Coast-to-Coast Road Trip

A while ago I wrote a blog post about Route 66, based on a road trip that I did with my brother three years ago. For the next series of blog posts, I’ll write about our experience doing this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trip.

When my brother asked me if I would be interested in doing a road trip with him from California to New York, it didn’t take me long to say yes. I had done long road trips in the US before, including some with my brother, but the thought of doing a coast-to-coast trip across the continent sounded intriguing, and I think it would be one of those that we would remember for the rest of our lives. We wanted it to be a good, lasting memory, so we tried to be planned accordingly to make the best use of our trip time.

The main reason for the trip was my brother’s relocation from Santa Monica, CA, to New York City. He had some belongings that couldn’t be easily transported coast-to-coast without paying significant shipping cost, so he thought it would be more cost effective to rent a car for one-way trip, load it up with his belongings, and drive it across the country. Given the long distance, he didn’t want to do it alone.

Since my brother was very busy with the logistics for getting things wrapped up in California before he officially moved for good, he asked me to plan out the trip. I always enjoyed the planning aspect of the trip, so I agreed to take on the task.

The first decision we needed to make was the route we would take for this road trip. The start and end points of the trip were fixed, and we also had a time constraint. My brother had just started with his new work position, so he didn’t have much vacation time that he could take. More over, he had to be back in New York City for an event. Altogether, we had about maximum 6 days time to complete the trip. Considering the distance and safe traveling time, we pretty much had to take one of the direct routes between the two end points without much detours.

Even with the constraints above, we still had decision to make in terms of the route to take. There were several possible routes we could take that would meet the travel time criterion. I used a book by Jamie Jensen called Road Trip USA that was quite helpful in providing overview of the major routes across the country. We decided to take one that is roughly tracing the famous ‘Mother Road,’ Route 66, and then finish out with a route that was pretty familiar to me in the Midwest / Mid-Atlantic area. For the Route 66 part, there were also several books I read to learn about places along the route to decide roughly where we would stop.

Beyond the route planning, we made rough arrangements to meet some people we knew who lived in the places that we passed during this trip. But other than that, we left everything else open as we wanted to keep the trip somewhat flexible.

We ended up going around 3,300 miles over 16 states in five days. The map below shows the route and the stops that we took along the way.

Coast to coast route

Christmas in New York

Today is Christmas Day, and I thought it’s fitting to close my blog series on New York City (for this time around) with a post on Christmas in New York City.

Around the holiday season, in the United States you can pretty much tell that people are gearing towards Christmas with the lights, decorations, and advertisements for sales at stores everywhere. This experience is magnified to the next level, however, when you visit New York City around the holiday season, as you can visit many places that you’ve probably heard of associated to Christmas time — the Macy’s store on 34th Street (as featured in the classic movie Miracle on 34th Street), the large Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the shops on Fifth Avenue, and many New York City landmarks that are associated with the big cities — lights, high rises, crowds. Even if you normally don’t care about these (I tend to avoid the shopping malls around the holiday season if I can; it can get pretty stressful dealing with crowds and traffic especially for someone who is not into shopping that much), I think it’s something worth experiencing as a visitor at least once – if anything, to observe this as an ‘American culture experience.’

I think it’s interesting to view this from two different perspectives. For visitors from out of town, they are very much looking forward to see all of these — experiencing in real life what they had seen in movies or TV shows. But for New Yorkers who have lived in the city for a while, they come to see these as normal and perhaps even try to avoid the popular places (e.g., Times Square) around this busy time. When I visited New York City around Christmas time with a couple of my cousins, we were pretty excited to go around and see the sites. But my brother who had been living in New York City for several years by then, politely excused himself from the sightseeing, and he just met us and joined us around meal time.

The photo below was taken during that sightseeing excursion I mentioned above. It’s taken at the Rockefeller Center where they have a large Christmas tree on display in front of the GE Building and the ice skating rink. It’s quite a beautiful display — what you don’t see here is the long line behind me for people who wanted to take this photo — I think we waited in line for at least half an hour for few seconds chance to take photos.

Christmas Tree

Plaza Hotel

The Plaza Hotel is a luxury hotel located near the southeast corner of Central Park in Midtown Manhattan area of New York City. Built in 1907, it is among the most well-known hotel in the world as it symbolizes luxury and opulence and it has been featured in countless literatures, movies, and TV shows set in New York City. After a five-year, $450 million restoration between 2002-2007, the Plaza Hotel now houses 282 hotel rooms and 152 private condo suites. There are also luxury stores and gourmet food hall to check out, even if you’re not staying at the hotel. It is also the only hotel in New York City that has a National Historic Landmark designation.

Like most visitors to New York, I’ve walked past the hotel and went into the lobby just to peek in, but I had never stayed at this hotel. I do remember watching movies like Crocodile Dundee 2 and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York that were set in this hotel. A few years ago, I came to New York City with my cousin and his family. His two young daughters (around 10 years old at the time) immediately recognized the hotel as “the place where Kevin stayed” referring to the Home Alone 2 movie.

The photo below was outside the hotel few years ago when I went to New York City around Christmas time. I thought it’s a fitting post for today given it’s Christmas Eve tonight.

The Plaza Hotel

Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum in New York is a museum housing artwork from the collection of the Guggenheim Foundation. The collection includes paintings from old masters of various styles, but the most valuable part of the collection is the building itself. The building for the Guggenheim Museum in New York was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It took him 16 years (1943-1959) to complete the design of this building (including 700 sketches and six sets of working drawings), and it was his last major work. The museum opened in 1959, six months after the death of Mr. Wright.

