Until last week, I had not been to NYC in 20 years. Having lived in the Western U.S. my entire adult life, it’s easier and cheaper to take time off in L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, even Salt Lake City, than anywhere out east. From Denver, most West Coast cities are only about two hours away by air, where the NYC flight was nearly four. Add being at the airport two hours early for the usual security theater and the trek easily wastes 1/2 a day. I’d rather arrive in Vegas by noon than NYC by 6pm.
Anyway, my last journey to the Big Apple, lo those many years ago, was pretty epic. I met friends in Baltimore and we all took a Greyhound to the NYC Port Authority Bus Terminal, where we caught the subway to the Grand Hyatt Hotel for one of the first-of-its-kind gatherings of S&M folk (the “BDSM” moniker came into use a few years later) in the U.S. So there were hundreds of players, fetishists, a giant vendor fair, and other various perversions to be had in our hotel, plus planned sessions, panels, demonstrations, play parties, and other related convention fun. Add the city was host to the Gay Games that year, going simultaneously with Pride weekend AND the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots … welll, when I said “epic,” I meant it. But that’s all for another post, some other time, though I wrote a little bit about it a few years ago.
My overall impressions of the city are still the same. First, the air is thick, wet, and it stinks. Not figuratively; all the jokes about the New York stench are true. Car exhaust, urine, grease and fat from restaurant exhaust, hot dog water from sidewalk carts, body odor from the crowds … I don’t have the most sensitive nose, but there were times I found it monumentally gross. On the bright side, it took my mind off the dirty sidewalks, walls, and subways. As we passed the Central Park Zoo and caught a whiff of dung, my man said, “This is where New Yorkers go for fresh air. Makes sense.”
Second, it is crowded. CROWD-ED. Even the lobby of the hotel was filled with noise 24/7. People are everywhere, at all hours, doing all manner of things. Which is neat if you’re visiting, but not having space got tiresome for us pretty quickly. We only found respite in our hotel room, but even on the 37th floor we could hear traffic, sirens, trucks backing up, and all manner of busy city noise.
Third, New Yorkers still have that good old oral fixation. Vape pens have not supplanted smoking in the least, toothpicks are something you chew on while you talk, and the gum smacking … chewing is at least more polite. I mean if you have to have gum in public at all.
Finally, New Yorkers look miserable. Not ill-dressed, not due to any sickness, but resigned. To what? To living in a smelly city with too many people and virtually no peace and quiet? I don’t pretend to know, but they look somehow beaten down. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, but the only smiles I saw were on tourists and drunks.
I don’t want to make it sound like there’s nothing worthwhile there. We had an absolute great time. The first day was the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the second the Museum of Modern Art. Yes, they both took a full day and yes, they were packed to the mother-fucking gills with people, but totally worth it. At the Met, we arrived at opening, skipped a wing or two, and still barely made it out when they closed at 5. It’s world history in painting, sculpture, and decorative arts.
MoMa was a tad easier, even if it did involve maneuvering through the “audio zombies” – people with the audio tour implanted in their ears, who meandered this way and that without regard to the geo-positioning of their fellow humans. I bumped into more people there than on the street, with the same number of headphones involved.
What struck me most at MoMA: How small Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory is and the room-sized, wall-filling Water Lillies by Claude Monet. I had thought the former would be bigger, the latter smaller. This is the perspective that happens when you only see art in books or tacked to your dorm mate’s wall, which is my way of saying, “Get thee to an museum.”
The one and only Broadway ticket we’d pre-purchased for the trip was The Book of Mormon, which I can’t recommend enough to anyone with a sense of humor about religion. It was delightful – it always skirted the edge of blasphemous without actually crossing over and had quite the subversive treatise on belief, the way we perceive and (ab)use other cultures, and human nature in general. Plus I nearly laughed my makeup off. Recommendation: Go but sneak in a flask, because a CAN of
water cheap beer will cost you an entire intermission and $12 (my short, poorly-poured rum and coke was $18).
