Friday, July 17, 2009

Mike’s Bar-B-Que Adventure: New York City

Part 1 of a 5-part series

The Winner and one guest will receive roundtrip airfare between a major metropolitan airport closest to the Winner's town and New York City; two (2) nights stay in a double occupancy standard room at a New York City hotel; and a $450 gift certificate for dinner for two (2) at one of New York City's fine restaurants. All travel arrangements, and choice of restaurant, and reservations for, the dinner will be made at the sole discretion of the Sponsor. Estimated total value of prize package: $2500

It was only after returning from my trip to NYC and writing about the experience that I stumbled across the specifics of the contest I had won. I had actually been searching for articles and video of the BBQ contest and found the rules that no doubt the newspaper reporter (being a professional researcher and apparently having taken the time to do a simple Google search that I never bothered with) had already seen.

But despite my monumental ignorance of what exactly I’d won (a degree of cluelessness that probably confused the good folks at ABC when they discovered I had no idea what I was entitled to), within a few days I’d been contacted by a Good Morning America staffer and the ball had been set in motion. I was asked to pick a date for the trip – preferably a weekend so that I could visit the show and tour the studio. I was also told to specify any sorts of food that my wife and I would prefer not to eat, so that suitable restaurants could be selected for us.

To digress a moment, my wife and I are not audacious diners. As an example, I know many fine people, President Obama among them, I believe, enjoy some arugula in their salad. My mother is a big fan of this particular leaf. At her request, we grew some in our garden, and recently determined that it was of a size to harvest. We cut off a leaf, small and tender and juicy-looking (or as juicy as glorified grass is likely to look. We’re not growing beef tenderloin here, I can say with heartfelt sorrow) and each took a bite. And nearly collided in our urgent, flailing scurry to spit the foul weed into the sink. I say without exaggeration that it was the most vile sprig of pure wickedness I can ever remember thrusting into my mouth, and the taste lingered as if to serve as a defense mechanism against predators, the way some insects taste profoundly bad as a deterrent to becoming a snack. And while arugula is easily the worst thing I’ve had the misfortune to taste, I have a similar revulsion to an array of other foods that is both broad and deep.

I like beef (as long as it’s not curried or marinated or otherwise molested). I like BBQ, the which I think comes as no surprise to anyone who’s read this far. I like most “Americanized” foods, which is to say foods that seem ethnic, but are, in fact, unrecognizable to members of the culture from which the foods are alleged to have come. Would I like pizza if I got it anywhere in Italy? Almost surely not. Would I ever eat authentic “Chinese Food”? Perish the thought – I like my glorified chicken mcnuggets in a red sauce over rice, thanks. (To digress further for a moment – a few years back I was an executive for a manufacturer with a growing international business that included parts of China. I had the opportunity to visit and emphatically declined on the grounds that I was quite certain I would starve to death. I took a similar position on earlier offers at other companies to send me to India. The point being to dismiss any thought you might have had that I was exaggerating the parochial nature of my palate.) So when somebody asks me to briefly relate the sorts of foods I don’t care for, I tend to get a bit anxious. There is no manner in which “briefly” will serve that situation. So instead I submitted a summary of the sorts of places we DID like to eat – steakhouses, Italian restaurants, rib joints (naturally), etc. It turns out I needn’t have worried.

It was almost a month before we got our full itinerary in hand, but it was worth the wait. We’d be staying at the Millennium Broadway hotel, just off Times Square and directly across from GMA. We’d be dining at Tavern on the Green and the Four Seasons Restaurant. We’d have a limo to take us to and from the hotel and airport. And we’d get to tour the GMA studio. This struck me as a fairly lavish trip and while I wasn’t terribly familiar with the restaurants, I’d at least heard of them which seemed like a plus to me. The only part that was arguably lacking was the flight, which would be a little USAirways prop-job puddle-jumping down from Syracuse to LaGuardia. Still, it’s not as if there’s a lot of choice flying out of Syracuse and JetBlue would have put us at JFK, which is quite a bit farther away from midtown Manhattan. All told, I was impressed and excited.

The next challenge for us would be deciding what to do. We would arrive around Noon on Friday and leave at 11 AM the following Sunday, which gave us basically half of one day and all of the next to enjoy ourselves. The timing of the 7:30 dinner reservations precluded some of the evening activities we might have considered, notably Shakespeare in the Park. There also weren’t any Broadway shows we were especially keen to see, though we weren’t averse to one, either. We don’t drink or “dance,” so anything involving night clubs or the like is out. Our bedtime is around 9:30 and anything too much later becomes a battle against Somnus, waggling his poppy stem at us, our eyelids seeming to ripple with newfound muscles as they strive to snap shut.

We do like to walk around (no doubt gawking like tourists. Which, after all, we would be in this instance), and we’re fond of zoos, so we decided to spend the bulk of Saturday in Central Park. Friday would be for wandering around the Theatre District and whatever else struck our fancy. As much as I like to plan every detail of a trip to ensure maximum enjoyment, my wife convinced me that we ought to be a bit more leisurely.

Still, there was no deficit of advice to be found online. I turned to my home forum and my wife searched the web. We came to surprisingly similar results. My wife found’s article 10 Things NOT to do in New York City, which mirrored the advice I got from locals in my thread. Ready for a chuckle? Piece of advice numero uno: don’t eat at Tavern on the Green. That’s funny, right? I thought so. Ah well, if it’s free it’s automatically 20% better, am I right? Regardless, we figured we had the makings of a very pleasurable weekend and we were ready to go. My parents offered to watch the kids for us and everything was in order for our first overnight date as a couple since before we’d had children. Of course, what you plan to do and what you end up doing aren’t always the same, and sometimes that’s just fine.

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