Jul 29 2005
New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town … especially on someone else’s dime.
That’s where my little sister, Lauren, is. The dime, along with two nickels, 83 pennies, a roll of 20s, and a small bank loan charging 63 percent interest, is thanks to my dad. It’s summertime, and for a 12-year-old kid, the living’s cheap and easy.
Ahh, little kid summer vacation. Is there nothing better? My mother never truly appreciated travel, and considered leaving the great state of Florida to be a waste of time, and possibly treasonous.
Not my dad. With him we went everywhere as kids, and twice to New York. I’ll never forget our first trip to New York when I couldn’t have been much older than 12 and my brother, Scott, maybe 10. The three of us had driven all the way to the Adirondacks, those picturesque mountains in upstate New York where we hiked for a week with the Sierra Club.
I have good memories of that part of the trip — a bear breaking into a car and stealing the giant tub of peanut butter I was supposed to carry, chipmunks who could perform “Mission: Impossible”-like stunts to trump the bears and vegetarian cashew chili that tasted like seasoned mud.
But the best memories, the kind that don’t peel away with time, are of driving back through New York City. We only spent the day there, pulling up in my dad’s Toyota 4-Runner with its blanket of dust and muck, and the makeshift car-top carrier holding our hiking gear flapping in the wind. We must have looked like the Clampets.
I don’t remember seeing the biggies of New York that day — the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building or the Twin Towers. Instead, it was something much more, well, New York — heat, noise and confusion. I remember staring wide-eyed out the window as we drove in, and buildings so tall I couldn’t see the tops.
I remember the parking garage where we parked the car, and thinking it was some fly-by-night operation run by crooks and mobsters. They smiled when they took the car keys and I knew they were going to sell it and our stuff to someone in Chinatown, wherever that was.
Right around the corner was the Museum of Natural History, a castle loaded with giant whales dangling from the ceilings and dinosaurs who needed braces trolling the floors.
And I remember how we got lost looking for the way out of the city and ending up deep in the heart of Harlem.
A year or two later, we went back for a week, and again it’s not the landmarks I remember but the experiences — bad Chinese food, hot dogs on the street, subway rides to who-knows-where, FAO Schwartz and picking up acorns in Central Park that I would later display as the “Nuts of New York.”
I’ve learned something about life from vacations — it’s not about what you do; it’s about the experience while you’re doing it. And that’s especially true when you’re a Thompson. My little sister is realizing that now, Thompson-style.
For her, I hope it’s just as exciting a trip as the first time her two brothers went. Moments you’ll never forget. Trips to Harlem. More soggy hot dogs than a stomach should hold. A lot of time wandering aimlessly in the park. Enough corned beef to feed a marching band. Heat that will wilt your bones. Car horns and strained necks as you try to see the tops of buildings. New York keys chains bought in bulk. Holding your breath next to the fragrant guy in the subway who really should keep his arms down.
Enjoy it, little kid. It’s an experience you will always want to relive, and one day you’ll have to pay your own way.