Several months ago, GG and I realized we’d have a free weekend in June, and decided to go up to New York to see a show. I was literally just about to get tickets to American Idiot, when we heard a piece on the radio about Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. It sounded awesome! So I got tickets for that, and we started planning some other things we wanted to do in the city. Like last winter, when I was up there with a couple friends, we stayed in New Jersey and took a bus to Manhattan each morning. Yes, it was hot and humid, but the rain held off and things worked out really well and we had an excellent mini vacation.
Chelsea Market: As fans of the Food Network, we wanted to check out their home base. Sadly, it wasn’t as huge or amazing as we’d imagined. Maybe we’re just spoiled by our close proximity to the Reading Terminal Market, but Chelsea Market basically felt like a fancier version of that. We did enjoy some delicious, refreshing People’s Pops, and saw a few other vendors, but it wasn’t the type of place you could really spend a whole day (let alone two days, as GG was thinking we might have to do!). Also, it was sort of disappointing that the Food Network stuff was all upstairs, and you couldn’t just go up there. It was neat, though. I’d go back again for lunch or something.
The Subway: As you may know, I have a terrible sense of direction, and just thinking of the places we were planning to go was stressing me out because I had no idea how we’d figure out how to get there. And then I realized, Google Maps gives directions using public transportation! So before we left, I looked up directions to all the places we were going, in the order in which we were going there. The first (and last) time GG and I were in NYC together, we took the subway somewhere and a crazy guy was sitting across from us and we were trying to avoid eye contact, and eventually he got up and dumped a bag of Cheetos on my head. So that kind of left a bad taste in our mouths. However, on this trip, the subways were full of non-crazy people, my directions were all good, and everything was running on time and there when we needed it. Somehow I had a better handle on directions (both on the street and in the subway) than GG, the master map reader, and we had no problems. Plus, there’s an awesome new addition on some of the major subway lines now: light-up signs and digital displays that show you what line you’re on and which stop is next, plus where all the transfers are. Now they just need to get that on every train.
Union Square Greenmarket and The Strand: To get from Chelsea Market to Les Halles, we had to take two subways, changing trains at Union Square. Since we had a bunch of time to kill, I suggested we get off in Union Square and hang out there. We stepped out of the Subway, and into the middle of a big farmers’ market that surrounded Union Square Park. There was tons of beautiful produce, cheese, juices, craftspeople, etc. It was really perfect timing, ending up there. Eventually we’d looped through the place a couple times, and decided to walk down Broadway, and happened upon The Strand. I knew it was a mistake, because GG gets so engrossed in every little thing in places like bookstores, but I was feeling generous, so I suggested we go in. While I explored the entire main level, he was caught up at the first table, haha! I finally pulled him away to check out the upstairs and downstairs. They say they have 18 miles of books in there, and it’s really overwhelming. It’s not really the kind of place that you can browse (at least not in my opinion) – you need to have a certain book or at least a topic in mind, and go in looking for it. It was also so crowded, and due to the close quarters among the books, hard to get around. We eventually headed back to Union Square, where we sat on a shady bench in the park for a while, before getting back on the subway and going to dinner.
Les Halles: As big Anthony Bourdain fans, we were so excited to have dinner here! Of course, Bourdain doesn’t really work here anymore (watch him struggle back on the job temporarily in his “Into the Fire” episode), but his former chef Carlos Llaguno is now executive chef, and was there that night! Our waiter was so friendly and funny, putting up with all of GG’s weirdness and helping us choose stuff. GG started with some sort of calamari salad, and I had an arugula salad, which I have to say I was sort of disappointed with – the greens were just way too bitter, and the sliced apple in it was kind of mealy. However, the small chunk of blue cheese served with it was amazing. In order to try the restaurant’s specialties, we each had a steak served with French fries. I was so nervous to order mine well done (knowing Bourdain’s feelings toward vegetarians, people who order meat well done, etc.), but they were cool about it and the waiter even recommended the best steak to have well done. The steak was fantastic and the fries were crispy and amazing. We were so stuffed afterward, but wanted to get dessert, so we split their special that night, which was a sort of ice cream float with homemade mint soda, vanilla ice cream, and some sort of strawberry topping. It was really good, very refreshing!
