Arrived in New York City at La Guardia airport after a fairly uneventful flight (Thursday February 13, 2003). The actual airplane may not have been full but I was, with expectation and excitement at setting foot in what has been called the greatest city in the world. Not being sure exactly what to expect, I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t have much trouble adjusting being the big city boy that I am.
Stepping into La Guardia was one of the underwhelming experiences of my life. Somehow I had expected some sort of grandeur to greet me and was surprised to find the most interesting thing about the joint was the boxes of Statue of Liberty shaped chocolates for sale. Come to think of it, I may be giving things an unfair shake here. I’ve never been in an airport that particularly took my breath away. Onward!
We shared a stretch limo ride with a couple of businessmen through the borough of Queens. Queens was interesting only because it’s not Mississauga. I hunkered down and waited for the city proper to arrive in my sightline. Soon the streets got busier, the buildings got taller and the hotel beckoned. The second small fright was upon me, the swellegant Hotel Michelangelo had scaffolding around it. Unimpressed but undaunted, we entered the hotel. The lobby was a sight for sore eyes. The type of elegance I had been waiting for. From the chandeliers to the marble to the grand piano, I was home (away from home).
The room itself was great (more on that later) and after exploring it briefly, it was time to set foot into the city, get some grub and orient ourselves. We had several things to do that day and my great concern was locating the theatres that all of New York was expecting us at that afternoon and evening. On the slate was getting to the Ed Sullivan Theatre to pick up tickets and line up for Late Show with David Letterman taping and then to locate the Ethel Barrymore theatre so we weren’t thought déclassé latecomers for Nora Ephron's Imaginary Friends.
Problem solved, the theatres were about a 10 minute walk apart. In fact everything in the theatre district was accessible with a simple quick jaunt, the quickness of the jaunt being mandatory noting the freezing temperatures. A note on pedestrian travel in large cities: I can simply navigate the haphazard streets of Rome with little or no difficulty but I cannot follow a simple numbered grid like the one that informs New York City! Thankfully, trusty navigator John showed off his unerring knowledge of consecutive numbers and order was restored.
For lunch we popped into a quaint little bistro on 43rd Street. For some reason or other it was called Bistro 43. Lovely little tables, cool furniture and barely full, we enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine, some delicious crab cakes, had a smoke and coffee at the bar and then off we were, $86 (American) lighter in the wallet. Note to self: Add up strange little numbers on menu before ordering.
At this point I must say that I’ve always fancied myself a big city boy and living in Toronto, I figured that NYC would be a piece of cake. Wrong. I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the buildings, the crowds on the streets, the noise level, the traffic, everything seemed amplified and heightened. I didn’t feel unsafe or anything, just smaller than usual. This all passed within a day and from then on, I was simply meant for New York.
Back to the warmth of the hotel to thaw for a short while and it was time to head off to the Ed Sullivan Theatre for the David Letterman show taping. That was a process in itself, with a huge queue to get the tickets. Working the crowd were a dozen or two Letterman minions in Late Show jackets. A bit of ‘where you from’ and ‘do you watch the show often’ quickly led into exclamations of what a great show it would be and how we should all revere Dave and make sure to be up and positive for him. I was too frozen to commit myself to idolatry at this point but was excited nonetheless. After getting the tickets, we were allowed to line up inside the Roseland Ballroom on the next street over as it was too cold to leave us outside. It was a kick to be there (even if we were herded like cattle) knowing that one of my favourite bands Portishead had filmed a live concert inside a couple of years earlier. Of course I own this concert on DVD.
Talked to a couple from Colorado while waiting and they apologized for all the American TV they foist upon us gentle Canadians. Apology accepted. One last call to arms by what I suppose was the head minion/booster guy for the show. This little pep rally was all about how we were all to laugh loud and hard no matter what. If Dave said something that we weren’t sure was funny, it was probably funny and we should laugh. At this point, I felt like perhaps I was being indoctrinated. Wasn’t the whole point supposed to be that Dave says something and I decide if it’s funny and then laugh or not? Marching into the show amid clapping and shouting by the evil Letterkids, we found that the Ed Sullivan Theatre which looks pretty big on television, seats including the balcony, 500 people. I thought we’d have to sit on Dave’s lap and tell him what we wanted for Christmas, we were that close even 8 rows from the stage.
After band introductions and a few musical numbers, Dave came out and said a few words and then we were all set. The big guest for the evening was Kurt Russell. Quick – name your favourite Kurt Russell movie. Thought so. Also on were ‘Kid Scientists’ and that was cute but not an A list celebrity among them. Homer Simpson did the Top Ten list via monitor and Dave screwed that up and they had to restart but otherwise, the show went off like clockwork. Ok, like a clock that reads an hour like sixty-five minutes. I’m not mentioning the fact that the night’s previous show had Queen Latifah and Lou Reed on. Whatever.
Scurried back to the warmth and luxury of the hotel to get dressed for dinner. Had a couple of lovely phone messages from Tanya and from Cathy wishing me well in the Big Apple. Ate at the Roxy Deli in Times Square and had breakfast for dinner, the deli being like The Pickle Barrel is here and although good, there was way too much food.
Then we headed for the Ethel Barrymore Theatre to see Imaginary Friends starring Swoozie Kurtz and Cherry Jones. Billed as a play with music, it was very funny, interesting and very well done. It was written by Nora Ephron and dealt with the tumultuous and litigious relationship between authors Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellmann. Sitting behind us was Jane Krakowski, ‘Elaine’ from Ally McBeal and I stared at her just long enough to make her uncomfortable and then concentrated on the rest of the diverse New York crowd. Back to the hotel, a little HBO and settled in for a great night’s sleep.
