I spent spring break in New York City this year. I had not been to the BIg Apple since 2004 and in terms of relative time, that was really another lifetime that barely seems like it was my own. That was before I really got in touch with my love of cities… at that point I sort of knew I loved cities but… being stuck in Reno one can’t really focus on what one loves, one must focus on more basic things like not killing yourself or random people around you. Why New York? Well, I have been dying to take a trip for more than a year, and it turned out that a dear friend of mine had Jedi mind tricked her employers (located in Madrid) to not only facilitate, but fund her wish to work from Manhattan for three months. [If you would like to schedule an appointment with her for some handy tips on how to make your employers do insanely rad things for you without having to sell your soul, just let me know, I will see what I can do.] Further, it seemed like it was one of possibly two times of year that I might be able to tolerate the climate. And I was going to get a chance to see Fun Bobby for this first time since I left Hong Kong, which frankly, has been an unacceptable situation. So, it seemed like kind of the right time to go. Plus, I was thinking it was gonna be all like this. I gotta be honest though, it started out a whole lot more like this though. And really when one is on vacation, ain’t nobody got time for that. New York is supposed to be so very, you know. I’ve come to my own conclusions, but we will get to those presently. Suffice it to say that New York is (as Jerry Garcia said long ago about The Grateful Dead), like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice, REALLY like licorice.
Anyhow, here it is. New York City Chapter One: In which we determine that everyone really does want to be in the cast of Girls, the East Village has a sidewalk cafe that smells like ass, as well as another one that serves tequila slushees, and Gangstagrass might actually be a thing.
It started this way. A morning flight to O’Hare. Crowded. Middle seat. The best part about this middle seat? I was between two people who were traveling together but hated the middle seat so much they booked the window and the aisle on a sold out flight. I understand hating the middle seat thing, but seriously? These two talked over me for four and a half hours. That takes true dedication and stamina. Who does that?
Then I landed in Chicago. (Previous question answered.) I had some nostalgia as I thought back to my last trip to Chicago wherein there was Lollapalooza and Alinea and museums and such. Mostly I love Chicago because there is no where on earth I have visited where I feel so tall and thin as I do when I am in Chicago. It is like an instant ego boost. Therefore, I do like the Midwest. But – on to the next one, please.
Seeing a friend you haven’t seen in nearly four years is pretty amazing. In every sense of the word. If it is true that the measure of a (hu)man is in their friends, it appears I am awesome. And I am grateful for this. Arriving was simultaneously exciting and expected, which is cool. There was much catching up to do and Brooklyn Lager to drink and take out to order. It was past midnight my time, but hey – there are better times to sleep. And however it happened, I woke up the next morning ready to go. Who knew I still had it in me?
It was sunny and clear and R’s apartment, directly adjacent to the Manhattan School of Music was deceptively cozy. It was cold outside. Really. Cold. I think one of my issues with New York has to do with the cold and the dilemma of outerwear.* One must have a plethora of coats and jackets to get by out there and for travel this is mightily inconvenient. Having brought my warmest coat that does not belong on a ski mountain was smart, but totally limiting. I mean a full length cashmere and wool coat *only* looks good at night. Any other time it looks totally stupid. But since all domestic airlines charge for luggage now (except my favorite… you know who you are Southwest!) it is neither feasible, nor economical for the solo traveler to bring the requisite “plethora of outerwear.” Sigh.
With a series of not entirely ideal layers we headed out. It was fun to see the city and get a sense of the neighborhoods. From Morningside Heights down through the Upper West, through Lincoln Square to the Theater District where I could take the awkward tourist photos and later forward them to my non-tourist Brit. Through Midtown to the East Village… I figure we logged ten miles or so. I have been hearing all about how Brooklyn is the hipster paradise, but was overwhelmed by odd facial hair, late-90s fashion choices with a splash of American Apparel for that contemporary edge and muchos fixies. (R calls them onesies which really makes me laugh because I just picture the hipsters riding around in rompers with attached feet… but then I had to stop laughing as it dawned on me that with little encouragement that could really be a thing and then I would be sorry to have ever conjured the thought.) There was much to see and admittedly it was quintessentially “New York”. And even a San Francisco kid can appreciate that. I didn’t see many of the hawkers selling the fake bags and such out on this day [Prada? Gucci? Louis? What you want? You tell me, I put on the label…] though I did see my pashmina men, and since I can no longer hustle down to the lanes in Hong Kong, and my cat eats textiles, I was in need. “How many do I buy to get some for free?” (The answer is ten, btw.) As R noted, apparently you can take the girl out of HK…. Hey, he understood, and I got something free, even though I couldn’t find eleven colors I liked, R picked out a leopard print and we were good to go. We were all happy.
