Monday, April 1, 2013

No. 430 – Back in N.Y.C.

Performer: Genesis
Songwriters: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford
Original Release: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Year: 1974
Definitive Version: the studio version

The first two times I was Back in NYC after discovering this song were in 1987. I’ve already written about both of those trips. The next time was in 1991. I’ve written about that, too.

I’m not a big New York guy, and I don’t have any ties to the area any more. Consequently, I had no reason to be back in NYC again for nearly 21 years.

A year ago, however, I was offered a trip to New York for a digital-publishing conference. My magazine in August 2011 finally went live with its website after years of dormancy, and I was asked to go to the conference, learn what I could and report back.

It was to be a one-day in-and-out: I’d fly in in the evening, spend the night, go to the conference the next morning and fly out that afternoon. I made the arrangements. I’d fly in and out of JFK and stay at The Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown just a couple blocks from the Grand Hyatt, where the conference was to be held, and the Chrysler Building.

The final stroke: Given how much I had changed with regard to interest in restaurants, I had to go somewhere great for dinner. I thought about Le Bernardin but decided to stay close to my hotel, so I made a reservation at Sushi Yasuda, which was just two blocks away from where I was staying.

I had never spent a night in Manhattan, and I was really excited to go. Unfortunately, the experience was, shall we say, less than what I had hoped.

To start, my flight out of O’Hare was delayed due to bad weather in New York. I built in plenty of time to get from the airport to Midtown before my reservation at Sushi Yasuda, but the delay mounted. When it got to an hour, I knew I was in trouble. If the plane made up time, and I caught my reserved shuttle right away, I still could make it, but now it was going to be tight.

Well, to make a long story short, the plane neither made up time, nor did I get my shuttle right away. In fact, there was a big snafu with the shuttle. The company didn’t send me the necessary reservation slip for the driver, so I had to pay cash.
The bottom line was I had to cancel my reservation at Sushi Yasuda, which was a big bummer.

No matter. There had to be at least ten dozen decent places around my hotel where I didn’t need a reservation, right? And, yes, even though it was a Tuesday night and I’d arrive at my hotel about 9, this is the City That Never Sleeps, right? RIGHT?

Wrong. After I checked in, dropped off my stuff and went downstairs to scout around, it became quickly apparent that unless I wanted fast food, my choices were extremely limited. Most of the better places—bars even—that were within walking distance closed at 9:30 or earlier.

What the hell? Am I in New York City or Backwater, USA? A lot of people were out and about, but apparently they were going home or somewhere else, because the city was busy rolling up the sidewalks for the night—at least in Midtown.

I suppose I could have cabbed it to Greenwich Village or someplace happening, but I had to get up early the next day, so I wanted to stay close. I finally ended up at a faux Irish bar of the type that’s a dime a dozen in Chicago, and it was mediocre. It was a real let-down.

It was like the only good things I got from that evening were the excitement of viewing the skyline—and the Empire State Building—up close and the sense of just being there. That excitement evaporated quickly.

The hotel itself was fine, except it charged $15 a might for Internet unless you wandered down to the lobby—naturally.

The next day, the conference was interesting, and when it wrapped up at noon, I had about four hours to kill before I needed to take the shuttle back to JFK. This was on purpose. I thought I’d want time to get lunch and hit the public library, just a few blocks away.

I decided to do the library first, and I was eager to see what baseball books that were available for my research. When I got there, I was surprised to learn that New York’s main library is, in fact, a call library. You couldn’t go into the stacks and pick out books, like you can at most public libraries. That was odd, but, OK, I’ve worked with these before. It was no big deal … or so I thought.

I placed my order for four books and set up my computer in the main reading room. When the teller called my number, I went to retrieve my books, but I didn’t have a New York library card, which was required to read the books … in the library itself.

Right, I’m a resident of Chicago. I’m in town on business for the day. I have my Chicago library card. No dice. How about I give you my Illinois drivers license? I can’t leave that behind. No. How about my freakin’ MasterCard?

At this point, the head teller got her New York on and said they accepted New York library cards, PERIOD, and if I wanted the books I had to sign up. I again explained I lived in Chicago; I wasn’t from New York. She wouldn’t have cared if I were Billy Joel at that point. So much for the PUBLIC library.

So I left to get lunch. I decided to try Sushi Yasuda, but I needed a reservation to get in, even at lunch. I hiked around to try and find something else suitable, but I found nothing that didn’t consist of sidewalk carts or fast food.

Finally, hungry, frustrated and thoroughly fed up, I decided to just head to the airport and kill the remaining four hours there before my flight left. The shuttle situation was handled, and soon I was leaving town, taking note of the new World Trade Center going up far south of and concluding that it had to be the most overrated city on the planet.

Sure, it was just one time, and if I had stayed elsewhere or gone elsewhere it might have been a lot better, but as far as I’m concerned, I don’t care if I NEVER am back in NYC.

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