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Travel Horrors: New York : The Apple's Revenge : Their anniversary weekend created memories that can't be replaced . . . unlike their luggage

October 30, 1994|ROBERT SHOGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"HOLIDAY WEEKEND BARGAIN! TAKE A BITE OUT OF THE BIG APPLE FOR $125 A NIGHT."

This offer from New York's Marriott Marquis, mailed to our Chevy Chase home a few weeks before last Memorial Day weekend, was almost impossible for my wife, Ellen, and me to resist. That weekend coincided not only with our own 35th wedding anniversary but with the fifth anniversary of our daughter Cindy and her husband, Brooks, who live in the neighboring Maryland suburb of Silver Spring. The stage seemed set for a high-concept joint celebration.

We planned not only to enjoy our visit to New York, but to recycle the memories for years to come. And all for $125 a night, which by the standards of Manhattan, where hotel prices are as high as the skyline, seemed quite a bargain.

As it turned out, though, our trip to Gotham brought memories of the wrong kind. Right now, when we look back on our visit the recollections that come to mind are not of our visits to New York's bright spots. Instead we tend to dwell on the looting of my wife's purse in the hotel elevator, the burglary of our car in broad daylight on a Greenwich Village street and our subsequent trip to the dingy confines of the Ninth Precinct station house, all of which transformed our 24 hours in Manhattan from an anniversary waltz into something reminiscent of the Neil Simon play and film "The Out-of-Towners."

Of course, we did not think of ourselves as anything like the yokels played by Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis in the movie. In fact, we thought of ourselves as quasi-New Yorkers. We had all lived in the city or its environs and visited there often. We knew of the perils that lurk in the asphalt jungle, but we thought we could cope with them. And we did take precautions.

To be extra secure we no sooner had arrived in midtown Manhattan on Saturday afternoon, than we invested $19.95 to stash our car safely in a garage right across 46th Street from the Marriott.

Brooks and Cindy immediately set off for the Salon de Tokyo, a massage salon near Central Park, specializing in shiatsu. Ellen and I decided just to stroll around Manhattan in the brilliant May sunshine. But heading down to the lobby, we were reminded of one of the Marriott's shortcomings. Its Times Square location is convenient, the rooms are comfortable and the staff is friendly. But the hotel is under-elevatored. By the time the light flashes and the car arrives, it is often as crammed as the subway at rush hour, and we waited impatiently while car after car zipped past our floor. Because we were still angry about the wait, and about barely being able to breathe once we boarded, we did not notice that someone had dipped into Ellen's purse and snatched her wallet, which contained two checkbooks, a bank card and $80 in cash.

Oblivious to Ellen's missing valuables, we strolled leisurely down Fifth Avenue and got back to the hotel in time for a pre-dinner cocktail in The View, a 50th-floor rotating bar atop the hotel (which fortunately can be reached through a special elevator). For the price of a glass of California Chardonnay and a Miller Lite ($12 for both) most of Manhattan, from the Battery to the Triboro Bridge was stretched out at our feet.

Next we rendezvoused with Brooks and Cindy and taxied downtown to the Chelsea Central, a trendy Greenwich Village restaurant that was nearly empty. "Nobody comes downtown on Memorial Day," our waiter told us cheerfully.

Seated in a carved oak banquette under the lofty stamped tin ceiling, we dined on soft shell crab, lobster bisque, encrusted salmon, risotto and corn cakes and linguine with portobello mushrooms all for $160, complete with drinks, two bottles of wine and tip.

To work off the splendid meal, and to enjoy the sights of Greenwich Village, we decided to hike the mile to the Lortel Theater on Christopher Street to see "Four Dogs and a Bone," a satire about four people involved in making a motion picture. Its author, Patrick Shanley, had scripted "Moonstruck," and the critics had hailed the "crackling wit" of his latest work.

We found it pointless and tasteless, but we all agreed that no one really minded after our great dinner.

Early next morning, when even the elevators came promptly, we grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel coffee shop and took a cab uptown to the Whitney Museum of American Art to see the spectacular Richard Avedon photography show then on display. By now we were convinced the Big Apple was our oyster. Taking full advantage of this second successive sparkling day, we hiked back to the hotel along Fifth Avenue, scorning the taxis and horse-drawn carriages. Checking ourselves out of the Marriott, and the car out of the parking garage, we drove downtown to Greenwich Village, planning a visit to the Strand, a celebrated second-hand book store, and a late lunch before leaving town.

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