12/29/02

I woke up at a reasonable hour and managed to get myself to South Station in time for the 11:30 bus, after a brief pit stop to pick up a copy of The Return of the King; after many years of trying, I’m finally managing to get through the Tolkien books, and after seeing the Two Towers I decided I can’t possibly wait a year to find out what happens in the last movie. I got to the station just in time to catch the bus. Couldn’t get a window seat, but my seatmate was entirely inoffensive, so that’s ok. For once I couldn’t sleep on the bus, but had plenty of books with me, so the time passed pretty quickly. They did show a movie on the bus, but it was the remake of Miracle on 34th St, so I kept my CD player on and mostly tried to ignore it.

Eventually I started seeing signs that said "Bronx", and then we went over a bridge into Harlem. I pulled out my travel guide and started following along on the map, but it didn’t take the book to figure out Central Park. We arrived at Port Authority, and I managed to find the subway and figure out how to get an unlimited MetroPass and get on the right line to take me to Chanita’s. I had no trouble getting in to her room, where she had left a very sweet note and a stash of emergency chocolate bars for me.

After calling to assure Mom I had made it ok, I headed out again in search of Muppets. Between my guide book and my palm pilot I found Macy’s with no trouble. The store was still open, so I went inside to check it out. It’s much bigger than any of the department stores around Boston, and a little overwhelming. It closed pretty soon after I got there, so I went outside to see the windows with the Muppet display. I was not disappointed; I’m pretty sure the Henson Company did the windows, so the quality was everything I had expected; very cute and funny. I think my favorite was the one of Miss Piggy dancing with the Rockettes, but Gonzo and Camilla ice skating was pretty cute, too.

After that I wandered over to Times Square to see where I’d be Tuesday night. Whoaaa… that place is just unreal. Like what I imagine Las Vegas to be, only crammed into a few blocks instead of miles and miles. I went into the Toys R Us to see if I could find a Duracell display I designed that I had heard was in there, but no luck. But I did get to gawk at the 3-story working ferris wheel, and the Harry Potter display with Hagrid made out of Legos.

I had carefully noted a subway entrance that I walked past to plan for my return, but unfortunately it turned out to be closed in the evening – so much for forethought. Luckily there’s a police station in Times Square, so I asked a nice office for directions, and there turned out to be another entrance not far away.

I found the Levana restaurant and arrived just in time for my reservation. I was seated at a nice little table in the corner, and brought a basket of warm bread and some nice green olive oil. After some consultation with the waiter, I ordered the artichoke heart and kafir lime leaf soup, followed by the breast of Pekin duck – "Zaatar Rubbed, Cabernet Sauvignon Risotto, Caramelized Papaya and Mango, with a Duck Reduction Sauce". The soup was amazing -- creamy, tart, and zingy. I kept rolling it around on my tongue to catch all the different flavors. It was a pretty generous portion, but I finished it all and had to use willpower to not to lick the bowl. It left a bit of a spicy glow (and a runny nose, but I travel with tissues.)

The waiter returned and removed my plate & half of my silverware, only to replace it with a large knife and my duck. I took the first bite and actually let out a little moan. Luckily, when I managed to swallow and open my eyes again, no one was staring at me. My eyes kept closing of their own accord to focus on the taste. It’s just as well I was alone, there’s no way I could have kept up a conversation until I was done. I ate all of the duck and most of the fruit, but the risotto was taking up too much room that could have gone to the duck, so I only ate a little of that.

I sat in food afterglow for a while, until I realized that, as in Paris, they weren’t going to give me the check until I asked for it. So I paid my bill and rolled myself back and into bed, a very happy camper.

12/30

That "City That Never Sleeps" thing takes on a whole new meaning. I kept waking up at the traffic sounds outside, which didn’t stop all night long. Luckily, I managed to get back to sleep pretty easily. Chanita had mentioned a white noise machine, but I found that more annoying than the traffic, so I just dealt.

Laura and I had plans to meet at Grand Central at 9:30, so I got myself up and out pretty quickly, after calling Mom to report on my fabulous dinner. There was a bagel place across the street from Chanita’s place, so I stopped for a salt bagel with lox spread (which they actually called lox, unlike Boston where it’s always smoked salmon) and coffee. I got to Grand Central a little early, so I went wandering in the stores inside and found a great little bookstore called Posman’s. They had a nice little design section so I picked up a small book I’ve been meaning to get anyway, and another novel for the way home, plus a few postcards. I went to wait for Laura by the clock in the center of the station, and gave myself a stiff neck staring up at the illuminated constellations on the ceiling. When Laura arrived she tried to take me to her favorite hidden bar in the station, but it was closed so we settled for hot chocolate and an egg cream at Juniors in the food court.

