Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Saving Spider-man

There are spoilers in this blog. That's how you know I'm a nerd because I pay attention.

Apparently the new Amazing Spider-man franchise with Andrew Garfield needs to be saved. Despite raking in some nice cash on opening weekend, it apparently is lagging behind the last franchise starring Tobey Maguire. While there are some proposals on the table to save this franchise, I have to ask myself, wearing my nerd hat, why should this franchise be saved?

I know it's worth a lot to Sony. My heart bleeds. But I'm speaking as a comic book nerd who has loved Spider-man for years and could not wait for a movie franchise to open when Tobey Maguire first landed the role. Of course, being a nerd, I had my reservations; Tobey at the time seemed too skinny, I didn't like the webslingers being a part of his mutation, and I was fully aware that the original girl next door is, in fact, Gwen Stacy and not Mary Jane Watson.

But I got over it. I was satisfied with the first 2 Spider-man films with Tobey and Kirsten. I didn't particularly like Kirsten Dunst being cast as the red-headed dream girl, but I accepted the iconic 'soaked in the rain upside down kiss in the alley'. It's been parodied enough times in pop culture to be considered an iconic scene, which, despite the obvious chemistry of Garfield and Stone, who we all know are real life main squeezes, never happens. Garfield and Stone don't have a single iconic scene like this; their relationship is full of angst, big eyes, staring, and emphatic declarations of independence (I break up with you Peter Parker).

One critic made the argument that the new franchise is losing its emotional core without Garfield and Stone together in the future. I strongly disagree. The scenes between the two star-crossed lovers in this film are more Twilight than Marvel. It's often prophetic, like Gwen Stacy's absolutely horrible graduation speech, which features the kind of statement about life that sound absurd coming from a teenager. Not to mention all the cute moments having ice cream which nobody came to the theater to see. The film builds up to Gwen Stacy's eventual demise in such a way that the emotional impact is not so much 'WHY?' as 'Oh, they actually did it.'

Then there's the new Peter Parker, very clearly a teenager, very clearly full of angst, who is about to put on his headphones, fall on the bed and have a timeout to emotional pop music. The old Peter Parker is clean-cut, geeky, nerdy, and a bit of a boy scout. It's only when he dons the mask that he becomes a smart ass full of quips and attitude. The distinction between Parker/Spider-man for Garfield is not that clearcut, although, he still is a pretty good kid. But would Tobey's Peter Parker dip the valedictorian at graduation? Nope.

And that's another fundamental problem I see with the new Amazing Spider-man. Garfield spends a lot less time being Spider-man in these films than he does being Peter Parker. There's more in this franchise about who he is, who his parents are, what Peter experiences, what his relationships are like. But it's the essential dual identity problem; we don't want to spend more time with one character than the other. We all want to see Superman films, but who wants to see the film about Clark Kent? NOBODY.

The new Amazing Spider-man films are better movies overall; they have good pacing, great effects, nice montages, solid acting, decent writing. They try to expand on background stories, with the many flashbacks to the Parker family tragedy and Peter's leftover emotions. The film attempts to tap into the complex feelings of abandonment, treason, ethics, and the constant theme of protection, and it's partly successful. It's a much more serious look at the underlying issues that intrigue all nerds at heart and part of the reason why nerds take comic books personally.

They don't resort to the sort of kitchiness that most comic book franchises use. That said, the kitchiness is a big part of what works; the Tobey series embraced the comic book franchise, stayed true to the dorkiness of Peter Parker, and had a little fun with their villains. Until the third film, which was admitedly a disaster, they didn't try to make Peter Parker cool. The new Amazing Spider-man films are better movies, but they aren't better Spider-mans.

