Sunday, July 19, 2009

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

Part 3 of a 5-part series

We then mingled with the thousands of other Times Square tourists for the rest of the afternoon. We marveled at the upscale two-story Olive Garden restaurant, not far from the Hershey store with its lavish signage and these funky little Reese’s turtles that I’ve never seen anywhere else. Dammit! I’ve just remembered that I’d wanted to stop back there and pick up a t-shirt for myself before we left. Ah well, maybe my wife will read this and get me one online for my birthday. And if not, I get to tease her for not reading my blog, which is OK too.

We spent nearly an hour inside the Times Square Toys R Us, and, all apologies to the NYC purists who would have preferred we spend our time somewhere more urbane, it was pretty darn cool! They had a life-size animatronic T-Rex in their Jurassic Park area (which contained no actual Jurassic Park merchandise that I could find), an indoor 3-story Ferris Wheel (with a lengthy line), and what seemed like a broader selection of toys than our neighborhood store, though it might just be that they were more creatively merchandised. They had a live Spider-Man walking around, but we weren’t fast enough for me to have my picture taken with him.

The other place that I’d always wanted to visit but never had was Midtown Comics. I couldn’t really say why, except for some vague notion that any comics store that could afford space in Times Square was probably doing something right. And they weren’t doing anything wrong – the two-level store was stocked with comics, sci-fi and fantasy novels, magazines, posters, and an ample selection of figurines. Still, despite the nice hardwood floors, it didn’t feel any more grand to me than my local Comix Zone, which, to be fair, is a pretty nice store. As a card-carrying geek, I naturally wish them all the best, but I don’t really need to go back.

The biggest disappointment of our stroll that day was learning that the Virgin Megastore in Times Square was closed. My wife’s a big enough music fan that I’d looked forward to taking her there, as I remembered it as being very impressive-looking. Evidently it shut down back in the spring leaving only tinted, chained doors and some gigantic digital billboards (for which somebody was still paying the electric bill). Instead, we opted to sit in the public-use lawn chairs set out in the new Broadway Pedestrian Walkway. I don’t know whether or not it should be a surprise, but regardless it was really nice sitting there watching the people walk by while looking at the historic buildings and vivid signs that Times Square is known for. We watched a father napping with his son (also napping) beside him in a stroller. No fewer than ten people stopped to take pictures of them. I even found a US dollar coin in my chair when I sat down, which I took as a good sign (of what I’m not sure, but at the very least it was a sign that I had suddenly become a dollar richer). If nothing else, given how easy it is to blast through cash in New York (or anywhere on vacation for that matter), getting some money back was a nice surprise.

Worn out from traveling and walking, my wife and I headed back to base camp (and yes, I get a chuckle out of referring to my semi-luxury hotel room as “base camp”) for a quick nap and a change of clothes before dinner. Consulting the map, now that we had some first-hand intel on the area, I decided that walking to Central Park for dinner was needlessly self-abusive. Twenty blocks in dress shoes wasn’t likely to kill us, but it was more work than I was in the mood for. So back I went to the concierge desk to inquire about how this whole “subway” thingie works. In my several trips to NYC, I had never once taken the subway. I figured it probably worked along similar lines to San Francisco’s BART or the MARTA in Atlanta, but I didn’t want my lack of familiarity to make us late so I asked for specifics. It’s well that I did, as it turned out that the half-hour we’d allotted was barely time enough and the advice from the concierge got us there just in time (with a little help from some of New York’s Finest, who helped us locate the correct train as we stumbled around the station wondering “are we going uptown or downtown?”).

Here’s the challenge for the NY subway stations – parts of them, specifically in areas like Times Square, are used extensively by tourists who are used to places like Disney World that continually hold you by the hand and make sure you get where you’re going with a gentle pat on the head. But Times Square isn’t really an amusement park, it’s actually an honest-to-goodness functioning city (though no doubt there are locals who would debate the use of the word functioning, still, as much as it’s not a maximum security prison, it ain’t Disney World). As such, there’s an expectation that people generally know where they are and where the heck they’re going, because they live there. When you throw a bunch of us tourist-types into the mix, who literally don’t know whether Central Park is considered uptown or downtown from Times Square… let’s just say that it’s a good thing there are cops down there to help point you the right way. But oy! Getting back was even worse, and the cops were gone for the night. You had to figure out that to get on the Times-Square-bound train involved going down a level, underneath the subway system, then back up on the other side. I was quite pleased with myself for figuring it out.

Evidently there are quite a lot of people who wish to go uptown at 7:00 on a Friday night, as the train out of Times Square was packed almost to bursting. And then a half-dozen more people got on. On the plus side, they weren’t extras from The Warriors or anything, just normal folks riding the train. Got to 66th street in good time to make our 7:30 reservation.

The Tavern on the Green is a New York icon, if for no other reason than because it’s where Rick Moranis finally gets possessed by the demon-dog form of Vinz Clortho, keymasterof Gozer the Gozerian in Ghostbusters. We sat in the same dining room shown in the movie, where Moranis beats on the glass seeking sanctuary while the patrons pause only briefly to watch him be devoured before returning to their meals. Oddly, the restaurant barely mentions this on their website. For me, the film reference and the cheesecake were the highlights of the evening.

The restaurant is grand on the inside, if garish. The wait staff was friendly and professional, and the atmosphere was about what you’d expect from an upscale NYC restaurant. Their dress code of “Neat Attire” is unenforced, as the guy who sat behind my wife was wearing jeans and an old T-shirt. There’s a photographer who’ll take your picture and offer to sell it to you later for thirty bucks. Here’s a hint – she’ll take twenty-five for it if you really want it, and the waiters will take your picture for you if you bring a camera. We decided to pass on the photo and settled for our own snapshot. My medium-rare steak came medium and dry, but the frizzled onions were tasty. My wife’s prime rib was excellent and came with a popover that was very good. The sour cream cheesecake was very good. Overall, it was enjoyable because it was different and the atmosphere was nice, but if I’d paid $140 for dinner (including tax and tip, no wine) out of my own pocket, I’d have been disappointed. Since it was free, I was ecstatic. Funny how that works, no? We even had enough left on our gift certificate to do some shopping in their lavish gift shop, which went a long way toward solving our problem of what souvenirs to get the kids. The boys have already worn their Tavern on the Green T-shirts and liked them a lot. Mission accomplished, we made our way back to base camp through the (not terribly intuitive) subway system and went to bed. We had a 6:20 AM appointment to be on set at Good Morning America Weekend and I wanted to be well-rested!

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