Friday, December 21, 2007

We Heart NY

Wow, it's been a long time since I've put anything up here. It's odd, with our new partner I have more time off, but the time off I have is so completely spoken-for in terms of pent-up travel plans that I find less and less time to blog during the workday.

Well, that and Call of Duty 4 for the Xbox 360. Pure videogame heroin, at least for me.

In any event, the Wife and I did take a trip to New York City the first weekend of October. We were looking for a reason to go and lo and behold, a superb reason presented itself in the form of Amy Blankenship (whom we did not previously know) answering the prayers of Scott Sewell (whom we do know, though this is an old resume) and agreeing to become his wife on October 6, 2007. Our trip to NYC to attend the ceremony was fortuitous shrapnel from that particular prayer hitting the target.

Tex(ans) And The City
On Wednesday October 3rd we loaded up the car and headed out to Gregg County Airport for the puddle-jumper to DFW, then flew into LaGuardia.

I'll be honest, I'd been to NYC three times, the last in 1990, and the NYC I remembered was noisy and vaguely dangerous. I'd been wanting to go since September 11, as that particular day will probably be the most important non-family day of my life. Let's be serious, anything more frame-of-reference disrupting than that may not be survivable. That, and New York does not have a reputation as the friendliest or nicest place to visit, "rude" is the common description.

This trip definitely dispelled every negative connotation NYC may have held for me in the past. The trip from the airport (LaGuardia is old, but decent and easy to navigate), the hotel staff at the Marriott Marquis, all the people we dealt with were universally pleasant and helpful. The only minor quibble was with the staff at a Europa Cafe at the south end of Times Square, but it was our fault for not understanding the system there. Order your food, then pay. You don't order at the cash register. It's like Jason's Deli for you Texans, only it's not laid out so that you have to order before you get to the cash register. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip around NYC.

The absolute best thing we did was to see Scott and meet Amy literally straight from the plane at Scott's apartment in Lower Manhattan. He's had a peripatetic career, from Kenya to Alaska to New York City, and is now on an extended deployment helping a company operating very exclusive health clubs implement a CRM (Customer Relations Management) system. Many Seinfeld memories floated up as we pulled up in a taxi in front of an apartment building and went to Scott's apartment, where we were met by Amy and headed off to dinner at Tribeca Grill.

Tribeca Grill was the site of one of Scott & Amy's first dates, and their experience was so good there that Scott wrote a letter to the manager. Apparently Scott can write a pretty complimentary letter, because they recognized his name, the manager came out after we were seated and thanked Scott personally and the service and food were excellent. The chef even sent out extra things for us to try -- an entree here, an extra dessert there. As good as the food was, it was better to be spending a pleasant evening outdoors in an unusually temperate New York City with people you like and admire, like Scott & Amy.

From the Tribeca we walked a few blocks down to the World Financial Center and Ground Zero. WTC 7 has already been rebuilt, and there's a lot of construction going on at the tower site. You can't really see much, the site has been cleared for years and the "bathtub" that WTC 1 and 2 were in is well below ground level. From there we walked to Wall Street, saw the outside of the trading floor and the sculpture of the Bull. Apparently there is a part of the Bull's anatomy that you're supposed to get your picture taken holding, we passed on that opportunity. That part is highly polished, though, so we appear to have been the exceptions.

We walked down to Battery Park and looked across the water to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, then took a subway back to the station closest to Scott's apartment. Marci saw one rat in Battery Park that she swears was the size of a small dog, but I missed it. I may have thought it was a small dog. The subway was interesting. It was so humid underground that the effects on Marci's hair were immediate, and not to be photographed.

When we finally made it back to the Marriott Marquis a little after midnight, we realized why blackout curtains in hotels are sometimes not an option. Our room fronted on Times Square at about the 30th floor, and it was daylight-bright from all the video billboards and lighted signs. Times Square really has to be seen in person, we've all "been there" in movies and TV but seeing it close up it's a monument the Egyptians would be proud of.

Lullaby of Broadway

We did a lot in our three days. With a homebase in Midtown, we saw Curtains Thursday night (excellent, excellent, excellent) and Spamalot on Friday. Curtains was the original cast, and we had third-row aisle seats, probably the best seats I've had to anything but one ACU Homecoming Musical. Spamalot has lost its entire original cast (the original Lady of the Lake is now Callie on Grey's Anatomy), and having heard the Original Cast Recording (as my iPod cryptically refers to it) numerous times, the singing was better by the original cast. Still great to see live-action Monty Python sketches, it was very entertaining but maybe a notch behind Curtains, if for no other reason than that I had very high expectations that probably could not be met.