After discussing our top tourist priorities in New York, we admitted that one of our top priorities was getting a little waxing done before New Year’s. We wandered around and found a nice-looking little place, where a very nice Russian woman named Olga took care of us. I decided to live it up and get a manicure as well. After that we ended up a little shoe store trying on funky boots. Laura found a pair she loved with a pocket on the side and great heels, but sadly a cow had given its life for the boots, so she couldn’t get them. But she did pick up a very cool leopard-skin fleece scarf.

We both wanted to check email, so we thought we’d try the library. The main branch of the NYPL was closed, although we did go peek at the lions, but the branch library across the street was open. The next open slot for the computers wasn’t until 7:30pm, so we gave up and went to Kinko’s instead, so I did end up getting my fix. On the way we passed a cute little carousel, but it didn’t start running for another 15 minutes, so we just took pictures.

The top thing on my list was a tour of NBC studios, so we went to Rockefeller Plaza to see about that. Tickets were sold out for the day, but they had a Rockefeller Center tour, so got a ticket for the NBC tour for the next day and we got tickets for the Rock tour. As we were walking around the NBC store where we bought the tickets, we stumbled across a spot in the floor that was supposed the play the famous NBC chimes, but the N was broken. Somehow that was very disturbing; only hearing two out of the three notes is just wrong.

The tour was very interesting. They passed out headphones sets, and the guide for a transmitter, so we could hear her clearly while we were wandering around outside, but it was a little surreal being outside in the middle of a crowd and hearing a voice in my head. Guess I should be glad that’s unusual. We learned all sorts of things, including the nickname for the statue of Prometheus by the ice skating rink – "Leaping Louie". We also saw where the famous Diego Rivera fresco had been, before it was destroyed and replaced.

After the tour we dashed off the Times Square to the TKTS booth to try to get tickets to a show. It was unclear where the end of the line was, and as we were trying to figure it out, Laura started talking to a guy handing out flyers, and somehow we accidentally ended up pretty close to the front of the line. No one said anything, so we just went with it. You can’t tell what shows are available until you get almost to the window, so we had a fast and furious debate about which show to see, and finally settled on 42nd Street, even though the tickets were only 25% off and still pretty expensive.

After that I was starving, although we had split one of Chanita’s emergency chocolate bars back at Rockefeller Center, so we found our way to Kosher Delight and I got a burger. It was more exciting for being the fast food experience than for the quality of the food, but by then I didn’t really care, any food I could eat sitting down was just fine.

We called Laura’s friend Diana and made plans to meet up for a drink before the show. After consulting my palm to find a convenient place, we decided on a place called Viva Tequila. I had half a margarita, which was plenty for me. Laura has known Diana since first grade, so it was nice to meet her; I liked her a lot.

Diana headed home to her fiancée and Laura and I went off to the theater. Our seats turned out to be in the back row of orchestra left, but on the center aisle, and the theater was small enough that we had a great view. I knew nothing about the show and had no idea what to expect, but the show was great. Tom Wopat (aka Luke Duke on the Dukes of Hazzard) was starring. I’ve seen him before in Annie Get Your Gun in Boston, and he’s great. The whole cast was amazing, as were the sets and lighting and everything. I begin to see why Broadway is such a big deal; everything was just that one notch better than I tend to see in Boston. I loved the Busby Berkeley number, where they lowered a huge mirror at an angle to the stage, so the dancers could make patterns on the floor and we could see. Tom was in great voice throughout most of the show, but on one number he seemed to have some trouble with his throat; he tried coughing to clear it, and he got through the song reasonably, but it was obvious that he couldn’t give it everything he wanted. We felt bad for him, but impressed that he had handled it was well as he had.

After the show we ran for the subway and went our separate ways, since Laura had to get back to Diana’s place in Brooklyn.

