Saturday, August 22, 2009

JIM HALL AND THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS

After 29 years of lying to myself about how totally lame New York City would be if I ever went, I finally had the chance to find out if I was speaking the truth or if it was a West Coast jealous thing. Turns out, it's the latter.

Manhattan is by far the coolest place in America. In fact, it's one of the coolest places I've ever been. Top three at least. Too bad I was there for less than twelve hours.

The flight from Long Beach to JFK was pretty awesome thanks to Xanax and JetBlue. I landed just before 11 p.m. and had a choice to make: $40 for a cab to my room at the YMCA or be a real man and hit the subway. When I discovered the subway from airport to room would cost $7.25, the choice became clear.

The ride was slightly more than an hour and it was everything I imagined it would be. About ten feet from me were six Puerto Rican/Dominican/black/some sort of race we don't have in LA girls passing a bottle of what appeared to be wine. Saying they were loud, rude and obnoxious is the understatement of the year. The Spanish tourists sitting across from me couldn't keep their eyes off the girls, who couldn't have been a day older than 17. I got tiny glimpses, but I didn't need to get shanked by a drunken New Yorker, so I made minimal eye contact. Anytime one of the girls caught someone staring, they'd tell their friends (and everyone else on the train), then one of the girls would say something like (and I'm paraphrasing here), "I don't give a fuck. Let them motherfuckers stare and shit. We partying!" If I wasn't Xanied up, I might have been more upset. Besides, this is exactly what I expected on a Saturday at midnight subway ride through Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

I wish the rest of the ride was as memorable, but you see one subway stop, you seen them all. The only thing that kept me sane was crossing stops that I recognized from Beastie Boys lyrics. There was Mike D's "every morning i took the train to the Hyde Street station/doing homework on the train/what a fucked up situation" and Adrock's "Penn Station/up on 8th Ave/listen all a yall/you get the ball bath." After an hour and fifteen minutes, we came to my stop: 59th Street/Columbus. I walked up the stairs to the street and did what every person in every movie I've ever seen set in New York does: I looked up and spun my body in a 360 degree motion. I didn't even know I was doing this, but the sight is that awesome. Especially on a Saturday.

Walking to my room, I couldn't help but look up. Then I remembered these New Yorkers I met in Vegas a month ago. I asked them about what not to do in the city and they all said, "don't look up." Apparently, New Yorkers are used to skyscrapers for as far as the eye can see. Tourists aren't. I decided to do what I do at home, which walk with my eyes tattooed on the ground, until I hit my room because my luggage was an open invite for a mugging and I definitely didn't need that.

The walk from subway station to the Y wasn't far, but it was far enough for me to recognize that I had no real reason to be concerned because Manhattan was safer than I expected it to be. I saw two homeless people (who were actually really friendly. They asked me to help them carry some of their bags and didn't even bother to hit me up for change. They even smiled after I left.) and one woman living out of her car. Shit, we got worse than that in Long Beach and I live in a good part of town.

I dropped off my bag at the Y and hit the streets. BTW...it was 80 degrees past midnight and the Y didn't have air conditioning. I thought to myself, "how very New York of this building."

First stop was food. I found a 24-hour diner and took a seat at the bar. A veggie burger and Corona was $16.50. New York, New York. The burger hit the spot and the beer was good, but once I stood up, I realized why people suggest not mixing alcohol with Xanax. I easily could have fallen asleep on the counter, but I had to be a trooper. It's New York ferchrissakes.

I'd love to say I did some real awesome shit like clubbing or talking to hookers or anything, but the fact of the matter is, I just walked. Other than the inordinate amount of cabs, the thing that jumped out at me most was the fashion. Every female, and I do mean every, was wearing a cocktail dress. Even the girls at the Irish pubs were dressed to the nines. This is very unlike LA. Sure, we got some places like that, but you can always find a dive bar with girls in jeans. Not in Manhattan. I felt like I was in Sex in the City, except I'm a straight male and have never seen the show/movie.

Another thing I noticed was how so many of the buildings on the numbered streets had stairs that let down somewhere. Many of the bars' front entrances were in the basement. And the apartment buildings like this all had teenagers hanging out in them. Just like tv.

I got back to the room around 3-ish, but didn't fall asleep until 4:30. I'm a night owl and with West Coast time, sleeping was very difficult. Knowing I would be out of the city around noon, I got up at 8 and hit Central Park. Pretty effing amazing. You know, there's all this shit about New York and the debauchery, but the only time I was approached for anything was in the park. A white guy in his early 30s wearing a tucked in plaid shirt stopped me and said, "we're about to start service soon. Would you like to attend?" I looked at him funny and maybe it was the lack of sleep, but I couldn't say a word. Then he said, "do you go to church?" I smiled and said, "no thanks." He wanted to keep talking, but I high-tailed it outta there. Even in New York, where I hear there's plenty of drugs, prostitutes and who knows what else, my square-looking ass gets hit up by God.

You can read the photo captions to find out what I thought about the park...

