Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Few Days in the City

I saw that a TV host that I like was putting on a road show and that he would be in New York over Thanksgiving. His name is Alton Brown and he was the host of the Food Network show, Good Eats. This was a food show, but not in the traditional sense. He envisioned it as a combination of Julia Child, Mr. Science, and Monty Python. In other words; part cooking, part science, and part fun.

The show was immensely popular. When it ended Alton created a road show. This was not of the same format, but, as he said, the stuff the network wouldn't let him do on television. Some music, audience participation, gadgets, puppets. The works.

So I decided, what the heck? Why not go see it and spend the night in Manhattan? I haven't done anything crazy in way too long. I reserved tickets well in advance; I got the front row mezzanine dead center. Perfect view of the stage. I then made hotel reservations at a place in the west Village called the Jane Hotel. It caught my eye because the decor was like that of a steam ship passenger liner. I could stay in a place reminiscent of the ship my grandparents came over on from the Old Country. Well, except for the privacy and turned down sheets and lack of scurvy and stuff.

My plan was to drive to New Haven and take Metro North to Grand Central on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I'd have lunch, see the show, and then leisurely make my way down to the hotel. Do something in the evening, then have Saturday to explore. I downloaded the holiday schedules and determined the best trains to catch. I was prepared, scout leader! Best laid plans, as they say.

First, I forgot the difference between AM and PM when setting my alarm clock Thursday night. So it was set to go off at 6:00PM Friday. I woke up about nine. Yikes! Luckily I was mostly packed. I swore. I grabbed the few last minute items. I swore. I threw on some clothes. I swore some more. That was a trend of the day. I locked up, set out, and skedaddled toward New Haven, oblivious of what train might be available when I got there. Did I mention that I swore? That's important.

I got my tablet and brought up the train schedules, flicking back and forth between the blurry PDF schedule and I95. If there was no good option to get me into Grand Central with enough time to scuttle over to Times Square, I'd have to drive all the way into New York and find a parking garage for the two days. While that might be cheaper than paying for parking in New Haven and a round trip ticket to NY, it's still a pain. I've done it several times in the past, but didn't want to do it in the future. Not this future, at least. 

But another concern was parking. I've driven to Union Station in New Haven before to find the parking garage next to the station full. I had to drive about a mile away and park in a parking garage belonging to Yale hospital. I had enough time so I walked back to the station. But I got back about 12:30 that night and didn't want to walk through New Haven at that hour. I got a cab. When I got to the garage it was no longer staffed! Luckily, they opened the exit gates, so I got out with free parking. At least seeing the Addams Family with Kristin made it all worthwhile.

As luck would have it, I got to New Haven and found a brand new parking lot just for the train station a couple of blocks away! I sidled in, swiped my credit card, with the promise that, when I left, it would calculate my parking fee, and settled my car in for an extended stay. I got my bearings, asked for directions, and was off to Union Station. The next train to New York was in about ten minutes. I had hoped to get a coffee and a bagel in the lobby, but this was better. I bought a two fare ticket and hightailed it to platform three, where my iron chariot awaited. And it was an express! How nice. Then off.

An hour and a half later I was in Grand Central Station, the neo classical temple to mobility. I always have to look up in the main lobby. At the zodiac across the ceiling. At the honey limestone of the walls. At the rock floor with its geometric patterns. They knew how to make architecture that spoke back then.

And up and out onto the street. Amazingly, I still had some time. I had gotten the next train after the one I missed, albeit through much swearing, thrashing about, and the neglect of basic hygiene. We won't mention that further. I wanted to see Rockefeller Center. It's not that far away if you don't mind walking. I kind of knew where it was, so I set off. I found Radio City Music Hall, but not the plaza. Actually, I was only about a block away but I didn't know that at the time. I was losing time, so I headed for Times Square, looking for a place to eat along the way.

One thing about New York. I won't eat in chains. I don't see the point in traveling so far to eat at McDonald's. Or Sbarro's. I just won't do it. I found a place that advertised steaks. Hmmm. They have a luncheon special. So I got a steak, rice, onions and mushrooms, bread, and a juice for twenty bucks or so. The steak wasn't a filet but it was enjoyable. And off I went.

