Saturday, March 17, 2012

Taking a bite out of the Big Apple

Gotham City, The Big Apple, New York New York – so nice they named it twice!  Got a chance to spend a long weekend there, recently, with My Bride as a celebration trip for our birthdays.  Wow!  What a place!  As my old marketing professor said, many years ago, “After New York, everything else is pretty small potatoes.”  He was a little biased having grown up there but he was also correct.


Sure, we could have driven up there.  It’s only about 6 hours from the Richmond area.  As long as you don’t hit traffic in the DC area (HA!!) and don’t mind paying to park while you’re in the city.  Our hotel, the Renaissance in Times Square, is glad to park your car for you for only $58 a night, plus tax, tip extra. And then, you can learn to drive like a New York cabbie.  Good luck with all that.

Or we could have taken a plane from the mighty Richmond International Airport which doesn’t have any flights that go anywhere without going through a hub.  So, two flights with a layover somewhere after driving for an hour just to get to the airport.  Hmm…..probably faster to drive.

Instead, we drove 15 minutes to the small town of Ashland (For you out of towners, they bill themselves as The Center of the Universe – how quaint!) and jumped on an Amtrak train headed north, leaving at 8:15 a.m.  We found 2 seats together, stowed our bags above and settled in.  The seats are a little larger than First Class airplane seats with more leg room, too.  There is free wifi on board (a little slow but acceptable) and you can bring your own food and drink along with you.  (MB brought wine for lunch.  Brilliant!)

We spent the time chatting, reading, and looking out the windows at parts of the area I’d never seen before.  At noon, we ate the picnic MB had made and shortly after 2 p.m. we got off in Penn Station in Manhattan.  Wow!  Six hours and we’re there!  If the train went every place I needed to go, I might never get on a plane again.  Oh, yeah the price.  About the cost of parking the car for 5 nights at the hotel; for both of us.  It’s reasonable, to say the least.

Sure, the train gets crowded at times.  It gets noisy at times, too.  But have you been through Security at the airport, any airport, recently?  It’s as much fun as a colonoscopy and takes about as long.  I mean, I’d nearly rather take a beating than get another “personal search” so I can get on an overcrowded airplane for three or four hours.  The train, truly, is a pleasurable mode of transportation.


After weaving our way through Penn Station, we made our way to the taxi stand outside.  Our wait was about five minutes and was interrupted seventeen times by entrepreneurial private car owners, offering their services immediately so that we wouldn’t have to wait.  Having had a “gypsy cab” experience a number of years ago, I passed.  (It’s entertaining but can be a little unnerving.  Could be a future blog post.)

Our cabbie drove us the twenty blocks or so to our hotel and by 3:30, we were checked in, unpacked, and ready to explore.

We spent the afternoon walking around Times Square and the theater district, soaking in the vibe.  New York, and Times Square in particular, has the most amazing energy level of any place I’ve ever been.  I hadn’t been there in almost twenty years and it was great to see that it hadn’t lost a step or two.

Here is one shot of Times Square.

We eventually made our way to an Irish Bar where we had a couple of pints and spent a couple of hours watching and listening to the people.  Since it was Friday, there were lots of locals in addition to all of us tourists so the fare was quite rich.  I love New Yorkers!  They are the warmest, bluntest, most honest bunch I’ve ever lived among.  And no group can swear as effusively or effectively.  MB commented that one of the guys at the table next to us had used The Big F in his last paragraph as a noun, verb, adverb, pronoun, and possibly punctuation.

We talked together, as only two incredibly close people can, for the better part of two hours.  We laughed at the sights and smiled at each other.  Finally, we decided we really needed to change for dinner and the show; we had tickets to The Book of Mormon.

Give My Regards to Broadway

After a nice Italian meal at a local restaurant named Sofia’s, we walked a few blocks to the Eugene O’Neill Theater and got into the line that was forming at the door which opened up about five minutes later.  We found our way to our seats in the second to last row, balcony section.  (Bob Uecker would have been proud of these!) 
"Hey, buddy, great seats!"
The seats actually weren’t terrible as the theater isn’t all that large.  (The website says it holds 1108.)

The Book of Mormon has been sold out basically since it opened a year or so ago.  It won 9 Tony Awards this year so we knew it was going to be a good show.  (My best friend actually saw it a few months ago and told me it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen, anywhere.  That’s high praise as he isn’t easily amused and frequently not by what the majority finds humorous.)  The people sitting around us were all in great moods as they all expected the same thing.