My dumb ass decided to bring chanclas instead of flip flops on this trip. I thought I had a room with a private shower, but I was wrong. So I bathed at the Y with nothing to protect my feet. It's nearly a week later and there's nothing green growing on them, so I think I'm fine.

As I dropped trou, I saw that the white curtain in the shower did a real poor job of hiding me. So there I was, naked at the YMCA, waiting to get into a shower that was not only going to give me foot fungus, but wasn't going to hide my junk. And what song was playing in my head? The Village People's "YMCA," of course. I just knew a train of gay dudes were going to barge through the door thinking I was trolling for ass. I'm very lucky that I didn't catch a foot disease, but I'm even luckier that I was the only person in the three-shower bathroom for the duration of my stay. Granted, my shower took all of forty-five seconds, but still.

The rest of the trip was not nearly as exciting as Manhattna. Whodathunk that New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada wouldn't be as awesome as New York City?

I left Newark Airport at 10:30 a.m. Sunday and got home Tuesday around 11. For one man in a fifteen-passenger van, that's gotta be some sort of record. People ask if I saw anything cool and the only thing that jumps out at me was a 60-year-old man driving a truck with a large Air Force sticker on the back. He was towing a ten-foot missle. Everything else has already turned into a ball of green pasture mush.

I experienced a few moments when I thought I'd go crazy before making it home. Once in Nebraska, a state that decided to put its two largest cities thirty-four miles apart. After that it's five hundred miles until the next city, which is Denver. The next was when I got on the 91 from the 15. Sure, I've done this drive countless times, but the idea of seeing the finish line caused me to want to be home right then. I couldn't take the extra hour. Keep in mind, I'd been on the road for seven hours without a break. The radio didn't work and my phone needed to be re-charged.

The drive is a story unto itself, but I'll save that for another day. For now, let's enjoy the beauty that is New York. Like the Beastie Boys said, it's a helluva town.
Here are some photos to help visualize what I'll never be able to put into words.


The view from my YMCA window on Saturday night.


I think this is the Lincoln Jazz Center. But I could be wrong.


When you own a shitty camera, good pictures can be hard to come by. I learned this in Manhattan because the first twenty photos I took all said they were blurry. I knew it was either one of two things: 1. Either my camera, which has been tripping balls lately, was on its way to the great photo lab in the sky or 2. There was so much action in the city that I couldn't get one clear shot. So I decided to take a picture of something that wasn't moving. This is that picture. And yes, my camera, while shitty, is fine.


Somewhere in my attempt at becoming a fancy photographer is a sign that says "Jerry Orbach Way." Seriously, he was my favorite actor on Law and Order too, but naming a street after him? He must have a backstory that I know nothing about.


And here we have a $4 orange juice.


Next door was the Unethical Cultural Center.


Central Park is the coolest thing I've been to in the United States. You walk through some trees and then through a sliver of an opening is the most amazing view of skyscrapers. The contradiction is 100 percent New York.


I'm no fan of animal slave labor, but I gotta admit that the horse buggy through the park is pretty charming.


More skyscrapers...


...and more skyscrapers...


...and even more.


Central Park (or should I say, the tiny section of Central Park I roamed for two hours) has these strange rock formations that look prehistoric and are a pain to climb when you're wearing chanclas.


This busy street just ends at the park. How ruling is that?


Of course there's a jazz saxophonist playing under a bridge.


Just when Central Park seems to have everything, you stumble upon a carnival.


Close up of the rides through a crack in the fence. No was I spending money, but if I was six, I bet riding the Loop-de-Loop in the park would be a killer way to spend a Sunday.


A few months ago I realized I own nothing but white t-shirts. Now I'm on a mission to buy shirts that aren't technically underwear. Unfortunately, I don't know what to buy because I don't like feeling like a walking billboard. Plus, I'm almost 30 and I won't wear band shirts anymore. So what's a boy to do? Be a tourist and buy shirts of places I've been. In this old dairy factory is where I scored a Central Park shirt because not only did I need some new gear, I enjoy looking like a pretentious asshole who's been to places the little people haven't.



My first job was working at a park two blocks from where I lived. My first duty was to keep score of adult softball leagues. When you're 15, it's pretty cool. I even got to play a few times when one team was short a man. The park had this fence built that I shit you not was forty feet high because directly across the street were homes that didn't like getting softballs rained on them. When you're an old man reliving your glory days in Manhattan, your view from home plate is this.


Central Park West. I didn't have time to walk any farther than this, but it sure seems like something cool is going on.


It's fun to stay at the YMCA.

video
After driving for twelve hours on Sunday, I decided to sleep in the van. I'd never done this by myself and I figured it would be very Kerouac-ian of me to do so. Sleeping with a seatbelt in my side took a minute to get used to, but then this massive storm (seen here) hit. I swear, the weather was super nice from Newark to wherever the hell in Illinois I was. Then, BAM! Thunder, lighting and more rain than I'd ever seen. It lasted about an hour and was gone. Needless to say, I was scared shitless. This video doesn't do the storm justice, but I filmed it and it ain't doing no good sitting on my desktop.

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