Looking around lots of things kept coming into my mind. I thought about the Maurice Sendak/Carole King Really Rosie collaboration a lot. Rosie always seemed so cool in her eight year old New York way, and she was really Rosie, but I am pretty sure she was from way don in Brooklyn and I had yet to check that out. Still… I thought about movies like… well none really in particular, it is just that a lot of New York feels like a movie set. I thought about how lame I find the today show as I looked at all the people mooning outside their windows. Is that show even on on Saturday? I thought about how Matt Lauer has fallen from grace. I didn’t really care that much about it though, because I was getting hungry. So much so that I missed my chance to see ScarJo walking by. And some other guy who is famous apparently, but I still don’t know who he is. Fortunately, as in the city where I live, the biggest issue when one gets hungry in NYC is choosing where to eat.*
For a minute it got warm enough to unlayer and so we celebrated with champagne cocktails. It seemed like the right thing to do. This was my first experience of shockingly bad table service in NYC (and also my first table service.) Granted, I can appreciate that I am approaching middle age, and this fact may be exacerbated when I hang around with my “younger” friends, which R certainly is, so I may not look as cool as the other customers, but logic seems like it would dictate that older people have more money for say, tips. Regardless, this waiter was either suffering from some sort of facial palsy, wearing a dirty diaper, or just really that sour. He even made us switch tables. Saved money on the tip in the end. (Tipping was a fairly constant topic of conversation on this trip though as the Brits are definitely not on board with tipping the way that we are, and they believe we are “ruining it for the rest of the people” with our tipping practices. I am still thinking about this.)
After this interlude, we headed further into the East Village because we were after tickets for a show at the Mercury Lounge that evening. This fairly lengthy hike warranted another reward and so we had pink lemonade margaritas at another sidewalk cafe. They were slushees with booze. We also ordered nachos, which was a mistake, particularly for a girl from the Mission. Regardless, R, it turns out, has a little love for bluegrass, and in her search for some local bluegrass, she came across Gangstagrass. Yes, they are a thing. Had either of us ever watched the show Justified, we would have been apprised of this band, but we had not. And since they were playing in town we had decided to go. In our effort to purchase the tickets (it did not work – the girl at the booth was locked out of the computer) R saw that another band, The Stone Foxes was playing later in the week. Should we get tickets? She thought she liked them, she had them on her iTunes… We got those tickets with instructions to get the Gangstagrass ones prior to the show at the door. Interestingly, the band on her iTunes turned out to be the Fleet Foxes, but no bother.
Tickets in hand, we opted to cab it back up town, to get ready to come back downtown… It was a treat to be back in a city wherein the biggest issue in getting a cab is that they nearly crash trying to simultaneously get your fare.
We turned it around in record time and headed to the show. The opening band was Kamara Thomas and the Ghost Gamblers. Her eye make up was troubling, but it turned out to be more troubling for her than us as she accidentally smudged it pretty bad and none of her peeps told her about it. That should be in the band code: tell your frontman when they smudge their Robin-styled eyemask make-up. At least, if I were in a band I would make that a rule. Then came Gangstagrass. And I gotta say, totally not disappointing. I might even watch Justified now.
One day, nine or so neighborhoods, eleven pashminas, three bars, two wanky servers, myriad hipsters, three outfits, one train, two cabs, bad eye make-up, fusion music, late night pizza; all in a city that is not my own.
And that made all the difference.
*First world problems.