Top of the Rock and the NBC Studio Tour: We’d been thinking of going to the Empire State Building on Saturday, but GG always talks about when he got to go on this behind-the-scenes tour of NBC in 1996 (a classmate’s relative was an executive there), so I thought it might be cool to take the NBC tour instead. We walked into 30 Rock, and there was a sign with all these ticket package combinations. We decided to do the Top of the Rock and NBC Tour combo. So you have to go down this giant staircase and wait in a long line to get tickets. Then they tell you, the NBC one isn’t really a ticket, it’s a voucher, and you have to go up to the NBC store to schedule a time for your tour. So we actually could have gone there first and just bought tour tickets. We went to the NBC store, but they don’t do it there, you have to go upstairs to this other tour area. Then they take your voucher and give you a ticket for a certain time. We had about an hour and a half, so we did the Top of the Rock in the meantime. Back outside, in a different door, up some stairs, and you’re in that waiting area. At least it was interesting, they had a lot of information on the history of Rockefeller Center. The line is actually slow because they want to take a picture of each group of people, sitting on a steel I-beam like that famous old photo of the construction workers. We weren’t interested, so we walked right through the photo area. Finally you reach the elevator that takes you up like 65 floors, while historic videos are projected on the ceiling. The very first view you see when you step outside is the Empire State Building – awesome! Walking around to the other side, you can see Central Park. You can go up another level, too. It was pretty cool, and there was a nice breeze, on such a hot day. Eventually, we headed back in and got in line for our NBC tour. It was pretty lame, sorry NBC. We saw the Dr. Oz studio (on the way there in the elevator, everyone was going, “Who’s Dr. Oz?” I explained to GG that he was a TV doctor who got famous on Oprah). Then we went to the Jimmy Fallon studio – we actually learned a couple neat tidbits there (e.g. The Roots travel up from Philly in their tour bus every day, you can get special tickets that allow you to go up on stage when the band performs, Jimmy modeled his set on Johnny Carson’s original Tonight Show set-up…). They showed us the “Muppet pipes,” where Jim Henson and some other Muppeteers were bored while waiting to go on a show and decorated these pipes in what was formerly a closet. We went to the Saturday Night Live studio, which was actually the most interesting part of the tour – and it’s so small! And we saw the NBC control room. If the power goes out, it has a back-up generator to power it for a week. If the power’s still out after that, it can run for a week on diesel. If something is going on that’s caused NYC to be without power for two weeks, you probably don’t care about TV at that point. But if necessary, they could also switch operations to their Burbank Studio. Our last stop was a tiny studio where they picked a couple kids from the group to try reading off a teleprompter and giving a weather report in front of a green screen. Overall, I don’t think the tour was really worth it. I picked up a couple interesting facts, but empty studios are kind of boring to look at.
Hustlers: Heaven forbid you stop to look at the map of the bus station, or stand on a corner and think about which direction you need to go in, because someone will come up and offer you directions, and then right when you think, “What a nice, helpful person that was!” they’ll say, “Hey man, I’m tryin’ to make a living out here, can I get a dollar?” or “Now I want to tell you about this homeless shelter I’m running, we’re selling hats for $10, would you like this book about our Hindu gods?” First of all, I would never talk to a random person on the street, but even if they approached me, I would not have a problem saying, “No, sorry,” and walking away when they asked for money. But GG loves to talk to people, and then gets guilted into giving them a dollar or two! Probably the worst hustler, though, was this lady we saw at the Union Square farmers’ market. She had all these cages of kittens, with signs all over saying she was trying to get them adopted, and boxes to collect money for supplies and vet bills. Now, she may well have been legitimate. But after she started opening the cages and shaking the cats around to wake them up (it was hot! they wanted to rest!), saying, “We gotta get these cats homes,” I started thinking. She could have very easily scooped up a bunch of stray cats from an abandoned lot or something, brought them to the market, and maybe she’ll dump them back in the lot later, and keep the “vet” money for herself. I wouldn’t be surprised.
Rice to Riches: GG has been wanting to go to this place for years. The way he described it, it sounded like a restaurant where everything is rice pudding-based, so in addition to dessert puddings, they would also have savory, main course puddings. I thought we might have a late lunch/early dinner there, but it turned out to be more like an ice cream shop. They had a counter full of flavors to choose from, and a long list of toppings. I was hot, hungry, and cranky, and a bowl of sweet pudding was really the last thing I wanted, but I picked a vanilla pudding with a chocolate coffee crumble topping. The names of the flavors and toppings were all cutesy, there were tons of funny little signs all over, and everything was very sleek and modern. But it was crowded and I was in a bad mood, plus GG was freaking out and being embarrassing, so I didn’t enjoy myself. I couldn’t even finish my small bowl, and I don’t know how GG finished his large bowl (the minimum size to try two flavors). The final straw for me was that they don’t take back or even recycle the heavy plastic bowls in which the pudding is served. If you don’t want to keep it, it goes into the trash. Sorry, Rice to Riches, that just clinches your thumbs-down from me.
“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson“: This show was awesome! I am so glad we were able to catch it. It tells the story of our 7th president, who on one hand doubled the size of the country and created the Democratic party, but on the other hand killed a lot of people and started the Trail of Tears. It is funny, timely, and educational, and the music (they say it’s emo, but I think there’s a few genres in there) is great. Even GG was totally enamored! Some parts were uproariously funny (anything with John Quincy Adams, for example: “My father was president, I should get to be president too!” and Twinkie-eating Martin Van Buren). You can preview a couple tracks off the original cast recording, and hear a couple other songs on the show’s MySpace page (a few things have changed since this was recorded). “I’m Not That Guy” is the same song as “Life Sucks” – I don’t think they should have changed the title! The show isn’t a traditional “musical,” in that the songs don’t really move the story forward, they’re more expository, or sometimes in the background (e.g. “Ten Little Indians” is performed while Jackson is signing treaties with all the Indian tribes). I am totally getting that CD when it comes out, and GG said before the show even started that he would buy a shirt with the “AJ” logo on it, if one existed. Guess what – I heard it might be coming to Broadway soon!!
You can see all my NYC pictures on Flickr.