As a first-time visitor, I expected certain things from NYC: Action. Diversity. Energy. What I discovered bowled me over. The Big Apple was full of sweetness. It was extraordinary in a world-class – and classy – way. Everywhere we went during our week in Manhattan this spring, people were kind to us. They smiled, they were courteous and they went out of their way to be helpful.
What’s up with that? We toted around a Lonely Planet NYC City Guide each day and although the 448-page book was useful, the editors might consider adding a chapter called Good Times, Great Manners. Surely the city folks must be used to tourists. After all, there were nearly 49 million visitors in 2010. Still, the simple human kindness we encountered over and over again was pretty special.
When I showed up one morning at Madison Square Gardens to see if I could get my boys tickets to that night’s home-town match between the Rangers and the Islanders, the fellow at the ticket window was a prince – with a sense of humour. “As long as you don’t cheer for those Maple Weeds,” he teased, producing tickets for two great seats. Curious, I asked if there was anything better to be had. There wasn’t. These were the last two adjoining seats in the place.
In Macy’s at Herald Square, I lost my kids. The vast landmark of a department store could give Ikea lessons in how to baffle novice shoppers. After going up, over, down and all around a few times, there he was – a security guard, happy to come to the rescue. I think his name was Save My Bacon. The young gentleman taught me how to use my cell phone. (Too bad I’ve forgotten already.) He also delivered me directly to the lads and took the time to chat with them. When I hugged him in the middle of the crowded department store, he grinned. It was the Little Critter book Just Lost – only better.
At lunchtime on a bustling street, we stopped to fill up the hollow teen legs. As I was coming out of the ladies’ room there was a wee old lady ahead of me. She had one of those wire shopping carts with wheels, as well as a big canvas bag she used as a purse. We both glanced at the door – and she pulled out two paper towels, one for herself and one for me, so we wouldn’t get sick from the germs on the handle.
The same sort of scenario played out at subway stations on three different occasions. We bought the card, swiped it, couldn’t get it to work for all of us and some good samaritan helped us out, getting us through the gate with ease. One of my guys loves high-end brands and even at the most luxurious of retail addresses, employees and fellow shoppers were unfailingly warm and friendly, despite my Hermès-free ensemble.
Such niceness. Who knew? I am shocked by this revelation.
There have been spring holidays at a number of places over the years. We’ve done the tropical beach thing and gone skiing at Lake Placid, Tremblant and in New Hampshire. One year we went to Nova Scotia on the train and a couple of years ago, we headed to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, by way of the road trip of a lifetime. In Nashville, we saw a show at the Grand Ole Opry, but the real show was at a local restaurant where we encountered Elvis and his twin brother, Elvis, sitting in different booths. Since one of the kids loves to see the sights, we visited an attraction or two in every state. I plotted stops along the way based on proximity to popular landmarks and outlet malls with labelicious stores. Regardless of the best-laid plans, the biggest trip hits were the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Savannah, Georgia, beach bicycles and gators.
In NYC, the same strategic mom-thinking applied. Each day, a different part of town was explored, with cultural attractions and shopping part of the itinerary. There was a difference here though I couldn’t help but notice. Random people looked me in the eye and nodded hello. Strangers were willing to chat and make that all-important extra effort to be cordial. New York was the City of Genuine Hospitality.
Tourism is a huge business, intersected by the equally hefty hospitality industry. At any locale or venue, from a ski destination to an island resort, friendliness is a standard expectation. People are paid to be pleasant and accommodating. In Manhattan, the gracious reception was courtesy of just about everybody we were lucky enough to meet. Thanks, New Yorkers, for the warm welcome.
NYC Love List
- Inside Trump Tower, the walls were the same colour as The Donald’s tan. How
cool bronze is that? On the bottom floor, Donald Trump bottled water was sold and guess who’s mug was on the label? (Whoever came up with that idea, you’re fired!)
- The boisterous, emerald-tinged crowd on Fifth Avenue gave a resounding, prolonged cheer for the two city garbage men marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. A second aha moment arrived with a parader who stopped along the route to (presumably) propose to his sweetie. A small box popped open, lips locked, cameras flashed and she joined the parade (eyes undoubtedly smiling).
- For the first time ever, my “frugal and shrewd” son ventured into the retail jungle and bagged big game. The kid has taste! He scooped up swanky shoes and designer shirts sans maternal intervention.
- Although the calendar said the end of March was near, people were still skating around the outdoor rinks at both Rockefeller Center and Central Park. How about that, Canuck dads?
- Times Square after dark was all sparkle and pizzazz, like a carnival with concession booths and free admission.
- Other parts of town were captivating in their unexpected beauty. We came across striking architecture, public spaces and parks in the same manner you’d uncover surprises in a pop-up book.
- It was fun to get around. We could cover 50 blocks with ease and both the street and the subway were prime people-watching territory. “Look at the man spray-painted gold.” “Did you see that lady’s six-inch fingernails?”
- On practically every corner, cops in different shades, shapes and sizes were part of the scenery. Except on St. Patrick’s Day – when they were all in the parade.
- There’s nothing like a vacation – okay, child entrapment – to bring about sibling harmony and family closeness. Perhaps my favourite part of the getaway was my son’s request for a St. Paddy’s meal at an Irish pub. “We can eat the food of our ancestors and honour our heritage,” he explained. “Just not on March 17,” he added. “It gets too rowdy.” So we went to the pub on St. Patrick’s Day Eve – and he eventually decided on spaghetti.