Thursday, July 23, 2009

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

Part 6 of a 5-part series

Part 6 of 5, huh? How’s that for a numbering scheme? I find one of the nice things about a blog, which is different from more mainstream publications, is that what I write doesn’t need to fit into somebody else’s format. There’s no editor who needs to fill a specific number of pages each issue. So when I find that a piece is running longer than expected, I just have to ask myself if it’s ok to keep it going. I’m an agreeable guy in general, and especially so when it’s me that’s asking for something, so the answer is nearly always “Have at it!” Thus here we are on part 6 of 5. At this point it looks as if it’ll end up with seven entries, but if I ask myself for an eighth, I’ll probably let that slide, too. Back to New York.

With the excitement of GMA still crackling about us like St. Elmo’s Fire, we decided next to walk the full length and breadth of Manhattan in search of a purse and a sweater. Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but by the afternoon my feet felt as if that’s what we’d done.

My wife had bought a new dress specifically for the Four Seasons, as she didn’t really have anything she felt was nice enough. It’s the sort of upscale restaurant where men wear jackets and she knew how dashing I look in a dinner jacket. Yet Friday night had been cool, and she’d become concerned that the rather small dress she’d bought for Saturday wouldn’t be warm enough. Also, she’d had the epiphany that the largish denim purse she’d brought with her – perfect for holding the entire contents of a two drawers, a footlocker and the better part of a medicine cabinet – was a bit informal for the evening’s attire.

Our original plan for Saturday afternoon had tentatively been a stroll through Central Park, including a trip to the zoo and a stop at Belvedere Castle. On Friday, we’d also considered that a Broadway show might be fun, too. It had been over ten years since we saw Phantom of the Opera together, for instance, and Shrek, Wicked and several other shows looked fun as well. Getting cheap seats on the day of the show shouldn’t be too expensive, right? We decided to check at the “Theatre” desk at our hotel. The woman there was very helpful, and explained that we had a couple of choices. At 10:00 AM, the ticket pavilion in Times Square would be stocked with all the unsold tickets to that day’s matinee performances. We could wait in line for an hour or two and get the $120 tickets at half-off. Or, we could buy them from a broker, like her, at MORE than the ticket’s list price. Say, $150 or more. So, to recap, we could spend a goodly chunk of our short trip to New York standing in a line, we could visit the box office and maybe find tickets available at the full $120 price, or we could overpay for them. Too rich for my blood, thanks. We’ll wait until Famous Artists brings them to Syracuse.

So the plan was to pop off in search of a purse and a sweater, on our way to a stroll through Central Park. In retrospect, it’s clear that that’s way more walking than I’d ever consider doing, but at the time it seemed reasonable. Off to 5th Avenue we went. The night before we had dined at Tavern on the Green, best known, to me, anyway, for being the location where Ric Moranis was eaten by a demon dog in Ghostbusters. I’m a big fan of that movie, so I was delighted that this trip presented us with yet another iconic location from that movie – the front steps of the New York Public Library.

Manhattan is covered to every last inch with pavement and buildings, except for a rather remarkable number of parks. Bryant Park is one such, a swath of neat green grass behind the library. On this Saturday morning, it was dotted with visitors sipping coffee or working at their laptops or even laying out sunbathing. Several fleshy, pale gentlemen had apparently been gazing at their laptops for so long that, quite unnoticed in their reverie, their shirts had completely disintegrated and blown away as dust on the air. It was an appalling sight, but you at least had to admire their ability to focus.

We marveled at a large fountain and a statue of William Cullen Bryant, then made our historic visit to Payless Shoes, wherein my wife found a cheap clutch-purse that would do the trick for tonight’s dinner. The quest for accessories was well and truly underway!