I keep up with The Stand comedy club on Twitter and thereby managed to score us $5 tickets for two nights of stand up. The place isn’t right next to a subway stop, so I guess they have trouble filling up on weeknights. That’s too bad, because the line up both times was just stellar. It’s the third or fourth time we’ve seen Christian Finnegan and Dan Soder, but I had never seen Rachel Feinstein, Yannis Pappas, or Gary Gulman live before. We were also introduced to comics we hadn’t previously heard of, Monroe Martin in particular. And once again, we were the old folks in the club laughing hard and loud. Audience members always shoot us looks, even in backwater Texas, but you know what? The comics LOVE us. Dan Soder even fist-bumped me for being happy and animated.
(A brief diversion about comedy clubs: If you travel, try to get to one. Doesn’t even have to be at a huge venue with big names, just go to a stand-up show. I say this because it’s usually the cheapest ticket in town, you might laugh your cares away, and comics with short sets in clubs are more than likely working out material for a longer set. That means you’ll get to hear a joke before anyone else, see it evolve if it gets on TV, and see the final product if the comedian is lucky enough to get a full hour special. Plus, if you’re in NYC or El Lay, huge names sometimes stop by to work out – it hasn’t happened to me (yet), but I’ve heard stories of Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Louis CK, Jerry Seinfeld and others “just dropping in” for a set. For a comedy nerd, that’s like Dylan coming to sit in on a Mumford & Sons set. Ok, diverson over …)
The one overly touristy thing we did was take the trip to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. The only thing that saved my sanity was the idea belonged solely to my man, who saw the discount tickets offered at our hotel and allowed the bargain-hunter in him to overcome his sensibilities. I blithely tried to talk him out of it, because we tend to avoid the tourist stuff – we walked around the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, but never once considered the wait to go up – but I kind of wanted to go, too. So off we went, tickets in hand, not realizing even on a slow day the line would take wandering several floors with masses of people for close to two hours.
I can see those of you who know my love cringing at this prospect. Trust me, it was special. Worst of all was the knowledge we could have skipped the line entirely by getting an express ticket, but that was $20 more each, which was not going to happen. Watching my love try not to complain about waiting was absolutely priceless, though, so I’m not sure I’d trade the experience if I could.
Anyway, two hours of wait, 10 minutes up top fighting through the crowd to catch a glimpse of One World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, and other landmarks in the distance, then another 20 minutes to get back down again. Hardly worth it without the express ticket, in my opinion.
We were in town for four days and mostly ate (and drank) at Irish pubs while we were there, because 1) the food was reasonably-priced, and 2) you can’t throw a rock in Midtown without hitting one. Perhaps it’s just us, but each and every one we went to had a genuinely Irish bartender, too. So if you want a job at a bar there, you should probably spend some time in Kilkenny first.
The food itself was unremarkable – burgers, bangers & mash, potato skins – until our last night, when we discovered Lillie’s Victorian Establishment. The decor can be best described as a former tea room turned bar run by a gay uncle. It’s “homey museum” or “living salon;” each table in the huge space manages to be somehow intimate. Here, just go take a look at some photos. And before you think it was all about the ambiance, I can tell you that one meal we had there was nothing short of spectacular. When we go back, Lillie’s is where I will eat every meal if I can.
My only other notes on NYC are to do your subway search for handicap accessible stations, or you’ll be taking your suitcase up and down a lot of stairs. That was fun on our arrival, let me tell ya. Good thing I work out. And don’t take a special trip to Brooklyn for the Morbid Anatomy Museum, unless you’re already in Brooklyn or plan to spend the day there. The place took us 30 minutes to get to, 15 minutes to visit (including the espresso we had in the cafe), and 30 minutes to get back. It’s worth it, just not as a side trip from Manhattan.
Also, there’s a story to tell of one of our evenings there that requires its own, separate post. Because there are a million stories in the city …
… but I’m still not sure I’m one of them. You’ll see.
I am glad to be home, though.
Where the buffalo roam.