Since it was about thirty minutes to curtain, I decided to hit the men’s room.  On the way back to my seat, I saw the bar and decided to order a drink since there was no line.  I walked up, saw they had Maker’s Mark and told the girl I’d have a double with a splash of water.  I joked with her about the fact that she was pouring into a “sippy cup” and she told me that was so I could take it into the theater. She finished making my drink and then said, “That’ll be $28.” 

Good to the last drop!
I did my best to keep a straight face but I’m pretty sure I did a double take as I reached for my wallet. “Oh, so that’s why there isn’t a line” was the best I could come up with.  I left a $5 tip because it wasn’t her fault.  Wow!  (New York 1, Me 0.  Note to self, check the price list first next time, rube.)

I got back to my seat and MB asked me what I had in my hand.  I told her it was the most expensive bourbon I’d ever had.  And it was delicious. She took a sip and agreed.

(After intermission, one of the three guys from upstate NY sitting next to us, came back with a drink.  He had a funny look on his face as he told his buddies that he’d just paid $20 for a rum and coke.  They thought he was kidding so he turned to me and asked me what I’d had.  When I told him it was double bourbon, he asked me how much it was.  When I told him, he turned to his buddies and said, “See, they do it to everybody!”  When I pointed out that you get to keep the cup as a souvenir of your screwing, everyone laughed.  (I didn’t see anyone go get a refill at intermission although I was told you get a discount if you bring the cup back with you.  Probably could have saved a dollar or two.)

The Book of Mormon was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the same two guys who produce the cartoon South Park on Comedy Central.  I don’t think I’ve ever watched that show but I did see Morley Safer interview them some months ago and was very impressed with both of them. 

The show was reputed to be irreverent.  That may be the biggest understatement I’ve ever heard.  Almost from the opening song, it is completely over the top and spends a great deal of time making fun of Mormons and, frankly, just about all organized religion in general. 

The entire audience was laughing from the first song and it didn’t stop until the final number.  While the script is entirely formulaic, it doesn’t detract from the constant comedy.  I would go see it again, if for no other reason than to catch the jokes I missed when I was still laughing from the last ones.  When this show hits the road, later this year, I highly recommend going to see it!  Go to for information about the road production.

This show is sold out months in advance.  When we decided to go see it, we went online and bought the tickets through a broker; that’s a legal scalper for those of you unfamiliar with the term.  I think a bunch of people went to court in an effort to make the buying and selling of tickets to theater, concert, and sporting events just like purchasing any goods or services.  If the plan for doing so was to reduce the cost of ticket prices, this was a failure.  If it was a plan to allow more people access to shows, provided they’re willing to pay the price, then it succeeded.  All in, we paid almost four times the face value of the tickets.  I’m not complaining, as these were for a special occasion and we decided this was the show we wanted to see.  But DAMN!

We headed back to our hotel for the night, laughing and singing some of the lines from the show.

9/11 Memorial Visit

On the morning of September 11, 2001 a small group of terrorists took control of four commercial airliners, flying them into the Pentagon in Washington and the twin World Trade Center Towers in NYC.  The fourth plane plunged to earth in Pennsylvania because the passengers attempted to regain control of the plane which was believed to be lined up to fly into the Capitol.  These acts resulted in the murder of almost 3,000 Americans.  The aftermath from that dreadful morning can still be felt today.  I have a difficult time thinking about that day without my eyes tearing up and a catch in my throat.  Right now, the images are flooding through my brain again as I write this.  It was one of the darkest periods I’ve lived through in my fifty plus trips around the sun.  And I hope we, not just Americans but all humanity, never forget the events of that day and what has transpired by the result.

In an effort to do just that, a memorial is under construction on the site of the old WTC area.  (New buildings are being constructed to replace the old towers; one is called the Freedom Tower (see below) and will be 1776 feet tall when completed.) MB and I took the subway south to see the memorial which is not yet complete but is getting very close.  The only thing left to be finished is the 9/11 Museum and it looks like that will be finished before the end of the year.

