Thursday, May 31, 2012

SM Johnson ~Thursday Morning Coffee ~ NYC part 2

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Welcome to Thursday Morning Coffee! Here's part 2 of my trip to NYC. Toward the end I'll list some "insider tricks" either I figured out, or that people told me about.

Let's see... I think I was talking about Saturday when I hit the moment wherein which it became impossible for me to stay awake for one more minute.

We took the subway to Chinatown for some shopping. Whoa. That was crowded. The story that thieves will cut your purse strap right off your shoulder, and make off with your money, probably originated in Chinatown, because the street was so packed it was difficult to even move. Impossible to really shop, but we managed to buy a few things anyway. There was something going on down there that involved a parade and some dragon heads and such. We didn't stay for the parade, but I took pictures of the dragon heads. We did stop at a Chines bakery and ate a chocolate cake thingy that was mmmm, yummy. It looked like rich chocolate mousse, although it turned out to be lightly sweetened cake, but the frosting that glued thick chocolate curls to the edges was to die for.

Leaving Chinatown - we got on the subway going totally the wrong way. We needed to go to Midtown, but instead were heading for Brooklyn. Oops. But sort of like missing your exit in Minneapolis, all we had to do was get off at the next stop, turn our backs on the train, and catch the next one going in the right direction.

Get this - that was my ONLY navigation error. Do I rock, or what?

I was SO looking forward to Saturday evening's Speak Up! reading at El Museo del Barrio. I mean, honestly, the whole trip became much more exciting for me the moment I realized I would get to hang out with writerly friends - my peeps!

But here's the tricky part - I was traveling with my mom, and my peeps are not her peeps. She found herself way outside her comfort zone at El Museo, which was pretty unfortunate. Here's the thing - when I'm with my mom, somehow I stop being 40 and go back to being 14. Mostly this is tolerable. This time, it was a bummer. I probably should have insisted upon going alone so I could relax, stay all the way through to the end, and have a chance to take some photos.

I did one thing wisely - I asked my friend Emanuel Xavier to sign my copies of his books before the reading started. I didn't make the moment a photo op because Manny was the host of the event, and I didn't want to get him hung up while was getting organized. (I've blogged about Emanuel before, here)

So anyway. I was able to listen to a few open mike readers, Emanuel, and someone I hadn't heard before called Simply Rob.

Somewhere in the midst of that, I lost my mom.

El Barrio basically means The Neighborhood in Spanish. Most of the attendees were Hispanic. Probably most of them were gay, as well. Some of the poetry was in Spanish, or partially in Spanish (my 8th and 9th grade Spanish is pretty dang rudimentary, but I was able to catch a word or two here and there). The words rape, cock, fuck, AIDS, etc. were present and accounted for - in English. A lot of the poetry detailed experiences that were tragic and sad.

Poetry is like that. Even mine.

My mom was in New York for a fun, light-hearted vacation. The reading was more intense of an experience than she was looking for. So we ended up leaving before it was over. Sad for me, but it's hard to relax when your companion isn't having a good time, you know?

We cabbed it back to Times Square and went to Carve for pizza. And there we saw the most astonishing show of our trip.

It was a day party - in our neck of the woods, we call it a "pub crawl" - a bunch of friends crawling from bar to bar, drinking and dancing and having a great time. A New Yorker told me these are actually illegal. This one was hysterical. There were, I don't know, 25 - 30 black women, all dressed as if they'd come straight out of a whore house. The skirts were short, the shirts were tight, and the heels were high. And they were having a ball. The pic at the left is the LEAST shocking - the gal at the far left with the mesh dress? The front was mesh too, except for built-in nipple pasties...

Honestly, we have never seen such a group of skimpily, tackily dressed women. And without intending to be mean, I have to say that we laughed so hard there were moments we were pretty much doubled over. It was quite a sight for a couple of mid-western girls, let me tell you. We desperately wanted to take pictures, but it was hard to figure out how to do that without insulting people.

It lightened my mom's mood, which was a good thing.

Sunday we went to a street fair in Hell's Kitchen, which was a lot of fun. I drank a watermelon/strawberry smoothie thing that was refreshing and cold. The weather was beautiful - as it had been every day. I bought an iPhone case that has a picture of Steve Jobs on the back. I don't know why, but it seemed like the right thing to do, considering Steve Jobs changed our world.

We also walked down to the permanent flea market, also in Hell's Kitchen. Took an awesome picture of my mom with a transvestite. (See? Gay poetry reading on Saturday, smiling next to a tranny on Sunday - I'm definitely broadening my mom's world).

Saturday night we wandered out of Times Square and landed, ultimately, in the lobby of the Trump Building, where I took pictures of the Trump Bike, built by Paul Teutul Sr. of Orange County Choppers.  Pretty damn cool.

I also took pictures of the storefronts of Versaci, Prada, and Armani. Because I am a little bit strange that way. But hey, some of my characters are label queens, so it was fun.

Ended up walking our feet off.

