I like going to New York. The city is invigorating to me. When I was a kid, living in the bowels of Queens, going to ‘the city’ was a big deal. It was where sophistication was – and I was anything but sophisticated.
Helaine is less a New York lover than I am. On the other hand, she loves me. She agreed to go because I wanted to go.
Helaine, Clicky¹ and I headed to Union Station in New Haven for the 11:57 AM train. Union Station is a moderately large, moderately grand, railroad station.
There are rows of large wooden benches in the waiting room. Over the past few
years someone has put large model trains, under plastic covers, on the tops of the benches. It was a great idea, but it ruins the look of this classic station.
Of the eight trains listed on the stations schedule board, three were delayed or cancelled. Is this any way to run a railroad?
Our train arrived at Grand Central Terminal ahead of schedule and we were on our way to Times Square.
The norm for a Fox Family trip to New York is to see a show, and the best deal is to go to TKTS in Duffy Square in the northern reaches of Times Square. TKTS sells Broadway show tickets for half price, plus a small surcharge. There are no credit cards accepted and no guarantee of any show being available.
Oh – you have to stand in the cold, in line, and wait. Temperatures yesterday never got out of the mid-30°s and there was a pretty stiff breeze.
We got in line around 2:00 PM. TKTS opens at 3:00 PM.
I had done some research, seeing which shows had been posted for sale in the previous week, and which shows we might enjoy. Trust me, some shows are bad. Even worse, some shows are weird. There are shows about nearly every aberrant behavior you can think of – and many you can’t!
Our goal was to see “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” We had seen small snippets of it on the Tony Awards, and it looked funny. Here’s the original NY Times review.
After waiting a few minutes, it was entertainment time. A man brought a portable amplifier, karaoke soundtrack, and buckets for contributions and began to sing. Yikes! No wonder he can’t get a legit job.
He started with “New York, New York,” and it went downhill from there. Like the guy with the broom who sweeps up after the elephants, he is in show business.
Most times you can get your first choice for show tickets. This time we did.
For $47.50 + $3 service charge each, we got $95 seats for the show. Our seats we’re in Row C at the very oddly shaped “Circle in the Square Theater.” More on that later. It was just after 3:00 PM and the show wouldn’t begin until 8:00 PM. Five hours in New York to kill.
I suggested, and Helaine readily agreed (she really must love me) to go to the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side. We popped into the subway, bought two Metrocards, asked the ticket agent for assistance, and found the correct station was a few blocks away.
I’m not sure how most out-of-towners take to the subway. I grew up riding them. I took a long subway ride to high school, every day for four years. It is the fastest, easiest mode of transportation in Manhattan. They’re just not very clean or friendly looking. The cars are filled with people from every corner of the planet.
We were at the museum in 15 minutes.
Our time at the museum was a little aimless. We got there late in the afternoon. Even on Fridays, the museum turns into a pumpkin at 5:30.
We walked around the new space wing – an impressive glass lined structure. We moved into the ‘old school’ sections of the museum.
At one point I needed the men’s room. I left Helaine and walked a series of hallways to get there. I made a turn and stared down the hall where the lunchrooms for school kids are located.
Good grief. It’s deja vu! I remembered being there, in this very same hallway, well over 40 years ago.
I like this museum. We needed more time, or more importantly, a real strategy for seeing things. We walked around aimlessly.
Some of what we saw was very impressive. Huge dinosaurs filled large halls. In other areas, animals from around-the-world were pictured in their native habitats.
Helaine asked if the animals in the dioramas were ‘real’ or re-creations. You know, sometimes you just don’t want to hear the answer!
I would assume these are the best of taxidermy. I’m also guessing the same antelopes have had vultures picking at them for decades. Some of these dioramas looked pretty old.
As the museum closed, we headed south. There was plenty of time, since we were meeting Steffie and her college roommate for dinner at the Stage Deli. We decided to walk.
The Museum of Natural History to the Stage Deli is around 1.5 miles, but it’s a flat, easy walk down Central Park West. CPW is a broad, two way street with the park on the east side. On the west side are mostly large, stately, very expensive co-op apartment buildings.
We walked past canopies leading to lobbies with multiple doormen. From time-to-time as we walked, a doorman would dart to the street to hail a cab or carry a bag.
We walked past the San Remo. It’s one of the few buildings on CPW I’ve been in. Years ago a friend worked for Barry Manilow, and I was in his apartment (without Barry). His view of Central Park was unreal.
We walked past the Dakota, the building where John Lennon lived, and outside of which he was killed.
We walked past one cross street, and as I looked down, it was covered in snow… and movie gear. A film shoot was in progress.
A few young women were talking to technicians, wondering about the arrival of someone – probably a movie star. Though the tech said he’d be there in a few hours, they said they’d stay.
We continued south to Columbus Circle. For years the circle was dominated by the horrific Edward Durrell Stone designed Huntington Hartford Art Gallery and the New York Coliseum. The Coliseum was actually uglier. With it’s astoundingly restrictive work rules it came to represent everything bad about doing business in New York City.
Now Columbus Circle is ruled by the Time Warner Center, a huge complex of condos, hotels and upscale shopping. We still had a few blocks to walk before getting to the Stage.
