This article has two purposes: It is my first actual travel story since returning from South Georgia Island & Antarctica on the Seabourn Quest on January 13, 2020, and it is a discussion of Travel Hesitancy.
Remember when we were saying, “Follow the science! Wear a Mask. Social Distance. Wash your hands.”? Well now that we are vaccinated many folks are just not ready to “follow the science”. Alas, this is where science, emotion, and, unfortunately, media hype and politics have intersected. This combination has left an air of uncertainty or, better, insecurity for many as the world begins opening up.
Before I get to my recent flights and saunters around New York City, let me get rid of the dirty laundry. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been so inconsistent and so conservative that it has really lost a lot of credibility. This has happened on one end of the spectrum with the former Administration on the other end of the spectrum with the current Administration…and I have been consistent with my criticism. See my most recent article: CDC Says You Can Kiss Your Vaccinated Grandmother in a Nursing Home After Flying and Traveling Around the World, But You Can’t Take a Cruise with Vaccinated People. Huh?
I am seeing more and more medical experts chiding the CDC for being so conservative that they believe it is hurting its credibility; the same experts that had been vocal proponents of the CDC’s past positions. Their reasoning: The conservatism is not following the science!
However, what is consistent in the medical and scientific community is whether you are vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna, or even J&J, (1) it is extremely unlikely you will be infected with Covid-19, (2) it is extraordinarily unlikely that if you do you will have symptoms, no less serious ones, to the point that a vaccinated person has literally a better than 1 in a 1,000,000 chance of dying, and (3) vaccinated people don’t spread the virus.
In fact, according to the science – as reported by the troublingly conservative CDC– there is a 94% reduction in the risk of those 65 and older being hospitalized. But you need to add to that the limited risk that a person without a vaccination would be hospitalized to begin with!
So, vaccinated people are extremely safe. And people get ill or die from all sorts of things from bathroom falls, to car accidents to flu to…well, you get the picture…that have a much greater chance of causing a person serious symptoms or worse. (I did not even remotely have a conflict with a New York City taxi, food poisoning, or a knife-wielding thug!)
So with that, not having seen my 88-year-old mother since my visit to New York before my last trip to Antarctica (December 2019), I was anxious to see her, my daughter, and my younger sister as we are all now fully vaccinated, it was time to OMG…TRAVEL!
My check-in at the airport in Reno was pretty much as usual; just the now expected plexiglass barrier between me and TSA with a request that I briefly lower my mask to be sure I am the person is on my driver’s license. The Escape Lounge was closed (it is now open!) and signs spacing seats were everywhere. When it was time to board my United flight to Denver and things became, well, “normal” (other than wearing a mask and being given a sanitizing wipe). The plane was fairly full and everyone kept with the program: Mask on unless you were eating or drinking and then lowering it only to take a bite or a sip. In First Class we were given cocktails and a snack box. In economy, a bag with a small water and snacks were given out along with a non-alcoholic drink cart. Disembarking was allegedly by row, but sitting at or near the front of the plane I didn’t notice any more control of the process; allegedly in the name of social distancing.
In Denver most airport venues were open to a degree, the United Club was open with drinks and food available. (The food was sealed or pre-packaged so I stole some Goldfish for my next flight sitting in economy.) The embarking, flight, and disembarking were as before. Nothing really troubling or of concern. My arrival into the brand new and beautiful LaGuardia Airport Terminal B was a bit surreal as almost everything was closed. But Uber was open and I was on my way to New York’s Upper East Side to see my family.
And this is when my “traveling” really began. Not having been in New York for so long and having been in the relative cultural desert of Lake Tahoe (it has incredible beauty, but I say I feel like I live in mayonnaise sometimes: Everybody is white.) I wanted to dive in!
What I noticed were dozens of different kinda-sorta outside dining venues ranging from plywood shacks to repurposed greenhouses to tents to tables simply placed on the sidewalks. If they were not designed for private guests, plexiglass walls divided spaces. And mask-wearing was 99.99% unless you were sitting at a table, where it was 100% no mask.
