Letterman and New York

I still can’t get over the fact that Letterman tickets were available on such short notice. Friday, on the list. Monday, get the call. Tuesday, see the show.

Harold, who had suggested we do NYC in the first place, got to my house at 10:00AM. As an all day trip, there was no sense starting early and fighting it out with the commuters.

We drove to Stamford uneventfully. Though Helaine and I disagree on this, I like to drive to Stamford and take the train (Metro North) from there. That way, I have many more trains to choose from than if I had left from New Haven. That’s especially true on the way home, when many trains make all the stops. Plus, I drive faster than the train does.

Actually, I like driving in even better. But, on a weekday, getting through Manhattan is iffy at best with long, slow tie-ups, unpredictable.

We ended up in the first car on the train, and Harold and I (being nerdy kids at heart) moved up toward the font door/window. Then we felt the motorman’s wrath.

I’ve been riding trains over 50 years and I had never had a motorman shoo me away, but shoo’ed I was… and not in a nice way. This guy was so adamant about us not being near the front window that he made the whole trip with the cab door open, which I assume is some sort of safety and/or security violation. And it’s not like Harold and I are dangerous looking characters.

We made Grand Central a little after noon and headed downstairs to what was once a waiting room. Now, it’s a very nice food court. Most of the shops look like independant small operators. I tried some sushi and Harold had half a sandwich and soup. Converting this area to a food court was a great idea.

I was also impressed that the men’s room was clean and large (though there was a line for the women’s room).

FIrst stop was to be Canal Street, home of “knock off” everything – – watches, handbags, DVDs. If something costs more because of a name or intangible content beyond the manufacturing cost, you will find it dirt cheap on Canal Street.

Harold and I bought all day Metro Passes for $7 and headed downtown on what used to be called the BMT.

I was looking for a knockoff of a very specific Breitling watch, with LCD and analog readout. The real thing is around $2,000. On Canal Street it should be under $50 and a dead ringer.

Harold, who wasn’t expecting to buy, found a very nice Seiko. The vendor said $10. I said $7. Harold got it for $8. It’s a very nice watch.

Neither of us can figure out how this stuff gets made, brought to the US, and sold for these prices with profit being made every step of the way.

We needed to be at the Ed Sullivan Theater by 3:30 PM to claim our tickets. So, we took the train back uptown.

New York was very warm and sticky. On numerous phonecalls throughout the day, Helaine told me the radar was showing storms nearby. I know it rained while we were inside the theater, during the Letterman taping, but we never saw a drop fall from the sky… thankfully.

I had been instructed to say I was on Mitch’s “gold list”. Still, I wanted to try everything I could to get better seats. All the CBS pages wore tags with their name and hometown. I desparately seached for someone with “CT” on their tag, and found Dave from Waterford, CT.

Bingo. Dave looked at my drivers license (you need ID to claim your tickets), looked at me, and smiled. He had recognized me. This, I thought, was a good thing.

Harold and I entered through a roped walkway to some sort of ‘special’ podium. I later learned that another Dave, the audience coordinator, had also spotted me. The girl with the tickets took out a Sharpie and wrote “CBS” on mine.

Another good sign.

With tickets in hand, we left to head to Times Square and the TKTS booth. There, on the day of performance, unbought Broadway tickets go for 1/2 price plus a few bucks. Often, the seats are quite good. Steffie and I have seen loads of shows this way. Broadway is now like flying in that everyone pays a different amount.

I had convinced Harold, reluctantly, to see a Broadway show after the Letterman taping. I probably like Broadway more than any other straight man in America.

The shows on the board were mediocre. But, Gypsy was there, and I had heard very good things about Bernadette Peters with favorable comparisons to Ethel Merman. We stood in line for around 20 minutes, and I could see Harold having second thoughts.

Meanwhile, I was snapping away; taking pictures of people, places and pigeons. In Times Square, the pigeon is king! Even the statue of George M. Cohan serves as a pigeon roost.

Amazingly enough, after a while I looked up and there, staring back at me was Stephanie Linakis, who I have known since we were both infants and who lives on Long Island. How strange to meet up with her in the heart of Times Square, where most New Yorkers dare not tread.

I was surprised to see CBS – Letterman pages in Times Square, trying to drum up more studio members. It was my impression that this show was always sold out months in advance. Was there some royal screw up which caused less tickets to be originally distributed, or was it just tough to fill the theater?

Even under these circumstances, potential audience members were asked a Letterman trivia question (Who is Biff Henderson?).