I fished my cellphone from my pocket and called Steffie, in the Village. She and the mystery roomie were heading to the subway to meet us for dinner. Luckily the Stage wasn’t all that crowded, as Helaine and I sat for a half hour waiting for their arrival.
I’ve written about the Stage before, but briefly, imagine Shaq sized sandwiches with bowls of matzo ball soup large enough to bathe in. On the table, a plate of very large, very sour pickles. Along with these oversized courses come checks the size of a small mortgage payment.
There was still some time before the curtain… and it was still very cold. Helaine sat down in the theater’s lobby while I headed back out to Times Square to take some more shots.
I took over 200 photos on this trip. It wasn’t particularly sunny and there wasn’t a whole lot I hadn’t photographed a dozen times before. I have a few good shots, but alas, nothing spectacular.
I made a few attempts at panoramas, firing off shot after shot as I slowly spun around at a location. So far I’ve looked at my panos for Times Square and the Museum of Natural History. Neither is a keeper. There’s still one from Grand Central to process.
It was dark out as I went to take these last Times Square shots. Obviously, the square itself is illuminated with miles of neon, but I wanted to capture the lower light foreground as well.
This kind of shot really calls out for a tripod. I have a little tabletop tripod in my bag… which was with Helaine. So, I waited for the light to go red, moved out into the crosswalk, and put the camera on the blacktop. In some shots I placed a tube of Chapstick under the lens to ‘lift’ the view.
Our show, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” is presented in “Circle in the Square” on 50th Street. This theater is at least 30 years old, new for a Broadway house, and probably has been refurbished at least once in that time. The theater space is actually downstairs.
To get you into the theme of the show, the lobby is decorated as if it were a school. There are posters, mostly handmade, for the A/V Squad and school elections. I didn’t know it at the time, but everyone pictured seems to be in the show or with the show.
Some members of the audience were standing in line with forms. This show uses four members of the audience as spelling bee participants.
Within a few minutes, a coordinator was approaching me. Helaine had found him and ratted me out.
As it turns out, I wasn’t chosen. Helaine says I wasn’t dweeby enough and probably too tall. Wow! Those are two things that never apply to me.
“Circle in the Square” is a very unusual theater space. The stage juts out into the house with no offstage wings. The audience surrounds it on three sides.
It’s not a particularly large theater, and having the audience split into three makes it that much more intimate.
Helaine said she felt a little uncomfortable sitting sideways to the stage, as we did. I thought they were fine – and we certainly had great seats for half price.
Before I continue, if you’re reading this and have never been to Broadway to see a show – go. I’m not talking about a Broadway show touring your city with an all-Minnesotan cast.
There is nothing like live theater, especially when you are seeing the cream of the acting crop, as you are in New York City.
But, it’s more than the actors. The theaters, the staging, the lighting, the musicians – they are all very special to Broadway. There is no other experience quite like it.
Broadway has become very pricey. What used to be a New Yorker’s pursuit is now primarily there for tourists. You can get good seats to many shows for half price. I have never been disappointed when I’ve seen a show on tickets from TKTS.
Back to the show.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” follows the action at the bee, but of course is more than that. Each of the participants (two of whom could easily be played by an unamed friend of mine) has a back story. There is a subtext in everything that’s going on.
The dialog is clever. The music is OK, though there’s no tune for me to hum or memorable moment in the score. The play is performed so close to the audience that every action is a ‘tight shot.’
It is an ensemble cast of mainly young people, trying to look even younger.
The four audience members are integrated into the spelling bee and one-by-one, they are stumped (though when the script calls for them to stay, they are given words like “cow” to spell) and sit down.
At our performance, one of the audience members was an excellent speller. She got a word right that was obviously there to stump her. On her next turn, she spelled an even more difficult word.
Without missing a beat, she was given another, even more difficult word… a word which began with an “x” and went on for four or five syllables! It was obvious this was her time to sit down.
When she finally walked toward her seat, she was given a huge ovation. Really, quite sweet.
We enjoyed the show. It runs 1:45 without an intermission. That left us plenty of time to catch the 10:22 PM train back to New Haven… except the show began almost 10 minutes late!
We dashed from the theater and began walking to Grand Central. My legs are longer than Helaine’s. Advantage Geoff.
We huffed and puffed to 6th Avenue, then through the Diamond District (all closed on a Friday night – shabbot). I was wearing my atomic watch, accurate to the millisecond, and kept yelling out the time remaining.
Finally, a few blocks from the terminal, I had had enough. A cab was at the light and we hopped in. He took off and we then managed to hit every light the few blocks to GCT.
Helaine’s shoe was coming off… or coming apart. I’m not sure. It just wasn’t going well. We were living the Sandy Dennis, Jack Lemmon life from the original “Out of Towners.”
Our train left from track 15 – about a thousand tracks in from the main entrance. We were tired and I was sweating (Helaine might have been glowing – not sure) but we made it on board.
The train was crowded. Helaine said it looked like there were more than a few Rangers fans, going home after their game. There were more than a few people drinking beer and some loud, though controlled, laughter and discussions.
We rolled through the quiet Connecticut shoreline, getting to New Haven at 1:11 AM.
That’s a lot to do in one day!
¹ – Since I’ve taken nearly 16,000 photos with my Canon Digital Rebel, it has earned a name: “Clicky.” Helaine, Steffie and I refer to the camera by that name – we really do!