Wednesday, March 20, 2019

New York State of Mind

One of the things I've been doing other than blogging has been traveling, both to Los Angeles and New York City, on business. LA has become a frequent stop, so I slip in and out like a thief in the night. New York, on the other hand, I haven't been to in more than a decade. So here are some thoughts:

Messrs. Emerson, Grubb, and Khan.
It was 2007 when I was last in New York (and that was for potentially turning Guild Wars into an animated TV series - nothing came of it). Back in the days of TSR, I was in town, regularly, in February, for Toy Fair. Toy Fair is still a thing, but I'm not there this time. This timeI was in town for a recording session for a game we're working on. I was recording lines with the brilliant Michael Emerson (of "Lost" and "Person of Interest") and the extremely talented Kamal Khan.  I can't and won't give details, but both actors were fantastic.

But I've noticed some differences of the town from almost ten years ago. There are more children and families in Manhattan than I noticed previously, and less sirens in the night. People honk less (I didn't say they stopped - I said they honked LESS). The lullaby of Broadway of continual gridlock is still there, but with less aggression.

One thing I had forgotten about was salad with breakfast. The complimentary breakfast provided from the hotel was completely insufficient (three muffins), so I ended up ordering an omelette each morning, and it came with a salad. That worked out well for me.

It snowed when I was out there. I mean, New York in February, so of course it snowed. A couple inches, enough to paralyze Seattle. Here it was a nice dusting. Families were sledding and building snowmen in Central Park.

Bright Lights, Big City
We were quartered right off of Times Square. New York hotel rooms are just as  .... cozy ... as I remember. Times Square itself is America's Ginza district, and is amazing with its lights. In snow it is even brighter as each flake catches the light and reflects back. And yes, there were people everywhere, watching the snow.

We had some down time, and took the opportunity to sight-see a little. Caught an exhibit on Stonewall at the New York Public Library by accident (we were checking out the architecture) on the way to the Tolkien exhibit at the Morgan Library. The latter was a beautiful small jewel box of an exhibit, crammed with all manner of Tolkien's artwork, both the famous (some of it graced various editions of the books) and the mundane (designs on crossword puzzles, creatures created for his children). Highly recommended.

I have a niece (who works for the NY Public Library System) who lives in Brooklyn with her husband (who is working with a startup), and so I journeyed one evening by subway down to her neck of the woods. The slotst hat used to take tokens are gone, now. Brooklyn was pretty nice, and reminded me of the North Halstead neighborhood of Chicago - lot of brick, neighborhood corner stores, quiet streets, a variety of apartments and homes. We went to a place that offered Thai Street Food, with dished like pad cha, weeping tiger, and something with five syllables that sounded vaguely Klingon. Excellent food.

My niece had warned me that the subways changed schedules on the weekends. Despite this, I and a companion got on a train heading for the American Museum of Natural History (about 81st street) but ended up under 125th street (walking distance to the Apollo in Harlem). A very helpful old man (from Brooklyn - he lived on the street that used as an establishing shot in "Welcome Back Kotter") told us what we did wrong and helpfully directed us to another platform, which didn't have ANY trains running on it (because, weekend). Finally found a transit authority figure in an orange vest who was helping out confused travelers.

Oh, yeah, did I mention that I have "talk to me" written on my forehead? Because that's what keeps happening. In New York City. On the subway. No, you don't need to talk to me! You have phones! Oh, all right, fine, tell me about your nephew in Queens.

Serious skeletonage
First time at the American Museum of Natural History. I grew up with the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh and loved the Field Museum in Chicago, and yet was very, very impressed. Their wildlife dioramas were amazing. The whale hanging over their Hall of Marine Life was great. I would give them the edge on the natural exhibits, but think the Field did better on exhibits on ethnography (other peoples). Parts were under renovation, it being February, including the Hall of the Pacific Northwest. Curious what they will do with it.

A necromancer's paradise.
Their top floor - the Halls of Vertebrate Evolution - where they keep the dinosaurs, are just amazing. I don't think I have been in a museum with as much textural density in years. Their presentation take no prisoners - you have to keep up with the Latin names and clades and synaptic openings and maniraptors. I could have spent a full day on that floor alone. I officially feel behind the times when confronted with both the traditional presentation of equine evolution and how more recent fossils blow a hole in that traditional view of evolution.

I went in search of a mural from my childhood, in some LIFE book on evolution. Could not find out, and now realize that it was in the Peabody Library at Yale. Ah. There were good murals of the mammals, though.

Strawberry Fields
Did not get to Ground Zero this time. It was hard enough to visit Strawberry Fields, which commemorates John Lennon. There was a young Asian woman playing Beatles tunes on a folk guitar and an artist selling "bad portraits" Yes, they were bad. Just being there was a bit of a hit to the stomach. I had to sit down on a snowy bench and pull myself together. Walking through Central Park was wonderful however, and I rewarded myself with a Nathan's Hotdog from a stand.

The New York food carts, by the way,  have a lot more neon signs these days. And there are flatscreens on the subway. It is a very advanced world.

All that said, 432 Park Avenue, one of the tallest buildings in New York, is as ugly as sin. It is the box should hold a mammoth toothbrush. No picture, because it is so ugly.

I got down to the Strand Bookstore, which was heavenly. If you like Powell's City of Books in Portland, you'll be at home in the Strand. Lots of books, used and new, lots of people sprawled everywhere. Looked for some Nero Wolfe (I read Rex Stout's mysteries on the plane) but left with a volume of Johannes Cabal (The Fear Institute) by Johnathan L. Howards. Pro tip - there are cash registers elsewhere in the shop - you don't have to get in the big line by the entrance.

Failed to hunt down the neighborhood of Nero's Wolfe's brownstone either, though I understand that the block was completely rebuilt when the Lincoln Tunnel was pushed through. Still, there is a plaque somewhere for that.

A round table, but not THE Round Table
The final evening I was on my own, and realized that my hotel was next door to the famous/infamous Algonquin Hotel, home of of the famous/infamous Algonquin Round Table. This was a daily lunch group of authors, editors, and other celebs that engaged in witty wordplay, logrolling, and mocking those who were not at the table. The restaurant has been renovated and the table itself is gone, but a portrait of the group does loom over a replacement table.

Took one of my producers out to New York Pizza. It is more than just a thin crust pizza - it is very good, and I am a fan of Chicago Pizza, so that's saying a lot.

I've said this before - New York City is a town that every American knows even if they have never been there. MAD Magazine, the New Yorker, Marvel comics, innumerable movies and TV shows. You know that location, and that building, and it all has a sense of familiarity about it. It is America's back-lot, and it is good to connect back to it again.

More later,