I found the theater, the Ethel Barrymore Theater on 47'th street, just in time to get my seat.

The show was great. Alton is also a musician and had a band. He played and sang songs like one about his grandmother ruining the turkey every Thanksgiving by not brining it, but instead, basting it and baking it to mummification. He got someone from the audience to help him prepare a truly ghastly cocktail out of Wild Turkey, Pumpkin Spice, and Tequila. He showed how it could be made passable by freezing it into an Italian Ice using liquid nitrogen. In the second act he got another audience member to help him make popcorn with a humongous monster made out of fifty hot air poppers and four air cannons. It shot popcorn out over the audience.

It was awesome. And he's a surprisingly good musician and singer. I was impressed.

After the show I wanted to get to the hotel and drop off my stuff. I had only brought a few things in a carry-on bag Kristin bought for me one Christmas. It was perfect. It was like a woman's purse or a satchel. I just wore it over my shoulder and under my arm and it was comfortable, safe, and secure. Still. I wanted to get to the hotel.

The hotel was on Jane Street, which is down in lower Manhattan where they still have named, not numbered, streets. Since I was at 47'th street, that meant I had at least 47 blocks to go. Forget that, I took the subway. Three dollars and a magic train ride later and I was four or five blocks from my night's repose. The mobs of Times Square were replaced by the peace of the west Village.

I checked in, the hotel looked rather posh. My keys were an anomaly. There was a key fob to open the door and a brass rod to activate the lights! Maybe it's a nautical thing. Anyway, I used the lumbering elevator to get to the third floor and navigated around the landing until I found my room. The decor included portholes. The room was small. Cozy. The bed just a bunk. Bathrooms were shared. No men/women. Just a room with stalls and a shower. If you need to go bad enough, you will.

I liked it. It reminded me of when I was in a youth hostel in Edinburgh. They had coed bathrooms, too. Stalls for toilets. Stalls for showers. One sink. What's the big deal?

I went out looking for dinner. In this part of Manhattan the streets are more European. Less of a grid. I was in no hurry. I passed pizza places and hash houses. I had my heart set on Italian. I saw W4'th street. I remembered eating at a Spanish restaurant there once called Sevilla’s. Why not? Let's see what's down there. What I found instead was a very nice Italian restaurant. It was small and cozy and looked authentic. That's for me!

I had a cocktail, Carpaccio, Scottish Salmon, and chocolate mousse. Very nice.

When I went back to the hotel I decided to check out a lounge the concierge recommended to me when I checked in. I got a Manhattan and sat in the lounge. It was like being in the past days of New York glory. The room breathed class. From the immense fireplace to the stuffed rams and rich curtains. This was a place that held stories. And secrets. And lies. I went to bed pondering the past.

And woke up ready for adventure. After a shower in the coed bathroom, I checked out. There were bell hops by the entrance opening the doors for me and wishing me a good day. I could get used to this.

I made my way downtown, being careful to stay on smaller streets and avoiding the avenues. By this I came upon a park with a Farmers' Market in it. I got myself a banana nut mini loaf and a container of apple cider. It was nice sitting in the park and breaking off pieces of the bread and eating them. The birds weren't too impressed with my efficiency. The park had a statue in it. I looked but the inscription was worn and hard the read. By passing my fingers over the inscription and concentrating, I read that this statue had been placed here to commemorate those who had given their lives for the Great War. Ah. Of course. Back then it was The Great War. It hadn't yet become World War One. I paused in respect.

I continued down, passing various types of architecture, to ground zero. I could see the new Freedom Tower from a long ways away. It looked new yet held homage to the twin towers. It is square like the towers, but has a contrary cut shaving off two of the edges giving it a modern look. The effect is striking.

