Fear, trepidation – sure, I had both with the promise of protests preceding the Republican Convention. But, the lure of knockoff handbags was too great and so we went to New York City, Saturday.
I know, looking at my logs, that many of you reading this live far away from Connecticut or New York City, so let me give you some subway advice. There is no better, faster way to get around Manhattan than the subway. It has its shortcomings – nearly no service on the far West or East Sides and multiple routes on the same platform, going different places.
We consider it safe, though sometimes interesting. Yesterday, on the #6 train downtown, a man entered from the next car and began to tell his tale of woe in a loud, non-threatening voice. He was begging. But he never intimidated anyone (that I could see). In fact, in his spiel, he said he would not do anything untoward (OK, he didn’t use that word exactly).
More than anything, the subway gives you the feel for the real New York, which continues to be a city of immigrants. While on the platform at Grand Central, I asked Helaine how many languages she thought we could have had translated?
I’m getting ahead of myself.
We parked in the garage across the street from the Stamford station and bought three tickets with a $4 Metro Pass (subway) add-on from a machine. I must have missed a menu somewhere, as I bought an off peak/peak ticket – overpaying. The conductor pointed this out, and later at Grand Central Terminal I applied for a refund… which may or may not be mailed to me, and which forced me to be another set of off peak tickets for our return.
Neither the train or the subway were a problem. We got to Canal Street, popped back to ground level and started to sweat. It was stiflingly hot and humid. The sky was a steel gray of haze with indistinct clouds.
Canal Street was busier than I had ever seen it. Along with the Chinese and Indian merchants normally there were African men selling watches and sunglasses. I would guess they had been moved from the area, now cordoned off, that will host the Republican Convention. They sold their wares while walking along the street, as opposed to the more entrenched merchants who had tables and tiny storefronts.
While Helaine and Steffie walked along, darting into cramped little spaces, I stayed on the street snapping photos. There’s not much here I haven’t snapped before, but now I have the new camera and a chance to get a different perspective.
Throughout the afternoon, I watched at least 3 or 4 caravans of police vehicles, lights and sirens running, move through. Often there would be a marked patrol car or two, black Yukon or similar big vehicle (with police lights), a few enclosed scooters (normally used for traffic enforcement) and another marked police car at the rear.
New York is not Connecticut. Cars do not part because of lights and sirens in New York. First, there’s usually no place to part to! Second, it’s New York and even lights and sirens don’t get you an advantage.
It was quite a fruitful day for Steffie. She came home with three bags. I saw some computer books, but nothing I wanted. In the past I had seen a few software vendors, selling what could only be bootleg software. They were not evident, nor was there the normal amount of bootleg DVD dealers.
I also looked at watches. I tried on a very nice tank watch but couldn’t ‘pull the trigger.’ It was very handsome, emblazoned with the name of a very well known, high end watch company. The quality was excellent. There’s no one I know who would even suspect it wasn’t the genuine article. It will be there next time we go.
We decided to head uptown to eat. Over time, there are traditions a family develops – ours is the Stage Deli. Forty years ago my Uncle Dave was a waiter there. They don’t hold that against us.
We headed into the subway, swiping our Metro Cards to go through the turnstile. Helaine’s didn’t work. A station cleaner, not doing much but yakking on his cellphone, told us we were out of luck. This, of course, was the fear of New Yorkers when the city switched from tokens to Metro Cards. What happens if there’s trouble in a station without a token booth? We found out – you lose $2.
Well, not exactly.
Even New York has its street justice. A man getting off the train at Canal Street saw our plight. He must have had a weekly or monthly pass, allowing him unlimited rides, because he turned to Helaine and me, smiled and said, “Here, use mine.” And, she did.
We took the train to 47th and Broadway, the north end of Times Square, and prepared to walk the few blocks to The Stage. As crowded as Canal Street was, Times Square was just the opposite – empty. I looked across the street at the TKTS booth and saw something I had never seen before – no line!
On many occasions Steffie and I have gone to New York and waited 1-2 hours in line at TKTS to buy Broadway show tickets. TKTS sells unsold Broadway and Off Broadway tickets for half price, plus a small surcharge. They’re still not cheap, but it’s one of the best bargains in New York and we’ve often gotten great seats.
