Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Other stories from the City that never sleeps

My folks are from NYC. From Queens AAMOF. A whole BUNCH of my family still lives in the area (on Long island), so you'd think I'd be more familiar with "The City" than I am, which is not at all familiar. The whole place is a giant mystery, a glittering ball of possibilities.

Until you get lost in Chinatown, which is about when the shine wears off that ball and you see that it's composed largely of sludge, with a rich garbage-y center. My goodness, the things one can see when one turns the wrong way out of the subway chute. For instance: stores that purvey live seafood, much of which was encased in a thick layer of its own slime, gangs of thugly Asian youth, geriatric Asians a-spitting and hacking up whatever lung they have left (which, incidentally, resemble the slimy seafood more than a little), and lots and lots of bags of garbage what with it being Christmas and all and therefore a day on which the refuse trucks do not run.

Oh, for a familiar touristy face, something that would have made us feel a touch less...obvious. But no, for we were not IN the actual tourist area of Chinatown; oh no. We were in the part of Chinatown that SUPPLIES the touristy part of Chinatown, and thus was a touch more 'realistic' than might otherwise have been the case if we'd turned right instead of left. Lets just say that Hester Street won't be getting a return visit from me anytime soon, for all its authenticity. I am TOURIST, and should stick to those places that are designed for tourists. Bring on the fakery, for I am a fan!

On the bright side, after abandoning Chinatown as a very bad idea indeed, we found a great Indian place three doors down from our hotel, and that was reasonably priced. Saag ghost - yum.

Other things we did on our brief trip Norf:

Got to the Top of the Rock for the 850-foot view of the city. Gorgeous. I could spend all day in a place like that, looking at the city, the people who look at the city, and lounging in the sunny rooms set aside for tired visitors and grandmas. Totally worth the 20 bucks a ticket.

Times Square. This place is a giddy throng, a fantastic and disturbing mad mad crush of nations, a charcoal-scented kebab heaven, a gaudy jewel in the heart of midtown, and an entire vacation on its own. Being as how we were billeted a block away, Times Square was a frequent go-to. Free entertainment!

The Red Flame Diner. Cheap eats, and plenty of them, right next door to our fancy-schmancy $20-for-a-croissant hotel.

Watched the skaters at Rockefeller Center, saw the tree, and had a very good spinach knish from a kosher deli on the ground floor of Rock Center (and at $3.50 a knish, a darned good deal!). Mmm, biting into a steaming-hot knish on the plaza while babbling hordes of touristas surged past is a memory that will stick around, I'm betting.

Went to the Intrepid Air Space Museum too, which just re-opened in November after being shut down for a while for refurbishing. A great place to go get your fill of aircraft carrier info, see a bunch of cool warplanes, get a FANTASTIC view of the river, and be darned glad you didn't have to serve on one of those floating cities during wartime. Cozy, it ain't.

St Andrew's Scottish pub, or, as our bellman called it - 'church.' Awesome burgers, wonderful steak, employees in kilts, and a Canadian woman who was drinking alone at the bar (on Christmas Eve! How sad! Let's talk with her! Mistake!) who has the dubious honor of adding "Yah, no, I know" to the catchphrases at the Tiny House. If I say that it soon became clear why she was drinking alone on Christmas Eve, would that sound horrible? Yah, no, I know. She did buy us a Glenfiddich after much admonishments that we NEEDED to try it (and really, who can resist a head-nodding slighty lonely and GENEROUS Canadian woman?), so hey, it's all good.

The lobby of the Algonquin, our home base for the trip. On Christmas Eve, a white-haired bearded gentleman was invited to play the piano by a well-dressed fellow who I'm sure I should 'know' who then proceeded to sing bits and pieces of standard Christmas tunes. The piano player was wonderful, the singer may have been experiencing some holiday cheer-induced memory lapses, but no matter. The 20 minutes of spontaneous atmosphere more than made up for continuity issues. Also at the hotel we were fortunate enough to be party to the final day of Mike Lyons, a bellman who has been there for 47 years. That, my friends, is a long, LONG time to be at one job. Kind of cool to be present for what was, for him, a momentous day.

We didn't see any shows, but we walked past a gutload of theaters, being as how we were right near BROADWAY and all. Could have seen Harry Potter naked, but passed. Could have seen the Phantom, or Spamalot, or the Radio City show, but passed as well. Next time, I'm sure.

And yes, we went to Central Park. On Christmas day. It was lovely, and crowded. We only walked a minor portion of the park before settling in for a good bask on the rocks by the skating rink. Right there by the dairy, and the zoo, and the Game House. You know what I'm talking about, don't you? If not, you should go. I'll bet it's great, no matter when you go.

Oh, and one more thing - if you should ever EVER be tempted to go to the Plaza Hotel (right across the street from where all the horse carriages are parked at Central Park South), do NOT order double bourbons, for they will set you back a mean fee. I would stick to tap water and a good gawk, unless you have money to burn. Lesson learned, kiddies. It's a gorgeous place, chock FULL of class, but you will PAY FOR THAT CLASS. One nice thing - the waiter allowed up to sit at a table, even though we weren't getting any food. Shit - for 40 bucks a DRINK, I should hope so.

So, yes, we did a lot of stuff, saw a lot of things, and got well tired out from all the walking. It was grand. At least now I think I could navigate a small chuck of midtown without having a map, and that makes me feel a little more at home in the city that truly never does sleep. Should you actually TRY to sleep, be aware that car alarms, police sirens, and the occasional PILE DRIVER will wake you right back up again.

Ah, New York. See you again soon, I hope. Though next time I'm going into La Guardia, and taking a taxi to midtown instead of the van shuttle. That alone would have saved 90 minutes on the front end, and that's just getting off the airport grounds!

And now you're all caught up. Have a wonderful day.

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