This post is going to be a book. I spent about a day in NYC.
After a lazy Saturday morning, I found a message from my ex of some four years past, Christine, announcing her arrival in NYC. She's visiting the U.S. from Taiwan for a couple weeks. As it's planned, she'll be in NYC this weekend, California through next, Philly for a week, then upstate NY. I tried calling back, but couldn't reach her. Despite that, and despite it being nearly three in the afternoon, I decided to get in the car and drive. If a friend travels from Taiwan and wants to see me, I'll be there. Yeah.. I have no place to stay, I don't know my way around, and my car's unreliable, but it's a big city... it'll all work out somehow.. right? :)
I printed some directions which turned out to be useless. I got lost on my way through New Jersey and ended up on Staten Island. Paid some tolls; didn't keep track of them. I got some help on where to go, and a push-start from a nice black man as my car began its usual ritual of refusing any start but a push start, perhaps in hopes of building up my back muscles. After taking the big sparkly bridge off Staten Island, I slipped onto the Brooklyn / Queens Expressway alias BQE, and reached my brother's fiance in the Bronx. Unfortunately, they sounded very busy, with no time for me. Scratch crashing there if needed. She gave me enough of a clue to get from the BQE to Manhattan and West 46th, home of Christine's hotel.
Found the hotel. Parked the car in a seemingly auspicious if not entirely legal position, suspecting it would not deign to rouse itself again anytime soon. A good spell of walking might enlighten me as to how to push start the thing up a busy New York street.
The hotel had never heard of any name I could think to ask for Christine by. This didn't faze me, since I had a feeling they were not actually in the hotel anyway, it being prime New York evening. If they were seeing Chicago tonight, it would be starting soon. I had seen Times Square while driving, so I walked there, and found the walk quite pleasant.
I could stand and watch Times Square for hours, perhaps days. It's mesmerizing, meditative, standing among all those busy and diverse people. I imagine it like standing in the eye of a hurricane, and feeling terribly lucky to be alive amidst it all. I remeber one vignette of a young black woman giving a huge television broadcast of Miss America the finger and a clear "Fuck you, Miss America" as she went on her way.
I decided to try calling a friend of Christine's, Eric, whom I believed to be in Ohio. I've always rather liked Eric, though I knew little about him except that they'd met in Ohio and he was gay; I think we talked on the phone once. Eric was helpful. He told me that Christine was at the theatre. So I found the theatre where Chicago was playing and... walked in. It was four minutes to curtain. I did my best impression of someone effectively avoiding scrutiny while searching the theatre. I did not find anyone resembling Christine in four minutes, so I settled in back to watch the second half of the show and resume the search as an exit poll. The show was very enjoyable.
I scanned every single person that left the theatre and did not see my Taiwanese couple. I was pretty sure they were at some other theatre. I waited for their show to be over and called Eric, who tells me they just left the theatre and are probably headed to the hotel, gives me a room number. Yay...closing in. I go to the hotel and check the room; looks like I got there first. I check on my car, then spot them entering the hotel as I return.
So I call to Christine and she jumps and hugs and suspiciously asks how long I've been following her. ;) She had no idea I was coming. With her are her boyfriend and an ex-coworker, Yan, also from Taiwan, both shy, quiet types. I have floorspace if I need it; the current room only has one bed. Beats my car or just hanging out in the square all night, so I cheer. :)
As it turns out, Eric is not in Ohio; He lives in Philly now, but is in New York. We wait a few minutes for him. Eric is remarkable. Eric is an effeminate, slender, Mandarin- and English-speaking gay young man. I've never seen anyone like him. I've never met a gay Chinese male, in fact. He plays the part extremely well. Right down to underpants with a palm print and spank me (and a lovely ass underneath them, if I do say so).
Christine is also remarkable. She looks exactly the same as I remember, excepting some brown hair dye, tanned skin, and of course different (and very nice) clothes. The tan darkens her skin to a more Indian shade; reminding me of Nija. Christine is a bouncy, cheerful and talkative Taiwanese. She'd already run her voice (and boyfriend) near dead by the time I arrived. Her opinions are great. I love this girl.
It was in my role description to listen to a fair amount of Mandarin conversation this weekend. Now, I owe all the Mandarin I know to this woman, which is what she taught me and a year and some study. I love the language, but I have no talent for speaking it. So all the Mandarin I know is not enough to understand any but the simplest conversation and a word here or there. I love listening to it, though. There were times when everyone spoke English, no doubt to involve me, but they did not feel obliged to do this all the time.
Christine wanted to go to a club. No one had any recommendations. The choice settled on a friend of Eric's to pick a suitable (and gay) bar for all of us. The choice was Therapy
on 52nd, and it was good. I had a white russian and a good bit of margarita, which was enough to get me half-swooning to the music. We ordered something like satay chicken with mango and then calimari rings, both of which fell quickly before the hungry four of us. There was much oogling of the cute guys. The place reminded me a little of my favorite scene in Living Out Loud
. It was yummy.
