective award for "Worst Airports in the Country" as voted by MSN users, they do take patience. (That service and facilities award was actually the result of a "tie" for the three New York area airports: LaGuardia, Kennedy, and Newark: LGA, JFK, EWR, so beware!)
Gone are the days when those who wished to accompany travelers up to the departure gates could see them off at the plane itself. However, all the amenities tend to be on the departure side, meaning you can't usually even find a comfortable place to sit together before saying your final good-byes. Until airports are all redesigned, we can only accept that we will need to hang out together and simply enjoy each other's company, rather than grabbing a snack or doing some shopping. There was a very long line at security, so we hung out together on the line and said our goodbyes just before the guard asked for our IDs and boarding passes once again.
Note that you must hold onto your boarding pass as you step through the metal detector. This is the only way security people know that you have a right to cross into the departure lounge, though you can put your ID away for now. Again, your shoes will probably set off the metal detector, so be prepared to de-shod yourself. The security guard here let one of us test our shoe by sticking our shodded foot through the detector; it did go off, so we did have to take off the shoes to go through the x-ray machine. This was just a pair of flat sandals, which we'd thought would cause no trouble, but this just goes to show you can never be too sure.
Some airports still require that you show your ID as well as your boarding pass as you enter the jetway. Be sure you listen to the announcements, and if in doubt, have it ready to show anyway. But be sure you put it away properly! Don't be like one of us, who tucked their driver's licence into the ticketflap of the airline-issued ticket envelope ... then unconsciously threw the whole thing away! Be sure your brain is engaged throughout the process, eh?
The flight was thankfully uneventful. As we said many times before, we opted for a mid-afternoon flight to avoid potential weather trouble when the temperature dropped and caused turbulence or thunderstorms a common event in this area. We did however avoid "hurricane season" here!
We got back to our home airports and picked up our cars at long-term parking without incident. Some of us complained about the long schlep with luggage to long-term parking, but honestly, if we had our wits about us, we might have split up the groups one to pick up the car, one to pick up the luggage. However, many airports may require you to show your boarding pass and luggage tags before releasing the luggage to you. It's not common, but it's not unusual, either. So don't get all uppity if the guards ask for your luggage receipts they're doing it for your benefit.
First order of business was not unpacking or even organizing laundry or to shower. It was getting the pastries and knishes out of their flight-ready boxing and getting the hotdogs and knishes into a 400°F oven for 5 or 10 minutes. We did freeze some of these, and if you want to warm them up, there is no need to thaw just double the time in the oven. They'll come out NASA-hot, just like at the shop. Be careful the hotdogs "snap" on biting because they use real "skins" to stuff the authentic sausage by the way, Knish Nosh doesn't make this hotdog, Hebrew National brand does. We'll be buying only those hot dogs from now on! The comestibles can be microwaved, for a few minutes on high heat, but then you won't get the unique crispy but tender pastry skin. We also threw in the limited-carbo-diet towel and had some strudel and cookies. It was a nice short-lived reminder of our trip to New York, and a very nice way to ride the experience just a few hours longer.
All in all, a great trip, but boy, are we tired and our feet are still really, really sore! We need a spa vacation from the very active vacation in the Big Apple. (We're already planning our next trip, hope to see ya'll over there, y'hear??)
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