We also saw Legally Blonde, on Saturday, in a fit of desperation. I'm sure Laura Bell Bundy, the pride of Lexington, Kentucky is a phenominally talented person, everyone in the show could sing and dance like nobody's business, but the show itself was a dreadful bore. I literally could not believe all the songs written about nothing, that seemed to go on forever. With intermission it was, IIRC, over three hours, which was about 150 minutes too long. I'm not sure what I should have expected in terms of a musical made from a marginal movie. The source material doesn't compare, at least alongside Les Miserables and the genius of Monty Python.

If you're in New York, skip Legally Blonde. Please. I wish I had.

I join my fictional French forbearers in taunting Legally Blonde.

A Day At The Museum(s)

We managed to pack in the Guggenheim and the American Museum of Natural History. We had to go to the Guggenheim because I'm a big Frank Lloyd Wright fan and our architect friend John Breidenbach explained how the museum is designed to work: you take the elevator to the top, and then walk down to the ground in a gently descending spiral.

Like most Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in non-desert environments the Guggenheim is getting oft-needed repair, they're gorgeous buildings that look great on paper, only to encounter functional issues in real life. I think he jumped the shark at the Prairie School, but that's just me. I'm an Arts & Crafts fan.

The AMNH was far, far to large to see in the short time we had available. There is more antiquity in that one place than I have seen in all the other museums I've been to, and it makes me wish I had a better background in art appreciation. The arms and armor section was interesting, most of the impressive collection of Samurai armor there would be snug on our son, who is nine years old. Even the European armor, sllegedly for the better-fed nobility, was tiny. Something tells me that a Middle Ages war would look like Battle of the Hobbits.

Me taunting the armor of my actual French forbearers.

Hudson Hawk
We took a "half-circle" boat ride around New York Harbor. I would have been happy to go to the Intrepid Air & Space Museum, but the USS Intrepid has been moved to New Jersey for delousing, or whatever they do to ships who don't move very often. The little ferry we rode went from the west side of the island to the east side as far as the UN, then turned around and went back. Our narrator was very helpful, and from the many descriptions of the now non-existant WTC towers in Lower Manhattan, still plenty bitter about 9/11. We didn't actually go to the Statue of Liberty, but we did a drive-by.

A beautiful symbol of freedom and the splendor that is our country, and a statue of some French chick behind her.

Breakfast Near Tiffany's
There is plenty of shopping in New York, and we managed to do quite a bit. The Wife saved the trip to Canal Street for purses until her girls' trip to NYC in November, because she's wonderful. We went to FAO Schwartz, where the first floor was given over to the stuffed animal version of the Museum of Natural History. All in all, it's an impressive place but the press of people was enough to validate online shopping all by itself. We also went to the Apple Store, which is underground. The only part aboveground is a giant acrylic or glass cube, to get to the actual store there is a staircase or a glass elevator. The Wife took the elevator.

Beam me down, Steve

While we were in the Apple Store, we bought The Wife her iPhone, which she has learned to use quite admirably, and a couple of those hard-to-find Belkin headphone adapters. I got the early-adopter $100 Apple Store Credit (see previous blog), which softened the bite a little. The only strange thing about her (Big) Apple iPhone is that the ringtone says in a Brooklyn accent, "How YOU doin'?"

We also saw Blackwolf the Dragonmaster, New York's Only and Unofficial Wizard at the Apple Store, updating his blog. If any of you are fans of "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog" from Late Night with Conan O'Brien, you will remember this guy from the Star Wars Premiere sketch. Hey, if you can make a living in as expensive a city as NYC being weird professionally, more power to you. The giveaway was the glasses, as well as the 'Blackwolf the Dragonmaster' website open in front of him.

He's a wizard, not a conjurer of cheap JavaScript tricks.

As far as the shopping went, most of that occurred (in fiscal damage terms) after the wedding when we walked over to SoHo and The Wife found first Oilily and then a succession of more expensive stores as we walked down the street. She was actually pretty moderate. I got a couple of pairs of shoes, I needed them for the rehearsal dinner.

The SoHo shopping was also interesting because The Wife and I were completely overdressed for the occasion, the wife in a beautiful dress and heels, and I in my blue suit and white shirt with tie. Considering the temperature was well into the 80s, we were pretty warm, and surrounded by a sea of T-shirt clad hipsters.

