NEW YORK CITY – The last time I visited the Big Apple was before I even knew it was called that. The year was 1967. I was 11. 

After my family endured mugging worries, dirty streets, con artists and other urban woes of the ’60s, one visit seemed enough. Did I want a big city steeped in world-class theater and great museums? As an adult, this travel writer’s go-to metropolis was London. My wife felt the same way. 

But our 27-year-old daughter had visited New York a couple times in recent years and loved it. We had a bunch of frequent-flyer miles saved up. What if we went to New York – an easy-to-snag mileage-plan ticket – and let her be our tour guide? 

To one who’s done his share of poring over Lonely Planet and peering at TripAdvisor, the idea appealed. It would also breathe new life into years of father-daughter trips I’d taken with my only child, Lillian, from the time she was 10. As she grew up, I’d handed over more and more trip planning to her, a satisfying rite of passage. This time, we’d go as Father’s Day approached. Perfect.

Lillian canvassed me and her mother for a wish list of things we’d like to do. The night before our flight, my daughter and I had a laugh when I hesitantly showed her a printout I’d made of the proposed sightseeing itinerary she had emailed to me.  

You’ve done addendums!” she exclaimed.

Brian and Lillian Cantwell look out from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, New York. (Photo by Barbara A. Cantwell)
Brian and Lillian Cantwell look out from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, New York. (Photo by Barbara A. Cantwell)

Yes, the obsessive tendencies that served me well as a journalist all my life had overcome me. I had gone online and added detailed “how-to-get-there” directions listing subways, bus lines and walking routes for each destination, from Battery Park to the Empire State Building.

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So much for leaving it all to the next generation.

My excuse sounded good in theory: “I hate to look like a tourist, peering at a map on a street corner. I’d rather have all the route details at hand.”

But unfortunately my computer had (once again) defeated the old man, inexplicably printing the entire amended itinerary in huge black 18-point type, with a bold 36-point subject line (preserving a typo): “Ney York, New York!” 

The giant type transformed the few short paragraphs intended to be folded into my palm into a two-page document readable from across a sidewalk.

Lillian couldn’t suppress a chortle.

OK, so we’re going to be all subtle and unnoticeable waving this in the wind, like ‘BWAAAH!’” She made a sound like a foghorn.

Me, sheepishly: “And look, I made two copies in case you want one, too.”  

Buskers play in Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, Manhattan. (Photo by Brian J. Cantwel)
Buskers play in Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, Manhattan. (Photo by Brian J. Cantwel)

Concerned that my control issues had threatened the journey’s happy premise, I apologized and told my daughter I really wanted this to be her trip to lead “because I know you’re good at this, and I trust you, and I want you to do it.” 

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She agreed that she is capable after all our travels together. But she also generously assured me that no apology was necessary. “You just got all excited about it, and that’s a good thing!” 

I love my daughter.

Together, we looked at the weather forecast for our few days in the city. The first day guaranteed rain. Happily, she had scheduled a Broadway matinee that Sunday afternoon.

A few days earlier, Lillian had suggested options for discounted Broadway tickets we could get through TodayTix (todaytix.com/x/nyc). Something cerebral? Something classic? A musical with star power?

Or we could go with ‘King Kong,’ because how can you resist a 20-foot-tall animatronic gorilla puppet on stage?” suggested my daughter, who knows how to boil things down. I pulled out the Visa and ordered “discounted” tickets at $109 apiece. 

Lillian and Brian Cantwell stroll the High Line rail trail through Lower Manhattan. (Photo by  Barbara A. Cantwell)
Lillian and Brian Cantwell stroll the High Line rail trail through Lower Manhattan. (Photo by Barbara A. Cantwell)

Our first morning, perched on window-front stools at Zabar’s famous deli (zabars.com), near our Upper West Side hotel, we munched bagels with cream cheese. These were not just the “roll with a hole” that can pass for bagels in Seattle. They had that extra chewiness that makes all the difference. The coffee was hot and brown. 

On the rain-spattered sidewalk, like characters from “101 Dalmatians,” umbrella-toting New Yorkers walked dogs wearing raincoats. One canine, appearing to be a cross between a Pomeranian and an Ewok, sported little booties as well. Lillian and I waved our breakfasts at people puffing on treadmills in the windows of a gym across the street. “A little bagel taunting, ha, ha!” she said.

We swapped a scheduled morning exploration of Central Park with an out-of-the-rain visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, my daughter and I shared a playful badinage that we’ve come to enjoy in such places. 

In the Degas room, she pointed out two almost identical paintings, slightly different studies of the same scene, titled “The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage,” circa 1874. She challenged me to find the subtle differences. 

Oh, one of the dancers is reversed. And the scaffolding is moved…” I hemmed and hawed. 

She gleefully pointed out more tiny changes. “I’m good at finding the differences because we played ‘Find six things’ all the time,” recalling a newspaper feature in which nearly identical cartoons are subtly modified in a half-dozen ways, a fixture on the Seattle Times puzzles page since she was a kid.

In a room full of Monets, she posed another question: “If you could just walk into one of these paintings, which would you choose?” 

I looked around. “I’d go sit in one of those chairs overlooking the sea, next to Monet’s father, in ‘Garden at Sainte-Adresse’.” 

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Her choice: “View of Vétheuil,” because of its field of poppies “where you could take a really nice stroll, with a little town in the distance where you could find a cafe,” she explained. 

I love going to art museums with you,” I told her.

King Kong” was a hoot, with the beast nailing us to our seats with roars like the T-Rex in “Jurassic Park.” The next morning, sunny and gorgeous, we explored The Ramble, a Central Park marvel of twisting trails amid wild woods. I almost had to pry Lillian away from the radio controller after a delightful half-hour of sailing a model boat on a pond that reflected skyscrapers.

We made it to the top of the Empire State Building. We laughed on the subway with a singing busker in a bad Batman costume. We strolled the entire 25 blocks of the garden-adorned High Line rail trail, and gawked at a five-story animated M&Ms ad wrapping two sides of a building on Times Square. As it turned out, Lillian got us to most places using an app on her phone. Of course.

Ney York, New York? Might go back, might go back… if my daughter goes, too.

Brian Cantwell samples a $3 New York hot dog from a street cart. (Photo by Barbara A. Cantwell )
Brian Cantwell samples a $3 New York hot dog from a street cart. (Photo by Barbara A. Cantwell )