I visited the Guggenheim Museum with my cousin while doing walks towards Central Park from my brother’s apartment in Upper East Side of Manhattan several years ago. We went into the museum’s lobby and took some photos there, but ended up not spending the time to see the artwork because it was a little pricey to purchase the tickets for the museum, especially when we were more interested in the architecture than checking out the art. But we did get some great photos of the building from many different angles.

The photo below was taken outside the museum. I thought it provided an interesting perspective to see the distinctive cone part of the building.

Guggenheim Museum

Central Park

Central Park is a large public park in the center of Manhattan in New York City. The park is 2.5 miles long by 0.5 miles wide. With approximately 35 million visitors annually, it is the most visited public park in the United States. It is yet another well-known New York City site that has been featured in countless movies set in Manhattan, and it features many familiar landmarks like the famous restaurant (now closed) Tavern on the Green, the Central Park Zoo, the Great Lawn, Strawberry Fields (a tribute to John Lennon), the Reservoir, and the large Metropolitan Museum of Art building.

I first visited the Central Park during my first sightseeing tour of New York City. I remembered going as a group to see the Strawberry Fields and took a group photo near the Imagine mosaic. We also went to the Tavern on the Green around sunset and seeing the lighting of the lights on the trees around the restaurant. It was definitely a memorable sight for someone visiting the Big Apple for the first time.

Several years later, my brother lived in the Upper East Side neighborhood east of the Central Park. Several times when I visited him, I went for a walk near the park. It’s quite interesting place to enjoy the scenery around the park, but also to people watch. As you get closer to the park on the east side, you can tell that the homes are getting higher in price. In fact, many of the upper-class New Yorkers live in this part of town.

The photo below was taken in late Spring afternoon during a walk in the eastern part of the Central Park. You can see the reservoir and the buildings on the west side of the park reflected on the water.

Central Park

Broadway Theatre District

The Broadway Theatre District refers to the area around Times Square where more than 40 theatres are located. The plays and musicals performed at these theatres (along with those performed at the West End in London) are generally regarded as the highest quality. As such, it’s usually considered as quite an achievement if a show (or a performer) makes it to Broadway. Most of the shows there are running on limited engagement (typically for a few months), though there are some popular ones that run for years, even on open ended engagement (the longest running show on Broadway currently is The Phantom of the Opera, which opened in January 1988 and is still running today).

My first exposure to Broadway musicals was in high school, when a classmate performed The Music of the Night from The Phantom of the Opera for a piano recital. I liked the music, and found out that it was part of scores for the musical. The first musical performance I had ever seen was my high school’s production of My Fair Lady.

Later on in college, I went to see several Broadway musicals who happened to be on tour and visited the city I lived in. When I graduated from school and started working in Dallas, TX (thus having some disposable income and I could afford going to more shows), for a couple of years I had season tickets for the Dallas Summer Musicals (a series of musicals that come to perform in Dallas during the summer months). That gave me exposure to a wide range of shows, from the very famous ones like The Phantom of the Opera to the not as well known, but still pretty good ones like The Scarlet Pimpernel.

During my first year working, I was assigned to work on a project in our New York City area office for a couple of months. Since for that project I could only go back home to Dallas every other weekends, during the weekends when I had to stay in New York City I took advantage of being there by going to see several shows on Broadway. That was definitely a unique experience, as you would go to the Theatre District area and see people going to the shows (most shows have the same show time, 8 pm) and later leaving from the shows. It’s pretty neat to walk from street to street and see billboards of many famous shows — Cats, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Rent, Lion King, etc.), and in some cases, for limited time some shows would have big-name actors/celebrities performing (Nathan Lane in The Producers, Antonio Banderas in Nine, etc.).

The last show I saw on Broadway was Les Miserables few years ago. Les Mis is my favorite musicals and I have seen it many times (including twice on Broadway). That last one I went with my cousin who was visiting from Indonesia and wanted to see a musical on Broadway. Since then, I have seen many Broadway musicals being performed in Washington, DC, area where I live, but I haven’t been back to Broadway to see one there. May be sometime soon I will do that again.

The photo below was taken right after seeing Les Miserables. You can see on the same street, there was The Producers showing across the street, and at the theatre next to the one where Les Miserables was showing, there was a billboard showing that famous mask from The Phantom of the Opera.

Les Miserables

Times Square

Times Square is another landmark in New York City that pretty much all visitors to the city would visit. Located in Midtown Manhattan where Broadway crosses with Seventh street, it’s a commercial district that along with the Statue of Liberty is among the most recognizable part of New York City. Most people recognize the Times Square from a couple of things: the general vicinity usually called ‘Broadway’ with the theatres where you can see plays or musicals, and the New Year’s Eve Ball Dropping event to celebrate the turn of the year that every year is broadcasted everywhere.

I’ve been to Times Square many times, either to go there with other visitors who had never been there, or to watch one of the musicals that is playing there. It’s one thing to say you’re going to see a Broadway musical when the touring company comes to your hometown; it’s another thing to say that you’re watching a musical on Broadway itself. If you’re visiting New York City and would like to experience that, but either can’t afford or are not willing to spend money for the full price of the seats (which these days can run more than $100 per seat — it gets really expensive especially when you have many people in your party), you can try to get last minute availability tickets at the TKTS booth in Times Square area itself. You can possibly get tickets at half price or less; though it’s likely for less known shows (the big ones usually sells out ahead of time).

The photo below was taken at the Times Square area. You can see the skinny, tall billboard at the end of Times Square, where during the New Year’s Even the ball gets dropped.

Times Square