We made it back to London with just enough time to unpack our filthy trail clothes and re-pack our bags with clean, urban clothes. Off to Heathrow, where our flight was delayed HOURS without warning. Happily, the good people at Plymouth Gin had set up shop right out side the Duty-Free monstrosity and had a promotional bartender that was handing out gimlets. There's nothing that makes a four hour stay in the airport better, but free booze did help with the tolerance of the injustices of airline travel.
We finally arrived at JFK many hours late, and correctly assuming that we had missed the last fast LIRR train into Penn, we took the E train into the city. Which was only running local and with the track work going on, very infrequently. It took over an hour and a half to get to our hotel in Soho, and at this point, it was 1 in the flippin morning, and I was beyond done with the day. I had optimistically thought we would be checked into our hotel and cleaned up for dinner time, but the silver lining was that the moment we hit the pillow we were out.
New York still brings out the worst in me- the gridlock, the crowds, the stress, the noise, the inability to keep up with anything or anyone.
Happily, a few old haunts still exist, remnants of the old city that I really hope never change.
And there were some new oddities as well.
Like that giant tower is pretty much done. I spent years watching it slowly emerge from the ashes and it is weird that it is now part of the skyline:
It still catches me by surprise.
I stocked up on much-needed bras at Century 21. I was tempted by many, many things, but in my ongoing efforts to keep my belongings to a minimum, I walked away from those many, many things. All this moving around means I am slim and trim. Well, my belongings are anyway.
It's just such a hectic wash of a place. Even coming from London, which is a HUGE city (or as they might say in New York, yoooge), it never ceases to be completely overwhelming to be in New York for any length of time, and after being away for a few years, I'm back to noticing all the details again and feeling kind of lost even though I know the city streets well. I had lived here for 10 years. I don't know how.
Since I was only spending three days, I didn't have much time for anything. I always have grand plans to visit the Met, and I didn't even get a glimpse of Central Park this trip. Between the Lawyers and the Embassy and the Doctors and Dentist and those stupid Biometrics screenings and trying to see as many friends as I possibly can...well, three days went by and a I barely even blinked.
We were staying in an odd corner of Soho without a whole lot of restaurants that wouldn't let you in if you weren't wearing a Rolex, and a hoard of food trucks had smartly moved in to fill that niche and lined the streets every morning and afternoon. One morning on our way to an appointment, Bry stopped at one and ordered a sausage roll. I went off- did he have Stockholm Syndrome? He should be getting a bialy with cream cheese and lox and an ice coffee, not something that you could get at every pub and gas station in Britain. And I had to explain the situation to the vendor as he just thought I was a control freak and a nutcase for yelling at someone for getting a sausage roll for breakfast. "But it's home made...it's really good", the vendor explained.
And it was.
See, that's the thing in New York: you can usually stop and get a random cheap bite and not die or at the very least, feel cheated. Not only is it almost always good, but good in a way where you will be back for more. In London, I do much research before darkening the doorway of any establishment, as there have been many disappointments, but also lots of good finds as well. It's just so easy here.
I walked whenever I could and had my camera on hand, carefully avoiding stopping short in front of crowds of commuters as a good tourist should. In London, people would walk around you while judging you as a punter. In New York, it is a death wish. Also, the subway is just awful in summer and I avoided it whenever possible- the trains are usually freezing cold, which feels really great when it finally comes because you have been standing on a sweltering, airless platform for the past 20 minutes. I do love the Village, although there are so many fancy-ass boutiques, it's not the same place as when I first moved here. Same with the meatpacking district. It feels like no corner of Manhattan has been left to be the grungy, wild place of yore now that there is a starbucks and a bank branch on every corner.
I never had to work in the financial district, so I don't know the canyons down there well. I ended up taking several trips there as the law office was on John St, but I thought this was telling:
A wee tiny "green space" confined by an old church on one side and sky scrapers all around. It doesn't even seem like it is outdoors, does it? Lower Manhattan is such a crazy oddity, as the narrow streets were laid out in the time of the Dutch and British, and the buildings just kept getting bigger and taller, but the streets are still no wider than a country lane.
Happily, a friend of mine had a day off and we had a nice but incredibly slow walk along the Highline with his two-year old son.
I love the little wading river they installed down by 14th street. It's endlessly amusing for me, too.
Well, that was until someone clearly needed a nap and acted like a bucket hat was causing pain and suffering while thrashing around wailing. That someone was not me.
Yeah, I totally pinched the baby.