Monday it rained. I was just shocked to walk outside and discover rain. I felt mad at myself for not packing an umbrella, but one second later, a guy came walking down the street carrying an umbrella and a garbage bag full of umbrellas, yelling "Umbrellas!"

Man, New York is freaking cool.

We had an appointment at the 9/11 Memorial site at 4 pm, so once again I got out my subway map, and we made our way to Daffy's and then Macy's. Had coffee and a burger at Macy's basement cafe. I bought some chocolate for my husband's grandmother, who has been watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade for years.

The walk to the Memorial site was pretty long, even though I took the recommended subway train to the recommended stop. We had to go through security measures similar to TSA, but I guess you do what you have to do.

When I was there in 2007, the site as still considered Ground Zero, a couple of holes in the ground surrounded by construction fencing. The 9/11 timeline was hung up along the fence, and it was an acutely painful experience.

This time was a bit different. The museum isn't completed yet, and the Freedom Tower is still under construction, but the holes in the ground have been turned into these beautiful pools with waterfalls on all four sides, with the names of the people etched into the ledges surrounding the pools. The experience wasn't as painful this time - it was melancholy, but also incredibly peaceful. I think the memorial pools are a very fitting tribute to the many lives lost, both on 9/11, and also the terrorist attack on the WTC in 1993.

Last, but certainly not least, we called our Expedia concierge to see if she could get us theater tickets for Monday night. And guess what? She could! We landed 5 rows behind the orchestra pit for Phantom of the Opera.

Whoa. And by that, I mean WHOA! Pretty amazing stuff!

Getting to the airport on Tuesday sucked, same as getting from the airport to the hotel on Thursday. We thought we were smart this time around and signed up for a shuttle. Hahahahahaha. Joke on us. We boarded the shuttle at 1:05, expecting to head to the airport. What actually happened is that we drove around Times Square from hotel to hotel for over an hour. Then the driver promised to get us to the airport by 4 pm.  4pm! We passengers revolted and demanded transport to the airport immediately, and arrived at JFK at 2:30. Plenty of time for our 4:20 flight, yes?

Um. No. We stood in line for TSA screening for 90 minutes, until a Delta employee pulled to the head of the line, basically because our airplane was waiting for us. JFK is apparently the Keystone equivalent of TSA - 2 agents checking IDs, and 3 lanes open for "stuff" and person screening - all serving THIRTY-ONE departure gates. Truly, truly ludicrous. I filed an official complaint/suggestion. No, my civil liberties were not violated (that was a previous trip), but the inefficiency of their system at JFK was shocking. I don't even know how they can do a good job when the people they are screened are exhausted and pissed off from standing in line, not to mention stressed that they're about to miss their plane.

Okay, I promised some insider tips. I'll try to make this quick.

1) Wear a plain shirt for your flight. I found out last year that "exciting" shirts with vines and rhinestones and little copper doo-dads on them look like bomb wires and connections to the x-ray machine, and will result in a full pat-down and having your hands tested for explosive residue. Trust.

2) Fly into La Guardia, rather than JFK, if at all possible.

3) Someone told me that you can get a shuttle from the airport to Grand Central Station for $12.50, and many hotels offer free shuttle service from there. (I didn't test this out - it's just what I heard).

4) The guy loitering by the Metro-Card machine will try to sell you a "barely used" unlimited ride card. I don't know if he's full of shit or not, but when he swipes the card and urges you through the barrier, he will ultimately separate you from your companion(s), and, I suspect, then give your companion a "hard sell." I didn't fall for it. I recommend you go ahead and buy a 7 day pass for $29. You can use it as much as you want, then give it away, perhaps to employees of your favorite eating establishment or deli/coffee shop.

5) The double-decker buses are cool if you don't know the city. The 48-hour hop-on/hop-off pass was totally worth the money. Try to get on them in the morning, but eat a good breakfast first!

6) When you need a cab, go to the nearest hotel door guy. They are super-awesome-friendly, and will flag you down a taxi in no time (and give him a tip for getting you the cab, even if he's not from your hotel). Also a good resource when you come up out of the subway station and have no idea which direction you need to walk in.

7) Find your mother something else to do if you want to attend a gay Hispanic poetry reading.

8) If you book through Expedia, an Expedia concierge will call you before your trip and offer you their services. Write down that person's phone number and work hours - they are a great resource if you want  to add excursions, tickets, and local attractions to your trip - even at the last minute!

9) You can pay for your NYcity cab with a credit card, even if the driver insists that he would much prefer cash. They are REQUIRED to accept credit/debit cards for payment. They might not want to tell you this, however.

10) In New York City, if you need an umbrella, there will be a guy selling them within 8 feet of you. Same thing if you need sunglasses. In Chinatown, the people mumbling at you are saying either "Buy handbags, ma'am?" or "Watch? You want watch?" I suspect these are the illegal, back-room sort of sales that can get you in trouble. Just saying. OH! And this - compare the prices at your hotel gift shop and other shops before you buy a bunch of stuff - I was shocked that the hotel shop, literally seconds away from my bed, was considerably cheaper than everywhere else.

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