I think the new franchise suffers from its attempts at pathos and complexity; this film wasn't as fun as the others. Who doesn't love the scenes where Spidey saves a bunch of people on a passenger train or when Doc Ock is wreaking havoc and poor aunt May gets caught up on a trip to the bank? I also think the timing of the franchise was poor; many people are beginning to tire of superhero films and the first 2 Tobey films were successful, so there wasn't a need for audiences to experience something new and redeeming. The first two were charming and fresh; the new series is dragged down by the dark side of Peter Parker's past, the tragedy of Gwen, underdeveloped villains and generic action scenes padded with emotional teenage exchanges.

But I am a true nerd, which means that I did pay to see this movie in UltraVX and I probably will watch it when it's on tv one day. I will also re-watch the old series and make comparisons and get angry and try to educate the unitiated and because I liked it less, I will only watch it 3 times and only buy the blu-ray combo pack because it was cheaper at Wal-Mart than the traditional DVD format. And I won't get the collector's pack with the Jumbo mug- oh hell, I'm a nerd, of course I'll get the collector's pack with the jumbo collectible mug, I still have the popcorn bucket from the original Tobey franchise and now my mom uses it for clothespins.

And as for the Amazing Spider-man 3 and 4, I say: dial it back. Don't try to be so smart. We like it when Spidey saves people, not when Peter Parker has a bad day.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Say it Aint So George

The world's most famous playboy bachelor is getting married. Yes, the 'M' word. George Clooney, the best single person on the planet by universal consensus, will soon be off the market and what are we single losers going to do now?

It used to be that when people pestered me about my single status, I could say that I was single and awesome like Clooney. How could anyone argue with that? The Carey Grant man's man, whimsical, handsome, well-dressed, polished, hilarious, handsome movie star who makes salt and pepper look as delicious as they do on the dinner table at a 4-star restaurant? Clooney, the one who inspires us to be cool, have lots of guy friends, play pranks on them, invite them over for basketball games when their wives give them permission, and pick up cocktail waitresses in Vegas- BECAUSE HE CAN.

When judgemental family members and smug married people told us that we were 'missing out' or that there must be something socially dysfunctional about us, we could look back at them and say 'Clooney', as if the name was a passport to some utopic secret night club where everything shines champagne bubbles.

But now, we've gone back to being basement nerds and crazy cat aunts. Now, we can all aspire to be like Kuthra- you know, the Indian guy on Big Bang Theory, the lonely, slightly alcoholic metrosexual astrophysicist with a dog small enough to fit in his man purse.

A Google search reveals that the second most eligible bachelor right now is Prince Harry, who is often used to being in line for something. Even HE might be getting hitched soon, leaving us all with a loveable minority character or Captain Sweatpants for help.

Thanks a lot for nothing, George. You were our last hope, a way to redeem ourselves, if not to others, at least to ourselves.

Now I can say 'I'm single and awesome like Prince Harry, heir to the heir to the throne of England.'

Or, 'I'm single and awesome like Prince Harry, you know, Will's brother.'

Which is still better than saying I'm a leftover, like the Chinese government is currently telling its young women. You have to give China high points for clarity. Subtle social pressure was not getting the job done well enough, so instead of espousing values or gently prodding peoples' most vulnerable feelings with tear-inducing Hallmark ads, they've gone right for the throat and become the collective tiger mom of their female population.

I might have just found my new tagline: 'I'm single and awesome and I will stay this way just to piss off the Chinese. Because I love leftovers.'

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


I've entered that phase of my adult life where I begin to view economics the way that my dad did. I call it dad-conomics. It's that point of your life where you stop thinking about what things cost today and focus more on what they used to cost; you know, the whole bit about how you used to be able to fill your car trunk with groceries for $17 and a movie was $2.50 'back in my day.' The standard of living changes, wages change, economies change, but no matter what, you're stuck in this strange prism of the way things were, rather than the way things are.

It's partly because money just doesn't make any sense anymore. How is it that salaries seem so large in comparison with our grandparents, yet we can't afford two cars and a two-storey house? Grandpa and grandma were pretty resilient and they didn't know what a latte was, but they could at least afford a 'decent' roof over their heads. But now that same house and two cars cost a million dollars, and how in the world did we come up with that?

