Monday, January 6, 2014

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.

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