I loved the stroll with my daughter. We passed Indian, Thai, Italian, and burger places in just two blocks. And then we came upon Turkish: That’s what I want! The service and the food were “normal” and delicious.
I started to feel a bit more alive and, well, “normal”.
But it wasn’t until the next day when I took a four-mile saunter through Central Park – with literally Chicago’s song, “Saturday in the Park” lyrics in my eyes and my head “People talking, really smiling, A man playing guitar. And singing for us all.” – that real normalcy hit me.
There were families sitting on the grass having lunch, children’s birthday parties were everywhere, musicians (both good and terrible…it is New York!) playing, edgy dancers busking for tips, Chinese women elegantly swaying in colorful ritual, the smell of hot dogs and falafel, baby carriages, bikers, joggers, horse-drawn carriages and beautiful scenery.
The air in the City isn’t as physically clean as it is in Tahoe, oh but was this ever a breath of fresh air!
Next up for me was some good New York Italian cuisine at the famous Mezzaluna. Here the emotional toll on some became clear. My sister told the restaurant that if we weren’t dining outside we weren’t dining. I said nothing, but thought, “Wait. We are all vaccinated and I just flew in after being on two busy airports, two crowded planes, a busy Turkish restaurant, all through Central Park, and was staying in my 88-year-old mother’s apartment, but sitting inside in a restaurant was an issue?”
After waiting for our outside table (actually inside a 3.5 sided tent with glass sliding doors and five-foot-tall plexiglass walls so it was kinda really indoors) a bit too long because a group just wouldn’t leave I said to the frustrated maitre de, “How long ya been doin’ dis?” He said, “Too long. Over 35 years.” To which I replied, “Ya know ya ain’t gunna get a good tip, right? I’ll take care of you.” Just enough New York encouragement to get him to oust the dilatory table! (Again, a breath of fresh air.)
It was then time for a family dinner, with the laughter, a bit of the expected family tension and deflection, and some great Italian food!
And before you knew it: Time for Sunday Brunch! My daughter loves oysters and because dad (me) was in town, it was time to play the “I love you Daddy” card. Not yet having had any Jewish cuisine (other than real New York bagels with a schmear), I then opted for Challah French Toast followed by a delicious Lamb Burger.
We dined in a three-sided structure which had a planter built-in on each side…but no plants. So I asked the waiter about the lovely dirt. His response, “Hey, it’s New York. We put plants out during the day and they are gone by the morning!” Another breath of fresh air!
I then was off to meet one of my best friends that I hadn’t seen since my last New York visit. Our favorite cigar lounge was closed (Covid reduced hours), but we found a substitute. It wasn’t the best place, but the liquor store next to it was an absolute hidden gem. Walking in it was nice enough, but when I asked where the fortified wines were a voice from behind a wall said, “Follow me”. And so we did – down into a magnificent basement filled with extraordinary wines and a beautiful tasting room.
We left with a Graham’s 2004 Quinta dos Malvedos port and nice Hungarian Tokay! All of a sudden that eh cigar lounge was perfect for us to hang out in!
Monday started with an Uber to Crown Heights in Brooklyn to visit my daughter’s apartment, but more importantly Gus (my grand dog)! I don’t know if he was more excited to see me or the awesome New York pizza we had delivered! (The price he pays living with my non-meat-eating daughter. LOL)
Yup, that pizza is not from some fancy Upper East Side establishment. It is from a local Brooklyn pizzeria. Why can’t anyone outside of New York/New Jersey make this stuff??? (End of rant! LOL)
Still wanting to fulfill my need for all the New York available cuisines, it was off to Chinatown for duck. My daughter’s friend is a chef in New York who actually lives in Chinatown. He recommended Peking Duck House; a good choice. Again we dined in a three-sided structure. Our server took our order starting with Hot & Sour Soup and Vegetable Dumplings. He then said, “And Peking Duck, of course!” to which I replied, “Nope. Crispy Duck. I get three times the duck at a third of the price!” He laughed and nodded in agreement.