The 'standards' have apparently changed. Everyone now wants a move-in ready, pre-fab home with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Hold on, now, who set these standards? Oh right, a bunch of rich people and marketing companies and our style overlords over at HGTV. The Kardashians. The people who sell high end paint. Social media. Construction companies.

There was a time when people used to build homes to last and they actually looked different from all the other homes in the neighbourhood. There was a time when people moved into their homes and slowly painted, renovated, added furniture piece by piece and upgraded over the course of their lives. But now everything has to be the same and immediately available and to standard, the end product being overpriced, bland and conformist. Hardly a home that you want to be proud of and grow in and spend the next 25 years of your life paying off.

But this is what income inequality ultimately looks like. The 1% of the population sets the impossible standards, the wage slaves try to keep up. The costs of homes is driven up, the desire for profits for the top tier increase and all of a sudden, a home of one's own becomes an impossible dream without two solid salaries (and maybe some help from the parents).

And never mind just the home; there needs to be coordinated furniture, accents, flat screen tvs and who doesn't have HD or high speed internet? Drip coffee? Puh-lease. Not when gorgeous actresses purr at you in commercials over cups of Italian espresso made from steamy machines.

Part of the problem, clearly, are our appetites, which is being manipulated by all streams of our media. Most reality shows or competitions are basically advertisements, heavily endorsed by the companies that manufacture food, music, home or beauty products- setting our standards and whetting our appetites for the things that they want us to buy. The endless cycle of consumerism is hard to break when everyone is selling you the best version of something.

But trying to keep up is taking our attention away from two important things: (1) we're falling desperately behind and (2) it shouldn't be this hard.

If we keep getting distracted by shiny objects dangling in front of us, we're never breaking out of the cycle. There is no good reason for highly educated, hard working professionals, often dual income households, to be struggling financially. You can blame the lattes, but what is that when compared to the staggering student debts most people rack up when trying to become professionals in the first place? What is that compared to the half a million dollar family home?

Whenever I look at house prices, it's like playing Monopoly. The dollar amounts don't even seem real. Park Place is great if you buy it the first time around the board, but it really sucks when you land on it and a few houses have been built. Is it just me, or does the entire real estate market look like a big, confusing, long game of Monopoly when you just want to go to bed because you've been playing for 6 hours with your siblings and nobody's winning???

No wonder dad used to frown so much.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Sources of news and information on the internet always want to provide you with a more tailored, personal experience. But wouldn't it be great if we could find a way to seriously edit the information that we see? To not be constantly exposed to content that bores or offends us?

I'm not saying that information restriction is the way to go. I'm saying that the power of deciding what we WANT to see should be ours. Everytime I look at a site like Yahoo, I always think to myself, sure, it's great that they want to give me diverse information, but it's not exactly organized the way that I would like it to be. The tendency to include celebrity news on par with what I would consider 'news' news often leaves me feeling frustrated. And since we live in a politically correct sphere where everything is tailored to things that we 'like', there are frustratingly few options to filter out the things that we hate.

I would love to one day see a function where I could list the things that I can't stand and have that work as the filter on the information that I see. You know what, Yahoo? I don't give a shit about Kimye's Wedding. I don't want to see a celebrity's new haircut. That study that says that running is bad for you and will kill you prematurely showing up the day before the running is good for you and will help you live forever posting is just plain confusing.

I want to put my preferences in: Please show me studies that prove that running is excellent, chocolate, coffee and wine are all good for your heart and shopping is the key to happiness. Stop raining on my parade, information website! And stop updating me on celebrities that I couldn't care less about- unless, perchance, there's one that has had a particularly awful day.

Can't you just imagine it? Putting in your settings and never having to see another Rob Ford article? Bieber- who's this Bieber you speak of? And did you know that a group of researchers in Illinois have discovered that bacon is actually good for you in moderation? How about that?

