Running in Central Park and other weekend adventures

In Off the Clock’s last chapter, “People are a good use of time,” I recounted bringing my eldest son to New York City for a few days. He had asked for that as a Christmas present in late 2016, and I made it happen in February 2017.

He was 9 at the time. He is 17 now. He still loves New York City, and he asked for a trip for this Christmas too. I was able to take him for a few days over this past week/weekend.

We had a great time! He asked about staying near Central Park, so I spent some time hunting around online and finally landed on the Park Lane Hotel, which is a lovely property right on Central Park South. I found a semi-reasonable rate for an high floor room so we had an amazing panoramic view — it’s the “Billionaire’s Row” view without needing to be a billionaire!

We took a train from Philadelphia and got in on Thursday afternoon. We grabbed an early dinner at Fogo de Chão (the Brazilian steakhouse, yes it’s a chain but it’s always a hit). Then we walked over to the Neil Simon theater to see MJ the Musical.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect — I know the genre of jukebox musicals is somewhat disparaged but I really, really enjoyed this show. A large part of that was the music of course. There is no thrill quite like seeing and hearing Thriller, complete with the dancing zombies and the voiceover a la Vincent Price. The lead actor (Elijah Rhea Johnson) was absolutely channeling Michael Jackson’s mannerisms and dance moves. It was like watching MTV in 1988. If you are my age or a little older it is absolutely unreal. The plot line explored a lot of his kid star back story, and while Joe Jackson does come across as villainous, there is some dimension (and perhaps understandable motives) to the villainy (Fun fact, apparently that actor, Apollo Levine, lived in South Bend, Indiana for quite a while — which is where I lived in my teen years and is kind of a random place to be from). Anyway, if you’re looking for something very entertaining on Broadway, this fits the bill. My son enjoyed it too, so even if you didn’t grow up with Michael Jackson you might have a good time!

I woke up by 7 a.m. the next morning for unknown reasons (my son slept until 10:30 a.m. when I finally woke him up!). So I got in my running clothes and went for a lovely 3.5 mile run through Central Park. Most of the way I was on pretty heavily trod roads (like to the point it almost felt like I was running in a race or something), but I decided to cut back through the Ramble, which was almost surreally unoccupied. I guess it is possible to find solitude in the middle of Manhattan.

We ate breakfast at the Carnegie Diner, then my son met a friend from camp for coffee, and I did some work. Then he came back and wanted to relax, so I went to the Central Park Zoo on my own. This was a total nostalgic thing for me — when we lived in NYC, we used to have a routine of going to church on Sunday at 60th and Park, then heading into Central Park and going to the zoo. We’d hit a playground and then try to make it back for nap time! No one was napping this time, but I still enjoyed seeing the bears, snow monkeys, and penguins.

We had a 4:00 p.m. reservation at the Russian Tea Room for afternoon tea — it was a bit over the top but hey. An experience! (My son loves tea; regular blog readers may recall he hosted his 17th birthday party at a local tea room.) Then we took a cab to the High Line and walked for 20 minutes as the sky was getting increasingly dark. We hung out in the Hudson Yards mall for a bit, then walked down to Chelsea Piers for our 7:15 p.m. Classic Harbor Line sunset cruise reservation.

I was really nervous about how this was going to turn out. We checked in at 6:40 p.m. or so, at which point the wind was kicking up as very dark storm clouds blew in from New Jersey. The boats in the water were bobbing around a lot — like a sea sickness-inducing lot — and then there was thunder, lightning, and a total deluge.

We waited inside Chelsea Piers hoping the storm would pass. Sure enough, as we were getting ready to board around 7:10 p.m. the storm was dying down, and as we got on, the captain assured us that the water wouldn’t be too rough and thanks to the storm it was probably going to be one of the best sunsets of the year.

He was right. Oh my goodness were the views incredible. Think golden light on dissipating storm clouds, reflecting off all the buildings of Manhattan, Jersey City, and Brooklyn. We stayed inside the boat, looking out the windows, for the first 20 minutes or so, but then the rain stopped completely, so we could go out on the deck. The boat went down the Hudson River and then up the East River to the Manhattan Bridge, then turned around and went out to the Statue of Liberty before turning back around. As we were by the Statue of Liberty the light was yellow, orange, and purple behind her. So that was a total win. When we cabbed back to the hotel the rain started up again so truly — perfect timing.

I slept a little longer the second night, and got up more like 7:20 a.m. I was out running by 7:40 or so, and with the weather a little cooler after the storm, I decided to go further into Central Park. I made it up to the reservoir, and once I was there on that lovely little path, ringing the clear water, I just had to go all the way around. I stopped here and there to snap pictures of the blue sky, the skyline, the trees, and then ran back to the hotel. Round trip that was well over 5 miles, so go me.

