When my close friends in Brooklyn sent TWO save-the-date postcards for their early December wedding — one for me, and one for Simone — they made it clear that they hoped I’d bring the girl along to their big day. And Simone has been talking about visiting NYC since she was a very little girl. The city holds so much that interests her — from the dinosaurs of the American Museum of Natural History, to Ellis Island, to some of the best street food in the world.
So I gave the idea serious thought. The logistics would be daunting, because not only would I be a groomsman, which meant Simone would have to hang while we did wedding party stuff, but I’d also have to give up on big chunks of fun adults activities to make sure she’d get to bed on time. Plus, we’d be in New York, but wouldn’t have time to explore the city together. It just didn’t make sense.
But what would make sense was to take her to the city over her fall break.
So that’s what we did, leaving on a Wednesday afternoon and returning the following Sunday morning (beating Sandy by a few hours). I was still a little apprehensive as we boarded the airplane — concerned about staying with our friends in their one bedroom apartment (which turned out to be easy and roomy), squeezing in enough activities to make the short jaunt worthwhile, missing time in the office, and making sure Simone got to do what she was hoping to do.
But thinking back to our trip to London and Paris a couple years ago, I remembered just how flexible and fun Simone can be on a new adventure.
We landed at LaGuardia in the evening, and Simone and I were both more than ready for a late dinner. As he was driving into Brooklyn, my friend told us he had a great Turkish restaurant in mind. Simone gave me a quiet look of concern, not saying anything out loud. But as soon as my pal mentioned that the place had the best lamb he’d ever tasted, Simone gave me a big smile, and said, “That sounds great!”
The next day, Simone and I took the subway to a diner in Brooklyn right near a TKTS office, so we could scoop up tix to a show that night. Breakfast was indifferent, but we had that happy, “We’re someplace new!” feeling, and could already laugh about the experience. By the time we exited the subway station at Rockefeller Plaza, Simone was a giddy bundle of excitement. She loved seeing the iconic Prometheus at the base of 30 Rock (“We call him Pro-Pro in school,” she said to me), but the real reason we were there was so she could make a pilgrimage to NintendoWorld, a two story store and museum packed with more Pokémon stuff than we’d ever seen in one place.
To Simone’s credit, although she would have been happy to spend hours at the store, she eventually settled on a plush toy to take with her, and we hit the city in earnest, making our way toward Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History. Along the way, Simone was cool while I stopped at a couple stores to look at clothes, and then we couldn’t pass FAO Schwartz without wandering through the legendary collection of toys and games.
By the time we were hiking through the park, Simone’s feet began to ache, and she started to complain.
But not in annoying way. Which was awesome.
A couple years ago, I would have had her climb on my back, and we would have continued on our way. And, yes, I felt a deep pang of grief that I can no longer rescue my little girl by picking her up and carrying her.
So instead of powering through the park to get to the museum, we stopped several times along the way to rest on benches and take in the autumn views — scenery you don’t see much of in Denver — maple and oak leaves at their most resplendent, moments before they begin to fall off the trees; wooden bridges with that musky cedar smell that you only find on the East Coast; vendors shilling food, billows of steam laden with scents of cured meats and fresh bread. Forced breaks allowed us to place ourselves firmly in the present moment, rather than on our agenda.
I pondered aloud the idea of scrapping the museum and slowing the pace of our day, but Simone was intent on seeing some dino bones. So we lurched our way to the edge of the park, finally locating the hidden entrance to the museum (because the main one was closed), and buying our tickets. Simone’s sore feet were immediately forgotten upon her first view of an elasmosaurus skeleton hanging from the ceiling, and she wanted to start taking photos and exploring the collection right away, but I insisted we stop in at the café and find some sustenance, first.
Watching Simone’s energy return to her as she took in the old fossils — she started talking about being a paleontologist at three years old — renewed my energy as well, and I realized that she was finally old enough for us to support each other in our joy of travel.
By the time we were on the subway back to Brooklyn that night, after a delicious deli dinner and a Broadway show (“Spider-Man,” which had incredible sets, great costumes, and...not terrible everything else), we were both wiped out. Which gave us an excuse to have a less intense Friday — roundtrip on the Staten Island Ferry, a wander through SoHo to visit a friend’s shop and investigate the MakerBot store (I want a 3d printer, but Simone wants it even more), before meeting up with our friends and making the traffic-intensive drive out of the city for a family Shabbat dinner in New Jersey.
Although I knew Simone would be polite and appropriate when we arrived at my pal’s parents’ house, I wasn’t sure she’d be terribly animated after another long day. But I needn’t have worried, because she bucked up, put on her game face, and charmed everyone with her manners, opinions, and insights. The next day, my friends received an email saying just how much the parents enjoyed Simone’s company — they were impressed with what a gem she is.
Man, I love my little girl.
We finally got to spend a day with our friends on Saturday, and it was truly epic — we called it the NYC Tasting Tour, and basically ate our way from Chinatown, through Soho, and all the way to the East Village. Simone tasted everything along the way, and even though she got tired toward the end, she managed to remain upbeat, making us all laugh with her sophisticated observational humor.
Any maybe that was the best takeaway for me from this getaway — sure the food was spectacular, the experiences were special, and the time with our friends was warm and familial. But I can’t remember a trip in the past few years where I laughed so much and so often.
From almost getting mowed down (twice!) by a woman riding a bicycle while she was eating a hot dog (really), to catching a guy in a gladiator outfit leave a high-end condo building, to attempting to top off our already at-capacity stomachs with bites of rice pudding that our friend insisted we try, Simone and I collected a slew of great stories and inside jokes.
Even at our most exhausted, when our legs ached, our feet were screaming, and our brains were about to explode, we found things to laugh about. Simone is so observant, and her critiques of everything from branding to street-level oddities required me to stay sharp and witty as well. Our laughter and sense of adventure kept us going.
I’ve often written about the joys and disappointments of my solo adventures around the world. I desperately love to travel, but the drawbacks of going it alone have started to weigh on me more and more with every new trip. But what I really miss when I’m on my own — someone who understands that travel is all about laughing, muddling through, being in the moment, and laughing some more — is what I’ve cultivated in Simone when we’ve traveled together.
So maybe that means I shouldn’t wait until she’s with her mom or at summer camp to visit new cities and run away to find the best tastes in the world. Maybe I shouldn’t put off the trips I only want to take with company until I have a girlfriend to travel with.
I was talking to my friends about the fact that I need to fly 6,500 more miles this year to maintain my elite status with United. I mentioned flying to London or Thailand, or someplace in between, before January 1.
Simone said, “You take all of your best trips without me. Why is that?”