Think of the happier, more streamlined existence that you would have then. Think of how much less garbage and mind junk that would filter through your head at night. You probably could have lived without seeing someone's red carpet minidress. You probably could have done without that video of a cat who rolls toilet paper. I want to see more of what I like, but I also want to experience a lot less of what I hate.

What I wouldn't do for an edit feature of that type.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cheers to History!

A 5th grade teacher from Michigan may have brewed up some trouble unintentionally after letting her class sample non-alcoholic beer. Apparently, the teacher's intention was to teach her students what people traditionally drank in the 1700s, since beer at the time was cleaner than most water.

This is very true. Any historian will tell you that modern water out of a tap is a miracle that many people in the 1700s could only dream of. You know what any historian will also tell you? History is filthy.

The teacher in question probably had good intentions, you know, in the spirit of 'bringing history alive!' and all sorts of other enthusiastic teacherly notions. But the problem with historical accuracy is not that our society is seriously lacking in it, but the fact that you can't, and probably don't want to, duplicate history.

The 1700s was not a hygienic or safe time. Anyone with visions of 'bringing history alive!' for their students today could bring up some pretty unpleasant experiences. Like oral hygiene from the 1700s, fashion, transportation; ah, the joys and memories of underqualified so-called professionals yanking sore teeth with a pincer also used for removing coals from a hot stove, corsets that broke ribs, horses that traced a path of poop everywhere they trod. History is important, but a lot of us are happy that it's the past.

That said, beer has a rich history and has been a part of human civilization for millenia, tracing its origins back to the early Sumerians. Humans have been ingesting beer and wine for longer than any of the highly sugared processed drinks that are currently on the market; a good reason to skip soda altogether and enjoy a drink or two (unless you're the designated driver, another victory of modern invention).

A note to this Michigan school; your principal might want to have another talk with the teacher in question when it's time to study Russia. Sure, those potatoes you're bringing to class seem harmless enough, until it's time to bring history alive! once more.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Missed Opportunity of Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day. And when most people think of this day, they groan and moan about being single, or, if they're fortunate enough to be in a relationship, the obligations and expectations that arise out of a forced 'romantic' holiday. Valentine's Day today amounts to a large retail cash grab, an excuse to use emotional blackmail and slick marketing to convince people to spend money they don't usually have on overpriced dinners, flowers, chocolate and the evil empire that is Hallmark.

When I see Valentine's Day, I see a missed opportunity. Consider who Saint Valentine actually was and the relevance of his story. Saint Valentine was a Roman priest who defied draconic laws set out by the Roman state in times of war that couples could not marry. He's a political activist, as well as a romantic. He was martyred for protecting the fundamental right of people to love and marry freely without interference from the State. The State cannot tell you if you can marry or not; and in today's world, that argument can be expanded to WHO you can marry.

You know what I would like to see on Valentine's Day, other than Hollywood pumping out another bad formulaic movie that makes women look doe-eyed and hysterical? Other than the cheap chocolate hearts and paper trail Cupids? I would love to see advocates for marriage rights reclaim this important message and re-emphasize to the world that people are free to love. That people are free to choose. Millions of dollars are wasted on superficial trinkets and shallow expressions of love. Wouldn't it be good to see it put to better use?

I choose to see Valentine's Day as a reminder of the sacrifices people have made in the name of love and human rights. I hope that there's a time in the not-too-distance future where other people choose to do the same. Because marriage oppression is not a thing left to our distant past; for many in the world, it is still their reality and I can't think of a good reason why it should be.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Tale of Two (Bipolar) Cities Part 5

Well, it was a new year and we were still alive. That was good news.

We visited a cleaned up Times Square for some pictures, walked around Broadway, and did a bit more shopping now that we had figured Macys out. We had a delicious sushi dinner and started to feel relaxed now as we wandered the city. The highlight of the trip for me came when we settled into a lounge bar that featured live jazz and sat down for a real New Year's toast with two tall flutes of prosecco. That's when I felt at ease and happy about the new year. I sank into a chair and we talked about the year ahead, the things we wanted, the things we hoped for, the plans that we would make. And those plans included: another trip to New York City.

