Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Und Brodvay

We made a quick trip to New York City (NYC) along with my daughter. It was put together by Arts & Culture Tours, and this was the third time we have gone with company ran by a local businesswoman. She doesn’t run those single day “red eye” bus trips—her trips arrive in NYC early in the morning and leave in the evening of the second day, giving you two days and one overnight in a Times Square hotel. [To all my friends in the NYC area, I hope to come back and visit sometime on my own when I am not so.]

We had decided to head for the south end of Manhattan on our first day. It got started with a car accident while we were waiting to cross a street. A driver gashed the side of his nice new Ford Taurus against the back corner of a delivery truck—a typical event in NYC, but a bad start to his day!

Part of our journey south was to see the new High Line Park on the lower west side of Manhattan. A long thin public park was created on the elevated railroad tracks that once delivered freight and goods. It provides a unique perspective on the city, and we really enjoyed our stroll there (see picture).

Unfortunately, the High Line comes to an end, and we had to head back down to the streets and sidewalks. I convinced them to hike another mile or two towards the World Trade Center (WTC) site. I’ve always enjoyed walking in NYC, no matter what the neighborhood. I can always find interesting architecture or bits of history or just enjoy people watching. As it turns out, it may have been better to catch the subway to get further down the island, because there wasn’t a lot of interesting sights—the UPS freight terminal may have been the highlight, which gives you an idea of how non-descript the hike turned out. We made it to the WTC, but found out that you needed advance tickets to get into the new park area. It is surrounded with walls to prevent you from even looking into the area. At least we could see the new Freedom Tower rising up to replace the WTC towers, and feel the vibes from this sacred site.

Anna and I aren’t shoppers, but since we were in the neighborhood, we let my daughter make a quick run through the famous Century 21 store near the WTC area. We didn’t buy anything, but at least she can say she was there.

We walked by Zuccotti Park, which has served as ground zero for the Occupy Wall Street movement. If our trip had occurred earlier, it would have bustling with protestors. However, a few days earlier, the NYPD had cracked down on the occupation, including taking all tents. There were only a few dozen protestors still there now, including one holding a sign that read “Mayor Bloomberg, I want my stuff back!” The love of “stuff” sounded to me to be a bit capitalistic for a movement some want to categorize as communistic.

There were also a lot of older guys, some playing guitars, who probably demonstrated against the Vietnam War. The most creative were the guys walking around on stilts, but wearing full length pinstripe banker suits. They were talking about how the rich consider themselves to be the “big guys” and who trivialize the little people. A girl was also passing out copies of the “Occupied Wall Street Journal” which I picked up to get a clearer picture of their purpose. One of the problems with this movement is that it lost its way with too many stated desires. If the goal had been to break up the big banks so that they would no longer be too big to fail (and thus avoid the need for taxpayers to bail them out again in the future), then I could have supported this idea. However, I have no interest in “forgiving all debt” or other crazy ideas that seemed to have latched onto the Occupy movement.

We walked on from the police state atmosphere around Zuccotti Park to the big bronze bull that serves as a symbol for nearby Wall Street—which was surrounded by temporary fencing and protected by policeman. Just beyond was the old U.S. Customs House, which also serves as a part of the Smithsonian Institution, as the Museum of the American Indian. We went in and took a quick look around, since it was free. We decided against doing the Staten Island Ferry and the South Street Seaport area as originally planned, and instead hopped on the subway for a late lunch at Katz’s Deli.

Opened in 1888, Katz’s has been a NYC favorite for a long time. It was made famous in the movie “When Harry Met Sally” (Meg Ryan’s most memorable scene). The food was fantastic—I had a pastrami sandwich and matzo ball soup. The walls are filled with pictures of famous people eating there over the years. The clientele was a nice mix of locals as well as tourists. It was a wonderful NYC experience, made possible by my daughter’s ability to navigate the NYC subway system. I’m very proud that my adult daughter is so confident and independent, and smart enough to handle herself in the big city.

By the way, other food highlights during our visit included Murray’s Bagels (we had seen it on the food channel), Bubba Gump shrimp, green tea smoothies from Jamba Juice (we liked the Saturday Night Live sketch about Jamba Juice), and Chop’t salad restaurant (another favorite that I first discovered in DC).

On Friday night, we had tickets to see Blue Man Group (BMG). Anna and I had seen them six years ago in NYC with some friends, and were so impressed we went to see BMG in Chicago a year or so later as well. I knew that the intellectual humor and artistic creativity (both musical and visual artistry) would appeal to my daughter, but it is very difficult to explain BMG to someone who hasn’t seen them. You have to see and experience their show, so we took her—and she loved them! It was great fun to see them in action again.

My daughter’s BMG experience also provided her with her first NYC taxicab ride. We were hoping to find the “Cash Cab” from the cable TV trivia show, but weren’t lucky enough (if I do say so myself, I think we would have done well). She did get to experience the rapid acceleration, last minute braking, and lane splitting that is common to NYC taxis. We finished the first day by walking over to Rockefeller Center and watching the ice skaters (as well as the folks camping out overnight in the cold to get SNL tickets).

For the second day, we decided to go our separate ways. My daughter had the day to herself for shopping and whatever, while Anna and I got tickets to a matinee show. We were extremely fortunate to get half-price tickets to a play we really wanted to see (more on this later). We then wandered the general area, including visiting the New York Public Library, which is a very interesting building.

The play we attended was “The Mountaintop” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett as Dr. Martin Luther King and an employee of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The play takes place entirely within the motel room after King had delivered his “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech, shortly before his assassination. It is a compelling and powerful play—probably the most gripping stage experience I have ever had. I’m still mulling it over in my mind, 24 hours later (as a great show should do). We had high expectations, and it exceeded them. Without giving away the story, I highly recommend this show! Wow!

Finally, since we spent the night and most of our time around the Broadway area, I decided to entitle this essay “On Broadway.” However, perhaps some of my friends who are my age and older will recognize the German accent I put on the title. Watching TV in the ‘60s included an iconic public service announcement for a charity called “Radio Free Europe” (RFE). During the Cold War era, RFE funded special radio stations to broadcast beyond the Iron Curtain, giving those living under Communist rule a chance to hear “the real news” as well as Western entertainment. The commercial involved a young man heading through some European town, to start his shift at the radio station where he worked, while the narrator explains the important work of RFE. The commercial closed with the radio deejay putting a record on the turntable, while speaking some sort of German gibberish that we could not understand, until he got to the end and gave the song title he was playing. With his accent, the song “On Broadway” sounded to me like “Und Brodvay” and I often remember that German pronunciation whenever I hear the beginning of that 1963 hit for The Drifters. “They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway…”

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