We've done a bit of traveling the last few weeks.
Our destination was New York City. I'd never been, and neither had Karen, but we've always wanted to go so we packed our bags and boarded a Delta jet for the Big Apple.
All my life, I've been told that New York is a frantic hive of pushy, rude stockbrokers who are themselves endlessly victimized by predatory street gangs while everyone else ducks for cover in the crossfire. "New Yorkers will run right over you," quoth they. "They're not nice, like us," the ubiquitous 'they' added, taking a break from gerrymandering and passing repressive marriage-rights laws. "You don't want to go up there."
Well, we did, and we went, and I am happy to report that everything I've heard about New York and New Yorkers was the worst kind of odious hogwash.
From the time we landed at La Guardia to our last ride back there, everyone we met was friendly and helpful. Oh sure, not everyone is an angel -- those fake Buddhist monks all over Times Square and the Park are jerks, no matter how wide their smiles. But they're actual criminals, so they don't count.
Things do move at a different pace than they do here in Oxford, Mississippi. People in NYC do talk a bit faster, and do walk a bit faster, and when they get to the counter they are ready with their order and they spit it right out. But that's not being pushy or demanding -- it's the natural consequence of living in such a small area with so many other people. If everyone hemmed and hawed and asked little Raymond eight times whether he wanted the chicken nuggets or the cheese sticks and then repeated the entire process because a phone call interrupted the delicate menu negotiations, society would collapse from sheer starvation..
So my impression of New Yorkers is that they are, by necessity, efficient in their casual dealings with strangers and retail and wait staff. Which is something I wish Southerners would adopt, right now, because the next time I am delayed 20 minutes because some kid can't mumble his way through a meal order I am likely to shift on my feet and engage in Hostile Glares.
And the food in NYC -- sweet nondemoninational deity of your choice, the food was indescribably wonderful. My favorite place was on Broadway, just off Times Square -- Angelo's, where the pizza and the pasta dishes are amazing. The prices? No worse that the Square here in Oxford.
We also had a lovely meal in Chinatown, at the Golden Unicorn, which serves in the dim sum style. Dim sum works like this -- servers push carts around the dining room, stopping at each table. You point out which dishes you want, and they hand them out, and then a few minutes later another cart comes around and the process is repeated, until you are full or, in my case, you start getting fearful looks from fellow diners who've never seen anyone eat the bamboo serving dish as well as the dumplings before.
I have no idea what I ate. But everything was delicious. I'd go back there again in a heartbeat if it wasn't a thousand-odd miles away.
For breakfast, you can't beat the Applejack Diner, which was right across the street from our hotel. The food was, again, top-notch, and just listening to the waiters call in orders to the kitchen was a treat.
Did we do anything besides eat, you ask? Well yes. We saw Cats, on Broadway, at the Neil Simon theater. Now, I've seen some solid theatrical performances in my time, but when everyone on the stage is a rising star, the show transcends the merely great and becomes a two-hour work of art that no DVD can truly capture. When Grizabella (played by Mamie Parris the night we were there) sang her last song, I looked about. Everyone was frozen in place, every face locked on the stage. You could not have heard a pin drop because just for a moment gravity itself was too mesmerized to bother attracting things.
We also just walked around. Walking is the best way to see NYC, because driving there is best left to cabbies, Uber drivers, the NYPD, and the criminally insane. One things that struck me immediately about the city was the lack of any visible gas stations of car dealerships, at least on Manhattan. Here, there's a gas station every 300 feet, and my little town of 15,000 permanent residents sports nearly a dozen car dealerships.
But get out your walking shoes for the city. And buy a Metrocard subway pass, because once you figure out the subway, it's a great way to get around.
My image of an NYC city subway car, I now realize, was heavily influenced by movies. I fully expected the subway car to be filled with bodily fluids, riddled with bullet holes, and be at least half-full of wild-eyed street preachers demanding donations while pickpockets craftily plied their trade..
Not so. Now, the cars aren't the gleaming, sterile science-fiction transport pods of South Korea or Tokyo, but they're not post-apocalypse wasteland railroad doom-tubes, either. The other riders were an amiable mix of tourists and ordinary people going to or from work. I saw one panhandler on the subway, a weary-looking woman who laid out tiny packets of face tissues down on vacant seats. Each tissue pack was topped with a note detailing her tale of woe, but she never got pushy about it.
Did I leave her anything?
No.. Because by that time I must admit I'd already handed out a few small sums to other tales of woe, and by then the business model of the panhandlers penetrated even my thick Southern skull. Anybody wandering the streets and taking gifts from strangers day in and day out probably makes more than I do. The next time we go back, I'm going to counter their pitches with one of my own, and see how that works out.
I'll leave you with the obligatory set of my favorite NYC photos. Also, a sincere word of thanks to our friend Elyse Salpeter, a fellow author and New Yorker, who met us there and took us to Chinatown and generally acted as an unpaid tour guide because A) she's cool that way and B) New Yorkers are cool that way.
Enjoy the photos! Time for me to get back to work......