Try as I might, I can't hate New York City. I feel, in a lot of ways, that I got kicked around and had some rotten luck; that I wasted a lot of time and acted like a small town simpleton and got treated as such. I still feel like a poor, dowdy, not cool enough loser, but I'm a loveable loser and I can't hate an icon. I feel like we got our butts kicked, but maybe that's the way it had to be. Maybe you really have to take the bitter with the sweet, the bad with the good. And maybe you need to know better next time.

So here are my tips for travelling to New York City:

1- Plan. New York City will overwhelm you with choices, so make a plan, reserve things in advance, and only plan one thing a day if possible. It takes time to get places, there are lines, there are crowds, and cabs don't appear as if by magic, even though there are a lot of them. Don't be overly ambitious; traffic and congestion is a way of life and things can get shut down quickly due to weather or threats.

2- Cross streets. Bring addresses with you that have cross streets. It's a big city with long streets and cabbies won't necessarily know.

3- Don't give up. If and when crap happens, or you get in a bad situation somewhere, don't give up and sit in your hotel room. Dust off, laugh about it and keep going. There are always more options and it's a 24 hour place, so it's never too late to salvage some part of your day.

4- Go with someone you love. I could not have endured the rough moments or imagined loving the best moments of this trip without my best friend at my side. So choose your travel companion wisely.

My final day was spent trapped in Laguardia airport, waiting to see if the winter storm would knock out my flight home. Thankfully, it did not. The airport has a purely functional 90s look to it and is not a great place to be trapped. There weren't a lot of diversions around, although it did have a burger bar that we were grateful for. There are few things in life that can't be fixed by a good burger and beer. The New Yorker Hotel did give us a final one finger salute as we left the city, advising us to take a $100 cab ride to the airport when there was a $13 shuttle a block away. Thankfully, we found the shuttle and missed at least one opportunity to get robbed before leaving the city. It's a small victory, but like I said, I'm a small person and I'll take it.

Will I be back? Likely, yes. Will I do a lot of things differently when I do? HELL YEAH. Do I regret this expensive, rocky, chaotic, up and down trip? Hell no. Because when people ask me what I did for New Years, I'm finally going to have a story to tell.

Or two.

A Tale of Two (Bipolar) Cities part 4

New Year's Eve in New York City. This is what we came for.

We had a plan well in advance for the big night: a dinner reservation at BLT steak and tickets for Webster Hall. As an avid fan of Hell's Kitchen and chef Gordon Ramsay, I could not wait to try BLT Steak where one of the winners was head chef. With such vocal standards, I knew that chef Ramsay's protege would not disappoint.

The food was divine. We had tuna tartare, filet mignon and asparagus on the side. All of it was perfection. The extras on the night included a wonderful pate with crackers and some thick, fluffy popovers with gruyere cheese. Being in NYC, I had to have the quintessential Cosmo pre-dinner drink and had a lovely red with my steak. Dessert was a scoop of banana ice cream and one-bite brownies dusted with powdered sugar and we both began to feel that same lovely glow that comes after a heavenly meal when we climbed into the cab to get to the club.

The night started out well. The DJ was good, people were dancing everywhere, and it was a good time. There were also a lot of men in the club and for the first time, I literally had to shoo them away with both hands. I got more male attention in one night than I did in all of 2013, so I can't say that was bad. The good news is that they were gentlemen about it- nobody got attitude about a refusal or asked me what my problem was, so people were cool. I didn't feel harassed and I was free to shake it up on the floor.