The memorial is gripping as well. The museum was mobbed, so I just stayed outside. There are these fountains, if you can call them that. Two, to be precise. They are square pits sunk into the ground. Water flows over the walls and down into the pits. At the bottom of the pits are smaller pits dropping down even further, the water drops into them. Outside there are walls around the pits with smooth faces on them, on these are the names of everyone who died here on 9/11. They place a rose on each name on their birthday. Remember the dead.

The monument is not finished. There is more to do. More to remember.

Thoughtful, I turned east and continued. I had a mind for lunch. I remembered getting lunch for Kristin, Matt, and me at an Indian restaurant once. It was... somewhere. Around 2nd street, I think? I headed over to China Town and turned uptown. Mott Street. Bowery Street. Houston Street. I quested back and forth around China Town, Little Italy, and the Lower East Side for an hour or so looking for Little India. I asked for directions, but people didn't know. Until the last. A couple I saw around Houston Street. Excuse me. Are you from around here? Yes. Can I ask you a question? I was here years ago and ate at an Indian restaurant. I thought it was around E2nd street, but I can't find it. Do you know of anything like that? You mean a street with a bunch of Indian restaurants on it? Yes, exactly. Sure. That's on 6th street between 1st and 2nd Avenue. Great! Thank you!

So I was off. With solid information. New Yorkers love their city.

I found Indian Alley and had a great meal of chutney, pickles, basmati rice with shrimp, and Nan bread. Stupendous.

I still wanted to see Rockefeller Center. So I found the nearest subway and hopped on board.

What a nightmare.

The train was packed. I had to assume the sardine stance. It was about six stops to my stop. With each stop I was pushed further into the human packing foam. I reached my exit and wormed my way out.

Rockefeller Center. 30 Rock. Prometheus and his skating rink. The big Christmas tree! What I found myself dumped into was a huge underground fun house. I checked the map to see which train I should take to Grand Central. There really wasn't a good option. Meanwhile, the station was full of noise.

I found a sign directing me to Rockefeller plaza. I followed it into another cavern of confusion. The noise really was disorienting. There was this background din, punctuated by the occasional buffoon laugh or high pitched female voice admonishing something. It was the acoustical equivalent to finger painting. As I pushed through the throngs I found myself getting mildly psychotic.

And I followed another sign into another gallery of stores, restaurants, food courts, and the ever din of humanity. It was starting to get to me. It began to take on that surreal quality of a nightmare. The din punctuated by shouts and barks became carnival in nature.

Another sign. Another door. Another room of sonic sadism. A kaleidoscope and Calliope of sounds from sights. I was in a horror movie where the Ferris wheel and popcorn and balloon bearing public pitch and sway back and forth drunkenly and blur with the colored lights and the dizzying music. With a laughing clown face or a girl on a trapeze bursting in horribly. Bright lights and circus performers grinning from painted faces. And the merry-go-round swirling on and the gaudy mechanical clown playing the ghastly organ. It went around and around. Finally ending with me on the ground looking up at shutter box images and sounds of confusion, light, and madness.

Or maybe the crowd just annoyed me.

I finally found the exit. And there I was. Rockefeller Center. It was mobbed. While trying to get across the street to the Christmas tree, I spotted Radio City Music Hall. I really had been close yesterday morning. I got a glimpse of the tree. And old Prometheus. He looked better than his reputation. And the mobs were still too much, though at least here there was sky overhead. And no clowns.

I walked back to Grand Central Station when I had had enough of Rockefeller's Circus. No more carnival subway stations. The sidewalks down Fifth Avenue were crowded. But I soldiered on. A couple with a baby carriage came my way. The mother dropped a baby bottle right in front of me. I reached down and picked it up. Here you go, I said, giving her the bottle. She said thank you in what I thought was a Southern accent. I hoped that I had given some visitors a good impression of New Yorkers.

Grand Central Station was just a block or two away. Amazingly, the next New Haven train was in fifteen minutes. So of course I headed for the bar. I had a Manhattan, in Manhattan, and chatted with some people from Switzerland before getting on the 4:59 Metro North to New Haven. It was an express train! Small favors.  The doors closed about thirty seconds after I got on.

Altogether a successful trip.

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