A trip to New York City was never complete without my uncle's infamous tour.
Oh, no one outside of my family has ever heard of the tour, or, likely, my uncle. He isn't a professional guide, doesn't read from the pages of Zagat or Frommers. But apparently 50 years of living outside of the city and bussing in family and friends is enough to rack up a compendium of insider knowledge that even Eugene Fodor couldn't boast.
So what does that mean for me, a New York newbie, only nine months into my stay here? I can't offer the same chauffeured trips from one end of the island to the other. Wanna visit the September 11 Memorial, then stop for photos outside of the famed Tom's Restaurant? It'll cost you the better part of a day, and probably some uncomfortable moments on the 1 train.
Living in The Big Apple comes packaged with a certain sense of responsibility — that is, once I finally convince anyone to actually visit this big, bad city. After the initial, week-long apartment cleaning process, dizzying obligation sets in.
Will they have a good time? How long before my absent sense of direction gets us lost too many times to be considered beginner's-luck-adorable? Will the three restaurants I know offer enough culinary options? Can I keep them occupied long enough to not notice the dust bunnies still living behind my TV stand?
Some come prepared, with a list of trendy restaurants their favorite celebs have been caught in and specific instructions to hit Central Park and specialized museums. Others show up with one intention, and one intention only: Make it to that downtown jazz concert or Broadway show that cost more than the train ticket to the city.
But once the fanfare of the bright lights fades, what's left? Me, you, and that homeless guy sleeping under a box on the corner. Not everyone wants to spend an afternoon slinking through "18 miles of books" at my favorite Manhattan retailer. (I'm still waiting on a visit from my brother, with whom I can happily take a five-borough bookstore tour.) Most people actually wantto put their lives and sanity on the line to catch a glimpse of Times Square. And it turns out a movie marathon in my insufficient apartment just doesn't cut it when the most exciting city in the world flickers on around us. Nope, not even a Blu-ray player can replace the real thing.
With one foot out the elevator door, the options loom like those life-sized children's characters wandering 7th Avenue with tip bags and ceaseless grins. And, much like sidling up next to one of them for a photo that will end up as your new social network profile picture, choosing the right direction is often a highly debated decision.
There's the obligatory "You pick, you live here"/"No, you pick, you're the visitor" face-off, before the inevitable stalemate is met with another wave of obligation.
But get it right and, boy, the satisfaction will lift you higher than the Empire State Building. It helps, of course, that my friends are admirably low maintenance, perfectly content sitting on a chilled park bench, chugging 1.25-liter bottles of soda, cooing at passing pooches.
There's an entire labyrinth of Google results with what amount to step-by-step instructions for entertaining guests in NYC. But I'm a New Yorker. I don't need anyone on the Web — or the West 45th Street sidewalk — telling me which comedy club to visit or when to hop onto or off of a bus. So much of the joy of hosting friends comes with parading out my city smarts, proving that I've got this place figured out better than any two-day tourist could.
I may not yet have reached my uncle's caliber of tour-guiding, but as he now works on perfecting his own Chicago junkets, I have plenty of room to cultivate my New York City course. So, next time you're in town, give me a holler; I could use some willing test subjects. Just remember, folks: Tip your guide, and have a wonderful day.
Stephanie Mlot writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.