July 13, 2009
New York, Day One
After a lot of instructions and prep-work and battening and making of contingency plans for Nani and Babu and ZP and AP, TP and I caught Amtrak’s Northeast Regional non-stop (except for the eight stops along the way) to New York. We managed to find two seats together in the Quiet Car where, despite the draconian rules, we used the cell phone and carried on extended conversations. It was so nice not to have to go through ultra unnecessary security, limit the amount of snacks (liquid or otherwise) on board, or have to cram your body and legs into a narrow seat in order to avoid getting brained by a metal cart. Train travel is the way to go.
We arrived at Penn Station and because it was an amazingly pleasant, incredibly sunny but not humid, “are you sure this is July?” day, decided to hoof it to our hotel. I admit, we did the typical gawking tourist thing when we caught sight of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the famous-named streets. How can you not? We kicked off our culinary trek through the city by grabbing lunch at Nirvana which was pricey (at least to our country bumpkin eyes) but worth it as TP tucked into TWO helpings at the buffet and I devoured the Murg Khaliyan — Chicken chunks in cilantro and mint flavored yogurt marinade. Despite arriving ten minutes before closing time, we were seated, given fresh and hot food, and did not get any stink eyes from the staff when I ordered from the menu instead of digging through the buffet. Grade: A.
We checked into our hotel, consulted the map, conferred with some friends, and went right back out into the sunshiney day. We stopped at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (“hmph, we have a cathedral too!”), Central Park (“hmph, we have a zoological park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted too!”), and the Museum of Modern Art which, as we gleefully discovered, waives its $20 fee on Fridays after 5 p.m. (“hmph, we have free museums too!”). We left the REAL touristy tourists behind and took the metro … er … subway to the Meatpacking District in the West Village (capital “V”) to meet up with TP’s high school friend Dullard. I had my one celebrity sighting (“TP! It’s Debbie Downer!”) and was pleased. We walked down to Los Dados and after seeing the crowd, decided to order something from the takeout-only taquería, foolishly thinking we’d get faster service. Tacos, sweet corn tamale, and tamarind juice were lazily prepared, fussed over, and finally delivered. Infuriatingly slow service (I can’t imagine what the wait time for sit-down service would be) but decent food. Grade: B.
As the sun started setting, we found three empty seats overlooking the Hudson River and ate our dinner on the High Line, a former elevated freight railroad that has been rescued from demolition and redeveloped into a promenade plantée (fancy word for the elevated park). It was lovely to be able to put our feet up for a while and just absorb the view, the breeze, and the quiet. After a leisurely stroll up and down the railroad tracks and amiable conversation, we made plans for the next day, took the subway back, and returned to the hotel. Around 11ish, we were feeling peckish and decided to take advantage of the much touted convenience of being able to dash outside and grabbing something to eat from a local street cart. I washed up, put on my PJs, and got comfortable with the puffy pillows, cozy blankets, and remote control while TP ran out to get some juicy and tasty gyros and piping hot and crisp french fries. Grade: A. For both the food and the delivery man.
So, there’s Day One, folks. Pix and the rest of the trip coming soon.
New York, Day Two
“Keep your eyes closed.”
“Don’t raise your head to look at the clock.”
“Stay in bed.”
“Imagine you are floating and drifting and being super puffy like a cloud.”
“Stop twisting and turning and being restless and just relax.”
DAMNATION! 6:00 a.m. on the dot. Despite my every attempt to take advantage of the opportunity to sleep late, my brain refuses to let me sink back into sleep and propels me out of bed and into the shower so I can plot out the day: Meet the gang for brunch; split up and spend time with our respective peeps; reconvene somewhere for dinner. Since this is partially TP’s birthday present/getaway, I let him sleep in since he seems to have no trouble doing so. I quietly get dressed, whisper a request for his coffee order, and let myself out. I scope the area for some non-chain cafe but end up at Starbucks nonetheless. After correcting the barrista’s mistake in the order (unadulterated coffee is horrid unless one is in Italy/France/Spain where they know how to do it right), I snag a New York Times for TP and head back up to our room.
As I exit the elevator on the 19th floor, I hear the sound of running water. “Hmm,” I think to myself, “I don’t remember there being a sink or water fountain near the elevators . . . ” I turn around to locate the source of the sound and before I can blind myself by throwing the hot coffee in my face . . .
*parental advisory: the following contains explicit language, partial nudity, and vomitriousness*
I see a disheveled, swarthy man with one hand steadying himself against the wall and the other hand directing a full-on stream of piss right onto the carpet. No lie. He was drunk or completely brain-addled but either way, he didn’t even register my presence and blithely emptied his bladder directly in front of the emergency exit door. I beat a hasty retreat back to the room, picked up the phone, and called . . . who? Security? No listing. Maintenance? Um. Concierge? Why not; they are supposed to attend to all situations, right? I reported the atrocity and got a mild, “*sigh* oh boy, we’ll send someone up right away” in response. I’m not sure if this kind of thing happens all the time, but I’m loathe to find out. Whether it was my outrage or the smell of coffee, TP finally got out of bed and shared his usual “what do you expect? the whole world is full of horrible people” reaction.
Even though we have plans for brunch, TP wants to fill his stomach with some food before he boards the subway. We all remember what happens when TP mixes caffeine with nothing and then takes public transportation. We shudder, shriek, and shiver at the prices listed at several nearby eateries before ending up at a deli across the street. They, too, get the order wrong but the food is edible if not forgettable and we shuffle our way over the metro according to schedule. Or so we thought. While we watch one train after another whiz by, it becomes very apparent to me that OUR train, the V train, is glaringly absent. Upon closer inspection of a tiny, weathered notice posted on a column halfway down the platform, I see that the V line likes to take weekends off. Thanks, NYC Transit. Thanks a lot.
