When I mentioned on my Facebook page I was going to New York City, someone asked me if I was going to take any pictures. Pictures? Whatever for? What could be more uninteresting than showing people photographs of somewhere they didn’t go? That’s like taking pictures of a great meal just before you eat it and saying, “See? That’s what a five-star meal looks like.”
Pictures are for the tourists. Just because I’m from Ohio and haven’t been to the big, bad city in over a decade doesn’t mean I have to act like a hick from the sticks. A native New Yorker can spot an out-of-towner from blocks away so why make it any more obvious? As soon as I opened my mouth they would know I’m not from around these parts.
It’s appropriate that all over the subway walls there are posters for the film Kick-Ass because New York kicks your ass good and hard. After only three days of pounding the pavement Vanessa limped home with swollen knees and me with a sore back. New York is a walking town. There’s a ton of traffic, but the best way to get around town is either on the bus, in a cab, by the subway or just plain hoofing it. At one point, frustrated by the cost of the airlines and those nickle-and-dime fees, my dear darling wife momentarily lost her freaking mind and suggested driving her 2001 Ford Windstar to New York. I just smiled sweetly and said, “You’ll be driving your damn self. I’m not going to add two days of driving to my three-day weekend and I got better sense to even TRY and deal with Manhattan traffic.”
Because New York is not for weenies, pussies, the sensitive or anyone who cannot stand having cab drivers zoom up behind you and JUST WHEN you think they’re going to plow in your bumper, zip around you while leaning on the horn because you’re slowing them down you friggin’ idiot!
I love this city but I could never live here. If I lived in New York City I’m sure I’d grow to hate it and I never want to hate New York. Everytime I go all I can think of us how much there is to do and that no matter how long I’m there it’s not going to be long enough to do even half the things we want to do. We said we wanted to go to a jazz club. But we didn’t because by Friday night we were plumb worn out from Thursday and Friday’s full plate. We wanted to get to the Museum of Modern Art. Didn’t get anywhere near it because we just flat-out didn’t have the time.
To “do” New York properly, I would need to hit the lottery and after about a month or so, I think I could say I’d taken a pretty big bite of the Big Apple. But since I don’t play the lottery and my luck at winning things has never been any good, I guess I’ll just have to settle for taking small nibbles in three or four day visits.
Our first night we caught Me’Shell NdegeOcello performing at a place called Joe’s Pub in the East Village. Me’shell is a helluva bass player whose musical output is wildly eclectic and a bit erratic. I loved her first two albums. (Plantation Lullabies, Peace Beyond Passion), liked her third (the painfully intimate Bitter) and have found her later albums pretty hit and miss and mostly missing for me. The irony that she’d be featuring songs from Bitter, which was new when we were last in New York in 1999 was not lost on me and besides, Me’Shell kicks ass live, so I was looking forward to catching the show.
The thing is we’d never been down to the East Village before and despite getting directions we got off the subway at least two or three stops too soon. Here we are in the 100 block of Lafayette Avenue and Joe’s Pub is in the 400’s. The show starts at midnight and it’s already 11:30 and unless we want to try to cover that distance in the dark in what appears to be some sort of Chinatown area from all the signs we can see, this is not looking good for us. Vanessa is pissed and she’s ready to hump the distance on foot. Later for that noise. Crime has dropped in New York but it’s still no place to be wandering around at night and especially not when you don’t know precisely where you are or where it is you’re trying to get to. I hail a cab and we make it to the pub with time to spare. Chalk one up for the visiting team.
She gets her revenge the next day. Friday we’re on Madison Avenue and we are here to shop. Not ’til we drop, but you don’t need any reminder that this is an upscale area of the city. The majority of stores are named after proper names and you know they’re fancy because the last name ends in a vowel. Like the one Vanessa flew hundreds of miles to go to, Marina Rinaldi.
My lady gets frustrated because she’s not just a larger size woman, but she’s a tall woman as well. When you factor in those two things together, it’s hard for her to find much of a choice when Lane Bryant is your main clothing option. Looking online, she looked for plus-size clothing stores in New York and just shrugged, “There’s nothing for me there.” Bull, I said. If it’s not in New York, it’s nowhere and I refuse to believe it. We just have to look harder for it. I found Marina Rinaldi among other stores for the more generously endowed sisters much to her pleasant surprise.
To make a long story short, Vanessa found several outfits that were stylish and attractive on her. They were also very expensive. How expensive is between us and our banking account. Suffice it to say, Vanessa found something to add to the clothes in her luggage and we’ll leave it at that. No trip to New York would be complete without a trip to Times Square, right?
Sorry, that’s wrong. Here’s the thing about Times Square, I could have skipped it and never missed a thing. It’s the most overrated part of the city. It’s bright lights in the big city and total overkill. It’s just too damn much of everything. Too many people stepping on each other. Too many cops waiting to put the clamps on anyone getting out of line (apparently there was a recent incident where some teenagers acting stupid, robbing stores and jacking tourists. They ain’t having none of that so the police presence was definitely beefed up) There are too many chain restaurants (why would anyone come all the way to New York just to eat at a Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Friday’s and Sbarro?) Most of all it’s just too expensive. We bought some cheesecake in a deli and two pieces dinged my wallet for $15. It was some really good cheesecake. Tasty, not too sweet and it was a generous chunk but it wasn’t that good.