My son had agreed to get up at 9:45 a.m., and he did. We had seen ads in the elevator for the hotel breakfast on the 46th floor. It turns out there is a roof deck up there and — wow. While not cheap as breakfasts go, this may have been the most incredible breakfast spot I’ve ever seen. We had a table right by the edge and enjoyed our orange juice looking out over the entirety of the park, with views all the way to the George Washington Bridge and the Palisades.

In late morning we walked up 5th Avenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My son had a very specific goal — to see portraits of Habsburgs and other European rulers. He can recite many of the lists of rulers of major European powers. We did get to see Maria Theresa and a few others, though it is interesting that the Met tends to show more portraits that are “a young man” or “a merchant” vs. the Louvre or the Prado, where I feel there were more members of royalty depicted. Perhaps an American aversion? Or maybe we missed things. But we saw some — and then took in Washington Crossing the Delaware plus the Egyptian tombs for good measure. We had lunch at Le Pain Quotidian, walked back and decided to stop at the Central Park Zoo again because my son had caught my nostalgia. He, too, has memories of seeing the sea lions — though he probably would have been sitting in a stroller then!

We got Starbucks and relaxed for a bit before taking a cab to Wolfgangs steakhouse near our old neighborhood (the one located at 33rd and Park). We ate our steak — a lot of steak — then I showed him the old neighborhood: the playground where he played, our old building, even Tutor Time, where he attended daycare/preschool for a while. It’s not still there — it’s another preschool now — but it did bring back memories. We walked to Grand Central Terminal, got vegan ice cream for both of us (he’s lactose intolerant) and then waited to check in for our Summit at One Vanderbilt tickets.

This was, perhaps, a mistake to wait — I had assumed, since we had timed tickets (8 p. m.) that we should go check in close to then. So we went in at 7:45. Then we found that — not visible from the entrance area — there was quite a line to get through security and to the elevators. Since we were specifically going to watch the sunset (8:29 p.m. on 6/15 in NYC, I can tell you) this was incredibly annoying. Isn’t the point of timed tickets to not have a huge line? But anyway, we got up to the first level of the Summit “experience” at 8:20 p.m. so we still got to see plenty of light, and the sunset, and then night descending on the city.

This was mostly fun. I had to laugh at my fellow attendees — there were definitely ladies of Instagram who had specific outfits and were posing in literally 30 different ways in front of the view. Back in my day (she says in a huff) you’d just stand by the view, take a photo with your family, and then move on. These people were not moving on. They were there for footage. But we managed to find a few spots to look out at every angle of the city. We then enjoyed playing with these silver balloon/balls in one room, and we posed on a spot where the floor is glass below you (see picture). We went up to the roof deck and enjoyed the night air. My son had a mock-tail passionfruit spritzer to celebrate the experience.

Since it was only about a mile back to our hotel, we walked. By the end of the walk I was somewhat wondering about the wisdom of that. When I got into my bed and looked at my step counter, it was over 30,000 for the day! Whoa.

The next morning I just went for a 30 minute walk in Central Park rather than trying to run again. My body needed a break. I grabbed coffee and breakfast for us from a nearby Pret A Manger, we packed up, got a cab and got on a 10:52 a.m. Pennsylvanian train home.

So, lots of adventures. I know my son had a good time and I enjoyed our choices too. We had a little bit of downtime each day but each day was reasonably full as well. I’m grateful my 17-year-old is still willing to hang out with me. I mean, granted, a free trip might be worth soldiering through even if you’re not thrilled with the company, but we chatted a fair amount. I enjoy being able to do one-on-one things with my kids, which is an upside of having full-time childcare — my husband didn’t have to take off work and we didn’t have to call in favors from friends/family to do this trip. I have called in favors, but I try to preserve that for emergencies, not “I’d like to go see a Thursday night show on Broadway.”

In other news: I’m excited for the launch of Kathleen Paley’s new podcast, Minimal(ish) Mom. This busy lawyer and mom of two teen boys talks about creating a life with more joy and less hedonic treadmill — something I know will appeal to a lot of blog readers (and BOBW listeners). You can check out the first episode here.


15 thoughts on “Running in Central Park and other weekend adventures

  1. This all sounds like so much fun, Laura. And I love the pictures you included! That sunset is gorgeous and with the Statue of Liberty as the backdrop…could it get any better. Travelling with older kids can be such a delight!

    The glass floor – eeks. I don’t think of myself as tremendously bothered by heights, but I think I would have a flip-flop in my stomach over that one.

    “Back in my day (she says in a huff) you’d just stand by the view, take a photo with your family, and then move on. These people were not moving on. They were there for footage.”

