Hey kids! It’s been over a minute or two since I posted something new on here. Why? I’ll tell you: I’m in New York. New York City, that is. The Big Apple. Gotham; Metropolis; Gomorrah. The Frog and Toe. The City of Islands, Light and Skyscrapers. The City that never Sleeps. THAT New York City. And they really do have a “Mulberry Street” here! Probably the very one Theo Geisel (Dr. Seuss) treaded when he was growing up. I’ve been to New York many times on business, but as these experiences have given me a truly in depth appreciation of the wallpaper inside of buildings — especially at Lincoln Center — I’ve not done a tremendous amount of sight-seeing. I really don’t know New York very well. (Nor will I by the end of this week.) But I do hope to know it just a tad better than before this week.
The Southwest Airline attendant on mic for the lo-o-o-ong flight out here was completely “in the zone.” Funny as all get out. I wished the whole time I could have recorded it on my little blog-camera, but of course they request that you put those things away just before it gets really good… with the stern, yet playful, yet you-know-they-mean-business caveat, “Don’t make us give you a personal invitation.” Drat. I was going to push the envelope today, but now I’m intimidated. THAT’s what I forgot to pack! My spine. I left it right next to my left brain in the bathroom sink. Of course, I brought the kitchen sink, just not the bathroom sink with my spine in it. Drat-drat-dratty-drat-drat.
Flying out, the attendant played for us, “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane,” and flying in… you guessed it, Frank Sinatra’s own, “New York, New York.” But I can see now why they have everyone turn off their cell phones during the flight. As the boat-load of passengers plunged, one-by-one into the fray of the chlorinated data stream floating somewhere above us, Mr. Sinatra got kicked in the teeth a bit… OK, a lot. By the time he reached the dramatic climax of the song, all we heard were mere remnants of the once dynamic anthem. A “‘sup t” busting out here and an “ork” peeking out there from behind the curtains of static.
Oh well. Nice try, bro. I appreciate the “A+” effort. And we made it! Huzzah!
Then it only took me an hour to find the car rental counter. “What? A CAR in New York,” you ask with entirely appropriate incredulity? (Don’t you love how I just skimmed right over the sordid affair of the bloody hunt for the rental counter?) Yes — to the other question — because I’m staying in New Jersey. While it is a sweet and generous set-up for which I am deeply grateful, this is the first thing I will do differently the next time I visit New York. None o’ this commuting back-n-forth between the city and the burbs. I’ve only been here three days and I’m already commute-exhausted.
And what is up with the whole speed limit thing here? There is a stretch of bridge-road-overpass-road-bridge where the well-marked speed limit signs read “45 mph.” I’ve mentioned before that I have a bit of a lead foot, but my driving motto is “run with the herd.” I figure if I stay with traffic, that’s a pretty decent indicator since most of these folks drive this route every day. Upon seeing the 45 mph sign, I slowed to 70 and the cars began zooming around me! And there wasn’t merely one lonely mud-crusted sign, there were several — very clearly marked. “Does NO ONE see this?” I wonder aloud.
Apparently not since no one responded in any of the 196 languages spoken here in this giant melting-pot. Perhaps that’s why they use their horns so much? It’s the universal word for “Move your [insert your favorite expletive HERE in any language]!” Although, really… I must ask, “What does it accomplish?” The car in front of you isn’t moving as neither is the car in front of that car, and so on. Do the cars magically get unstuck because you honk your horn at them? This may be one of the many hidden traffic laws I’m learning about here in New York. Forget about driving in Italy. At least in Italy the traffic laws are “more like guidelines”: you don’t really get into too much trouble if you break one. But New York! Traffic laws I’ve never heard of — nor even considered for that matter — abound… and “Wo be unto the foreigner who knoweth not the law!” Namely, me.
Just to finish up my anti-honking rant: I don’t care if you honk your horn at me ’til your vehicle turns blue in the headlights, I am NOT budging this thing until the very soft-n-squishy pedestrians are out of the line of fire. I seriously nearly killed a traffic cop who jumped out in front of me on a green light! Dude! I came within an inch of making him half his height and he didn’t even blink an eyelash. What the heck? Either he’s incredibly brave or incredibly stupid. And as I have found, those two qualities sometimes marry each other and die-happily-ever-after.
I firmly believe that 90% of all the honking that goes on here could be eliminated entirely with a split-hair of the tiniest measure of good ol’ fashioned patience and understanding. Give it just ONE second, will ya! The traffic will clear when it can! Honking at it does nothing but aggravate energy-sensitive hobbits like myself.
…Who left their left-brain at home with their spine in the bathroom sink. Before I go on to this next bit, I feel (right-brained thinking) like I want to explain myself so you don’t think I’m a complete and utter idiot. “Too late,” you say? Well, bear with me, ’cause you’re gonna get an ear-full of explanation anyway.
The short of it is: Six consecutive days with less than 4 hours of sleep every night. (The eye luggage is beginning to show.) And since I’ve been here, I’ve been having difficulty finding sustenance. I know, dumb, right? Super dumb. But I am trapped in a little silver cage with wheels and this is a pedestrian city all the way. I’m still looking for a place to put my car once I get into the city that isn’t going to cost me half my pay-check. Ridiculous, the price of parking here. Insane and inane.