What's more, it was in SoHo that I got an idea of how tall I really am. You don't realize where you fall on the Bell Curve until you are in a true normal population, and I am a doggone giant compared to most people, who look me square in the chest. Being that she was all dolled up and I looked like a Secret Service agent, I spent the afternoon pretending I was a private security person. I so wished I had one of those little earbuds with the coiled wire sticking out of my collar. It was fun, standing behind her, carrying her packages and generally sending out physical and mental waves of "Don't be stupid, keep walking". Unsurprisingly, we were completely unmolested.

Nothing to see here. Move along

Broadcast News
After our Saturday morning adventure (the story of which you'll have to wait one more blog post for), we wandered down to 45th Street around 8:30 a.m. on Saturday and managed to get on Fox & Friends. We met Rick Reichmuth the weatherman, and were on national TV for long enough to make us heroes in the eyes of our children (who screamed so loud back at home their grandmother and great grandmother couldn't hear what we said) and give us a tiny sliver of notoriety among the small number of people that watched F&F at that weather report break. We've each had several people come up to us afterward and say, "Were you on Fox?"

The Wife, with the Fox cameras foolishly ignoring her for some other live bit.

Paige Hopkins and Adam Housley are just over The Wife's head in the picture. All these TV people are so SHORT. Paige Hopkins, who looks so willowy on TV, is maybe 5'6", in heels. When The Wife went on the girls' trip, she towered over Gretchen Carlson and the other newscasters. I guess I am too tall for TV news.

Scott & Amy's Non-Italian Wedding
The wedding was really wonderful, as was the rehearsal dinner. The dinner was in the rotating restaurant on top of the Marriott Marquis, so we didn't have far to go for that. The wedding was in Greenwich Village at an old carriage house called, appropriately, the Carriage House. Many of Scott & Amy's friends were there, and the wedding planner had people stand up and say nice things about each of them between courses, though the wedding planner didn't really have to coax anyone to be complimentary. Scott, I have known since college. He's a brother to me in many ways, and I admire and appreciate him. Amy made a tremendous impression in only a few meetings, she's delightful and as much as I love Scott, it seems like he's rather fortunate she agreed to marry him. Both of them have had long and varied careers, and people came from all over to be there for them. It was a wonderful occasion. We got to see Todd Freeman, a friend of mine from college (and the Wife's from high school). We almost saw Mike Moore, who was my roommate at ACU before he was Scott's in Kenya as a missionary, but weather complicated his travel plans. Bummer.

A cropped and blurry unflashed photo of Scott & Amy. They STILL look good!

We ain't heavy, he's my brother

The new Mr. & Mrs. Sewell are going to be heading off for their honeymoon after the first of the year, to Kenya. Strangely enough, that was where I wanted to go for my honeymoon, until I realized I was a poor medical student. There are some benefits to delayed gratification, taking a dream vacation to an exotic location with your new wife is one of them and The Wife and I wish them all the best.

A Mexican In New York
One of my personal rules is to not eat Tex-Mex outside of Texas. Nobody seems to be able to get it right. An exception is a place called Chevy's Fresh Mex at 259 W 42nd Street, a floor or two below the Lowes' movie theater across the street from Mary Poppins. We needed some hot sauce after seeing The Kingdom (nothing to do with the picture, which was pretty good, we were just hungry), and in a Philippian moment we decided, "See, here is a restaurant." Good fajitas at a reasonable price. If you need fajitas in NYC, Chevy's has our stamp of approval.

New York State Of Mind
We had a wonderful four days in NYC, and really only scratched the surface. We will be back, if nothing else to bring the kids when they get a little older and easier to manage in a crowd. New York is still New York, a day after we left a cabbie ran over a family in Times Square (the part about the cabbies driving like nuts -- that much is true) and an off-duty Transit Police officer shot and killed a schizophrenic that stole a bunch of knives from a restaurant and sank them multiple times into a random woman on the street. But none of that happened around us, it was a really great time and we plan to go back, to see the Sewells and generally see the sights. It's a much different feel than Chicago, in Chicago the city empties out at night when everyone leaves for the suburbs. New York is always open, and I finally understand why people want to live there.

If I had unlimited means, I'm pretty sure I would live there too, at least part of the time.


Anonymous said...

As an aside--I believe the Tribecca Grill is owned (or was founded) by Robert Duvall--a distant relative of your family!

A well-meaning friend

SG said...

Hope Zool and his new wife are not in Kenya right now! Sad times in that country. heart breaking!
On a lighter note... I actually think I saw the new Mrs. Zool on Good Morning Texas a few weeks ago. Weird!
Happy New Year!

Lucas Hendrickson said...

I share in your ongoing amazement at the average vertical height of most Americans, especially in New York City.

My typical interaction with people I don't know who run into me in crowds goes something like, "You're the largest person I've ever seen."

Usually there are expletives involved.