Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Back from the Big Apple: a slightly longer version

I can understand why Jet Blue is fast becoming the number one airline: it's cheap, it's got directTV, and it cut out one of the biggest complaints in the industry -- the airplane meal. Instead, they provide a couple of snacks every couple of hours and encourage folks to BYO meal. Though I saw a note to that with a fish with an x through it, which I think means that rice and toyo are out of the question for my inflight baon. oh well.

The SO has been blogging day to day about our NYC experience. I prefer the retrospective account myself. I like to see how my brain has already modified the events of the past. See before when I talked about my travels, I could make up whatever I want, but now that I have a witness I may be caught in the act of flamboyancy. Then again, in my past posts, these things did happen to me to the best of my recollection. As the SO often tells me, my telling of the events is often more entertaining than when he himself experiences the same thing.

It was raining earlier in the week in NYC before our trip, but I noted the weather folks saying it would clear up and bring lovely 70s. Without fail, I get quite freakish excellent weather on my trips.

Our hotel is a few blocks from Times Square. We take a cab through the 5 o'clock traffic from JFK to Manhattan. Flying into NYC I take in the geography. It reminds me of the opening scene to "West Side Story" where they go from broad wide views to smaller and smaller ones. I often found this opening quite dramatic, contrasting the supposedly life and death reasons the Sharks and Jets were fighting, with the reality that they are one story in a very large city. What the Sharks and Jets never get is that there is a larger world than they've created.

As I said before, a few years ago I had thought of moving to NYC, not knowing what was drawing me here. As we travelled in the cab I wondered if that thing that drew me here was still here. People name neighborhoods and streets in NY and I have no frame of reference nor meaning to them. I take in all the tall buildings, the trains, the cars, the signs to Jamaica Ave to Shea. I think the color brown. Brown, upon brown, buildings: reddish brick, but more brown than red. Maryland was red brick. Chicago had been gray. New York was brown.

The last time I was in New York, the state, I was 18 in Rochester. I had received a scholarship to go to University of Rochester for undergrad. My mom came with me. Rochester reminded me of Oakland, but smaller and lots and lots of snow. The color of Rochester was white.

We reach Manhattan. The SO recalls the Upper East Side where his friend used to live. His friend hated NY. NY is one of those cities that you know if it's calling your name. I've had a lot of friends go to NY and love it, love the vibe, love the energy, love the people. Then there are those that hate it: hate the crowds, hate the small spaces. For such a large city, there's something about the small spaces that make it intimate in an anonymous kind of way.

After resting a bit at the hotel, we look at a few of the brochures of things we might want to see, then search the streets for food. We're only a handful of blocks from Times Square and the neon glow of Sean John with fist raised beckons us in his direction. The SO has a new digicam, so he's taking pictures left and right, up and down.

Delis, video camera shops, gentleman's clubs, hot dog stands, roasted peanuts, toursity knickknack stands amidst scrolling stock numbers and shiny bright ads wanting you to look their way. Too late to look for half off broadway tickets. Every few feet there is a guy with a digital camera with the same HP color printer asking to take people's picture for $20. Next to them are Chinese charcoal artists sketching very good portraits for a price written on the back of signs that they point to or the other Chinese folks who draw your name with colorful accents. The charcoal portrait examples of stars and famous people are all the same, certainly not done by the artist at the stands. We wonder where they buy their stuff from. There's got to be some flyer somewhere, some network, where they learn a few tips on how to draw or how to take a picture, then are allowed to borrow the equipment and supplies for a fee. It's a basic economy. Immigrant who knows no English can easily pick it up. It's easy money, easier than minimum wage dish washing I suppose and it's cash with no real accountability to Uncle Sam.

We watch a pair of guys do portraits and decide to do one together. I don't usually like my own picture taken, but I thought it'd be fun to get one of the SO and I. I think the guy we get does the eyes really well. When I was a kid and did people's portraits it was always the first thing I did and concentrated on the most. It's hard to smile for 20 minutes, but he manages to make us smile in the portrait anyway. Nice part about chalk, no details like fine creases and other blemishes. These two kids he drew earlier looked older than their age, as if he was drawing who they would be in a few more years.

The artists don't usually sign their names to their work. The economy relies on their anonymity. They simply write the date with NY Times Square. Sure it's supposed to simply be copying what you see, and their are hundreds of folks throughout the city doing this in every tourist spot in town, but like any artist he gave it his own unique touch that really makes his drawing of us his view of the world. We ask him to sign it. He asks, "My name?"

I'm down for NY City cart dinner even though a few natives have warned me about the murky depths of hot dog cart water. I cling to the tourist motto: what I don't know, won't hurt me, and bite into a dog. I figure if I survived dipping fried fish balls and balut in the Philippines, I can survive this. Plus I'm that much closer to hospital facilities if I don't. Hot dog, pretzel, and honey roasted peanuts. I notice that maintaining the government balanced diet for this vacation may be difficult.

saturday: the plan: tiffany's, central park, the met and natural history museum

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