Harold was growing fidgety, so we bolted the line and walked around midtown. There is a Museum of Photography somewhere, though we never found it. We did, however, find some interesting public art.

Many buildings in Manhattan have been forced to put in public spaces as part of their committment to the city. I had never seen this interesting ‘sculpture’ with water flowing down the side and a tunnel through its center.

It was time to go back up to Letterman. We had been told to be there by 4:30 PM. Immediately we were taken inside (air conditioning and bathrooms) where we stood in a hallway with around 50 others, listening through the walls to Paul Schaeffer and the CBS Orchestra rehearsing. Outside, much of the assembled audience was being rained on.

After a while, another audience coordinator came in, stood on a chair and told us what we would be seeing. We had been chosen to get ‘great seats’, he said. Unobstructed views. The only ones like that in the theater. He even referenced me, “you might even see your favorite Connecticut weatherman”, in his schpiel.

After a while we went to our seats… in the balcony. I sat in the very last row. Yes, we had an unobstructed view, but it was obvoius the show was being done for the people downstairs. And, I know from being on stages, with the lights, we couldn’t even be seen from downstairs. Being upstairs it wasn’t even the ‘meat locker’ cold temperature that Dave’s studio is known for.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say this was disappointing.

And, I’m totally unsure what to make of it, because the people in this group were hand picked from the crowd in general. But, maybe that’s the idea. The people downstairs should be those with no pull, and anyone here trying to throw their weight should be out of sight. I just don’t know.

The show itself was very good. The Sullivan Theater has been modified greatly for Dave. A large protion of the balcony is gone, hidden behind large accoustical panels. There are also accoustical panels above the light grid. If you look really hard, you can still see some of the beautiful work on the theater’s original ceiling. There were at least 5 or 6 microphones on the balcony railing, pointing toward the audience. Overkill.

Taping would start at 5:30 sharp. Eddie Brill’s quick warmup, the band’s number and Paul’s entrance were all timed to bring Dave on exactly 3 minutes before taping. I was amazed to see Paul being counted down by the floor manager so he would end the music on time… and the show hadn’t even started.

I found Dave warm and engaging. Though Helaine and I have speculated that his private life might be a mess, it is obvious that he is the master of this domain. He was totally confident and sharp. This is his venue and everything is designed so he will be able to be at his best.

The show went quickly. The major guest was Colin Farrell, with a new movie (SWAT) about to premiere. He was good, and funny. The “F” word slipped out and Dave joined in… knowing it was all safe fun, since we were going to tape.

I have been to lots of tapings before but felt a little out of it being this far away. Some people credit Jay Leno’s studio rebuild, moving the audience closer to the action, as being part of his current success (I’m not a huge Jay fan, but getting Kevin Eubanks who is willing to play along and take one for the team, is a large factor).

Harold and I left the theater, heading downtown again. Wit the museums closed and Broadway off the agenda, I asked if we could take a round trip on the Staten Island Ferry. I wanted some shots of Lower Manhattan and The Statue of Liberty.

On the way down, we ended up in the subway’s first car, and again gravitated to the front window. I wanted to hold the camera steady against the window while we were in a station, allowing me to take a long exposure into the darkened tunnel.

The motorman (no doubt related to the Metro North guy) yelled at me from his cab. Camera’s weren’t permitted in the subway!

Actually, MTA rule 1050.9 C says “Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used. Members of the press holding valid identification issued by the New York City Police Department are hereby authorized to use necessary ancillary equipment. All photographic activity must be conducted in accordance with the provision of these Rules.

A man in the other end of the car, the only other passenger, yelled at me to go ahead and take pictures. My guess is this man does not let the concept of rules ever slow him down. I put the camera away. No balls. And, I was doing nothing wrong!

Off at Whitehall Street we headed to South Ferry. The Andrew J. Barberi would be our boat.

Barberi Class Boats:

There are two sister ships, the Andrew J. Barberi and the Samuel I. Newhouse. The Barberi entered service in 1981 and the Newhouse in 1982. Each boat carries 6,000 passengers, with a crew of 15 plus one female attendant. The boats are 310 feet long, 69 feet, 10 inches wide, with a draft of 13 feet, 6 inches, weight of 3,335 gross tons, service speed of 16 knots, and 7,000 horsepower.

There are actually 8 ferry boats used between Lower Manhattan and St. George, Staten Island, with these two being the largest. The trip is 25 minutes. Since 1997 it’s been free. Even when they charged, it wasn’t expensive. As a kid, it was $.05 versus $.15 for the subway. Later, it went to a quarter.