The nearly completed Freedom Tower

What has been completed are the two pools of water that symbolize the foot prints of the old twin towers.  Around the perimeter of these is a wide metal railing that contains the name of every person who perished that day including all the passengers on the planes, the firefighters, EMTs, police officers, and all the people in the buildings that were struck.  The sheer number of names depicted here is heart wrenching.  I found myself wondering how each of them had died.  Some, thankfully, had very quick deaths.  Others suffered for some time before perishing.  Some made the decision to plummet from the buildings by their own choice rather than wait to slowly burn to death or be crushed if the building collapsed, as so many others did.
The two pools have steep walls with water pouring down them constantly, landing in a flat bottomed area that flows to a smaller square hole in the middle.  From every vantage point, you’re unable to see the bottom of this smaller area.  It just appears that the water falls into nothingness.  I believe that’s what the designer wanted to depict.  It’s incredibly moving, after you read all these names arranged very thoughtfully and then see water rushing underneath them, as if carrying them down into a pool that holds them gently before quietly depositing into the abyss.  

It made my heart hurt and my soul feel better, all at the same time.  That says a lot.  It’s worth the visit and it will affect you.

MOMA and Central Park

We jumped back on the subway for a trip to the Upper East Side and a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.  I had never seen it before and it’s absolutely amazing.  Impossible to see even a tenth of it in one afternoon.  We toured parts of the American hall and saw musical instruments (including an early guitar built by C.F. Martin, founder of the Martin Guitar Company) and a wonderful display of Duncan Phyfe furniture.  Duncan Phyfe is considered to be the father of American cabinetmakers and this collection was wonderful, showing the four main phases of his work from very traditional American styles to very modern pieces.  I was inspired to get out in my shop and make some sawdust!  

Here's a tilt top table from the workshop of Mr. Phyfe, circa 1795

After about a four hour visit to the museum, we plotted a course back down to Times Square by walking across Central Park, just north of the Grand Lawn.  Neither of us had been in the park before and it’s the place that will make even the most suburban / rural person fall in love with the Big Apple!  It’s just magnificent and I can only imagine how it looks once spring arrives and all the flowers and lawns bloom.  I wanted to have my bike and go for a spin.

The Grand Lawn - it's seriously grand.

We got back on a south bound train and then walked around until we found another Irish Bar so we could get some sustenance from the day’s adventures.  We had talked about going to see another show by purchasing tickets from the TKTS booth where they are all discounted by up to 50% but the line was very long and there wasn’t a show we felt like waiting for. 

We walked up to Rockefeller Center and saw all the stand-by people waiting hopefully in line for leftover tickets to Saturday Night Live.  While I haven’t watched the show regularly in many years, I’ve been a fan since the premier in 1975. 

Trivia Question – Who was the first guest host of SNL? First correct answer in the comments section wins bragging rights until the next trivia quiz.

That first season was a watershed event in late night television, sparking many great performers' careers, and had the censors absolutely quaking, nearly every week.  When Richard Pryor hosted the first time, the show wasn’t even live.  They put a 10 second delay in because they were scared he was going to give them a reason to be fined!  They wanted a chance to bleep it, just in case.  I believe it was the only not quite live episode in the show’s 37 year history.

We settled for a late dinner at a restaurant found on  When we got there, it was closed.  Right across the street, however, was a Scottish place called St. Andrews, named for the auld gray toon in Ediburgh, Scotland.  It looked busy so we walked across the street and got a table on the second floor with a view of the street below.  When I asked if they had a decent scotch selection, the waitress brought a menu with about 300 single malts listed.  I was in heaven!  Balvenie 17 year peated cask was my choice and it was unlike anything I’d ever drunk from that distillery; smoky and musty, with a remarkably clean finish.  It didn’t even look like scotch as it was a pale color with the look of an unfiltered witbier.  The meal was every bit as good as the menu suggested, too.  It made for an excellent end to our visit to the Big Apple.

Stage Deli

Sunday morning we did a bit more sightseeing and shopping around Times Square before heading north on 7th Avenue to the Stage Deli.  This place has been in business for 85 years!  Their sandwiches are legendary and they have several dozen of them named for celebrities.  (The Dolly Parton has two really large rolls of pastrami and corned beef.  I am not making this up.)  We needed something for lunch on the train ride home, and figured that ordering a sandwich would take care of lunch and dinner.  We were not disappointed!  Each sandwich had at least a pound of meat on it (turkey for me, corned beef for MB) and the deli mustard they gave us was the best I’ve ever had.  Next time, we’re going there for breakfast!

Back to the Old Dominion

The train ride home wasn’t quite as nice because we were getting on a train that had originated somewhere else.  While there were seats available, we couldn’t get two together until we arrived in DC.  That just meant we got a lot more reading finished until we sat together for lunch which was delicious.  The train was right on time and we walked back through the door about six and a half hours after leaving Manhattan.

