The Caspers Go To New York, Part I
Let's start by saying that an overnight MegaBus is an adventure and a torture, so by the time the Caspers arrived in New York at 7:00am, we were already worn thin. Add a half hour hike with luggage to the hotel for storage, and it's no surprise that the first place in New York that hosted us was a Starbucks. Cramped cold hands huddled around those familiar paper cups, building up the courage to begin the real adventure of sightseeing while waiting for hotel check-in at 3:00pm.
New York in the early hours felt just like Pittsburgh. People here and there, the soft rush of traffic, city employees bagging up trash. Even the subway lobby felt sedated and calm. With sun on our faces and the day ahead of us, we began to walk towards a place that makes Whole Foods look like an Aldi - Eataly NYC Flatiron.
Owned by Iron Chef Mario Batali, Eataly is a foodie's dream. Walking in, the scent of espresso and Italian baked goods was the first of many culinary aromas that wrapped around the tired Caspers. The variety and perfection of the confections in their jewelry-store cases was just a taste of the variety and skill of what we would encounter here. Opting to not spoil ourselves too much just yet, the Caspers enjoyed espressos from an authentic Italian espresso machine, and delved in deeper.
Eataly is, first and foremost, a grocery store. The title seems cheap when coming into contact with the quality and diversity of ingredients for sale, but it is a grocery store all the same. Cheeses of every age and composition (we picked up some fragrant and dense Parmigiano, of the much-aged and red-cow varieties), all of those leafy greens the Food Network insists we can just casually pick up for a weekend meal, mushrooms of a freshness and heterogeneity that left us feeling like we hardly knew mushrooms at all, and other vegetable options that just seemed more beautiful under the tall ceilings and warm light of Eataly.
With a long day of walking ahead, and no fridge in our pod-style hotel room, we had to pass up the fresher ingredients this time around. We still managed to make our way out of Eataly laden with a heavy paper bag filled with spices, spreads, pastas, olives, and fresh sweet Muscat grapes that Mrs. Casper snacked on as we headed on the next leg of our journey.
As the sun rose, we noticed New York waking up as well. Streets that had been "Pittsburgh crowded" were becoming "Pittsburgh at Christmas" crowded already as we made our first of many passes through Times Square (or as Mr. Casper kept calling it, Station Square). We popped in a few places here and there, but nothing could've prepared us for the childlike wonder of the LEGO store. It sound trivial, a store of LEGO, but from the moment we walked in, we were engulfed in the whimsy of it all. You name it, they've made it out of LEGO. They even had a LEGO "coal walk" of sorts: the path to the wall of spare parts was littered with spilled pieces.
Our next destination, though, was Mrs. Casper's dream. The Strand Bookstore, home to over 2.5 MILLION books in various stages of print. Fortunately for Mr. Casper, we were meeting up with college friend and unofficial tour guide Jabari Haynes, so we only spent about an hour in the 3-story shop. We emerged with playful socks with cats and Edgar Allen Poe on them, as well as a few out-of-print fantasy books. (Mrs. Casper highly recommends Cygnet by Patricia A. McKillip. The imagery and unique approach to fantasy made it the perfect bus-home read.)
Jabari was waiting for us outside of Strand, in all his true New Yorker glory, all the way up to his Air Pods (seriously, New Yorkers love them some Air Pods). At this point, the Caspers were starting to hit a serious wall in energy, and so we went to find Mr. Casper his own dream, a slice of New York pizza. Jabari took us down to the subway, and Mr. Casper got his pizza, buffalo chicken style. He's still dreaming about the thin crispy crust and New-York-sized cheese pull. Being underground in New York is a far cry from any past underground experiences. It makes Washington D.C. look positively grungy. Food, shopping, and people all flow together seamlessly, creating a New York within New York, a subterranean Times Square.
By the time we emerged from our pizza journey, New York was in full force. Times Square was at Black Friday levels of crowd, and without the practiced weaving of our friend and guide, we might still be there, wandering, to this day. Mrs. Casper made a quick stop in the MAC store for a dinner-date lip color, while Mr. Casper and Jabari waited, smartly, on the fringes. Rockefeller Plaza, closed streets full of people doing yoga, open-air flower markets, and more all flowed together until, finally, it was time to thank Jabari for leaving Brooklyn for us, and collapse into our hotel room before dinner.