Why You Drink Tequila and Eat Caribbean Food Instead of Tourist Traps in NYC

Today is my brother rand I’s most touristy expedition in New York. We decide to go to Ellis Island, and, since it is a part of the ticket, visit the Statue of Liberty on the way there. Our tickets are at one-o’clock, the last departure, but we get up and go straight for the boat. It is on the tip of Manhattan, and we don’t want to risk getting lost and missing it.

We get to the port smoothly, but we don’t have much time to eat. Setting sail, we take the short, beautiful trip to the Statue of Liberty. The skyline is impressive from here, it looks choreographed as it looms above the honking cars and scurrying pedestrians. The air is crisp and cool on my face.

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View of NY’s skyline from the ferry.

The statue itself is actually underwhelming, which I really didn’t see coming. It has been so aggrandized and lauded that I thought would be much bigger. If you were an immigrant on a boat to Ellis Island, which the tour operators made sure to remind you of, the starving, often-diseased people probably only thought, “oh, there’s that statue.” Maybe they didn’t care at all.

Up close it is more interesting, but to give really close you need to get your spot weeks in advance, which I thought was nerdy and weird. Still we can see the copper wearing. Hungry, we get suckered into some terrible tourist-trap food before leaving for Ellis Island.

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Lady Liberty up close.

The facility itself is unremarkable, but some of the information in the museum is very interesting. I am particularly enthralled by the way the intake personnel were instructed to deal with communists and anarchists. A known subversive was sent right back to where they came from, quicker than just about anybody else. I find that pretty ironic, in this land of freedom you were not allowed to have contrary ideological viewpoints to the established order.

A very disturbing detail was that no Asians were permitted. None. The tourist PR wing of the island does a good job of making the story of Ellis Island glossy and inspirational, but I find that there was so much more darkness bubbling below the surface.

Another example is the way they handled the mentally ill. If you were branded with a chalk X, you were suspect of mental health issues and were sent to additional mental health screening to determine if you were to be allowed in the country. There was no real criteria for this, crying could make you subject for additional screening. I happen to wholly disagree with this on morality alone, but doubly so that there really weren’t adequate tests to determine the mental health of a particular person who spoke a language no doctor was fluent in.

Many of the Orthodox Jews here can trace their ancestry through this island. A larger amount of Americans can. When my brother and I go to see if our family came through Ellis Island, they are closing up for the day.

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9/11 Memorial

We finish our visit with the citizenship exhibit, a wacky, patriotic display of what it means to be a citizen of the United States. I find the citizenship test fascinating, and there is an interactive map showing the concentrations of nationalities across the country.

We take the ferry back and are very tired by this point. It is time to eat and I spot a Japanese curry joint nearby, which you may know is an obsession of mine. Although it is across the street from Les Halles, the restaurant where Anthony Bourdain worked as executive chef, it possesses none of the culture or cooking skills he did. It is a disappointment.

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“Freedom Tower”

I see on the map that we’re close to the 9/11 memorial, where the Twin Towers used to stand. I know my brother is interested in seeing it so I mention it to him and we walk over. I am not expecting much so I am blown away by it, but it is truly beautiful. A black rectangle of cascading water falls down into another square abyss. On the sides are the names of the victims. The sound is incredible, almost deafening.

It’s almost time to depart, this time for Europe. I take care of some business during the day with my brother. We eat pho in an ethnically diverse and eclectic part of Brooklyn and buy a computer. Tonight, I am meeting up with a friend I met in Argentina, Scott.

We meet up at the Ghost Donkey, a narrow tequila bar with tons of people packing it in. I order a short of mescal and one of their signature drinks. Another margarita, and we head back to Scott’s place. We talk of our travels, admire his dog and drink some bourbon and beer.

I Lyft home, and to finish my trip off right, I order UberEats for some Jamaican food. I have been craving Caribbean since we arrived. I order curry shrimp and jerk chicken. Drunk, it is ever so fitting. I’m in heaven.

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