On the way home, Eric bought blueberry cheesecake and I got strawberry for Yan, who was eyeing it. I translated a hot dog order for Christine's boyfriend. Both fun.
It had been assigned to me and my car to take Yan home. Now, if I were sensible, I would have expected my car to fail utterly at this task and apologized our way out of this obligation. But we all know I maintain the purest optimism whenever... well.. I'm not sure when, exactly, but often enough to get into trouble. So this leaves me getting to my car, heaving it onto the road, and off we go! Unfortunately... we don't really know where we are going, and the car stalls out a few blocks away in a traffic jam due to some mysteriously barricaded streets. I tried to restart her for awhile, but she wasn't having anything but a push into a cozy spot on Madison near Grand Central. Yan opted to return to the hotel instead of taking the subway home right away. I still feel bad about Yan having to crash at the hotel, though she said she didn't mind.
So as it went, five of us slept in one hotel room. Christine and I got up early to take Yan to the subway, then we went to Dunkies. Breakfast reminded me of the mug quote: "Instant Human - Just Add Coffee". There was interesting conversation of sex and marriage and stuff. :) We went back to the hotel and I took a shower and a baaath
(I haven't had a bath in over a month). Any sleep I got during the night was feigned compared to the nap after breakfast.
There was a brunch planned at Roxy's, but when Mandy (an old classmate of Christine and I) called and showed up, she wanted to go to a Seafood buffet. There was no disagreement and we subwayed to 32nd, and walked a very Korean street to the buffet. The buffet opened minutes after we arrived; we were the first customers for the day! The restaurant is Minado
, Japanese Seafood Buffet. I recommend it plenty. It was a full Japanese menu: sushi, soup, sukiyaki, noodles, salads, dessert, chefs and then some, on a huge buffet. The cost for lunch on a weekend was $16/person, and it was all yummy. The service and atmosphere were lovely, too. Our drinks all magically refilled themselves. The experience does not fully replace a served Japanese dinner, but the added variety per plate and sustained quality makes it a very appealing alternative. I wanted to get the check but was usurped by Mandy, despite lots of protests. It made me smile how similar the scene was to a stereotypical fight over the check described by Yu Lao-Shi.
After lunch, we split up a bit, some of us scaling the Empire State building, Eric continuing shopping, and Mandy returning to work (yes, on a Sunday - deadline Thursday). The Empire State building surprised me a bit. I read a bunch of history and enjoyed it muchly. It struck me immediately how dated the building looked.. interior and exterior - the building isn't all that pretty. The most impressive part of the interior I saw was the stone floor of the foyer, which is large slabs of fancy colorful marbles, and even these were more tacky than your average business skyscraper. As one would suspect just looking at the building in its current state, the renovation costs far exceed the original construction costs, although I don't think there is any present day equivalent to 1930s money and labor. Touring the observatory of the Empire State Building requires first touring the ticket office in the basement
and various uninteresting, un-air-conditioned corridors filled with lines of people and advertisements for audio tours and a 3D movie presentation. It really feels like punishment. I suppose the nicer parts of the building are occupied by offices.
If you survive the ordeal, however, the view is worth its price. I know little about big cities or buildings with 86+ stories, but it seems there could hardly be more to see. With unlimited visibility, the city extends indefinitely in every direction. I wish there were a sort of ski-lift system the top. :)
Time after this was spent browsing fifth avenue shops and a street fair. I bought a couple I Heart NY T-shirts. Only took me six years. They're tacky, but they were also cheaper than doing laundry for Monday.
As evening approached, it became time to head home. I grabbed my pillow and headed to my car. After about five minutes of asking around, someone in the Starbucks offered to jump my car. The jump failed, and my rescuer found the real problem in about twenty seconds: a loose wire to the starter. This is much better than a jump, since I now know how to fix the problem! I thanked him profusely, and he grumbled something about just wanting my parking spot. I happily surrendered it.
There exists a reputation of northeastern hospitality being as cold as our winters. Over the past weeks, my car has gotten push starts from a dozen or so strangers. I've never had to wait more than a few minutes for help. Some of them are downright grumpy about it, but they still offer and help. Maybe sometimes our northern hospitality is just hiding so as not to be recognized.
I decided to use no map or directions to get home. The city is a grid and I need to go north. I drove north on Madison Ave at 30mph all the way out of the city, with a little weaving through taxis and scores of green lights. Thank you Tappan Zee Bridge, hello i87, take me home.
It can feel like the City is entire worlds compressed. It can also feel as if time spent there is ages anywhere else. I can only vaguely imagine living there, so different is my life now. But I can imagine enough to think I may try it someday. In the meantime of a Hudson Valley home, it's a three hour drive I'm slowly learning to make a weekend of. Looks like I may be going again next weekend for a family gathering. I'll think about it after some real sleep. :)
Beautiful fall weather, right now. Thank you, faithful readers. :)