Wednesday, March 24, 2004

new york stories (1)

Note: Still tracking down the images that originally appeared in this post.

Every three years, like clockwork, I head down to the Big Apple for a few days of stretching the limits to which my feet can walk. Last trip was in '01, which stands out in my mind for being one of the last times I talked to my father on the phone and a wonderful walk across the Brooklyn Bridge (I should get my partner in crime on that trip to jot down her memories sometime).

I tried to recruit anyone I could think of to come along, but time, finances and maladies got in the way. Looked like I was on my own until Amy decided to come along. I booked the hotel online, then decided we'd go by train. Flying is faster, but I hate going through the whole security/waiting rigamaroll at the airport. Hadn't been on a train in ages and I didn't want to risk driving into any sudden winter storms.

The trip down took a long time, but didn't feel worse than a flight across the Atlantic. One family of 3 or 4 ahead of us managed to take up at least 8 seats with their stuff and never seemed able to sit down. US border guards did 3 skims of our car, each time with a different set of questions. Most puzzling - when Amy said she was a substitute teacher, they wanted to know the last day she worked. Maybe they thought she would join the underground economy.

Due to a long delay at Albany caused by a burning train ahead of us, we arrived in NYC around 11. First impressive sight - walking down Lexington Ave and seeing the Chrysler Building lit up. We stayed at the Ramada Eastside (Lex & 30th) which was a much better hotel than similar-priced dumps I've stayed at in the past (like the second trip - four in a dinky, dinky room at the Portland Square, near Times Square, with a bathroom smaller than my fridge).

DAY 1 - East Village/Herald Square/Times Square
Started by heading down to what would become "our" subway station, 28th St on the 6 Line, one of the older stations in the system (photo from

Headed down to Union Square, then wandered south along Broadway. Amy bought a bundle of books at the Strand, including a city guide that would become her lifeline. Discovered that the Tower Records outlet no longer existed. Feeling a case of the munchies, quickly strolled down St. Mark's Place to Benny's Burritos, marking out places we'd stop at on the way back. Interesting graffiti along the way, including typical cries against the Shrub and one that could mean anything.

Many spots in NYC to see this message.

We tried to figure out who was the eggman and who was the walrus.

I've eaten at Benny's every time I've been to NYC and haven't been disappointed. Big burritos, good soup and salsa, and a bar which Animal calls home.

It looks like the Muppet gang calls this their watering hole.

Went back across St. Mark's Place. Found a fantastic video/CD store, Kim's, which was loaded with reasonably-priced oddball DVDs. I looked for ages, trying to decide which treasures to pick up. Settled on two compilations of cruel, cruel educational films from the 40s-60s, where it was a capital crime not to fit in. Had an inkling I might try to make my way back before the trip was over.

After dumping our stuff at the hotel, we headed over to Herald Square (34th & Broadway), where Amy could get some shopping in. Discovered a closeout department store called Daffy's, who claimed to have "clothing bargains for millionaire". You might be able to deck yourself out as a millionaire...a coked-out one, circa 1978. With each aisle, our jaws dropped further to the floor. The place to go for striped men's pants (I just looked at the website - it sure doesn't look like the stuff we saw).

Next was Macy's, where Amy had a field day. I bought her a watch for her birthday, then she saved $140 or so on a sweater. It took awhile to buy it - there was no tag on it, so it had to verified, and so on. Meanwhile, the two people behind her in line got into a verbal spat because one left the line for a few minutes then assumed she could have her place back. If Amy noticed nothing else on the trip, it was that New Yawkers love to argue and yell, especially into their cell phones.

Hopped across 34th to an upper-end cosmetics store, Sephora. Amy hit nirvana, testing out half the store, to the point she could no longer distinguish all the scents on her arms. This was a good cue to find dinner. We headed up to Times Square, to a place I'd read wasn't a tourist rip-off, Virgil's Real BBQ. It wasn't - huge portions of good ol' southern BBQ. Amy's chicken & rib combo never seemed to stop reveal veins of meat. Waddled out Broadway, where the only truly oddball sites were a poster of a 1930s mug shot of Frank Sinatra and passing Senor Wences Place, where we couldn't resist launching into a routine ("s'alright? s'alright!"). Legs about shot, we headed back to the hotel.

Each night, there was one show I couldn't stop watching. There was a Mexican talk show that caught my eye, Hasta En Las Mejores Familias (Every Family Has Them), one of the bizarrest things I've seen. Due to my non-existant grasp of Spanish, I can't tell you precisely what was going on, but here's what I could figure out. A little background can be found here (go to the "Track 3" section), along with some pictures (Spanish text). Every night we watched the show, the audience included (1) a pale-faced vampire whose eyes perpetually faced up, (2) a saucer-eyed alien whose hands gestured so wildly you assumed the actor had too much coffee before being seated, (3) a woman dressed semi-tartily who forever blew bubbles and (4) a man with Alfred E. Neuman fake ears, blue-framed glasses and a mullet. On the last show, they were joined by a normal-dressed woman with a fake witch's nose and a snaggled tooth. We couldn't decide if it was a satire of shows like Jerry Springer or the next logical step. Fights broke out every 5 minutes, punctuated with sound effects borrowed from Batman (Adam West version). The audience would jeer or chant in unison. On one show, half the guests came out dressed like clowns, which resulted in tearful families hugging each other. It was like watching a car wreck - you don't want to watch but can't resist. If you have access to the Univision TV network, check it out.

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