We next made our way to Lord & Taylor, the high point of which was… leaving. There was nothing there that was remotely in our price range for a sweater my wife would likely wear only once. Still, it was a lovely day for a walk. It was sunny and bright, but not overly hot. A cool breeze blew just right to keep us comfortable and 5th Ave has a wide array of shops, old architecture, and wide sidewalks. A nearby H&M store had several sweaters that suited my wife’s taste, bringing our quest to a successful, if not overly dramatic, conclusion. We next stopped on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a rest and to call the kids. When we finished, it was getting on toward lunch time and we decided that a burger from The Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridian hotel would do the trick. By the time we reached 56th Street, we’d walked some twenty of the shorter north-south blocks along 5th Ave, plus a couple of long blocks east from our hotel to get to 5th Ave in the first place. It was 12:30 and I was weary, hungry, and on my way to cranky.

Just for kicks, we walked the 56th street block between5 th and 6th Ave three times. My address for Le Parker Meridian wasn’t very specific and we thought we’d missed it, when in fact we needed to go one more block West. This did not improve my mood. I was nearly hobbling by the time we reached our destination. A bellman pointed us toward the dark velvet curtain that hid the Burger Joint from casual view. Down a very dark hall, we found a door into, well, a burger joint. It was a simple, no-frills affair exactly as advertised. A fellow at the door, who I assume worked there, advised the few of us who’d arrived at the same time that service was at the counter, and seating was catch-as-catch can. He suggested bribing somebody to give up their table as one approach to getting a seat. I stuck my head in and looked around at the tiny restaurant as a number of people came down the hall behind us. “Get out of the doorway!” shouted one of the cooks. “Excuse us,” said one of the folks behind us. So let’s recap: I’m tired. I’m sore. I’m cranky. I’m famished. I’m being scolded by the guy with the greasy spatula. I’m in the way of the people behind us. The two things I desperately need at that time are a place to sit and something to eat and it appears that I can have one or the other here, but not both. So I did the only thing I could think to do – I fled.

A few buildings down 56th we found a little courtyard with a wall you could sit on. Not comfortably, because some jackass had affixed these thin metal bars along the top of most of the walls whose only purpose seemed to be to make it uncomfortable, but not impossible, to sit on the wall. We made some key decisions from that mildly painful perch. First off, I had used up my stamina for the day – there was no way I could spend several hours hobbling around Central Park. Second, Times Square was full of decent enough restaurants. I didn’t need “Authentic NYC,” I just needed food. And let’s face it, my wife and I are grist for the chain restaurant mill. We like chain restaurants. There, I said it. We’re not particularly sophisticated or snobbish about where we eat – we like good food and we like it at a fair price. Not all chains provide both, but I was confident we could find something.

So off we went, back to Times Square. Which, being a loyal reader (and, dare I say it, a fan) you’ll recall I was expressly told to avoid like the plague. Tough. We like Times Square. There! I said it. I wouldn’t want to spend a week exploring its nooks and crannies, but it served perfectly for our short visit. Given the choice between the Hard Rock Café, Planet Hollywood, and a handful of other places, I selected Planet Hollywood. First off, I knew it was huge, so our chances of getting a seat at lunchtime seemed pretty good. Also, I’m a movie nut, and I really enjoy the décor. Lastly, I’d eaten at the one in Disney World a few times and vaguely remembered that the food was at least satisfactory. It turned out to be a great choice.

I felt as if I was on my last legs when we finally arrived, as you can see from the picture. The endless flight of stairs up to the dining level didn’t help. At the top, we were greeted by a fellow who wanted to divert us to a picture-taking booth, but I just mumbled something like “not a chance” and toddled off to the hostess. As I’d predicted, there was plenty of room and we were seated immediately, much to my tremendous relief. Here’s the thing about Planet Hollywood – the food is actually really good. I’ll probably never know how good the $10 burger is at the Burger Joint, but it wasn’t any better than the delicious $15 burger I got at Planet Hollywood. In fact, my Planet Hollywood burger was better than my $50 steak from Tavern on the Green the night before. Add in a yummy vanilla milkshake and some spicy chicken fingers and by the time we left I was back to my old self. I still didn’t feel like walking around Central Park, but I didn’t feel like I was about to keel over dead any longer.

We spent the afternoon just wandering around and lounging around, which was fine with me. We found some souvenir shops to get trinkets for the kids and wrapped up the afternoon with a nice nap at the hotel. Our NYC adventure was more than half over, but two exceptional experiences were still to come.

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