While many of the wealthier folks in our area no doubt flit to New York rather frequently for business and pleasure, there are thousands of us work-a-day middle-class types who rarely make it beyond the Beltway.
Both groups need to step away from the humdrum rut our lives and marriages can easily fall into. Whether it's a week in the Caribbean or a quick trip to New York for dinner and a show, we all need to shout "Time Out" every once and a while.
You know the symptoms: You've been married a while, got a few kids, a mortgage, a job that is sometimes less than satisfying. You're beginning to feel life has gotten to be sort of a drag, what with dishes in the sink and spilled milk on the floor and P-TA and soccer and clogged-up gutters and an infestation of carpenter ants and meetings and daily headlines about RIFs and cuts and wars and megatons.
You're a prime candidate for a "second honeymoon." A recharging of the old batteries. A fling. A "what-the-hell" weekend away.
You say "weekend" and "away" aren't part of your vocabulary? You can't remember the last time you and your spouse were alone for longer than the six hours of unconsciousness you spend alongside each other in that state we call sleep?
Take it from someone who knows, here is a prescription that can't be ignored.
First of all, line up a fun weekend for your kids with a responsible and trusted adult sitter. That way you can relax.
And then, make it New York. We live too close not to take advantage of one of the greatest cities in the world. Where Washington has a handful of nice hotels, New York has them by the dozen. And where we have a few theaters with top productions, New York boasts umpteen top shows, all within a few blocks of each other.
But I'm ahead of myself. My wife of 14 years and I just got back from a little more than 24 hours in New York. It was a wonderful experience we'll never forget. Sounds too short? Listen.
We took a 9 a.m. Metroliner from Union Station and arrived in New York at noon. Got a cab and were dropped off at the front entrance to the Waldorf-Astoria.
Hold on, now. It's expensive, but not as expensive as you might think. When I went searching for a one-night palace for my bride and me, I first looked at that epitome of luxury: The Plaza. The rates ($135 for a standard room, $175 for a medium, $255 for a deluxe) left me gasping. I thanked them kindly and called Marriott's Essex House.
This time I asked about "escape" packages. I was told their "Escape to Luxury" (sounded perfect!) would cost $155 and include dinner at one of their restaurants, breakfast the next morning, champagne and an in-room movie. Hmmm. I wasn't going to New York to watch movies in a hotel room, so that didn't move me. And we might not want to eat at their restaurant. I searched on.
The New York Hilton was next on my list. All packages there are for two-night stays only, I was told, and they weren't offering any packages that weekend because of convention bookings. To top it all off, if I wanted a room with a king-sized bed I'd have to pay $145. That's just for the room! No package. Forget it.
My Hilton reservation clerk, Lannie, wouldn't take no for an answer. He proceeded to give me a pitch for a new Hilton in the Battery area. Cheaper rates, but who wants to stay in the financial district on a weekend? No thanks, Lannie. But Lannie refused to give up.
"We've got a honeymoon package at the Waldorf." Hummmm. "$128 and it includes champagne on your arrival and a full room-service breakfast in the morning." King-size bed? "I'm sure that will be no trouble, sir. They go out of their way to accommodate people with this package." That was it. I was sold. A night at the Waldorf.
As we checked in, the clerk lowered his voice and said to me, "I've upgraded your reservation to a suite at no additional charge." The key he handed me was imprinted with "10V." What kind of room number was that, I thought. Well, we found it, on the 10th floor. Open the door and voila'! Two rooms of luxury! A full living room with a huge sofa, chairs by a fireplace, table and chairs in the corner, and a desk. And a large bedroom with king-size bed, two closets, two comfortable chairs by a reading lamp, a chest of drawers for clothes and a dresser.
At mid-afternoon we picked up a discount "twofer" coupon for reduced-rate tickets to "The Pirates of Penzance." (We got our "twofer" from my cousin who lives in New York; they're also available from drug stores, coffee shops and hotel newsstands.) Then we took the bus down Broadway to the Minskoff Theater to buy the tickets. We got $38 seats for only $26 each with the "twofer."
By then it was 4:30. We had two hours to kill before we were to meet my cousin for dinner near the theater. Walking along the streets of midtown Manhattan is a pastime in itself. The street vendors offer hot dogs, pretzels, drinks, specialty ethnic foods, and virtually every kind of consumer good you can imagine. We probably could've just walked for the two hours, but Mary Ann's feet were giving out since she had on heels and it was beginning to rain.
Suddenly we were passing by two young men who were hawking free tickets to the screening of a new CBS television series. Didn't sound real intriguing, but it was raining and Mary Ann did need to sit down. So we took the tickets.
For an hour we sat on the 25th floor of CBS, watched a sit-com called "Johnny Garage," pressed red buttons during parts we didn't like and green ones during parts we did, answered a questionnaire about the show, and got a free pen with the CBS logo on it. Not a great thrill, but at least a dry and interesting time.
We had a good dinner, thoroughly enjoyed "Pirates," and went to Lindy's cafe' near the Minskoff for some dessert after the performance. And as we began strolling back toward the hotel in the near-midnight din of Times Square, a horse-pulled carriage appeared on the street. "Are you for hire?" I asked. "Sure," said the young driver decked out in top hat and red cape. It was too good to be true. So for $17 I was able to treat us to a romantic horse-and-buggy ride through the mist of Manhattan.
When we hit a less-crowded side street, I felt like a character in the old Sherlock Holmes movies, jostling along to the sounds of the clip-clop of the horse's hooves echoing against the walls of the steel-and-concrete canyon. And while evening gowns and black ties caught their limousines back at the entrance to the Waldorf, we pulled up in our buggy to step from one dream world into another.
The next day we slept till 10:30 a.m., and opened the door at 11:30 to our room-service waiter who wheeled in our honeymoon package breakfast for two. It came on a lovely table with white tablecloth, gleaming silver service and sprigs of mint. We had bacon and eggs, orange juice, superb coffee and exquisite croissants (two apiece).
At noon we headed out in the rain to find The Museum of Broadcasting at One East 53rd. I managed to get us lost, which we conveniently discovered just as we were walking by a French pastry shop loaded with goodies. We ducked in and bought croissants filled with ham and cheese for our train ride home, chocolate-filled pastry for dessert, and a loaf of bread for our good friends who were watching our daughters back at home.
I finally located the museum, a veritable treasure for TV buffs. For a $2 fee you can reserve a videotape machine and choose from 1,600 programs that range from the earliest TV shows to the most recent.
All the units were reserved for the day, but we had little time and the museum had three general showings in large public areas. We first went to the theater and saw kinescopes of a 1950s Elvis TV appearance, the Beatles' first and second appearances on Ed Sullivan, and Barbra Streisand's 1965 show "My Name Is Barbra."
Much to my chagrin, we found we had just missed a 1949 episode of "The Goldbergs." On the second floor we saw part of an Edward R. Murrow "See It Now" program and on the third floor we watched one of Bette Midler's specials.
At 1:15 we dashed out the door. We managed to find some souvenirs for our girls at a Chinese specialty shop, and got back to the hotel in time for our 2 p.m. late checkout. A quick cab ride to Penn Station ($5 with tip) and we had no trouble catching the 3 p.m. train home.
Just over 24 hours in New York. It was relaxing, wonderful, therapeutic. If you haven't done it, do it. If you have, do it again.
You both deserve it.