Taking a bite of the Big Apple

Kevin Cowherd

August 23, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

This is the story of a recent visit to New York's Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty where, remarkably, we were not caught in a hail of gunfire from a crack war or blown up by terrorists triggering 1,200 pounds of dynamite.

Our party consisted of five adults and -- here's where it gets ugly -- six children ranging in age from 2 to 11.

So we packed accordingly (picnic lunch, handcuffs, leg irons, cattle prods) and set off on the ferry, which advertised a "breathtaking" view of New York Harbor and Manhattan.

Unfortunately, as the day was hazy and overcast and the pollution particularly intense, the only view we had for quite a while was of a nearby floating billboard that said: "Stop at Gus' for Diesel Fuel, Cold Beer, Sandwiches."

Our first stop was Ellis Island, the famous "symbol of America's immigrant heritage."

As we wandered through the Immigration Museum, my wife Nancy picked up a brochure and read: "From 1892 to 1954, over 12 million immigrants landed here; today their descendants account for almost 40 per cent of the country's population."

The children seemed fascinated by this information, frequently interrupting the narrative to ask: "Can we get ice cream?" or "Are we leaving soon?"

After the whining had reached a crescendo, we stopped for ice cream (21 bucks for six Dove bars and a small cup of Breyers; no, the vendor wasn't wearing a ski mask and waving a gun) before boarding the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.

Once we arrived at Liberty Island, my sister Maura pointed to a sign that said: "All packages carried into the statue are subject to search."

"They're worried about terrorists," she said. "You know, after the World Trade Center bombing."

Terrific, I thought. With my luck, some nut will blow the place up while I'm up in the crown with, oh, Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley.

Then the headline in the next day's New York Post would scream: "PIANO MAN AND SUPERMODEL WIFE DIE IN STATUE BLAST!"

If there were any mention of me at all, it would come in the last paragraph: "Also killed were a 7-year-old beagle named Skippy and an unidentified man from Baltimore. The statue will be closed indefinitely for renovations."

Fortunately, we were able to enjoy our visit without a powerful explosion rocking the statue and sending the whole thing tumbling into the bay.

I don't know . . . the sight of charred rubble, the overpowering smell of nitroglycerin, the moaning of the wounded, people stampeding from the statue wide-eyed with terror, to me it puts a damper on any sight-seeing tour.

Unfortunately, the island was swamped with visitors and there was a three-hour wait to climb to the statue's crown.

With six children in tow and no powerful sedatives for the adults, I could not imagine a three- minute wait, let alone three hours.

So despite the obvious disappointment of the kids ("Can we get a hot dog?" "He hit me!") we contented ourselves with strolling around the base of the statue.

I took this opportunity to pass on a few facts about the statue to my 11-year-old.

Since the boy was rocking out to a Kriss Kross tape through the headphones of his Walkman, our conversation took on a weird, disjointed flavor:

"The statue was given . . . "

"Jump, jump!

" . . . to the U.S. by the people . . . "

"The mack dad will make you jump!"

" . . . of France in 1884 . . . "

"Jump, jump . . . "

". . . as an expression of friendship."

"Little boys in the 'hood!"

" From feet to crown, it . . . "


". . . stands over 151 feet tall."

In any event, we capped our visit with a nice picnic lunch at Liberty State Park. Naturally, as this was New York (well, Jersey City, actually), the day could not end without our being menaced by a deranged man.

The man came lurching past our picnic table, mumbling to himself and waving his arms at an imaginary swarm of insects. His fly was also open, which we all agreed was a nice touch.

Of course, you could tell who the tourists were -- no one else gave the man a second look.

In a remarkable show of bravery, my brother-in-law Bill went over to the poor fellow and -- without brandishing a can of Mace or a stun gun -- gave him a turkey sandwich, a can of ginger ale and an apple.

The man took the food and wandered off shrieking at the sky, as if thinking: " Tourists! They expect me to eat this junk?"

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