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OPINION | RICHARD MASON: A six-day revisit of Manhattan

by Richard Mason | November 28, 2021 at 1:45 a.m.

For months Vertis and I felt trapped in El Dorado and were desperate to get out of town. We love our house nestled in the trees, but we had about as much peace and quiet as we could stand, so our getaway was Manhattan.

We spent the night in Little Rock, and I told Vertis, "We're leaving the hotel at 4:30 a.m." We were on time until I handed the car ticket to the parking valet, and we waited, and waited, and waited.

Finally, I got behind the valet counter, and tried to recognize our key fob. Fifteen minutes later, I began to panic, but after around 20-plus minutes, I spotted the fob and retrieved the car.

After a quick flight to DFW, we boarded a plane to New York City. The pilot then announced a 20-minute delay, which turned into three hours.

More trouble was waiting at New York's La Guardia, where almost the entire airport is under construction. We walked and walked, trying to find baggage claim, where we had arranged for a car to pick us up. But with all the construction and confusion, we got lost, finally stumbling into our pickup area after an hour.

The next day we planned to meet Jade Mason, our granddaughter, who is living in the city, for lunch at the Plaza Food Hall, which, according to the Internet, is open. It wasn't. We ended up having lunch at Tao. It has a Buddha statue that covers almost the entire back wall, which makes a good "wow" first impression. The food is Asian fusion, and we had Peking duck with our granddaughter--a nice way to start the trip.

The overall restaurant situation in New York is mixed at best, with a significant number of our favorites closed--DB Bistro Moderne hasn't reopened--although many are planning to do so after being shut down for months.

On Sunday we got ready to attend Cavalry Baptist Church on 57th Street, but when we checked the Internet, it hadn't reopened, offering remote worship only. So instead of going to church we ate at Trattoria Del Arte, across from Carnegie Hall. The meal and service was excellent, and we managed to get our favorite table against the back wall.

The restaurant, which had been closed for 17 months, reopened Oct. 13. The head of the wait staff is from Ecuador, where he had spent seven months waiting for it to reopen.

On Saturday afternoon we saw the musical "Moulin Rouge." The stage setting and acoustics were unbelievable.

The best dinner during the trip was with our granddaughter again on Sunday night at the beautiful Mediterranean restaurant Limani in Rockefeller Center, which specializes in fresh seafood. On our last night, we dined at another gorgeous restaurant, Ruth's Chris Steak House on West 51st Street.

It wouldn't be our regular New York trip if we didn't see the huge Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza and the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. We've seen the show several times, and it's always a little different, except for the live nativity scene at the end, which never changes.

The Rockettes were perfection, and the theater walls, ceiling and main stage became part of the performance thanks to active electronic displays. When the orchestra pit rose out of the sub-floor with the full orchestra playing, then moved across the stage, it was a drop-your-jaw effect.

This time, changes were made in the nativity scene, which expanded from one setting to interlocking sequences with a choir, camels, sheep, and a donkey, along with a large retinue filling the stage.

The lighting of the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza was happening a few days after we left, but we did see the huge tree surrounded by scaffolding to get it ready. The tree overlooks an ice-skating rink, which sure helps the Christmas spirit.

New York is not out of the covid-19 woods yet, but the city is doing what it can to stamp it out. You must be vaccinated to enter restaurants, and Broadway plays require vaccine proof and mandatory masks while in the theater.

It's obvious the city has placed a priority on getting Broadway and Times Square back to normal. Manhattan hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues aren't totally back, and without a doubt a lot won't ever reopen. If I had to guess, I would say New York will take until next summer to be at a pre-covid level.

However, the bike/scooter/skateboard lanes on most major streets were filled with folks whizzing by on anything with wheels. I never worry about being hit by a car, but I was concerned a bike or skateboard rider might take me out. Almost all the stores were open on Fifth Avenue, and we bought a few Christmas gifts that aren't available at home.

It's clear that the pandemic has severely impacted the city. In the heart of Manhattan, many blocks have multiple empty stores for lease. Some hotels haven't reopened, and our hotel, the Michelangelo on West 51st Street, had limited service. Its restaurant wasn't open, and I had to go four blocks down Broadway to get Starbucks coffee and a Danish. My last-day order included a Danish, but they ran out.

Vertis and I enjoyed our getaway, but when we pulled into our driveway after six days in the Big Apple, that peace and quiet was mighty inviting.

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