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Day Trip to New York on a Budget Doesn’t Mean It’s Going to be Cheap

For Christmas we decided to spend the day in New York. I mean — why not?

Waiting around for the express bus to depart for New York.

We chose to stay at a hotel only a few blocks away from one of New York’s most famous buildings. We got there late, which made the lights even more impressive.

Empire State Building

The ladies on the way to our hotel.

Najwa was more than content just chilling in the lobby.

We did have a bit of time to find something to eat at a restaurant not gouging tourists in Times Square but more than the typical New York corner joint. We wandered into Koreatown and found this really hip looking place called KyoChon. And we love some Korean chicken.

They were close to closing so it was easy getting a table; however, considering the place was nearly empty, it took them decades to prepare our food. Oh, and the prices were still a bit on the gouging side. Being half-Korean myself, of course, I ordered the spicy wings. As in, give it to me hot. And the wings must be good considering the smallest order was 20.

No worries. I was hungry. Famished actually. And the longer the food took to get to the table, the more irritable I was getting.

Finally, though, as the place seemed to be closing down around us, they brought the wings. Looking back, either I underestimated the lethalness of their spicy wings or they were trying to get us to leave as soon as possible. I took one bite, mouth watering and all, and within a nanosecond, that half-Korean in me abandoned me. Bite. Blink. A tear ran down my face. The heat on those wings were so ferocious, I cried the entire meal.

See, it wasn’t just because I was hungry. I knew having a stomach that empty being filled with tiny bits of meat marinated in lava wasn’t the ideal way to satisfy my hunger. But when you pay that much for a meal, you make it a point to finish it off. I might as well have been on one of those death wing challenges you see on TV. Literally, my eyes dropped tears the entire meal. Well, at least through the 10 wings I ate before my mouth refused to swallow another piece of burning chicken-flavored ember.

When we woke up the next morning, I was expecting Nduku to have the TV on, as she usually does, sometimes looking at it, mostly having it on for white noise. But when she opened the curtains and saw that view of a forest of concrete, steel and glass, she just sat and drank it all in.

For breakfast we found a small corner joint called Captain’s Cafe. Great food. Great staff.

For it to be Christmas, the day was quite gloomy. Then again, it was winter and we didn’t have to bundle up in blankets. And you know Nduku is allergic to temperatures below 70 degrees.

Fortunately, we met someone who’s smile and demeanor was like a brightly burning star in all that gray. He was from Ghana, chatting as hell, happy to be talking about whatever, seemed really proud of his city, and highly contagious. If you’ve been to New York, I’m sure you’ve met him. Or any of his fellow peers who stand at corners and sell tickets to New York’s greatest attractions.

We didn’t have anything in particular we wanted to do. And since we’re in New York, why not climb to the top of the Empire State Building. I mean, standing at its base, it’s an imposing building inviting you to the top of the city. So, why not?

Of course, standing at the street level, looking up to the heavens imaging what the view would look like up there, we should’ve known better. See, the first though was, “it’s so tall you can’t even see the top!” What we should’ve been saying was, “when we get there, we won’t be able to see the street!”

The view atop the Empire State Building. On a cloudy day.

Okay, we did catch a tiny break in the wall of clouds to get a glimpse of how high we were.


All was good back on earth. Nduku saw this famous cupcake place called Baked by Melissa. Just had to have it. When she came back with three cupcakes, these works of art that people stand in line for however long to get, I was confused. I mean, did they run out of dough? It’s like the tapas of cupcakery.

Afterwards, we just wandered aimless around town. It doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll find something to do, something to see, something to remember.

We also finally caved in to the many street artists offering to capture your likeness for eternity in just a few strokes of the pen. This is New York so why not, right?

Yes, this is New York, and the people who live here have to pay to live here. And it’s not cheap. Hence, nothing’s free.

So when we turned the corner and saw Mickey and Minnie, Elmo, Sheriff Woody and a minion, among dozens of other kid’s characters, I knew our pockets were going to get lighter. Nduku is usually wiser than me when it comes to this frivolous spending. Later, though, I find out after several photos, that she didn’t realize that the characters hung around not because they wanted Najwa to feel like she was in Disneyland, but because they were waiting to get paid.

And we already spent our cash on the street artist. So, among all those oversized characters all angling to get a picture with our little princess, I had to set out looking for an ATM.

But who cares. When Najwa’s happy, I’m thrilled. And New York, with all its little [and costly] surprises, is that one place where you’ll always have a good time when you accept it for what it is.

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