Up until last March, I had never been to New York City. This fact often amazes people when I tell them. "Oh really? That is surprising. You seem like someone who would fit right in there."
No, I had never been. New York was like this distant relative I had never visited, despite the relative bearing a striking resemblence. I never had a reason to travel to New York. I've been all over the States, visited Canada, seen London, Paris, Sicily and Rome. As a child I traveled with my family. In more recent years I would travel alone to visit friends. The bulk of my trips in my younger years centered around my mother's business travel. She had no business contacts in New York City. We have no family there. For the longest time, this city was a big void on my social map.
It wasn't until 4 years ago that I evolved a small social connection to the city. I met Oliver, who later became one of my best friends. His sister and brother-in-law live in New York. Finally, a string tied me to New York. It was last November that the string was pulled.
I was surfing the Internet at work one day. I entered a search for David Sedaris, one of my favorite writers and brother of Amy Sedaris, one of my favorite comedians. I stumbled upon The Steven Barclay Agency, which represents some of the finest American literary talents. The page for David Sedaris listed a plethora of upcoming tour dates, yet the closest appearance was in Wilmington, Delaware. The next closest appearance was in, you guessed it, The Big Apple. He was set to appear in New York's Town Hall on March 31, 2006. Coincidentally, I was also set to receive a hefty tax return. I now had the means and the motive to finally see the greatest city in the world. Now it was just a matter of time and planning.
The tickets had not gone on sale yet, but I knew they would go fast as soon as they became available. I emailed a few friends, including Oliver, proposing that we make a weekend of it. I warned them to buy tickets as soon as they could, and provided all the necessary information. Oliver was a definite go; he loves David Sedaris, and his sister would provide him a free place to stay. I also invited Jay, who lives in upstate New York. He was also a definite go, being that he loved the city. My other friends expressed initial interest, but they swayed toward the negative in the end. I bought two tickets (for myself and Jay) to the appearance as soon as they were available. This was in November of last year, a full 5 months before the event. Luckily, I had the holiday season and an upcoming wedding to keep myself occupied.
Over the next few months, I became increasingly excited. At first my thoughts were just consumed with the idea of seeing David Sedaris. Eventually the other factors of the trip crept into my thoughts. Not only would I be seeing my favorite writer, I would be going on trip with my best friend in the great city of New York.
I tried to quell this rising excitement, telling myself I didn't want to "jinx it." This has happened with many of my travel experiences. I have built up such a fantastic version of my forthcoming trip in my mind that nothing could possibly live up to it. I think this may have been why I was not overtly impressed with Rome (though my family's drunken lewdness may have played its part). I kept telling myself to not over do it this time, to kind of just let things happen and to be a sponge, rather than a critic, of the experience. I decided to leave myself mentally unprepared for all the glamour of the city. I knew, however, at the very least I would be hanging out with people I always have a good time with. That was the only emotional investment I knew wasn't in any way risky.
So time dwindled down, and the day of reckoning has arrived. March 31, 2006. I parked my car in Oliver's parent's driveway, where we departed at about 11 am. The first thing I did in the car was take a really stupid picture of myself.
Then, I took a picture of Oliver with my fat finger blocking the lens.
We made exceedingly good time, despite having stopped for lunch at Sbarro's and me buying sunglasses (which I lost less than 24 hours later). We listened to a mixed CD I had made the night before. It had all my favorite uplifting beats, which were not limited to Running with the Devil by Van Halen, Takin' Care of Business by BTO and The Only Living Boy in New York by Simon and Garfunkel. When that CD was done, we switched to the Rolling Stones, and then we eventually listened to Oliver's mixed CD of Ween songs.
We got in town around three o'clock via the Lincoln tunnel. Oliver dropped me off and I checked into the Ramada Plaza New Yorker, which is right across the street from Madison Square garden. Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would be pleased to know that my hotel room number was 42. Well, technically it was 2942, but who's counting.
When I got into my hotel room I noticed two things. The first was that the room was so small the only way I could reach the window was by crawling over the bed. The second was that the bathroom door handle was broken. The inside doorknob would not turn, meaning it would lock me inside if I closed the door all the way. I realized that I would have to use the bathroom with the door open. At this point I thanked the Lord that at the last minute I told Jay he couldn't crash in my room.
I threw my bag into my cubby-sized hotel room and then did some lone-sightseeing. I had picked this hotel because of its close proximity to the theatre district and Times Square, so I decided to head there.
Years of TV and movie viewing had left me desensitized to the overwhelming number of advertisements in this area. The one thing I was not prepared for was the sea of humanity.
I had to struggle to take some more pictures because I felt like I was moving against the tide.
I looked at the advertisements for Cup O' Noodles and Budweiser, and sudddenly I realized I was famished.
I decided to head back to the hotel, grab some food, and get ready for the Sedaris event. There was a cozy little diner in the same building as my hotel. It was an old fashioned place that had tuna melt specials and nonstop cups of coffee. I don't drink coffee, but I thoroughly enjoyed my tuna melt.
As the waitress was delivering my second Diet Pepsi, a man the size of a small bulldozer walked past and sat in the booth behind me. He started talking on his cell phone and didn't stop for the duration of my time there. The man had a voice so deep and so phlegmy, it was a bit like listening to a tuba underwater. As he continued talking on his phone, his voice became more melodic. It reminded me of a Gregorian chant. It calmed me as I was turning the pages “The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” by Michael Chabon. I remembered how not less than an hour ago I felt like a human buoy in a sea of confusion. Now I felt a peaceful stillness. I paid my check and left a generous tip.
I went to my room, washed my face, changed my clothes, and left for Town Hall. I walked back towards Times Square and the theatre district. I felt more confident this time round. I knew I was ready for some fun.
Please stayed tuned for part 2...