I checked the board and was amazed. Nearly every hot show was available – and for 50% off! We had seen Hairspray, Mama Mia, The Producers and a few others. Among the listed shows I hadn’t heard about was “The Frogs.” I asked someone nearby what they knew of it and she said two words that immediately made our decision, “Nathan Lane.”
The Frogs was playing way uptown at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center on 65th Street. The Stage was on the way. Life was good.
There is nothing special about the Stage Deli – nothing that would strike you if you were only looking at it from the street. I suppose its days as a New York City show people hangout are long over. Now it’s inhabited, mostly, by tourists who vaguely connect with the name.
The Stage is known for its immense sandwiches, huge desserts and unlimited sour pickles at every table. Helaine and I had roast beef sandwiches while Steffie had a Denzel Washington – pastrami and sauerkraut under melted Swiss cheese. For dessert we shared a piece of chocolate cake the size of a Manhattan apartment.
It would have been a moderate walk to the theater, but Steffie wanted Jamba Juice, so we backtracked four blocks. While Steffie and Helaine went inside, I saw these two mounted New York City policemen. I thought the look of Times Square with horses in the foreground would make a good shot. I’m pleased with how it turned out.
I mentioned earlier how I had seen lots of police activity on Canal Street. The same was true in Times Square, including two or three policemen visible standing in front of every hotel.
It’s easy to think suburbanites should be healthy and New Yorkers flabby but reality trumps perception. New York is a walker’s city.
We headed up 7th Avenue to Central Park South, then turned west toward Columbus Circle. We passed a man, with his dog laying on the sidewalk. As hot as it was, the dog was at ease. I decided this dog led a better life than I ever would… certainly in a better neighborhood.
We crossed Columbus Circle, catching a glimpse of the Time Warner Center across the way. Along the edge of Central Park we passed a small army of protectors. They were probably there regardless of the Republican Convention, protesting political conditions in China.
We still had a few blocks walking along Columbus Avenue to Lincoln Center. The Center itself was busy with at least two performances.
When we couldn’t find our theater, I stopped a man wearing a tuxedo shirt with no tie. He led the way, giving me the opportunity to ask if he was a ‘player.’ I meant it in the old school way… and he was – a bassist in the Mozart performance at Avery Fisher Hall.
The Vivian Beaumont Theater is one of the best performance spaces I’ve ever seen. It seats about 1,100, but with its amphitheater design and staggered seating, no one was far from the stage or without a great sight line. The stage extended well beyond the curtain, forming a semicircle big enough to mount a play (though that was not the case for The Frogs).
Our half price seats were in the 10th row, slightly to the left of center. They would have been great in any theater.
The Frogs, written by Aristophanes and first performed over 2,400 years ago (though heavily adapted and rewritten) started strong, ended weak. The Steven Sondheim score is excellent. It’s just that second act. It dragged interminably – especially during a debate between Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw.
That’s the bad news. The good news is Nathan Lane. He is amazing. After this show, I’d pay full price to see Nathan Lane read from the phone book. As I was disappointed seeing The Producers without him, I can’t imagine this show post-Lane. His presence is so strong. His timing is so exquisite.
In a way I feel sorry for Roger Bart who is wonderful as Lane’s slave. In any other cast he would receive the raves. Trading lines back and forth with Nathan Lane allows much of the show to be stronger than its script alone. The same can be said, though not quite as strongly, for Peter Bartlett.
As has happened so often recently, I was surprised by another name in the show, John Byner. He plays Charon, the boatman who crosses the River Styx to deliver Nathan Lane and Roger Bart to Hell.
Originally, the part played by Roger Bart was going to be performed by Chris Kattan of Saturday Night Live fame. Ten days before the opening he was canned. I’ve got to find the back story on that!
After the show we caught a cab to Grand Central and made the 10:10 train to Stamford. Actually, an express that left a few minutes later got to Stamford a few minutes sooner. We didn’t know that at the time.
The story should end here… but it doesn’t. We left the train station and headed to our car. The garage was, by this time, virtually deserted. We drove around and around searching for the exit! Finally, after at least 10 minutes of scouting, we saw a service vehicle. I flashed my lights to get the driver’s attention.
As it turns out, to exit this garage late at night you have to drive all the way to the roof and then connect to an adjoining garage. Unfortunately, there are no signs that say this – none!
It was a full day. We were home around 1:00 AM
Blogger’s note: All of the photos with this entry are linked to larger versions. Just click on the photo. There is also a gallery, with these photos and more, here.