New York City is unlike any other place in the world. I don’t think I could live there as it would mean a huge change to many parts of my life but the vibe, the people, the sights, the food, and the attractions keep calling me back.  We’ve already decided to try and get tickets to SNL and plan a trip around that. I would love to be sitting in the theater when the lights go down and you hear…..

Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Well on the way to Geezerhood….

Have you seen those commercials, I think it’s some kind of financial planning or insurance company’s spot, where the guy is on an airplane and sees a much older version of himself from a number of years in the future?  I had of one those moments last week, too, when I was in Irvine, California.

Unfortunately, I was in a hotel room and it was the result of catching a look at myself in the mirror.  Damn it.

Admittedly, I’ve had these moments before.  I don’t spend much time looking in the mirror, never have really.  I mean, I look at myself first thing in the morning when I’m getting ready for work but all I’m trying to do then is make sure I don’t cut my throat shaving and that I’ve remembered to comb my hair.  Since I’m focusing on something in particular, I don’t really see me.  The result is that I may go for long periods of time without seeing me as others do.  So when I suddenly see me, I’m occasionally surprised by what I see.

It was especially disturbing last week. 

I had just come back from a workout in the hotel gym.  Hotels are providing nicer and nicer workout facilities these days and Marriott consistently has equipment that I like to use.  Since this was an older property, the gym was kind of small and right next to the indoor pool area, appearing to be built as an afterthought.  As a result, it was crowded and very hot.  I didn’t lift any weights, not wanting to wait, but I did get a good forty five minute cardio workout on an elliptical machine.  I was pushing hard the entire time and it really felt great.  After almost a year of regular exercise, I’ve gotten to the point where I really enjoy doing it.

Those who’ve known me for a long time, please stop laughing.  And get up off the floor!

By the time I got back to my room, my breathing was back to normal although I was completely soaked from the exertion.  I sat down to cool off for a few minutes, called My Bride, and had a piece of fruit to hold me over until I got down for breakfast.
It felt as if the sweating had stopped so I could hit the shower.  As I walked into the bath room, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and did a little double take.

Hey, who is that old guy in my room?” I thought for a second before the next thought hit me.  “Hey, when did I become such an old looking guy?!!”  And that one stopped me.

I got closer to the mirror and looked me in the eyes.  Bags under both of them.  Kind of bloodshot, too.  There were a bunch of lines that I’d never noticed before and my brain immediately went to a line from a Jimmy Buffett song.  “Wrinkles only go where the smiles have been.”  Yeah, let’s go with that.  I pushed back from my close up with the mirror and looked the rest of me over.

With all the weight I’ve lost, the work in the gym, and the bike rides I’m in the best shape of my life.  Body fat is below 15% and I’ve got muscles in my arms and shoulders that I’ve never had at any point in my life.  Sure, I’ve got arthritis in my wrists and one knee that was surgically repaired about three years ago that the doctor tells me will need to be replaced in the not so distant future.  But when none of those hurt, which probably happens about two days out of seven, I feel about thirty which is twenty five years younger than I actually am.

And that’s what caused the double take.  I felt good, felt young again, and my brain was expecting the thirty year old me.  When the fifty five year old me appeared, it was quite a shock to the system.

I got in the shower and re-thought my thoughts of the last few minutes.  I’ve been thinking of myself as middle-aged for a few years now; at least since I turned fifty.  I don’t know what comes after middle aged, though.  That’s kind of freaking me out.  

My best friend has been busting my balls about being middle aged, wanting to know if I plan to live to a hundred and ten or something.  (My response has usually been that I plan to be shot by a jealous husband at 103.  MB probably would prefer to do it herself, though.)

If you think about it, you go from childhood to adolescence to adulthood to parenthood (not always but frequently) to middle-aged.  What comes next?
Is it elderly?  I don’t feel elderly.  I mean, that sounds really old like in your seventies or eighties.  If I feel this good when I’m that old, I’ll gladly take elderly but I’m not there yet. 

Is it just old?  That seems kind of plain to me, not reflective of all the work I’ve put in to get here and not nearly as enjoyable as it really is.  I truly feel better and enjoy my life about as much as I did when I was eight years old!

What do you think, readers?  Comment with your thoughts on the correct terms for what comes after middle aged and what ages they match up with.  I’ll make sure they’re up for everyone to read.

In the meantime, I’m going with Geezerhood.