Archive for March, 2016

Moments after landing at LaGuardia, one thing was evident. Middle seats on airplanes are equivalent to cherry filled chocolates. Both seem harmless, until you try them.

I had a meeting scheduled near Newark, but flights to Newark were three times the cost of flights to LaGuardia. Like most things New Jersey related, this ridiculous price discrepancy was a mystery to me. A mystery that now left me an hour and a half further away from my customer.

At the rental car counter, I was surprised to be given an upgrade. Soon, I was sitting in a newer Cadillac. It smelled faintly of marijuana, and when I started it up, Hot 97 blared from the speakers at an obscene volume. This was the coolest I had felt in quite some time.

Admittedly, I had reservations about driving from LaGuardia to Newark. Although, as is often the case when driving in unknown cities, I put my fate (and sanity) in the reliable hands of my GPS. Unfortunately, my pimpin cadi was equipped with OnStar. Those unfamiliar with OnStar should know this: If GPS systems were phones, I was rocking a Motorola Razor. And sometimes vintage is a bad word.

I hoped the GPS would follow my logic and steer me around Manhattan. Instead, I was wading through the heart of commuting darkness. And soon, I found myself in bumper-to-bumper traffic at the Holland tunnel. During my long wait at the mouth of the tunnel, I debated whether or not to light a cigarette in my rental. Then Jay Z reminded me to brush my shoulders off. It was all the push I needed.

My overall plan was simple, I would go to the meeting, and hopefully the sales gods would watch over me. Afterward, I would ditch the rental at Newark airport and then take an Uber into Manhattan. Once there I would have a decent meal, go for a long touristy walk, and have a drink or two along the way.

My pagan prayers were answered, and the meeting went as planned. I made a mental note to sacrifice something in honor of the sales gods, at a later date.

After a quick train ride from the car rental facility to the airport, I was in an Uber and proud to have completed a traveler’s trifecta of planes, trains, and automobiles.

On the way into the city, the uber driver and I discussed a not-so wide variety of topics. The popularity of uber for one. The amount of ubers there are in NY for another. And let us not forget what every conversation about uber either begins or ends with: The net worth of uber.

After a couple of failed attempts to steer the conversation away from all things uber, I sat silently, resigned to my fate, and let the uber-verse wash over me.

I reserved a room in Greenwich Village, a couple of blocks from Washington Square Park. I hadn’t been in this area of Manhattan before, and was curious to explore it.

My room, like every other room I’ve stayed at in Manhattan, was one size too small. I had a brief flashback to a suffocating middle seat with no leg room, and quickly fled out into the night.

Washington Square Park reminded me a lot of Italian piazzas, its arch included. I sat there and people watched for a spell. This was an eclectic mix of park patrons.

Hip students, photo-taking tourists, young families picnicking, and hipper couples having conversations I secretly tried to overhear. And of course there were a sprinkling of crazies here and there, but they seemed to balance the scene in some existential way.

Soon I was wandering the streets, slowly heading toward the west village. In need of a refreshment, I finally settled on the White Horse tavern. A pub that had a history which included an over-served Dylan Thomas, a disruptive Kerouac, and even a brief reference on an episode of Mad Men. Thank you, Wikipedia.

The White Horse looked like any other old tavern. But what else did I expect?

Had I briefly hoped that Paul Auster and Yogi Berra would be bellied up to the bar, passionately discussing all things literary and Yankees related? Sure. Why not.

I found a spot at the bar, opened my newspaper and ordered a beer. Halfway through my beer and still working on the front page of the paper, I was already itching to hit the street. At about that time, a young Australian couple sat down next to me and we began to chat.

As it turned out, they were doing a month long, cross country tour of America. And soon, we were discussing some of the places they had already visited. Their trip began in Los Angeles, and they slowly worked their way through California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and New Orleans. Until finally, they ended up on the last leg of their journey, here in NYC. I had to give it up to my new Aussie friends, this was exemplary vacationing.

Our conversation bounced back and forth breezily, and soon we were comparing our cultural differences. This inevitably led to each of us taking turns imitating the others accent. The pair were much better at impersonating an American accent, than I was at an Australian one. I blamed Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman for this.

The GOP primary was being discussed silently from one of the televisions. And I quickly realized the only things I knew of the Australian political system was gleaned from half-remembered snippets of an old Bill Bryson book. After comparing notes with my new friends, I came to the conclusion that Australian politics were too confusing for my American brain.

Much to my surprise, and perhaps delight, they knew about the same of American politics. And next to nothing of the primaries, or our current crop of sorry candidates. I found a strange joy in this. Perhaps the rest of the world was still in the dark on how ridiculous things had gotten, but I suspected otherwise.

After a walk and some tacos, we went our separate ways, and this being 2016, sent friend requests and confirmations via Facebook.

I trudged back to the hotel, and was completely lost on more than one occasion. The Lower Manhattan grid system seemed more like a random series of ‘Y’ intersections. There was a maze of different streets spread out in every direction. Deciding on where to turn was like navigating through a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book.

It’s safe to say that Google maps saved me from a decision which would have led to a bed made of sidewalk.

The trek back to the hotel had left me hungry once again. Tacos and a slice of  Two Boots pizza can only go so far. I stopped in the lobby bar and ordered a fancy salad, hoping the antioxidants (or whatever) would counteract the six pack and greasy meats currently coursing through my bloodstream.

A thin, older man slid in next to me at the bar, and ordered a scotch. Noticing my newly established, health conscience ways, he struck up a conversation about exercise and diet. Two subjects I looked forward to talking about almost as much as the advantages of uber. Although, the story he preceded to tell was interesting on a couple of levels.

The runner’s tale:

The man had once been about forty pounds overweight. His wife, a pragmatic Eastern European runner who didn’t mince words, told him that he was fat. She reminded him of his growing gut at least once a week, and soon was demanding he join her on her morning runs.

The man admitted, that yes, he had gained a few pounds, but he wasn’t the fat slob she kept insisting he was. His wife told the man that he was definitely a fat slob, and if the man’s family and friends cared for him like she did, they would also tell him how fat he was. But they didn’t, and that’s why they kept quiet.

At this point in the tale I began to suspect his wife might be a sociopath, but she was his problem not mine.

Soon, the couple were running every morning, and in a few months his gut was gone. When his friends and family saw him, they would remark “Wow! You’re so thin!” and “You look great!”. The man enjoyed the compliments, until his wife reminded him that this was just an indirect way of telling him they always thought he was a fat slob.

I wasn’t sure if the man’s story was meant to be inspirational, or if it was a terrifying warning of some sort. Either way, I decided against dessert and called it a night.

The next morning I had a cup of coffee in the park. I pretended to be a New Yorker, although with my carry-on luggage sitting on the bench next to me, this was a half-hearted game of make believe. After a quick peek at my uber app, I decided to hail a cab to the airport instead. My time in NY was at an end, and I craved the humdrum return to normalcy that only the Chicago suburbs could deliver.

Thankfully, my Delta flight had no middle seats. There’s something to be said for small victories.