Even though it is feels incredibly narrow and crowded at some bottlenecks, it is such a creative and fun park to walk. The People's Pops stand is still there, and like a good auntie, I made sure the kiddo is on his way to a 3-pop-a-day habit.
I still found time to eat and drink, as it is essential as breathing. A visit to New York is no time to exercise restraint.
Some good new finds and shamelessly nostalgic repeats:
X'ian Famous Foods for hand pulled spicy good noodles, and the opportunity to crowd around a tiny non-oft cleaned bench to inhale them while they were fresh, helplessly trying to preserve my clothing's cleanliness. Also, it's cheap as hell. Prepare yourself, this one is a game changer, and I had been walking past the original Chinatown location for years without giving it a proper try.
The bar I visited during the polar vortex last winter, The Wayland, is just as awesome in high summer. Cocktails and a really chill room, and the food was awesome.
Dear Iriving, a fancy new cocktail bar in my old 'hood of Gramarcy, which was inspired by the film "Midnight in Paris". Very chic spot, with private booths and a button to call the wait staff when you wanted a refill, and filthy wallpaper in the back room.
Sushi Choshi. They aren't the best or fanciest sushi place, but they've been on that corner for-ev-er. However- they were the first sushi place I tried when I moved to NYC and I credit them to kicking off my habit. I went from "raw fish, yeck!" to "NEED MOAR NOW SUSHI YES" and now I know that if I ever am on a life raft with nothing but raw fish to eat, I would be fat and happy when the rescue boat showed up.
Tolache now has a taco take-out place downtown, which makes having to wind my way around down those streets so much more pleasurable and I tried to schedule my appointments there to coordinate with opening hours. I love tacos so much. They are the best thing in the theater district for pre-and -post theater dining, and the tacos they served up was downright addicting. People should stop bitching about downtown being a "food wasteland" now anyway.
I had a bit of a kerfuffle as we were stopping in NYC to take care of business and renew our visas, which means we have to surrender our passports to the Embassy for as long as it takes them to process it. Ultimately though, we were wanting to get up to Maine as quickly as we could. I realized then that I had no valid ID. Every other form of ID I had was expired, and because I had no US address or utility bills, I couldn't just go and get them renewed. Flying was off the table, a long haul on Amtrak it would have to be.
On my last night there, I met up with a friend from Paris and some more friends from NYC for dinner and drinks. I bowed out early to get back to the hotel to pack and begrudgingly hopped on the subway. I took a seat on an empty bench, and right away realized why it was empty. A man sitting opposite, squirming in his seat and breathing heavily was giving me the up-down. "Girl, what you need right now is a bubble bath and a foot massage...."...I got up and moved to the other, more crowded end of the subway. Slightly pissy about his lack of decorum, but also slightly amused. I've never been offered that kind of treatment on the London Tube or the Paris Metro. What is it about New York? OMG YOU GUYS IN NEW YORK THEY GIVE FREE FOOT MASSAGES ON THE SUBWAY! Perhaps if he would have seen my mangled feet and missing toenails, he would have changed his tune to "You should probably see a podiatrist."
It is such a vibrant, energetic place, but it also has the ability to suck the life from your bones and leave you soulless and withered. Which is why bone marrow was an appropriate choice for dinner.
Right before we left, we headed downtown to pick up some gifts. And by gifts, I mean food. Not having a weight limit on my enormous suitcase meant I could actually fill it! A couple dozen from Kossar's, one of each flavor at the Donut Plant, and a small vat of half-sours at The Pickle Guys. I make sure we are well-received when we show up anywhere.
While I was deeply sad I didn't get to spend more time in this terrible place, I was ready to go. Another subway ride or lurching cab trip in gridlock probably would have been my undoing. I was sad that I didn't get to see half the people I wanted to, and I didn't even make it over to Brooklyn and all my old haunts over there. Boo. You could spend a lifetime here and never do all there is to do. By the time you got finished, the city would be new again and you would have all the more to see and do and try.
Although Amtrak did give us a nice send-off. The friggin' Acela was late getting in, and they gave no information about how delayed it was or the track until about 10 minutes past the departure time. Then it was just a mad rush of hundreds of impatient and freaked-out travelers packed to the one working down escalator in Penn Station. I call them Slamtrack now. I'm lucky I still have all my fingers and toes after that. I would like to now let you know that in Switzerland, they announce the track numbers months in advance, and no one is killed because of it.
Bye, New York!