During our meal, a pet peeve of mine walked by: A tall young man with an attitude in his step, dirty clothes, a not-so-cool photographer’s vest, a camera taking the same photos that have been taken for decades as if he was the first to do so…and a “man bun” to complete the picture. Just then the waiter asked me if there was anything else I wanted. I said, “Yeah. Lose the dude with the camera and man bun.” He turned, turned back, and then responded, “Only if you can ask me with a straight face!” Yet another breath of fresh New York air.
Not wanting our day to end, my daughter and I strolled around Chinatown and then it hit me: Cannoli! With Little Italy being right next to Chinatown, we strolled. And as I do when traveling, I was looking for the right place to have my cannoli. There is no formula, but a feeling; something that catches my eye.
I saw a sign that said something like, “Our cannolis are different”. So I asked the older Italian looking man behind the counter, “What makes your cannolis different?” He responded – and I love this, “Our cannolis are da best. Ya know its not dem experts and reviewers that say so. It’s da patrons!” I had no choice. I had to become a patron…and he was right. (My daughter made sure I had a lobster tail too. That is a puff pastry filled with custard.)
The next day I spent the morning just with my mother; quality time. But that led to one of the funniest moments of my trip: Listening to a bunch of 80+ year old New York Jewish women on a Zoom call.
Anthony Bourdain and I have a serious disagreement. That’s right, I think he was seriously wrong. He claimed that Pastrami Queen had the best pastrami. Frankly, having eaten there a few times, it is damn good, but not the best. Second Avenue Deli (located on First Avenue) has the best…I had been in New York too long not to have already been there this time. Hence, it was time!
My day was not done! After lunch and sending my daughter off, it was time to meet up with another old friend of mine. (Seeing people in person rather than texting, calling or Facetiming is soooo much better. It is a great reason to travel all by itself!)
Just like the old days, he said to meet at a Spanish restaurant in the West Village. I was there and so was the restaurant, but it was closed. When my friend arrived finding a place to eat that wasn’t already full became a challenge. Yes, that many people are dining out!
We came upon Boucherie, a French bistro-styled restaurant. We sat indoors with tables spaced and tasteful plexiglass dividers between them. I am not sure that they scientifically did anything, but they looked good and quieted noise from the surrounding tables.
As my friend loves chicken and roasted chicken for two was on the menu, after my Moules & Frites, we had it for our main course. It was reminiscent of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon and the Seabourn Grill by Thomas Keller (right down to the wording and lettering on the dinner plates), but honestly from presentation to taste it wasn’t even close. I mean it was good chicken and if you had never had the Thomas Keller presentation or dish you might think it was something special.
But I wasn’t really there for the chicken. I was there to enjoy my friend’s company after far too long.
Well, my last day in New York quickly came upon me. My daughter came in from Brooklyn yet again to have a wander (I mean do some shopping!) and for a final lunch. As usual, we had no place in mind for lunch but came upon a tiny Italian restaurant with only four small tables outside. I, again, had no identifiable reason for picking it, but it was a nice surprise. Delicious bread with fresh olive oil followed by an amazing (and beautiful) Grilled Octopus and – just because I hadn’t had one yet – a Calzone.
After lunch and some time chatting with my mother and daughter, it was time to head to the airport. My return flights were uneventful (other than a snow delay in Denver).
On the flights back to Tahoe I felt incredibly fortunate to again have the ability not only to travel and to see family, but to truly breathe.
It is one thing to have that euphoria when you receive your first vaccination shot and the relief when you have your second one. But there is really something special and life-giving to actually use that incredible scientific gift to LIVE.
I thought about analogies, but can’t really find the right one. Dipping one’s toes in the water? Diving in? Taking that first step? Nope. It is none of those. It is more about living knowing that you are safe; not invincible, but safe…at least from Covid-19. And that is a huge boon to one’s mental health and quality of life!
Now is actually a great time to travel without crowds and with businesses craving your presence. Now…not a year from now. At least that is my personal decision. Whatever yours is, Goldring Travel is here to assist!