42nd Street used to be NYC”s dirty little Heart of Darkness with seedy theaters, bump n’ grind joints, 24-hour porn shops, hookers, dopers, street hustlers and the rest of the city’s flotsam and jetsam. ALL of that has been moved completely out. In its place a new 42nd Street has arisen all scrubbed clean, bright, shiny and family friendly. With the street’s hard edge and ugly beauty removed I hated every bit of it and I couldn’t wait to get away from it. Rudy Giuliani started the neutering of 42nd Street and Mike Bloomburg finished the job. Don’t get me wrong now. I know 42nd Street was a real shit hole but it was a shit hole with charm. Times Square is open for business and from all the smiling families pushing strollers through the pedestrian walkways business must be great.
Half the fun of going to the city is eating in the city and walking around is a good way to build up an appetite. We had our first meal at a place called Joe Allen where we had eaten 11 years ago and it became a “must see” upon our return. The food is still first-rate and while the restaurant is steps away from the Broadway theatre district, it features a “flop wall” of plays that bombed. New Yorkers are justfiably proud of the theater, but they find a way not to take themselves too seriously.
We took the subway up to Harlem just to try Charles’ Pan-Fried Chicken. That’s a long way to go for fried chicken but served buffet style it was worth the trip. Our last meal of our last night was at Da Rosina, an Italian restaurant which we picked at random while walking back from seeing “Fela!” What they did to lobster and my chicken was so good I can still taste it and I don’t even like lobster! Which leads me to believe I’ve just never had it served to me right. In between we had a few very good to pretty okay dining experiences. We missed out on was breakfast but that was because our lazy butts never got up early enough to eat any. I won’t bore you with the dining details because the only thing that makes less sense to me than showing someone pictures of a place they haven’t been is describing a meal they didn’t eat.
We love live theatre and New York is the sourcepoint for the theatre in America. The choice was between Black Wings Over Tuskegee, a well-reviewed drama about the Tuskegee Airmen and Fela!, the Jay-Z and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith produced musical about Fela Kuti, the Nigerian musician, social activist and political gadfly. We chose to go with the musical over the drama.
I have no idea if Black Wings Over Tuskegee is destined to find a new life as a traveling production, but hot damn, Fela! is live and wired. We’ve seen Dreamgirls and A Chorus Line in previous trips, but Fela! makes them look like high school musicals staged at a senior citizen’s home. It’s a high energy, highly political and non-stop show with no slow parts, no bad songs and without a dull moment. Directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, I can see why the New York Times raved about the play. My only gripe is for what we paid for our seats, I would have wished we hadn’t been seated at an angle where we couldn’t see all the production.
After the show ended we enjoyed our late dinner at Da Rosina and strolled the nine blocks back to The Distrikt Hotel. The Distrikt (yes, that is how it is spelled) is a brand new “boutique” hotel which just opened in November 2009. It wasn’t the swankiest hotel, but it was clean, comfortable, affordable and centrally located with a friendly and knowledgable staff. I gave them a write-up for Trip Advisor.com that reflects that sentiment. I’d recommend the place, but with so many places to choose from I doubt we’ll be staying there on our next trip. There’s just too many options and bargains available to limit yourself. There’s always a better place to stay in New York and discovering it is half the fun.
My last thought about this trip was how easy it was to plan the entire thing online. I was able to find the hotel, reserve the room, choose a flight, read reviews of the various hotels, restaurants, and clubs we wanted to find out more about and handle everything with a few clicks of the mouse. It’s the only way to fly, book a room and generally get from point “A” to “B” without stressing yourself out.
Flying to the New York will always be more convenient than driving, but it’s not fun. I’m not a nervous flyer but Vanessa had some reservations about a little turbulence we experienced taking off from Port Columbus. Whomever designed the seats on U.S. Airways must not have had people over six feet or 200 pounds in mind (and don’t even get me started on how many changes you have to go through just to board an airplane. Never mind the security screenings. Stand in line. Take off your watches and rings and empty your pockets of change. Untie and slip off your shoes. I got no problem with it, though my wife might feel a bit differently because she came in for some extra attention with the metal in her replacement knee cap.
No, what frosted my flakes weres the extra $25 per bag for carry-on luggage the airlines gouged us for. And then when we got to the plane they still checked it in the bottom of the plane so it wasn’t really carry on at all. Man, what a scam!
Looking back on it it’s all good though, because now that I’ve been back for two weeks, what I’m wondering is just how soon we can go back? It’s clichéd, but true. I really do love New York! It takes a toll on my mind, body and wallet, but as soon as I’m home, I can’t wait to get back to do it all over again.