    Your comment reminds me of our family trip to NYC (2022). We sat behind someone on a shuttle bus who had done the Top of the Rock tour. She had hundreds of photos of herself in a range of poses and she was flicking back and forth, this way and that between pictures the WHOLE ride (~30). When she wasn’t flicking, she was using filters and adjusting her body shape with whatever does that on whatever app does that. Perhaps she loved her experience and those iconic views of NYC, but I suspect not? I remember feeling distinctly sad in that moment.

    1. @Elisabeth – it was fun! The glass floor didn’t really feel as scary as it looks in the photo…I promise 🙂 And yep, the entire Summit experience was kind of designed I believe with people taking iPhone pics in mind. It’s really funny to see — that is how we all experience things these days!

  2. This sounds like such an amazing trip! I live on the NJ side of Philadelphia now, but grew up near NYC and lived there for 7 years in my 20s. I went up last weekend and met my sister and niece for the day. We ate bagels at an outdoor cafe on Columbus Ave., took a walking tour with the Central Park Conservancy ( after gazing at the Dakota Apartments), hung out on my niece’s rooftop deck, and went out to dinner. I had fallen into a rut of only going up once a year. I enjoyed the quick trip so much that I am meeting a high school friend next month for brunch and a show, and plan to head up more often. It’s really great that you planned a one to one trip with your son-sounds like you created great memories. Also wise that you carved out alone time for each of you…….
    I also made a quick trip to DC last week to see my oldest friend for a day and a half. My husband met me in DC on Friday afternoon and we took in a Nationals game and squeezed in a visit to the National Museum of African-American History the next morning before heading home. Reading your blog and books has inspired me to plan more little/big adventures-thanks!

    1. @BethC- so glad you are having adventures! Yep, weekend trips are often quite doable…and often worth doing. And I love roofs/roof decks – such a urban thing that I definitely do *not* experience in my suburban life!

  3. I’m bummed that we missed each other by about 24 hours! I would love to meet you in person. This trip sounds like so much fun! I had a great run in Central Park – I ran at 6pm and it seems like that was not a peak time for runners? I saw runners but not a lot of people. I stuck to the inner paths that went by the reservoir, for example. I honestly really did not know where I was going much of the time but that is the beauty of running after work with no commitments afterwards. I knew I’d find my way back and didn’t really care how far I ran. If I had ran there in the morning I would have been more stressed about getting to the office at a certain time.

    I love NYC so much and would love to go back with my boys when they are a bit older. It’s a bit more of an undertaking for us Midwesterns compared to your ability to take the train but it’s an easy 2.5 hour flight so not bad at all. My husband is not a huge fan of NYC so I could see myself doing a 1:1 trip with my boys when they are a bit older and heartier. My sister is relocating to VA for her husband’s military job and she said she’d love to take the train up to meet up. So I envision more trips to NYC in the future with a kid of 2 in tow. Just not a toddler. Lol. That sunset photo of your son is gorgeous!! And I am definitely the elder millennial rolling her eyes at the people who are taking way too long to take a picture for their IG profiles. In the words of Stephanie Tanner: HOW RUDE! 🙂

    1. @Lisa- too bad we missed each other! It would have been fun to meet up. NYC is fun to visit. I didn’t really have any desire to live there any more, coming back to see it, but I do like going for a visit so it’s good I’ve gotten to do that a few times this spring (and will be back for a talk in July, I see, so that will be fun too).

  4. Ooh, thanks for the reminder about Kathleen’s podcast! I saw her mention the possibility of one on IG, but I rarely check IG anymore so I never went back to see when/if that was actually happening! Can’t wait to check that out.

    Your 1:1 trip with your son sounds like a really special time!

  5. Oh, for some reason, I felt quite emotional reading this. I think there’s something really special in the relationship you’ve fostered with your eldest, and it’s amazing that he wants to do a trip with his mom. I’ve got a 6 year old boy, and it makes me think about how I can keep that strong connection as he gets older.

    If he’s a tea lover, do an order from Mariage Freres or Palais de The. Palais does these tea advent calendars at Christmas time, and it might be a really great gift.

    1. @Coree- I’m very grateful that he is willing to spend time with me. And I’ve just written down those tea brands on my calendar for November for potential Christmas gifts – thank you!

  6. Hi Laura! I loved reading about your trip with your son and the wonderful memories you made. You packed so much adventure into your long weekend — it was inspiring. What a cool photo of you on the glass floor!! Have a great summer.

    1. @Stephanie – thanks! It was a fun trip, with many adventures. I hope you have a great summer too!

  7. Laura, that trip with your big guy sounds so magical! What a delightful kiddo.

    And thank you so much for mentioning the podcast! Huge appreciation.

  8. What a fabulous weekend! My son now lives in Hoboken so we get there a decent amount and I love trying new things, (last time I rode bikes around Central Park which was a great adventure!) the sunset cruise sounds fantastic!

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