I'd heard a lot about Webster Hall and it was a pretty cool club. Multiple floors, DJs, good atmosphere. Among the highlights of the night: the midnight balloon drop, the fire breathers on stage who showed up in red lingerie and the girl on the floor dressed in bra, panties, hose, heels and a 2014 party tiara. She was saying that 'she couldn't decide'; by which, I think, she was referring to her dress choice of the night.

Then, the scary moment.

Midnight brought a huge crowd of revellers up to the floor, which was already well past capacity. The ensuing crowd got thick with people who were trying to shove their way inside. I was clinging on to my friend's hand, trying not to lose her, when the crowd crushed me in and literally moved me forward. I couldn't move at all in the hot mess of people and all sorts of scary thoughts entered my mind; I was going to get crushed; I was going to fall and get trampled; I was going to pass out from not being able to breathe. Pure panic set in and it was palpable. There were screams, it was dark and the crowd was packed so tight that I started to have trouble breathing myself.

Then, the weird moment.

While I was being crushed halfway to death, with my mental faculties shut down and re-focused entirely on the task of living through this ordeal, a guy just wrapped his arm around me, kissed me on the cheek, and wished me happy new year. He said something about how beautiful I was, something I barely registered, what with me being so concerned about living and all, and in the back of my mind, I couldn't help but be utterly shocked by this casual near-death encounter.

The whole ordeal probably lasted minutes, but when the crowd finally broke, it was around the stairwell, where security guards bellowed into loudspeakers for people to make their way down the stairs. I dashed down the stairs while the girl in front of me told me she lost her sister. I felt bad for her, but we had to keep moving, so we made our way to the ground floor and waited.

It was an agonizing wait. I could not imagine what I would do if I lost my best friend or if she had somehow gotten injured upstairs. I waited and waited, mentally willing her to come down the stairs and find me. Thankfully, she did, but after the initial relief of seeing each other in one piece, she told me that one piece really was missing: her purse. So we waited some more and she was anxious. Many purses and clutches had been lost in the crush, so a veritable boutique was piling up at the lost and found desk. Hers did show up, a little lighter for the cash that was inside. But it was there.

It might be superstition, but I really feel that if you cheat death once in the night, best not to tempt it again, so we left. Safe and whole, we soaked our feet in the bathtub at the hotel and talked about our experiences. Our night consisted of a great meal, some dancing, some male attention, a near death experience, petty theft and all in all, a pretty memorable New Year's Eve.

A Tale of Two (Bipolar) Cities part 3

Needless to say, I did not wake up the following morning, singing Sinatra.

I woke up resolved to lay down a complaint with the New Yorker Hotel and get some form of recompense for my failed night out. I showered, put on my bitch face and armed with righteous rage, made my way down to the lobby and demanded to speak to a manager.

The guest services manager was a nice enough man, who seemed genuinely perplexed by my story. He explained to me that the concierge was outsourced, and not an employee of the hotel, and that the service currently used was not going to be renewed. Basically, we had the misfortune of catching a bitter erstwhile employee on their last day of work, who decided to go out in style by offering us bad advice. I had already made up my mind that I wanted to be compensated for a night at the hotel for my lost time, but it turns out, that was going to be overly complicated. Since I had booked with an online service provider, the hotel could not directly compensate me without approval of a director one level up.

That director refused. When I confronted this director face to face to ask for an explanation, he gave me the kind of tired eyes that you would use if you spotted gum at the bottom of your shoe. He proceeded to give me a brief administrative lesson about space leasing and liability that ended in the not-my-problem category and I walked away with nothing after losing a morning to fighting with a hotel who couldn't care less if I was hit by a cab on my way out. There was some nonsense about filing a report and how the hotel could not be held accountable for anything the concierge did, no more than they could be blamed if you got food poisening at the hotel diner, since that person is not a hotel employee and I was left to seethe in the fresh New York City air, breathing dragon fire and cursing.