The trip to State Island was very nice. The water was calm but the sky was gray. With a long view to the horizon, I saw areas of both rain and sunshine.

I snapped dozens of photos: other ships and boats, buoys, lights, buildings and, of course, The Statue of Liberty. With sunset approaching the statue was closed for the day. A Coast Guard boat was close at hand.

As we approached Staten Island an announcment was made. Our ferry would be going out of service: Leave, even if you are making the round trip. Of course, that was a lie.

Luckily, that allowed Harold and me to experience first hand, the St. George Ferry Terminal. If there is a more depressing public space in America, I have not seen it. This building is screaming, “We really don’t give a shit about you.” The waiting room was drab. Even if it were clean it would seem dirty… but it was dirty. There were pigeons, inside, walking around.

These were tough ass city pigeons. Sort of like mob pigeons. You wouldn’t want to screw with these pigeons… they had friends. They were in the ferry terminal waiting room because there was no one with enough weight to get them out.

By the time we made it back to Manhattan, the sun had set. Lower Manhattan wasn’t lit up the way I expected. Maybe the Financial District is just different since 9/11. The skyline was nice, but there was no look of excitment. Certainly the WTC is missing from the picture I remember seeing.

I did catch a sailboat, probably a party charter, with dozens of people on deck, sailing by The Battery. I really had to push this photo to make it viewable. It was a pretty neat sight, seeing these big buildings and this stately sailboat.

Back to the subway and on at South Ferry (the old IRT line). I remembered this station from when I was a kid. Its platform is so curved that iron grate extensions push out from the platform every time a train stops. Otherwise, the doors would be too far away and the station unusable. As it is, only the front five or so cars fit on the platform.

By the time we got to Grand Central, the food court had closed. Harold and I picked up some snacks and headed to the 9:07 express to Stamford.

I took a lot of pictures… nearly 200. Hopefully that didn’t get on Harold’s nerves. And, I had a good time.

When I was a little kid, Manhattan… The City… was always a treat. It was and still is exciting. I always thought that only the best worked there. I don’t feel that way anymore. But, I do feel there’s a certain prestige that goes with working in the city that I’ve missed out on.

Anything’s possible

Late last week, my friend Harold told me he was taking this week off and that if I took a day off, we’d go to “The City” (Since I was a little child “The City” meant Manhattan which was treated differently than other parts of New York City).

Fine. I asked for, and received, Tuesday off.

But, what to do in The City? We talked about The Lower East Side (I am a knockoff watch whore and am looking for a new faux Breitling), getting tickets at TKTS and seeing a Broadway show, the Ansel Adams exhibit at MOMA and going to see David Letterman.

I have been a Letterman fan since the first time I saw him on The Tonight Show. When his late show began on NBC, I got on my knees and begged our program director at WGRZ in Buffalo to run it (which she eventually did).

Click to see the inscription from Dave

Around 20 years ago, Helaine and I went and saw a taping at 30 Rock. A friend who worked at NBC at the time got us into the studio early, where we shmoozed with Biff Henderson.

Letterman came out before the show and walked into the audience, looking for questions. Being right in front, we were tough to avoid. He called on Helaine and then answered her question, “What kind of makeup do you wear? My fiancee is on TV and his doesn’t look as good.”

When the show started, he made reference to the question and asked me what station I was on. Andrea Martin was on the show, but I don’t remember much more.

Of course, Letterman tickets are tough to come by, especially in the summer when his target audience is … at will, so to speak. So, I emailed my friend Mel at CBS. “They hate us,” he replied, making no bones about the Letterman staff’s relationship with the rest of CBS.

Next, an email to Aaron Barnhart at the Kansas City Star and www.tvbarn.com. Aaron has been a Letterman fan forever, and I figured he was connected. Anyway, I had just done a favor for him, so he was into me.

No pull.

But, Aaron suggested I go to the CBS website and put myself on the standby list. What the hell? It was late, the dog was chowing down, I had nothing better to do.

This afternoon the message appeared on my cellphone. Mitch at Late Night was calling, telling me they had a cancellation and I was invited. Assured seats, no standby. How cool is this?

All I had to do was answer a trivia question to establish my Letterman bonafides. First, how often did I watch? I told him 2-3 times a week (any more and too much Dave starts sneaking into my performance). My question, “Who is Alan Kalter?”

Damn! Alex, I’ll take staff announcers for $500.

So, Harold arrives at 10:00am. We”ll drive to Stamford and catch Metro North to Grand Central. And, we’re going to see Letterman.