12/31

I called Mom to rave over the show and scrawled out my postcards (I did Mom-mom’s first so it would be neatest, but the rest of you will just have to read ‘em as best you can). I had been second-guessing the outfit I brought for New Year’s, so I headed back to Macy’s to check out their sale racks. I got a kick out of riding the wooden escalator, and managed to find a blouse that I fell totally in love with. It’s black, and looks like a sheer shirt with beaded accents and a velvet halter vest on top, although it’s all one piece. It was marked at $70 originally, and I couldn’t tell the final price, but I couldn’t resist. Luckily, it turned out to be only $17! So then I had to find a pair of black velvet pants to match, and there was a great men’s-style vest for $7 that I couldn’t resist as well. Macy’s was selling special talking Kermit dolls, all dressed up for the outside in Times Square with a working camera in hand. I kept telling myself that the last thing in the world I need is another stuffed animal, and yet somehow there’s a Kermit sitting on my bookcase at home now. Go figure. It took longer to get through the line and pay for my clothes than it did to find them, so although I had hoped to get lunch at Dougie’s, I ended up grabbing a bite at Mr Broadway.

My waiter was really cute, and I was starting to think good thoughts about cute Jewish guys in New York—until he brought the check signed "Luis". Oh well. When I sat down he brought a dish of pickles and cole slaw. There were both dill and real sour pickles, which I can never seem to find in Boston, and the cole slaw was wonderful; sweet and crunchy. I had the ribs and a Dr Browns black cherry soda for lunch, which I enjoyed immensely.

After I had eaten two of the huge rack of ribs they put in front of me, I was stuffed and had to run for my NBC tour, shlepping my Macy’s bag and ribs with me.

I had a little trouble when we had to go through security for the tour, since I hadn’t noticed that the rib container was metal, but they didn’t confiscate them. Our first stop was one the third floor, the Nightline studio. This was one large room with seven different sets around the walls. One had a fake skyline view, which included the building that we were standing in! Apparently the view was taken from a helicopter over New Jersey. The guide pointed out that most of the sets were fake, including duct tape to represent metal and painted linoleum for marble, but that will have to change when HDTV takes over, since you’ll actually be able to tell.

Next stop was the Nightly News studio. We didn’t get to see Brokaw, but we did get to check out his desk. There’s more to it than you might think. There’s a light that shines up to light the bottom of his face, so it doesn’t look like he’s got dirt or hair there. There are three monitors embedded in the desk, so he can keep an eye on ABC, CBS, and FOX news and change the story order to break news first (while they, of course, watch NBC and switch their order as well.) On the camera there’s the teleprompter, which reflects the script onto a piece of one-way glass right on front of the lens so he can look directly into the lens and read, as well as a "vanity monitor" on the camera so he can see how he looks and fix his tie. Behind the set is a video wall playing a loop of the inside of a control room that was recorded around 3am in some small town, since a real control room is barely-controlled chaos during a broadcast.

Our next stop was the most exciting – studio 8H, home of Saturday Night Live. The room was much smaller than I expected, although it’s the largest in the building. It was originally built for Toscanini and his orchestra in the radio days. He complained of the subway noises (eight stories down), so they built a "floating studio" for him; none of the walls or floor are part of the main building structure. The room at that time was acoustically perfect; the hanging lights and microphones that have been added since then make it slightly less than perfect, but apparently still remarkably good. That’s one reason why lots of bands are eager to appear on SNL, because they sound amazing in there. We saw the permanent sets, which are the back alley entrance where the host does the monologue, and the under the Brooklyn Bridge set where the musical guests perform. Most of the other sets (aside from frequently used ones, such as the Oval Office) are built for each week’s show and then destroyed. We were up in the audience seats, of which there are only about 100, plus another 50 for visiting VIPs on the floor. Tickets are extremely hard to get; there’s a lottery in August for the whole year.

We moved into a small auditorium that they had fixed up with a mini control desk and a blue-screen area, where they picked a volunteer to do a demo. The "blue screen" was actually lime green; apparently they’re moving to green as a standard because too many weathermen have blue eyes, and you end up seeing Nebraska through the back of their heads.)

After all that I ran home to get in a nap so I could make it to midnight without falling asleep. I fell asleep immediately and woke up in time to go downstairs and sign in Laura & Reba. Laura had originally been planning to wear a little black skirt, but didn’t have good shoes to wear, so after much debate, including accosting a passing resident for his opinion, we convinced her to wear a funky dress over jeans and sneakers, which looked great. Reba wore a sweater and jeans, and I was a little worried about being overdressed but I couldn’t resist wearing my fabulous new velvet outfit.