Trying to salvage what was left of the day after this wasn't exactly easy. I felt beaten up by New York City at this point and didn't want to do much more than get as far away from the hotel as possible. Not only did I feel like a nobody, I felt like a stupid nobody; a fool who got taken in and robbed blind. I felt like Homer Simpson vs New York City. I'm not sure what crab juice tastes like, but this definitely left a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

We spent the rest of the day walking around, found Rockefeller Place and a store clerk who didn't hate us directed us to the Waldorf-Astoria, where we were amazed by its beauty and not for the last time, cursed the concierge and the hotel 'services' outloud.

It was New Year's Eve and we didn't have time to stay mad or sulk at home. It was time to dust ourselves off, put on dresses, heels and our game faces, and go out for the biggest night of the year and finally say goodbye to a challenging 2013- in style.

A Tale of Two (Bipolar) Cities Part 2

I can only describe day 2 in New York City as a Key and Peele skit.

Have you seen the comedy duo of Key and Peele? Have you seen the skit where they dress up as high-pitched, flighty girls in wigs and heels and walk around saying things like 'uh-uh' with a fling of their heads? I can only describe us as those girls on that fateful, disastrous day.

Waking up in starry-eyed surprise at the fact that we were in NEW YORK CITAY! made us both giddy and excited. So when we left the hotel, we were resolved not to waste a single moment and began talking about all the things that we could do. But the problem with that, in a city that size, is that we could have spent the day talking about it until we were blue in the face and still miss things on the list. So we settled for the girliest thing we could do: we went shopping.

Well, we tried. The constant stop and go of the day was dictated by the overwhelming amount of choice and crowds everywhere. We failed to understand that Macys has two sets of buildings that cross over, and depending on which entrance you come in, different things will be on different floors. Bebe was lined up for days for change rooms and tiny girls waited an hour to try on less than a yard of fabric. Victoria Secret was so large and full that I could no longer see products and huge high def TVs were playing the VS fashion show and their famous multi million dollar bra with crystals. As if I didn't feel inadequate enough with images of glamazons strutting around in inescapably larger than life resolution. I walked away dazed, with no purchase, wanting ice cream.

We spent the day exhausting ourselves running to and from shops and waiting in lines for service. Finally, we decided to dress up for our big night out. We planned to make our way to Rockefeller so that we could see the tree and the skating rink, find the Michael Kors flagship store, head to the Waldorf-Astoria for a drink in their lounge bar and then find a sushi restaurant for dinner. More and more plans were added, as we talked about bars and lounges and other after after places we could go- the way we figured it, the city didn't sleep, why should we?

Then the comedy of critical errors began.

We began by confirming our plans with the hotel concierge at the New Yorker Hotel. The lady at the desk airily informed us that the only hotel bar that was worthwhile was the Oak Room in the Plaza, where 'everyone' went. Of course, I've heard of the Plaza, who hasn't, and with that information in our minds, we changed gears. We promptly got caught in traffic, dropped off way before our stop, got lost, got cold dressed in heels and short dresses like Key and Peele's flighty girls, and got picked up by an unscrupulous, fast-talking rickshaw who proceeded to take us for a ride- a very expensive, pointless ride. Because as it turns out, the Oak Room has been closed for 3 years and the Plaza, due to security concerns, only allows hotel guests with a room key to drink in their bar. All things that would have been helpful to know, like the fact that the rickshaw we took was a crook.

In retrospect, of course, it's easy to say that we should have known better or that we should have verified the information ahead of time or never taken a rickshaw. But we did what a lot of people do in situations like this: we trusted the wrong people. I've gotten advice before from hotel concierges; in fact, I've received excellent service from them in the past in various Fairmont hotels I've stayed at over the years. Why not trust the concierge in New York City? My best friend had previously taken a rickshaw in the past in New York City- how were we to know that this one was crooked? And sure, we could have made a scene or tried to flag down a cop or report the crook- but how could we know that they would take our side or even assist us? Let the buyer beware, after all.