Also, I’m rather averse to eating alone in any restaurant. Grab-n-go is fine, but any kind of a sit-down meal really needs to be enjoyed with good company, I think. Thus, my travel day’s one meal consisted of a yogurt w/granola on top. The next day, I conducted auditions all day and attended a play in the evening. My one meal for that day was a portion of Sushi I found in a little health-food mart on the way to the play. Next day, meetings. Around 4pm., the blood-sugar really began to plummet. “Oh-oh,” thought I, “I’m gonna be in trouble if I don’t find something I can consume.” So I looked up “Whole Foods.” Surely there must be a Whole Foods around here somewhere. And yes, there is. Huzzah!
I plugged it into my hand-dandy-schmancy little Garmin and parked the car a couple of blocks away. I noted the street sign and made my way over to the store. Success! A few organic vegetables, bottled water and Tazo later, I exited the store with my double-paper-bagged treasure.
But this wasn’t the way I came in. Or was it? No, I’m certain this is not the same entrance nor is it the same street. I don’t recognize this street. Out flies the cell phone displaying an upside-down map of my location. I verify twice that it is indeed upside-down and showing “North” in the wrong direction before I take off toward the street where I left my car. Right. That way. See? I still have charred bits of left-brain grey-matter clinging tenaciously to the inside of my skull, trying to rev it into motion.
As I walk with my newly acquired load, I notice the scents all around me. (I have a very keen olfactory system.) Most of these I can’t even identify. They are completely alien to me. Of course there are the typical, expected fragrances of “Eau d’Diesel” and “Runner’s Musk.” But I could spend a full day doing nothing but trying to catalog the odiferous array that wafts like drying laundry through the streets of this town.
As I’m standing at a busy intersection, traffic flying by, I get a whiff of what I think is alcohol-induced halitosis. Looking over, a small man weaves his way to the curb beside me. I can see it coming before it happens. I transfer my bag to my right hand, leaving my left hand free. And,… there he goes. The fellow steps out into the street against the light. I grab his coat and pull him back. He raises his bleary eyes to me in a question. “Sir,” I say gently, “it’s not safe to cross yet.”
“Oh!” He looks up at the light and realizes for the first time that traffic is whirring by us. “Thank you,” he says, “Thank you, very much.” The light changed and I patted him on the shoulder. “It’s OK to go now, Sir. Be careful, OK?”
“Thank you,” he repeated over and over. “Thank you, very much!” I walked on and turned back to smile at him as he continued his “Thank you, very much’s” louder and louder. Sweet guy. I wonder why he was drunk off his gourd so early in the evening?
Speaking of being “out of one’s gourd,” I found the street where I supposedly put my car and began to walk it. Once, I took a memory seminar and the instructor recommended that to find one’s car in a large place, put an elephant on top of it. Well, picture the elephant on top next to all the surroundings. You’ll never forget where you parked. So, I did this very thing upon leaving my car. But the problem now was, either the elephant was invisible or had gone for a bag of overpriced peanuts, because he wasn’t anywhere in sight. I had even made him lime green with flashing purple neon psychedelic stripes to boot! Now, how could you miss that?
Two hours later, footsore and exhausted I gave in. “Screw this,” I muttered, and flagged a taxi. “Um, Sir,” I halted, not really knowing how to explain this. “I have an unusual request. Could you please help me find my car?” And I proceeded to instruct him where I thought it was. The fellow driving this taxi was full of sage wisdom and advice and was all too eager to help. He was originally from Pakistan, apparently (as his English appeared to be learned), but he said over and over, “Dis is my town! Anyt’ing you need, you call me!” And he gave me his personal phone number. This total stranger gave me his personal number! I had caught him at the end of his shift as he was making his way uptown to speak at a dinner meeting and he gave me one of those flyers as well.
As we drove the length of Elizabeth Street, I kept pushing my rental car door’s “lock” button, hoping to hear it honk or to see it’s flashing lights. No dice. No dice. No dice. He tentatively suggested that it might have been towed. “No!” I thought, “Absolutely not!” My car was just towed earlier this week in my home town while I was at a play. The play was marvelous, but expensive: $239, including towing fees. (I had comp tickets.)
Just then, as we slowed through an intersection, I heard the double-honk of a car. I pushed the button again. Canadian Geese never sounded so sweet! It’s my baby! I can hear it! Honk-honk! But it wasn’t on Elizabeth Street. It was on Prince Street, running perpendicular to Elizabeth. He drove another two blocks to drop me off. Why he did this, I’ll never know. No doubt it was one of those undisclosed New York traffic laws in play here somewhere. I offered him money and he refused it. What? Wow! Really? I think he felt sorry for me. But I pressed him and paid it anyway. I know how tough it is for these guys: long hours, low pay, high stress. I thanked him for his patience and his help, and took my leave.
If you’re interested, here’s a run-down of my walk-about:
Standing by his window, thanking him once again, he seemed very surprised. I think he expected me to be in tears or something from the whole ordeal. Hey! At that moment I was thinking, “I finally KNOW where my car is and it hasn’t been towed! Hooray for the out-o-town team!” He looked me up and down in my red coat and said, “Dat’s good. You look good! Keep up de good attitude, OK?” I smiled and nodded, anxious to get to going but happy to hear any sort-of-sideways compliment wherever I can get them… I think.
This is another thing I’m learning about New Yorkers: put them behind the wheel of a car and they get downright cranky. Can I blame them? But look them in the eye and talk to them, and they’re really — as a whole — a bunch of very friendly, terrific people! Willing to have a conversation if they have time and willing to help if they feel safe about it. Just like any and all of us. I love this city.
Two blocks back down the direction we just came from and I see psychedelic neon stripes glinting off the surrounding buildings as the strains of, “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!” fill the air. Dog-gone if that elephant isn’t still there singing at the top of his lungs!