We decided that we were all psyched for some real New York pizza, so we went down the street to a place that claimed to be "New York’s favorite pizza" and chowed down. We hopped on the subway to head down towards Times Square, but since it was still early and the weather was lovely and warm, we got off at 66th St to wander. Laura showed us a lovely building with a fountain in front and a Christmas tree with musical instruments made out of light bulbs, and pointed out the huge Chagall paintings you could see inside the building.

We walked to Rockefeller Center and told Reba all the bits we remembered from the tour, then went over to see the window displays at Saks. They had scenes from Sleeping Beauty, as done by the Russian ballet, that were really fantastic. As we were leaving I had one of those realizations that seem so obvious in retrospect; it had never occurred to me that it was called "Saks Fifth Avenue" because it was actually ON 5th Avenue!

We started to head towards the party, but while we had been wandering around Times Square was really filling up, and the police were closing off street after street. We had to keep going around and trying different ways to get across to where we needed to be. Finally we made it to 50th and 8th, where we could see the building down the street, and found two other women who were trying to get to the same party. They called Adam to come down and show the police ID to let us in, which he did.

It was great to see him! His place is very nice; a decent-sized one bedroom which was packed with people, few of whom seemed to actually know him personally. Laura was great about striking up conversations with strangers, as always, so I could just follow her and join in. I had brought Adam and my prom picture, and he wanted some of his friends to see it; they found his 80’s hair hysterically funny. At 11:45 Adam quieted everyone down and organized three groups to go down the freight elevator and out the back way to get into Times Square for the ball. I could hear the roar of the crowd from down the street; it was incredible. We made it out with no trouble and managed to get a decent spot where we could see the ball. It was much smaller than it seems on TV! Which we were waiting, Adam and I called John and Ivelese to wish them a happy new year. Something happened to the countdown clock at 55 seconds and it went blank, but the crowd started counting down at ten and we saw the ball drop and an amazing cloud on confetti burst into the air. They shot off fireworks, too, which was apparently a new addition.

When we went back in to the party, Reba went to put her shawl back on the windowsill where she had left it before, but someone had opened the window and it went sailing out. We left the party around 2am. Laura wanted to show Reba Times Square, since she hadn’t seen it before, so we walked down to 42nd St through the piles of confetti on the ground, while crews cleaned up around us. It took a ridiculously long time to find an open subway entrance for the line we needed, and then even longer for our train to come, by which point I was tired and cranky and my feet hurt. But we made it back and all three of us squished into Chanita’s futon and fell asleep.

1/1

I was in a much better mood when I woke up. Laura was up too, but Reba was still asleep, so we left her a note and went out to bring breakfast. There was a light rain falling, but it was not unpleasant. I got whitefish on an onion bagel, and Laura got breakfast for herself and Reba. We found a newsbox for the satirical newspaper The Onion, which Reba had mentioned wanting to find, so we grabbed three copies and went back for a leisurely breakfast.

The two of them left for their train, and I had a nice hot shower and packed up all my goodies. I left the key at the desk and headed for Dougie’s for my final meal. I had a fright when I found the spot my pilot listed and saw a sign that they had moved, but luckily it was just across the street. I was debating between the steak and the ribs, but the waiter said that the ribs were their specialty, so I went for them and was not disappointed. The ribs at Mr Broadway had been decent, but they paled in comparison to these. I started out using silverware, but soon gave up and just dove in with my fingers. They came with wonderful spicy fries, too. I ate as much as I could, then got the rest to go and headed back to Times Square one last time to get to Port Authority. The line for the 2:00 bus to Boston started at the gate at one end of the hall and went past all the other gates almost to the other end. Luckily they added extra buses and got us all aboard, although it took a little time. I did manage to get a window seat this time, and had brought my inflatable pillow, so I got in a bit of a nap. The driver couldn’t get the reading lights to turn on, and my book light’s battery had died, as had my CD player’s (I did bring extras, but forget to pack them where I could get to them easily), and the woman across the aisle from me did not stop talking the entire way. So all in all it was a long trip back, but I made it home by a reasonable hour, in time to get unpacked and prepare myself for work the next day. All in all a fabulous trip, and I can’t wait to go back.