With heavy hearts and significantly lighter pocketbooks, we cabbed back to the hotel, got dressed up like normal people and went to the Irish Pub around the corner for some pints and food. It was a night of excitement and hope that ended in the most banal matter possible and very far from the glitzy image in our minds of our night on the town. It felt like being punched in the gut on the happiest day. I suppose the positive of this is that I learned some very important lessons about the big bad city and the whole thing about trust.

I got a big bite of the Big Apple that night- but the part I got was bruised.

A Tale of Two (Bipolar) Cities part 1

When my best friend asked me to go to New York City for New Year's Eve, it was mid-December and I was staring at the prospect of a quiet night at home alone. So naturally, I said yes and thought to myself, what could be cooler than spending New Years in the world's best city on the biggest night of the year?

What indeed.

I honestly don't know what to respond when people ask me about my trip. The default word is crazy. New York City is a lot of things and describing my experience is hard to sum up in just one word, so the default has been: crazy.

It was also fun, hectic, frustrating, overwhelming, posh, too posh, amazing, scary, indifferent, difficult, excessive, polite, rude, gorgeous, iconic, crowded, quirky, flamboyant and bitchy.


It was 2 very long travel days, 1 disaster of a day, New Year's Eve, and 1 sane day that was relaxed and cool- just the way that I had hoped my entire trip would be.

This is the main problem with New York City; it's a movie reel to me. All that I know about it is pretty much derived from film strips and montages. New York City is full of iconic sites featured in plenty of films, but it's such a big part of that world that the city itself is an icon. It has gorgeous architecture and old school Americana that can't be replicated anywhere else, a slice of decadence and new world promise. It's the big bad city, the American dream, the unique, the original. But because it's a movie to me, it all looks so simple and seamless. And it's not.

Making sense of the Manhattan layout is nowhere near as simple as its land mass suggests; it looks manageable enough on a map, but the map doesn't include crowds, shops or moving vehicles, all of which are very present in reality. While I diligently took note of addresses, I didn't realize the importance of cross streets. A cab driver helpfully reminded me of that fact on night one.

Getting into the city itself is its own little trip. I flew into Newark and took the shuttle into town, the one that leaves every 15 minutes, a generous estimate at best. But it was peak season and the way in was pretty cheap at $16 US a person. Despite all the things that I heard about New Jersey, the Newark airport was fairly large and modern-Laguardia, on the other hand, was small and drab by comparison. More on that later.

We began our New York adventure getting lost in the rain on the way to the hotel. Getting lost was completely my fault, as I should have verified the directions beforehand, but at the very least, the pouring rain encouraged me to find my way faster. We passed the dazzling lights of Broadway, inviting us to frolicking musicals and an angry shouting match between a hot dog vendor and some errant customers. Talk about the whole New York experience right there.

But night one was entirely redeemed by Uncle Jack's Steakhouse in Midtown where we had dinner. I had seen the restaurant's owner featured on the Food Network's Restaurant Stakeout, a guilty pleasure show that I cannot resist, which is entirely focused on customer service in the restaurant industry. Customer is King is written above the bar of this classic steakhouse where the waiters wear vests, coats and white gloves. The atmosphere is not pretentious in the least and we were seated next to some casual looking diners. The service was well-intentioned, but slightly confused, as three separate people took our water order. Once the water arrived, service was definitely smoother.

Catching up on the news with my best friend whom I hadn't seen in months over a bottle of Amarone, a shared lobster avocado salad and a porterhouse steak for two, definitely counts as one of the magic moments of my trip. The lobster avocado salad alone made the trip worthwhile and I have put this dish on my list of things that I must taste again before I depart planet earth. The porterhouse is one of those things that I'm ashamed to admit that I've only ever heard about in movies and was the first one that I've ever tasted in my life. With no room at all for dessert, I opted for coffee and sat, blissfully full. I was sincerely happy to have made it to this city of my dreams and very optimistic about the rest of my trip. I had every good reason to feel that way; especially since I didn't know what was coming next.