Up at 7 a.m. on Friday for a little Italian style Buondi breakfast in the lounge of the hotel. To me, it’s not breakfast without bacon and eggs so this particular meal doesn’t count. The hotel room by the way, was lovely and comfortable. The bathtub was fantastically deep and came complete with an overhead heating light which made me feel a little like a human Big Mac but so what, I needed that extra warmth. The light opera emanating from the little CD stereo in the room made it a rather lovely bath. The only thing I wanted to consistently laugh at was the long winding walk down the corridors to the room. If I’d had a Big Wheel, it would have been like a scene from The Shining…..redrum, redrum.
Walked a LOT during the day. Hit Rockefeller Plaza where the NBC studios are and watched one or two brave and nearly frozen people skate on the rink. Strolled along Park Avenue and took in some of the sights and shops. Managed to hit FAO Schwarz, Barney’s and Bloomingdales for some light and pricey shopping and went in and had coffee and a snack at the Trump Towers (not as pricey as we’d expected). On to Central Park which was beautiful though near deserted and covered in a light dusting of snow. Saw some happy couples in handsome cabs touring the park and went through the little zoo area. Must be a wonder in warmer weather.
For lunch we went to Basil’s Trattoria at Lexington and 57th and had some lovely Italian food. Good atmosphere, busy and elegant but not fussy. More walking took us through Times Square and Broadway. Times Square is showier than Las Vegas in my opinion and a wonder of advertising and unabashed consumerism. This ain’t your father’s Times Square -- you know how many blocks you have to walk now to find a hooker?
Took a few photos, saw Letterman regular ‘Rupert G’ walking by the Ed Sullivan theatre and stopped at a coffee shop for some more fuel. They had ‘black and white’ cookies, remember those from Seinfeld?
La Boheme at the Broadway Theatre – dazzling and outrageously enjoyable. Baz Luhrmann outdid himself with this productioni. The sets and lighting were magic in motion and the performers wonderful. When it finished, a wash of applause flooded the theatre. Sat next to a couple of thirty something but already eccentric New Yorkers and laughed to ourselves at them. The only celebrity spotting here was of Margaret Colin. I seem to be the only one who knows who she is in my tiny circle of life. Look her up yourself. She looked great.
Had dinner at the Southside Grill which was a little restaurant down some stairs and out of the way and the food and wine was very nice. We decided that we needed to see another show and ordered tickets for Cabaret the following night.
Saturday was another walking day. The anti-war protest was being held at the UN and everywhere we went we saw placard carrying peace hopefuls on their way. Walked to Grand Central Station which was big and reminded me of our own Union Station, to Macy’s for some shopping, to the Empire State Building after finding that the beautiful Chrysler Building was not indeed the Empire State Building and then had lunch at Harrie’s Café & Bar. Real breakfast – delicious.
In the afternoon we decided to head for Ground Zero and took a subway ride to get there. That was a bit confusing with all the train switching that you need to do to basically go in a straight line. Take the Q to the W to the N or the R and so on. The subway ride there was uneventful and the trains were cleaner than I thought and not as graffiti filled as you see on television but the stations were dark and a little uncaring.
It was strange to see the massive area where the World Trade Centre stood as now it basically looks like a huge construction site. People were hawking photographs and memorabilia all around it. Land of the free, home of the quick buck.
It was a bit emotional seeing a plaque of September 11, 2001 heroes posted there. Went over to the big financial building to get another view and walked along the river and spotted the Statue of Liberty.
On the ride back, a group of young people serenaded the whole car with a rousing patriotic ditty in wonderful harmony – they were in town for a music conference.
Off to see Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser) in Cabaret at Studio 54. If only those hallowed halls could talk – maybe they could explain the faint musty smell? What is that smell? Liza? Maggie T.? It ain’t teen spirit, I can tell ya that.
The theatre inside was set up like duh, a cabaret with small round tables all round the stage with lamps on them and food and drink was being served. Very cool and the Cabaret girls warmed up on stage before the formal show began taunting and teasing patrons seated close to the stage. As there was no curtain, it was pretty informal with cast members just sort of coming on and off stage until the gradually building rim shot of a snare drum signaled that things were about to begin.
Who the hell knew that Doogie Howser could pull off with great aplomb the role of the Emcee?! Now I know. Would love to see the show again. A much grittier and more dramatically impactful production than the movie was. The ending left everyone stunned with its horrible tableau. A moment of silence while everyone gathered their wits about them and then thunderous applause.
Following that, we whipped to a nearby restaurant, The Iguana, for Mexican food. A bit noisy but delicious food. From there back to the hotel for some rest. Very strange watching Saturday Night Live knowing that it was taping a very short distance away. Yawn, zzzzzzz.
On Sunday, we braved the unrelenting cold and found the Dean & Deluca coffee shop and had some warmth in the good coffee and some nice muffins. Did some walking and window shopping and bought some souvenirs at the NBC Experience Store. Sob, sniff, and gulp, back to the hotel for some packing and a cab to the airport waving goodbye to lovely New York City.
No coats or shoes allowed through the security machine at LaGuardia which seemed to have no heat, it was probably as cold inside as out. Sat in a little typical bar / restaurant in the airport so we could smoke and grabbed a hamburger. Airport food? I know, I know….but probably the best damned hamburger I’ve had in 10 years.
Up in the air. Homeward bound. New York, I’ll miss you but I’ll be back! Down to the ground and back to the welcoming arms of sleepy little Toronto (and out of the path of a snowstorm that shut down New York and had people cross country skiing through Times Square where only hours earlier we’d basked in the warmth of the millions of lights) (of crass commercialism) (but they’re still spectacular).