Our 2011 Road Trip #21: Grand Central to Fifth Avenue and Back Again

Trump Clock!

It’s 7 p.m. Do you know where your billionaires are?

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]

The back half of our Day Six was like a Family Circus cartoon where a dotted line struggles to keep up with li’l Jeffy while he cavorts and frolics and gambols and flits about from one distraction to the next until he ends his five-mile run roughly three feet from where he started. From Midtown to the East River to Fifth Avenue and back to Weehawken — we were all over the Manhattan map, alternating between those blessedly convenient subways and some overenthusiastic walking whenever the railways fell short of our goals.

By the time we took our leave of the United Nations, our stomachs were aching for mealtime. Once again in a position nowhere near any remotely interesting or safe restaurants, we chose the first option in sight…my old nemesis, Subway. The staff was kind enough not to mug us, but as our server spoke Spanglish to us and French to the regular customer behind us in line, I hoped we at least weren’t the topic of amused conversation.

Next stop was our subway station at the one and only Grand Central Terminal…whose eastside entrance was — stop us if you’ve heard this phrase before — under construction.

Grand Central Eagle!

Proud, boastful eagle asks that you please pardon man’s dust.

Grand Central Windows!

The main hall, as seen in any number of movies except with several million watts of professional lighting.

Grand Central Clock!

Vintage wall clock confirms that yep, it’s time for rush hour.

Grand Central Terminal!

Some areas in the Terminal weren’t much different from the Port Authority, but good luck finding any romantic comedies or four-star Oscar winners shot there.

Grand Central Stairs!

Some of those famous stairs. Gangsters shooting, lawyers chatting, teens running away — Grand Central has hosted all that and more, and that’s just in its fictional versions.

From Grand Central we subway’d up to 59th Street in search of the last FAO Schwarz brick-‘n’-mortar location in America. We searched up and down the correct block of Fifth Avenue. At first all we saw was another crummy construction site. Then I realized it wasn’t a construction site, it was an actual finished building. Then I realized this “finished building” was an Apple Store. Then I realized FAO Schwarz was the scintillating polychromatic structure behind the Apple Store.

Apple Store!

A building so sleekly designed, any child age 4-up could replicate it with Duplo blocks.

We dallied in toys for a short while, largely for the boy’s benefit and amusement. The best thing about FAO Schwarz to us grown-ups was the large common area out front with generous free seating, of which we availed ourselves for a much longer while. I did take a break from sitting at one point to go look for an open food cart, but around this time of evening those dedicated service personnel were calling it quits, hitching their livelihoods up to the backs of their cars, and towing themselves away for the evening. FAO’s daunting candy section offered little solace to men like us who now craved more cooked protein.

On the walk south to the next subway station, we found a beef-stick vendor for my son’s sake. As we kept walking, we ran across another object shaped like a giant beef-stick: Trump Tower.

Trump Tower!

58 stories full of who cares what.

Trump Tower!

We’ve never been fans of The Apprentice or its figurehead, and couldn’t think of a single reason to step inside. I’m sure there’s a dress code to bar bumpkins like us anyway.

From the station at 5th and 53rd we zipped back to the Port Authority, where I revisited Cafe Metro for a leftover reheated breakfast sandwich. Not nearly the same quality I’d grown accustomed to from my morning street vendor pals, but it got me through the moment.

Anne on Subway!

Anne on the subway, practicing her hardened street-cred face so folks wouldn’t mess with her. So adorable!

Me on Subway!

I’m six feet tall and regained some of the weight I lost six years ago, so I never had any drastic confrontations on this trip. Works for me.

Before joining the bus crowd back to New Jersey, we had to stop at a ticket vendor and replace the two bus passes that vanished from Anne’s pocket. As these things do happen, I bore her no long-term ill will for the extra time in line.

On all the evening trips back from Port Authority to Weehawken throughout the week, nothing had been generating more buzz between passengers than this breathtaking new monument to society in microcosm.


Back home in Indianapolis, we never have movie ads that tower several stories over us and threaten our mental well-being. Indianapolis 1, NYC 0.

I guess it’s easy to take landmarks and famous buildings for granted when they’re part of your everyday environment, so it’s the little things like the super-sized temporary corporate monoliths that brighten a day.

But try explaining that to the cute widdle duckies of Lincoln Harbor. I bet no one ever talks about them in the same reverent tones they use to exalt Saint Papa Smurf.


Lincoln Harbor’s free duck farm was easily the second-best attraction in Weehawken.

Our original plan for Friday was a drive up north to the Bronx Zoo. According to my travel math, a subway ride that far north would have taken over an hour. Assuming all pedestrians were barred from Manhattan, a drive should have taken less than half that time. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I was willing if the interest was there.

I breathed a sigh of relief when my son admitted during the evening’s conversation that, unless they had an extremely unusual or supernatural animal we’d never seen before, the Bronx Zoo was not a must-see in his mind. Between this new-found hole in our schedule and the copious notes, maps, and my homemade index-card catalog, we took the opportunity to revise our Friday plans from scratch.

Lincoln Harbor!

Our view across Lincoln Harbor of Manhattan near sunset. We had one full day left to explore the Big Apple. We aimed to make it count.

Falling asleep that night took longer than usual. I killed the hours consuming the week’s new haul from Midtown Comics. In a nice touch of serendipity, at the top of the new-comics stack was The Unwritten #27, which included a crucial scene set at the New York Public Library. Funny they should mention it…

To be continued!

[Historical notes:

1. Some time after this, Indianapolis finally got its own Apple Store, but it’s inside the Keystone Fashion Mall rather than in a colorless free-standing Minecraft helmet.

2. We passed the same stretch of Fifth Avenue on our 2016 trip. The Apple Store and Trump Tower remain unchanged, though nowadays one is slightly less reviled than the other.]

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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