Doing some mental gymnastics to figure out the next best alternative, TP and I race back to the main entrance, get a sketchy signal on our cell phones to let our three buddies (who don’t really know each other but hopefully will enjoy each other’s company until we arrive) know that we are running late, and reroute ourselves to take the first 4, 5, or 6 line that comes our way. We finally emerge in the Lower East Side, and sweaty and mighty late, we find our gang seated together at Supper. After some perfunctory greetings and small-talk, TP and Dullard take off to check out Dullard’s new house in Brooklyn (sell out!) while HA and Gojira and I settle in for a nice, leisurely brunch. HA’s Organic Pancakes with fresh fruit looked healthy and tasty, the bite of parmigiano and fennel I swiped from Gojira’s Grilled Polenta and Poached Eggs was delightful, and my Spinach and Goat Cheese Omelet was perfect. Grade: A.
HA had to “dip” into work, so Gojira and I spend the rest of the afternoon hoofing it around the area. We, too, dip into here and there: the tight housewares shop, the overwhelming candy shop, a tiny apartment moving sale. I refuel with a Lemon Yummy cupcake from the Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery. Despite the numerous flies buzzing around, Grade: A.
I stop in for a visit with Gojira’s roommate Dr. Clothilde who is absolutely charming and gives me a warm reception. To soak in some more of the unusually gorgeous weather, we stroll outside. We walk through hustling, bustling, stinky, dizzying Chinatown which makes D.C.’s version look like a crummy and immature diorama, parts of Little Italy, and Soho. TP rejoins us for a quick-that-turned-long visit to Pearl River (or Pearl Harbor) Mart where we pick up a few “thank you for watching our kids, for helping out, for everything that you do for us” prezzies for the family. Indulging my desire to check out the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, we find the tiny and slightly pathetic museum, get turned off by the clerk’s sycophantic glomming onto TP (ignoring us girls … which, actually, was a good thing) and forcefully relating the suggested donation of five bucks each, and high-tail it out of there. To reward ourselves for our quick getaway, we stop at the kiosky Il Laboratorio del Gelato for a scoop of dark chocolate and toasted sesame gelato for me (Grade: GOOD GOD) and a scoop of dark chocolate with amaretto for TP (Grade: why must you put that topping on when you KNOW that anything almond-flavored except actual almonds makes me want to vomit through my nose?).
Gojira, back in her no-nonsense, “it’s called a New York minute for a reason” milieu, instantly hails a cab for TP so he can meet up with some more buddies. Unprepared, TP ends up tossing the rest of the gelato away which, in other circumstances, would be an indefensible crime, but in this instance, with the amaretto poisoning, was acceptable. I give a brief eugoogooly for the dark chocolate melting in the trash and drown my sorrows in a cappuccino at the shabby chic Cake Shop. Gojira and I spend our valuable, limited time together discussing family, food, and inane subjects [Gojira, what on earth did we talk about?! The only thing that I really remember was the story about your grandmother lamenting the fact that NYC still hasn’t rebuilt what was left of the two houses].
We finally decide to give our tired feet some rest back at Gojira’s apartment. Our dogs were barkin’! Mine from having the insoles of my shoes fall apart and torn out earlier and hers from having fallen down and busticating herself while in France. We chill out and spend the rest of the evening listening to the mix CD I made for her, taking turns keeping Dr. Clo company while she dines, and making plans for dinner. Other than speaking in foreign accents, reciting quotes or recommending books/movies/shows to each other, jeering and sneering at others and agreeing that we are the best and everyone else is the worst, most of our time spent together has always been and will always be about making plans for our next meal. TP joins us at last and we order some sushi from Ogawa Cafe. Quick delivery, buttery soft sushi, and proper bite-sized rolls. Grade: Eyes rolling into the back of our heads delicious.
Exhausted, TP and I take our leave from the jet-lagged but seemingly tireless Gojira and sit around waiting for our F line to show up and take us to Rockefeller Center. Several trains later, I point out that, yet again, our sleep-deprived noggins were empty and that the F line was actually one level lower than the platform upon which we had been semi-passed out. We catch the next car which has an unusual amount of piratey commuters on it and come out at network studio heaven. Even though we spent the majority of the day walking around, the stroll back to the hotel is a lovely one and we make it back just as the first drops of rain began to fall. A quick recon by TP to ensure nothing inappropriate was happening outside of the elevators and we are finally back in our room to wash up, eat the rest of the leftover gyro in the fridge, and call it a night.
New York, Day Three
For those throngs of you who wanted to know how the cliff-hangery ending of our trip actually concluded, let me recap with:
(a) after hoofing it with our luggage from our hotel at Lexington Avenue at 49th Street to the High-line Cafe, we found the staff to be top notch, the decor cute, but the food crap (although Gojira was quite content with our crap scraps);
(b) the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater is extraordinarily tiny compared to my conception of it (the exterior is, at least);
(c) the Empire Diner satiated my need for a decent cup of coffee (fancy cappuccino, actually); and
(d) despite their strong encouragement to order a plain cheese pizza, I was pleased with the mushroom and onion slice I got from NY Pizza Suprema (right across the street from Penn Station) … even if my fellow Amtrak commuters were not.
The mini-vacation was great and we returned to great fanfare and enthusiasm when we got home (diaper needed changing! fish bowl needed cleaning! someone needs a nap!).